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Phoenix in a Jade Bowl: Growing Up in Korea


This is the story of my growing-up years in South Korea from the mid-1930s to early 1956, when I came to the United States to receive more substantial undergraduate education. South Korea was in the throes of reconstruction-both chaotic and uneven-after the end of the Koran War, which lasted three years and left a devastated country in ruins. Little learning went on even in the most prominent institution of higher education in Korea, Seoul National University. My desire to lay a firm intellectual foundation for my adult life during my undergraduate years overcame all possible negative consequences of leaving my parents and home for the first time in my life. Never did it occur to me at the time that I would not return to my native land to live but instead make a home in this country. I came to study for just a few years. I have now lived in United States for 57 years. The title, "Phoenix in a Jade Bowl," is the literal translation of my given name Bongwan, which consists of two Chinese characters, "bong," a phoenix, and "wan," a jade bowl. My father gave me an atypical name for a girl because he believed that a typical girl's name can prejudice a child from an early age. He wanted me to convince myself that I must not feel limited as a female and be strong enough to rise from the ashes like a phoenix (bong), a legendary bird, but at the same time, be grounded (wan) in a solid jade bowl. The book attempts to capture the rapidly disappearing old Korea, before the "Miracle on the Han," a phenomenal economic development. As poor and economically underdeveloped as it was, the old Korea had its charm: multi-generational household of my grand parents, their sprawling traditional house, and the delicately balanced husband-wife relationship of my parents. But the Korea of my childhood also endured unbearable pain of Japanese colonialism, the division of the land along the 38th parallel and chaos and turmoil following the end of WWII, the another foreign rule of the American Mi

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