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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Grandfather Kwon: family, marriage

The following text is partly what I've been writing lately about grandfather Kwôn, partly direct quotations from my fieldwork notes, and a few lines have been added for the blog entry.

Grandfather Kwôn's laundry in Sillim-dong in 1999

The previous entry about Mr Kwôn.

The first time I went to see Mr Kwôn in his laundry, he told before I especially inquired about his background that he was born into one of the three illustrious lineages originating in Andong, Northern Gyeongsang province (Andong Kwôn lineage homepage). As he mentioned, the founders of the three lineages were bestowed their names Kim, Kwôn and Chang by the first king of the Koryŏ dynasty for their merits in the establishment of the new dynasty in the early 10th century. The lineage that Mr Kwôn was to in the late 1920s had produced the second highest number of passers of the highest state examination munkwa after the royal Yi lineage of Chŏnju during the Chosŏn dynasty (1392-1910). After asserting his pedigree as a member of a yangban (scholar-official) household, the high status of his birth in premodern terms almost completely disappeared from his accounts, and from that on, the wealth of his family, and money and wealth in general came out as the important and relevant motives and as sources of influence over people.

The wealth of Grandfather Kwôn's home was based on enterprising: they had a large-scale rice mill (chŏngmiso) and a wine brewery (yangjojang). He mentioned also in passing that his father had been a "wealthy farmer" (taenong), but mostly he referred to the commercial enterprising as the source of their wealth. Despite of the death of his father to an illness even before he was born, the wealth of the household did not dwindle and the remaining members of the family were spared of economic difficulties. Kwôn was able to receive a good education in the standards of that time, and he was sent away from home to attend school in Daegu, which is the main city of the province. He graduated from high school, and had also elementary school teacher's qualifications, which made him in his own words an int'elli, an educated person, which with the wealth of the household made him popular among girls and a highly qualified bridegroom candidate. (The hardships in life and disadvantages in educational opportunities due to the early death of parents significantly affected the lives of Mr Pak of the rice mill and Chông of the "entrepreneurial couple".)
My popularity among the girls was like the popularity of H.O.T. (a dance music group) today. Our home was wealthy, we had a brewery (yangjojang) and a rice mill (chŏngmiso). I had to be careful with girls so that nothing went wrong, because the consequences could be severe. (…) I was 16 when I was taken by a woman for the first time (yŏjahant'e tanghaessŏ). There was a 20-year old girl living a few houses away. My own room was in a separate building in the courtyard. One night someone knocked on the door, and there was the girl from the upper house, asking if she could stay for the night. At that time a family usually had two rooms, and if they had three, the one room was usually rented out. Our house had electricity, and hers did not. Her brothers were much older than she, and she seems to have been curious to know about men. (…) "Here's nobody to see us, it doesn't matter. You already saw mine, you must show me yours." At that time it was really difficult to see the body of the opposite sex. I didn't know what it was that we were doing, I only did what I was told."
Grandfather Kwôn got married in the 1950s during his time in the military police. There had been a girl with whom he wanted to get married, but his grandmother wouldn't allow it because she had been a Christian and it was expected that she would refuse to help preparing the ancestor rites.
How did he meet his wife and get married? His wife was a daughter of a rich house. Her older sister (ŏnni) was a friend of his cousin (sach'on nuna). When he was in the army he got a telegram from his grandmother to come home quickly; because of the telegram he got a leave. Back at home his frightening grandmother ordered him to get married. So he ended up in a marriage forced by his grandmother.
About him getting married (he told about that already last time). "At that time my grandmother was already over 80 – then there were not so many people as old as that... and I was the only son (oedongadŭl), chasoni (子孫) tae(代)rŭl iŏya, the descendants have to continue the family line, and I was born after the death of my father. Grandmother arranged a daughter of a family she knew and set up a date, and I got a permission [from the military unit]. Grandmother said that your wedding will be after one week, so there was nothing to be done. (He was 25 at the time.) I had a lot of experience already then, surprised my wife by taking all my clothes off, ŏlmana tanghwanhaennŭnji...
– How about the marriage, married life? – It was more out of responsibility, ŭimujŏgŭro. Once when you get married you are not supposed to abandon the spouse.
Grandfather Kwôn was in some sense ambivalent about his marriage and all the womanizing. On the one hand he recollected his youth with some amusement ("those were good times"), but admits that now all that amounted to nothing.
Despite of emphasizing the importance of "modern" values like enterprising and power of money over people, he had ended up getting married in the traditional way, to a woman chosen by his grandmother (the men of the family had deceased). In the following quote he speaks in general terms, but it sounds as if he spoke about his own marriage. (His wife had passed away in the mid 1990s.)
Even if the wife has been a bad wife (akch'ŏ 惡妻), a man will remember her as one who raised his children (and took care of him?), one will be regretful (huhoegam) and have a guilty conscience (choech'aekkam).
[From a later occasion]
I have had my share of women, I've had relationships (oedo), but now all that thing has no use, soyongŏbsŏyo (he must mean himself). (a moment later) One must make a good marriage (must succeed in marrying a good woman)… no matter how much one earns money one must have a good wife.
Even though he clearly hadn't been emotionally very attached to his wife, grandfather Kwôn still admitted that the relation as a husband and a wife had been important to him. When she died, he had it really difficult to get back to normal life.
The most difficult (kodalp’ŭda) time was when my wife died. She lied in a sickbed for 2 years, and when she died, it was difficult because I had become accustomed to getting everything done, like being brought the ashtray. After wife’s dead life was a mess (nalli nago) in the shop and at home, I did not clean.
He tells about his wife. She was so sunbakhada (simple, honest, unspoiled etc.) that she could even have a room prepared in their home if he got to know a nice girl. It actually happened once. At that time a woman couldn’t pack her things and leave (pottari ssaji ank’o), a woman couldn’t make even a sound.
“There was a p’ach’ulbu who came to work in our house, and I treated her politely, and she mistook that for something, and started to think of marriage… but for me, no way, I’m not going to get married again. I didn’t clean much in the house for almost 6 years, never lifted or took out the mattress, only swept some around it, but nowadays I do everything, wash clothes, clean up... chigŭm ch’ŏri tŭrŏssŏ.

Following parts in the series:
• Money
• Mr Kwôn, Korea and other countries

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