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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Asia (02/26/09)

TITLE: Where Are You Now, Kim Chin Wook?
By Jan Ackerson


I remember walking home from the bus stop, my white anklets drooping and scuff marks on the toes of my brown school shoes. Usually, my thoughts were of Mom, baby brother, cookies—but occasionally I’d wonder: did a letter come from Kim Chin Wook today?

And sometimes a letter waited for me when I walked in the door, right next to my plate of sugar-dipped molasses cookies. I’d pick it up ever so carefully, mindful of the tissue-thin pages attached to an air mail envelope. My mother called it onionskin, and I tried to imagine Kim Chin Wook, meticulously peeling onions and stretching the peels, somehow, into this beautiful, nearly transparent paper. How lucky children in Korea are, I thought, to have such fantastic stuff to write on.

My own awkward penmanship, on manila papers printed with thick blue lines, was always hastily shoved into folders and book bags, wrinkled and smudged by my unruly left hand dragging across the page. But Kim Chin Wook wrote in exquisite, black ink letters, each row marching neatly across the unlined onionskin as if commanded by a barking sergeant. Children in Korea don’t have to use their left hands, or to write fat round letters, I supposed. Korea is a delicate place.

My mother told me that Kim Chin Wook wasn’t really his name at all, this little Korean boy who visited our home with his monthly letters. They say their names backwards in Korea, she said, and Wook is his name, like yours is Cindy. Or maybe she said his name was Chin, which thrilled me; Korean children were named for body parts.

What if I’d been named Elbow, or Belly Button? What if my parents decided to name me Bottom? The thought of answering to “Bottom” at school both delighted and appalled me. There were three Cindys in my grade, but I was sure there were no Bottoms, not even in the whole school.

Kim Chin Wook wrote to my parents in wonderful, grown-up English, thanking them politely for school books and pens, for food and clothes. I understood that he was an orphan, one of an exotic species of parentless children who was never told to brush his teeth for a full minute or to change his underpants every day. I wasn’t sure why my parents bought him presents every month, when I got gifts only on my birthday and Christmas. Perhaps Korean children get Christmas all the time—those lucky Korean children. If I was Kim Chin Wook, though, I wouldn’t ask for school books. I’d ask for an EZ Bake Oven, and bake some Korean cookies.

Kim Chin Wook wrote to my parents about his classes in the Korean orphanage school, and about the Bible stories he learned there. Korean Jesus had almost all of the same stories that American Jesus did, and I imagined that He looked a lot like our pictures of Kim Chin Wook: round-faced, solemn, with dark eyes and a cap of straight black hair. Korean Jesus would still have a beard, though, and that white, belted bathrobe.

He was one year older than me, Kim Chin Wook, and sometimes in his letters he called me sister. How exciting to have a Korean brother! How much nicer than my real older brother, who jumped out at me with a shout from hidden corners, making me cry with rage.

I studied the pictures of Korea in my Children Everywhere book. Korea was full of happy children eating noodles. I liked noodles, too; my mother knew to put my soup in a cup so I could drink all the broth first, then suck up the slippery noodles. The children in Korea ate noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, without the bother of soup.

I would go to Korea some day and visit Kim Chin Wook in his orphanage with the upturned roof, saying Hello, Chin. I am your sister, Bottom.

