Sun Lyoung Kim: winner of the NorthWrite 2016 Competition for Northland Writers.
Mandy Hager and James George judged this competition. Mandy commented:
This story speaks to the spirit that brought many to Northland, a chance to start again and to redefine oneself in a new country. What I love about this story is its emotional core, a very authentic look into the fear and torn loyalties of setting out across the world in search of a better future. It is honest, moving, and brings to life a culture rarely represented in current New Zealand writing. It is also satisfying as a story, its scope much broader than the word count, condensing whole lives and journeys into this moment of significant change. I feel richer for having read it.
Sun has completed a Diploma in Applied Writing at Northtec and is currently studying to become a teacher. As well as developing her own writing, Sun hopes to inspire and support beginning writers.
She has been published by Learning Media Ltd and LIFT Education. Sun writes a regular column about New Zealand education in the Korean Federation of Teachers newsletter.
by Sun Lyoung Kim
In the world, there are a lot of stories going on mysteriously. Nobody knows whether they are true or not. Nobody has seen these things, but everybody knows the stories …
Floating island … Maybe it has a tree? Maybe a bird? But beneath the island there would be a lot of different roots and they might be tangled with each other because they don’t know where to settle.
A blistering and gluey Korean midnight was sticking to Kang-Hee’s feet and oppressing her body.
“I hate summer!” She kicked off her blanket, then slid open the veranda window. Instead of welcome cold air, more humidity oozed across her skin. People were talking in the facing apartment and the sound of cars made her even more frustrated.
She glared down at them. “Shit!” She clutched her head.
The eighteen floors down seemed even more distant than usual.
“Must my life start from the bottom again?” She hit the cold steel railing of the veranda, the sound echoing within her heart along with last night’s conversation with Min-Ho.
Her husband had delivered big news.
Emigration … to a strange country, a strange people, a strange culture. It meant no job, no friends, and no family.
That was not only a problem for them, but also a problem for everybody and everything involved with them – jobs, communities, friends …
And especially for Min-Ho’s parents, who were the first parents in her life.
An orphan, she’d never known what happened to her real parents, but early on she’d realised she was different from other people. So she avoided watching TV programmes about families.
Instead she dreamed about having the perfect family – grandparents, Mum, Dad, and children. She knew what parents did for their children. They were like the sun – vital for life, even though people forgot how important it was because it was always there.
But Kang-Hee knew. She always desired the sun, just like a sunflower.
Yet now …
“Now I have parents who always listen when I’m talking and who hold my hands,” she murmured. “I don’t want leave them and I don’t want to make them live without us. For the first time I’m an ordinary person who has parents.”
Last night Min-Ho had showed her a booklet about New Zealand. It said, “The best environment in the world, the best social security in the world, and the best lifestyle in the world. You can do whatever you want here! In NEW ZEALAND!” It was sweet.
But then … “Let’s emigrate,” Min-ho said.
“Are you kidding?” she asked.
“No, I’m serious,” he said. “Listen, Kang-Hee, please. This will give us what we’ve always wanted. We could both get a doctorate. I’ve checked everything about New Zealand already and this is the chance of a lifetime.”
She saw his eyes – shaken with pain, desire, fear, hope – and love.
She couldn’t say anything, but her own eyes said no.
A week later Min-Ho tried again.
“You and I grew up with poverty so we couldn’t do what we wanted. I don’t want poverty to be the heritage of our children. This is not for me. It’s for you, our children, Mum and Dad.”
“You are the only son of your parents. Do you think they will let you go? Also I really love them, you know that.”
She saw the memory of Min-Ho’s brother hit all his body cells and the huge pain – car accident, blood, loss, and emptiness …
Since then his parents were always afraid of losing the other son in their life. She told Min-Ho, “If you want to go, you go without me.”
“Please … please … I love you. I want to go with you.” Burning tears ran down his cheeks and he gripped her hand. “They will understand. I need you.”
