Thursday, October 1, 2009

unhappy relatives

The Chuseok holiday has already begun in Korea; it'll begin in an hour here in Virginia. Chuseok, sometimes referred to as Korean Thanksgiving (more properly, it's the harvest moon festival), follows the lunar calendar, which means it jumps all over the place on our solar calendar from year to year. This year, Chuseok is on October 3, but the three-day festival period begins on October 2 and goes through October 4.

"Happy Chuseok" was not on my #3 aunt's mind when she called us this evening, though. We were in the middle of watching the second episode of "Flash Forward" when the phone rang; the caller ID screen showed a longer-than-usual string of numbers, which usually indicates an international call. Sure enough, it was my #3 aunt, to whom we had FedEx'ed my long letter. I could hear that she was in tears, badly shaken by the news of Mom's cancer. We talked a bit, with me using my broken Korean to fill in some details about Mom's situation. #3 Ajumma asked me what my bank account number was: she wanted to send Mom money. "I want to do something for her," she said. I thanked her, then went looking for my Korean bank account information. I have a friend who can help me wire the money from Korea to America, but I have to mail him my Korean bank card first.

My aunt also expressed a desire to come over, and I told her she could come any time. Emails will have to go through her son, though, and he's in Germany. I'm pretty sure I can muck my way through writing in German; the language will be about the same quality as my writing in Korean, but German and Korean are my only options with that cousin; he's been living in Germany for a while, and although he's a great guy, I'm not sure he's kept up with his English. No matter. Somehow, we'll get travel arrangements all figured out, if my aunt arrives at some travel dates.

We talked a bit about each other's families, catching up on what's been happening over the past two years. My aunt asked over and over, "How could something like this happen?" All I could tell her was that nobody knows how this sort of cancer appears.

So now I'll be writing my cousin, and I'll also be writing my buddy Tom in Korea about yanking my aunt's money out of my account and wiring it to my father's US bank account (this procedure is easier on my aunt, who would otherwise have to go through the rigamarole of an international wire transfer). I have no idea, though, how much money my aunt is thinking of sending. If it's over a certain limit, there might be problems. We'll see how that goes. I told my aunt that, more than money, the best thing she could do would be to visit Mom and hold her hand.

It wasn't a happy phone call, to be sure, but I'm glad it happened, and I'm glad my aunt remained as rational as she could, given the circumstances. Everything she said was sensible; her innate common sense is why she's one of my favorite relatives in Korea. If she comes to America within the next couple months, I'll be happy to see her again.

NB: I call this relative my "#3 Ajumma," or Third Aunt (sae-jjae ajumma), because she's the wife of one of Mom's four cousins-- the third-oldest of the four. I could have written a letter to any of the cousins (or their wives), I suppose, but #3 Ajumma has always struck me as the most poised and astute.


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