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This article has been read 1024 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Sheri Gordon03/05/09
This is SO good. I love it. You are so creative in showing the seriousness of Korean orphans, through the innocent, self-absorbed humor of a child. Excellent writing.
Beth LaBuff 03/05/09
I love the internal conversations and the light humor of this. Your title caught my eye. :)
Chely Roach03/05/09
This was so cute! I loved the voice of the child... the blessed bliss of childhood ingnorance. Good stuff!
Joanne Sher 03/06/09
This is darling - what a great voice. I love the MC's niavete' about this "brother" of hers. Wonderful.
Gerald Shuler 03/06/09
I enjoyed this from top to... uh, hmmm... Bottom.
Sonya Leigh03/07/09
Thoroughly enjoyable story, and a true ring to the child's voice...it seemed right on target. And what an appropriate end!
Debbie Roome 03/08/09
Wonderful story reflecting the innocence of childhood.
Connie Dixon03/08/09
I know this wasn't comedy, but still, it made me laugh out loud. I'm not sure about your "name" tho'. Good job, a very enjoyable read.
Eliza Evans 03/08/09
The humor is fun and the first few sentences are wonderful but (gulp .. I am stepping out on my own here) for me, the voice did not jive. It seemed to skip around. Sometimes it felt like a child, other times I was wondering if she was looking back on her life from several years ahead.
Maybe it's just me? (very possibly) but words like meticulous, awkward penmanship, hastily, unruly, exquisite, delicate .. etc. do not sound child-like.
And yet, thinking about cookies and noodles and EZ bake ovens and saying "such fantastic stuff to write on." does sound child-like.

So I am a little confused.

..the bit about writing on the onion skins -- wow! Imagine that?
Carol Slider 03/08/09
I especially like how you portray the child's thoughts: random, imaginative, and often unintentionally humorous!
Mona Purvis03/09/09
Thank you for this wonderful entry; it made my day.
So wonderfully written...from BOTH the adult POV and the child's. Reminded me of a penpal I had 50 yrs ago, Daphne Brown, in Ireland. They do make impressions on our lives.
Today, the world is so much smaller. Yesterday, to hear from someone overseas was magical. We used air-mail paper, too.
This is the best I've read this week!
Lyn Churchyard03/09/09
I'm sitting here on my bottom, enjoying every word of this entry. Writing on onion skins? Eww, I think they would smell a bit, but that wouldn't matter because I love onions. This was fun to read, I love the thought processes of your MC. Kids just don't think the same was as we do. Thanks, Jan, this was great.
Linda Payne03/10/09
I loved your story and your ability to tell it through the innocent/naive eyes of a child.
Karlene Jacobsen03/10/09
Your sense of humor in this has brightened my rainy day. (hehe) My favorite was the explanation that Korean children are named for body parts and ending it with "Hello Chin, this is your sister, Bottom." What a hoot!(hehe)
Peter Stone03/11/09
You've captured so well the little girl's voice and perception of the world, a simple, childlike view. And I wonder, she thought Chin Wook was older than her by one year, but did she know that Korean's are called one year old on their birth date? So 12 by Korean years is 11 by ours. Also, almost all Koreans share one of three surnames, Kim, Lee and Park. (I have a lot of Korean friends...)
Dena Wilson03/11/09
I like how you showed Asia through a person not a place. You captured the hardships of a Korean orphanage through the unknowing eyes of a child. A very creative story
Yvonne Blake 03/11/09
I love how you kept it all in a little girl's voice and thoughts!
I'll never hear the word "bottom" again without thinking of this...giggle!
Henry Clemmons03/11/09
I loved this line!
"...each row marching neatly across the unlined onionskin as if commanded by a barking sergeant." It almost makes me jealous.
Engaging and entertaining story. Extremely well presented with a very likable mc and expert demonstration of contrasting cultures.
Faithful Okoye03/11/09
Very funny but well written. It's really creative. You got the perceptive of a young child, and i also liked how you surprised me with a new revelation. like when i found out the MC is actually a girl and not a little boy. It was well written and dissapointed any stimulated idea of the MC being a boy. Great job!
I also liked how you wrote about the Korean Jesus dressed in white robes. lol. Very funny! And creative
Sara Harricharan 03/11/09
Oh this is darling! I loved the last line, at first, I thought she was just being rather silly about the whole thing, but as the story progressed I got to liking her. excellent stuff. ^_^
Laury Hubrich 03/12/09
Very cute story. I loved the ending:)
Joshua Janoski04/20/09
I really liked the section regarding being named after body parts. A fun read with lots of child-like humor scattered throughout.