Grandpa

A story before I forget

You never really realize how many major events happen in the course of your life, because you forget and replace, memories get displaced by more recent ones and you get caught up in your busy life, so whatever happened in the past, no matter how significant or scarring, gets lost in the present.

It overtook my life as an elementary schooler, and probably will be the most dramatic thing to have happened in my life. I didn’t think I’d ever forget — in fact, I’m pretty sure I tried to forget at the time and could not for heaven’s sake. Now, more than 10 years later, I’m sitting here, dumbfounded, that it happened, that it was my childhood, and that it was completely lost in my memory. It’s almost a depersonalizing experience as I try to recall — as if it was someone else’s story. As if I’m reading a novella written in third-person-perspective. To be fair, I’ve not completely wiped it from my memory until now, it’s something that comes up vaguely in my mind intermittently, but I somehow block out as soon as a more present matter comes up during my day. The last time I’ve really thought about it was when I was trying to find an interesting aspect of my life to impress college administrators with for my essay. It’s not really something you want to bring up during ‘a fun fact about me’ unless you want to be a rain cloud in a party or hear people tell you they’re sorry, making the whole thing awkward.

Enough with the suspense, I just wanted to write that down before it escapes my mind. I’ll get on with the story.

I feel that I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my grandpa. Flashback to when I was first born into the blinding light of surgery table in University of Seoul Hospital and brought into the incubation room full of crying, fragile Korean babies. The nurse came through the double doors to where the Nam family sat in a nervous huddle (outside of the surgery room).

“The baby is healthy and so is her mother,” squealed the nurse, “She’s a beautiful, healthy girl”.

Boom. She dropped the gender bomb. To be more accurate, the girl-bomb. As most old, traditional Asian people would have been, my grandparents were devastated. How could the eldest child of their first son be a girl? Nevertheless, a baby is a baby and they celebrated. They’ll always have another chance for a boy (and yes, they did succeed in achieving a boy after one other girl was born).

I suppose Grandpa never really thought he’d love me as much as he did, especially when I was a girl. Or maybe he never did really love me and just pretended the whole time. I’ll never know. But he definitely wanted to see his three grandchildren, as he always required that we come over to his house (which, thank God was also in Seoul) every weekend. From an age when I was able to walk to when we started wanting money over toys, we woke up at my grandparents’ home every Christmas morning, scurrying over to the Christmas tree to find wrapped up boxes we tore into. And when there are presents, that’s where you find kids’ heart at — so we didn’t mind being there almost 80% of our childhood. Materialism at its finest.

Although he wanted to see all of us and was probably proudest of his grandson (my brother), I was his favorite. Before you accuse me of being a little arrogant brat, I’ll try to reason by saying that even my parents explicitly told me that I was his favorite, and there were times when he’d only take me on trips or have only me over. Looking back, this probably sound hellishly creepy and unfair (bad grandparenting, even), but I was just a kindergartener or at most a 2nd grader, so I don’t think I recognized the injustice.

I was never sure why I was his favorite though. Perhaps it was because I always bragged to my friends about the new Sailor Moon wand he bought me, or I wasn’t afraid to state out-loud the next toy I wanted, and he felt a sense of self-pride as a grandparent. Perhaps it was purely out of my being eldest, or because I was old enough to meet his request to massage his legs and shoulders (this is very common in Asia, I swear). Or maybe it’s because I just tried to impress him, and relatives in general, because even as an elementary schooler, I was already concerned with my self-image.

I could go on forever about all the snippets of memories I had with him. Of how he brought me to all his favorite, exotic restaurants like the fried-eel place. Of how he took me to the amusement park with grandma and rode the Viking Boat ride, which should have been way too thrilling for a man of his age. Of how he bought me my first mp3 player and Gameboy color at Yongsan electronics (which has some questionable practices on pirated appliances but I’ll let that pass) but I had no idea how to operate any of them, leaving them to rot in my desk drawer. Or how he used to have a tiger hide rug which eyes glowed in the dark and almost made me pee myself when I was sleeping over at my grandparents’ place. Or the most memorable of all, how he tried to teach me how to pee in the woods, but failed to realize that I don’t have a penis, and I peed all over my pants.

Grandpa was a big man. Both physically and in his presence. He was much taller than an average asian man of his age (Or was it because I was a small child?), with a wide, almost balding head and large, thick body frame. He had narrow eyes but a broad mouth that only turned up and down in the corners to indicate emotion.

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