Kang-Hee looked at the phone. She didn’t move, she watched Min-Ho.
“Hello,” he said. “Hi, how are you?”
She could hear the soft voice begging them to visit.
“Don’t worry, Mum, we’ll be there in the weekend,” Min-Ho assured her.
On Saturday Min-Ho and Kang-Hee drove to their parents’ house. It took just two hours, but to Kang-Hee it seemed to take forever.
“Mum, Dad, we’re here. Where are you?” Min-Ho shouted.
“Here!” There was Mum. She rushed towards her son without her shoes. “How are you?”
“We are fine. Where is Dad?” He looked around.
“He’s fixing the roof because it’s leaking a little bit. Don’t worry, he’ll figure it out. You two, just relax, please.” Mum pulled their hands to bring her children into the room.
“I want to see my father first. Dad! Dad!”
Kang-Hee watched father-in-law’s bent back and thought, His life is like that of a salmon.
These fish are born in the stream but spend almost all their lives at sea. They come back to the place where they were born only to lay their eggs. Their tiny bodies swim upstream against the flow of the water. Sometimes they meet enemies like birds, bears or humans, and they fall repeatedly when they try to leap waterfalls. Some of the salmon eventually succeed in returning home.
Then finally they make a place for their eggs with their fins. They don’t care whether their fins are torn or not, they think only of their young.
After laying the eggs, the salmon die. They don’t expect any payback for their sacrifice for their children.
They remind Kang-Hee of Min-Ho’s parents.
Min-Ho’s father sold everything he had for his two sons’ school fees, and he and his wife did not have anything for themselves. They had to sell vegetables for their daily bread. Although their life was tough, they never asked for help. They wanted only their sons’ happiness.
There were father and son, full of the sunset glow, talking, working and laughing together. It was like a still-life to Kang-Hee.
After dinner Min-Ho made his parents sit down in front of him and he fell on his knees. “Mum and Dad, I need tell you something important. As you know, I’ve dreamed about going abroad for study. I think now it’s time to go – I mean, emigrate to another country.” He couldn’t continue.
“What!” Mum said. “You know about Yankee, don’t you?” Mum always called English people Yankee. “They will ignore you because you have yellow skin. You cannot go!” She was almost screaming.
“No, Mum, that’s your wrong idea. Now it’s the twentieth century. Nobody ignores people because of their differences.”
“But …” Mum started, then stopped at a look from Dad.
“I always felt sorry that I could not support you two like other parents,” Min-Ho’s father said. “Will you study together?”
“Yes,” Min-Ho replied.
“Won’t it be tough for Kang-Hee?” he asked.
Kang-Hee shook her head.
“If I said do not go there, what would you do?” Dad asked Min-Ho.
“I would still go,” he replied in a strong voice.
Father stood up and went out of the room.
Min-Ho continued trying to persuade Mum that they would be happy, but there was no end to her tears.
Min-Ho and Kang-Hee went back to the city with very tangled and heavy threads in their minds.
A month later Kang-Hee answered the phone.
“It’s me.” Mum didn’t ask how Kang-Hee was.
“Yeah … Mum.” Kang-Hee couldn’t ask either.
“How is it going? When will you leave?”
It was her first question about their leaving. Kang-Hee had rung the parents a lot, but they’d never mentioned it.
“Maybe the end of this month,” she replied carefully.
“Can you stay with us for a few days before you leave?” Mum’s voice was shaking.
“Yes,” Kang-Hee gulped down her tears.
Time went too fast and they moved to their parents’ place.
Min-Ho and Kang-Hee fixed the house and cooked meals every day. All the family shared their love as if they were never going to meet again. Yet they never talked about the emigration.
The day before their leaving, Kang-Hee walked around the house. Deep breath… this is air of Korea. I will remember you.
She touched the soil. This is the land where I was born. Thank you.
Opened the kitchen door. This is the smell of family.
Everything made her miserable.
