This was the first article written by my dad, Suk Yong Kwak, to appear in the Canadian edition of the Korean Weekly Journal, published in Toronto. The article was written in the mid 1970’s. Here it is translated into English, a collaborative effort with my mother, Ok Ryong Kwak.
In the seventies, the highway 401 had much less congestion and moved much faster than the average drive today. Korean immigration to Canada was on the rise after Canadian immigration reform in 1966. Census data shows over 1500 people arriving from South Korea in 1973, over 4000 in 1975. I was born in London, Ontario and we moved to Scarborough before I started school. Aside from my cousins and aunts and uncles, I did not know many Korean people or grow up speaking much Korean. I heard it being spoken at home and understood the basic language of food and family. I briefly attended Saturday Korean language class, but it is probably fair to say I spoke Korean as little as possible, my unwise choice of youthful rebellion.
What fuels my interest now is learning about these stories of struggle of my parents’ generation. It’s the sayings, metaphors that are both troublesome and most interesting to me. Google translate is a great tool, with limitations. It’s a starting point. To illustrate its utility and futility, here are two sentences.
It did a fine job of the first sentence. Paste this into Google translate:
윈저 시 를 시발점 으로 하여 、 퀘백 주의 경계 까지 뻗은 401 하이웨이 주위 에 십여개 의 도시 들이 자리 잡고 있다 .
and you get this:
With the city of Windsor as its starting point, there are dozens of cities around the 401 highway that extends to the border of Quebec.
This sentence was more interesting:
“ 앗따 태평양 건널 때 두쪽 밖에 안 갖고 왔는 디 , 지금 은 그래도 쥐새끼 들이고 멍석 같은 여편네 살만 피등 피 등 쪄 가고 …….
Google translate will give you this:
At the time we crossed the Pacific Ocean, we had only two, but now we are rats,
Sometimes whole phrases are left out and clearly there is something lost in translation here. A transliteration is something like this:
“At-tah!..When I crossed the Pacific I only had two sides, but now I have two rat offspring and the one beside me is like a straw woven mat steadily growing fatter and…”
“At-tah” is an exclamation which I left as is. Sometimes it’s quicker and easier for my mom would just tell me what it means. She explained that “two sides” was referring to his testicles, and said the next part means he has two kids and his wife is healthy. It took some teasing apart to understand what a mat has to do with his wife. There is still one word I am not sure of, but I think he is saying his wife is slowly gaining weight like a straw mat being woven row by row, layer by layer. I tried to keep the essence of the phrases in the translation below.
Slowly, slowly we walk through these pages.
As we begin our story
Along the highway 401 from Windsor to the Quebec border, there are dozens of cities. How many Koreans live in these cities?
- There is a story of a young single woman who came here by way of West Germany who lived in a small apartment and loved her red Mustang. She started to catch earthworms before anyone had the idea and made a lot of money. She went to Alberta to find a geologist working in oil, is that woman still there?
- “At-tah! When I crossed the Pacific, all I had were my two balls, now I have two rug rats and a woman beside me steadily growing rounder …”
- The story of a carefree friend who swore he would die before he worked overtime and said he needed to eat 2 helpings of beef to work a shift at Ford
- An almost 80 year old grandfather who has two children with PhD’s and still works as a gardener, explains the secret to good health.
- If there was beer, or if the car had not broken down, he would not have left the world so early.