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SUGAR TIME Soojin J. Kim

SUGAR TIME Copyright © 2018 by Soojin J. Kim

For Dad

Until 1910, Korea was ruled by the Joseon Dynasty. It was founded by ‘Seong-Gye Lee’ in 1392 and was replaced by the Korean Empire in 1897. Joseon was the last and the longest-ruling of the Confucian Dynasty of Korea.

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I slept together with my grandma until I was ten years old. We used to visit my great-grandmother’s house, and my grandma once told me that my great grandmother worked at the palace of Joseon Dynasty as a cook’s helper. Grandma was always so proud of being a Seoul Citizen from the begining of her life and had knowledge of traditional Seoul cuisine from her mother. I used to help her cook. I peeled a lot of garlic cloves for her in those days.

Japan officially colonized Korea in 1910,and they started building an European style Government building inside the Joseon palace. When the construction was finished, They moved the ‘Gwangwhamoon’ which was the main gate of the Joseon palace to the back to reveal their new building to Seoul citizens to claim Japanese colonial occupation and rule.

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When I learned how to write, I transcribed lyrics of Japanese-styled popular songs for my grandma. She could read Korean but wasn’t good at writing. I didn’t enjoy listenting to her cherished songs, but she paid me, and I would buy sweets that I liked. In a paper box underneath her vanity, she kept notebooks, letters, Japanese textbook from her middle school years, and the lyrics I wrote for her. One of her favorate song’s title was ‘Summaul Sunsangnim’ which means a bachelor teacher in a small island village. She told me how her Japanese teacher adorned her.

After winning the WWII against Japan, Russia and the United States agreed on splitting Korea into two parts. Russia took charge of the North while the U.S. controlled the South. But eventually, after the three-year occupation, the U.S. millitary had decided to end its occupation of Korea by August 15, 1948.

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Grandpa was educated in traditional Confucianism idealogy. In that tradition, young Koreans started the studies by mastering one thousand Chinese characters. He tried very hard to teach my younger brother and me those characters, but we always ran away. He also attempted to teach me traditional Asian calligraphy, but I didn’t show much interest either. I rather loved to read Aesop’s Fables and paint with watercolors. I didn’t like to talk to him since he didn’t let me go to the Christian church while most of my friend were going.

The communists gained control of North Korea and Rightists took over South Korea. Both powers wanted to unify the entire peninsula under their respective authority.

On June 25, 1950,

North Korea invaded South Korea in a blitzkrieg assault.

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Grandpa was an acupuncturist when I knew him. When there was no patient, he wrote some kind of treatise in his own room. I couldn’t read it because it was written in Chinese chracters. Although he never talked to me about his wartime experiences, grandma once said that he fought against communists. When the war was over, he was in charge of managing a military warehouse. One day, the warehouse was robbed by his subordinent and he was fired.

There were nearly five million refugees during the Korean War, the vast bulk of whom fled from North to South Korea or fled southward within South Korea. Families were separated. Many children became orphans and many were adopted by Americans.

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Grandma told me her war experiences more than many times. While grandpa served in the Korean War, grandma was left behind with my father who was two years old, and his two sisters. Most Koreans were already impoverished from the Japanese occupation, were further disadvantaged during the war. They were starving most of the time so one day they cooked and ate some locusts. Later while escaping, my father tried to eat a live locust because he had known it as food. The family tried to follow grandpa to Jeju Island, which is at the southern most tip of the Korean Peninsula. At the end of the war, she had five children to take care of by herself and she almost died from pneumonia.

Since the U.S. military’s arrival on the Korean peninsula in 1945, Korean children had come to love American sweets such as gum, candy, chocolate, and Coke. And these goodies were available aplenty in the U.S. military compounds.

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My Dad was sick most of his adult life, due to tuberculosis. My family couldn’t live together for economical reason until I was 10 years old. I was living with him and my grandparents in Seoul. He made me sketchbooks by binding outdated calendars. We wrote letters together to mom and my brother in her hometown. During those days, he was my father, mother, teacher, and friend. When my family re-united, he picked the trash and discovered ‘treasures’ he could sell. He always carried half eaten American candies in his shirt pocket to share with my bother and me. And he told us the same story over and over, about the fond memories he had with the American G.I.’s who gave him more candies than the other boys because he was much better at speaking English. When he died, he didn’t have any of his own tooth left.


Soojin Kim's first book on Korean War and American Sweets. As long as I can remember, my father always carried half-eaten American sweets...


Soojin Kim's first book on Korean War and American Sweets. As long as I can remember, my father always carried half-eaten American sweets...