A YOUNG SOLDIER on a rusty motorcycle delivered the orders
from the Japanese military command in Sinuiju. I was the first to
see him, motoring up the hill toward our house. As he came near, I
wanted to run outside and throw a rock at him. I wished I was
strong like a boy or older--I was only fourteen--so I could throw a
big rock and knock him off his motorcycle back down the hill.
I had seen him before. He had come the previous fall to deliver
orders for my father. The orders said Father was to report the next
day to the military headquarters in Sinuiju so he could work in
Pyongyang in the steel mill there. The next morning, the sun had
not yet climbed over the aspen trees and the morning air was cold
when Father said good-bye to me, my older sister Soo-hee, and
our mother. I think Mother cried a little as Father walked past our
persimmon tree with his head held high and his orders in his pocket.
I loved my appa. He let me get away with things my mother
never would. But after that day, I never saw him again.
As the soldier came near, I quickly gathered the nappa cabbage
I had been washing. I wrapped it in a large cloth and stuffed it under
the sink. I ran to the back door.
“Soo-hee!” I said to my sister who was digging up clay onggis
of rice and vegetables we had hidden behind the house. “The
soldier on the motorcycle is coming!”
Soo-hee stood and looked down the road. When she saw him
she said, “Stall him.” She dropped to the ground and began to push
the onggis back into their holes. I ran back inside the house and
watched the soldier from the kitchen window. I hoped he would drive
past to another house up the road, but he stopped and leaned his
motorcycle against the persimmon tree. He took off his gloves and
slapped the dust out of them across his legs. He reached into his
leather satchel and pulled out a yellow envelope. He came up to the
front of our house. “Hello!” he called out in Japanese. “I have orders
from military command. Come out! Come out!”
I pushed aside the gray tarp where our beautiful carved oak
door had once hung. I folded my arms across my chest. “Go away,”
I said in Japanese.
The soldier eyed me. “Is that any way to treat me?” he asked. “I've
come all this way to deliver your orders.” He held out the envelope.
“Here, take them.”
“You should throw them into the Yalu River instead of bothering
us with them,” I said not moving an inch. “Why do we always have
to do what you say?”
The soldier grinned and leaned against our house. “Because
you are Japanese subjects. If you don’t follow our orders, you will
“It would be better to be shot,” I said.
The soldier’s grin dropped to a scowl. “Soon, you will learn how
to serve Japan.”
I was about to tell him how I felt about serving Japan when Soo-
hee came from the back, wiping her hands on her dress. “Yes?
What is it?” she asked in Korean. She couldn’t speak Japanese like
“Konnichi wa,” the soldier said. “I see you haven’t learned to speak
Japanese yet,” he said switching to Korean. “Perhaps you should
take lessons from your disrespectful little sister.”
Soo-hee bowed her head. “I’m sorry for my sister. She is young.”
“She is not so young,” the soldier replied, eyeing me.
He straightened and lifted his chin high the way the Japanese
do. “Your landlord is not pleased with the harvest this year,” he
said. “You are in debt to him now.” He held out the envelope. “These
orders are for you and your sister. They are what you must do to
repay him. Take them.” With a small bow, Soo-hee took the orders.
The soldier looked at me in a way that made me glad I hadn’t
told him what I thought about serving Japan. “You better take care
of your little sister,” he said to Soo-hee. “She could get you all in
trouble.” He gave a quick nod, and then went to his motorcycle. He
turned it around and started it with a kick. He drove away down the
road followed by a curl of dust.
“What is it?” I asked over the motorcycle’s fading snarl. “What
do the papers say?”
Soo-hee tucked the envelope inside her dress. “Don’t worry about
them, little sister,” she said. “We must start soaking the vegetables
soon or they won’t be ready to make kimchi in the morning.” She
headed to the back of the house.
“But Onni, Big Sister, the soldier said they were orders for you
and me. What do they say?”
“Hush, Jae-hee!” Soo-hee said turning on her heel. “You must learn
to do the right thing. Mother will read them tonight when she comes
home from the factory. Ummah should see them first. Now go back
to your chores.”
Soo-hee always sounded like Mother, and I didn’t like being told
what to do. So I stomped inside the house and pulled the nappa
cabbage from under the sink. As I prepared it for the kimchi, I
worried about the orders tucked away in Soo-hee’s dress. I
guessed they were orders to work in a factory during the winter
months. When our skinny Japanese landlord with the big ears had
come to collect that year’s crop, he had told us the Japanese
needed more workers to support their war efforts. “We are winning
glorious battles against the Americans!” he had said climbing
inside his truck filled with the vegetables we had worked so hard to
grow. “If you do what you’re told, the filthy Americans will be
pushed back across the ocean, never to trouble us again.” He
started the truck and eventually found the right gear. As the truck
began to roll down the road, he stuck his head out the window and
I thought his ears might flap in the wind. “Then, you will be
rewarded for the sacrifices you have made,” he said. “You will be
glad you are Japanese subjects!”
By the time the sun had set over the fields in the west and the
evening turned cold, Soo-hee and I had two pots of vegetables
soaking in brine. We had the biggest farm for miles around, but we
didn’t have enough to feed us through the winter. Then, Mother
would have to beg for an extra sack of rice, just like our neighbors
did every year.
It seemed like we had to wait forever for Mother to come home.
Soo-hee and I sat at a low table and ate nappa cabbage and a
handful of rice for our evening meal.
|DAUGHTERS OF THE DRAGON