Next morning the family had a very calm breakfast, then set off for the international airport. There were a lot of people. While Min-Ho weighed the baggage, Kang-Hee noticed their parents’ hair. It looked whiter than usual.
Do I have to go? Even at that moment she asked herself the question.
“It’s ready,” Min-Ho told the parents determinedly.
“Okay. Please look after yourselves. Don’t worry about us. We will be fine.” Mum started sobbing.
“Mum, I love you.” He hugged his parents and Kang-Hee did too.
Father-in-law hugged her tight without talking.
None of them knew when they could meet again and how many times they would have to repeat this parting. Kang-Hee tried to repress her tears but she couldn’t stop their flow.
Min-Ho snatched her hand and pulled her through to the other side of the gate. The gate closed behind them.
Briefly it opened again as someone else came through. Kang-Hee saw her mother-in-law crouched down on the ground crying. Then the gate closed again.
Min-Ho hauled her further down the corridor. “Honey, please don’t look back. That’s the best way for them and us.” In his eyes tears gathered. “Let’s go.” And he dragged her by the hand to the plane.
As the plane very slowly lifted, Kang-Hee looked for her mother-in-law and father-in-law through the small window but she couldn’t find them. The plane gained height and she stretched her neck, craning desperately, until she could no longer see Korea.
Her throat was choked with longing.
“Please don’t cry any more. I will be with you.” Min-Ho hugged her and looked for a handkerchief in her handbag. “What is this?” He pulled out two small white paper bags, labelled with their names.
“I don’t know.” She opened hers and found a letter.
If you see my letter, I guess you are in the plane. It means I am already missing you.
After I lost my oldest son I couldn’t fill up my emptiness, but you did. Mum and I were very happy because you were there.
I believe it is not the last time I will see you.
I believe you will overcome with my son all kinds of difficulties.
I believe you can be whatever you choose.
Please study harder and work harder than the native people. You know if you want to be a trustworthy person in the other country you have to be the hardest worker among them.
Anyway, I packed a sandwich for you and my son for lunch. I hope you like it.
Don’t forget, I will be with you whatever you do, wherever you go.
I love you so much.
I will miss you.
Sincerely, your father-in-law.
There was a sandwich, a small sandwich.
She kept the sandwich in her bosom, along with her sadness, her hope, and the love of her parents-in-law, and she started her new journey as a floating island.
Rae Roadley’s NorthWrite 2016 Highly Commended Entry
Rae Roadley was highly commended in the Northwrite competition with an extract from her novel, Have a Heart, which has now been published on Amazon and is available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01JFBG4N6.
Rae’s highly commended extract follows.
Background to the excerpt …
The Omahu and Gunn families have been in conflict ever since Jack Gunn’s ancestors ‘stole’ Glory Omahu’s family’s land. When Glory sees her family’s taonga – pounamu and bone pendants, including a long-lost heart – in the Gunn homestead, she secretly swaps some for modern copies. When guilt prods, she plans to return them. Then Jack gives her a couple of pendants. In the following scene, Glory intends to give her father only the pendants returned by the Gunns, but to appease him also hands over a pendant she swapped – digging herself into deeper trouble.
The story continues …
With dinner dishes cleared, Glory smoothes the table cloth in front of her. “I’ve got something for you, Dad.” She glances at Auntie who knows one part of Glory’s story isn’t true, but will she believe the rest? “I heard through the grapevine that the Gunns had some artefacts from our family land – some pendants.”
“The heart?” Des jerks his chair and turns to Glory.
Glory edges away. She has to twist the truth or her story will unravel. “They found it on their land.” Glory reaches for the salt shaker and moves in tight circles. More lies.
“But it’s ours!” Des’s voice catches.
“Before 1976. It’s theirs.” Glory hopes her voice doesn’t give her away.
“I know the law,” Des huffs.
“And they’ve got other pendants, if you’d let me finish.”
“Good heavens. Right, sorry.”
It’s dead easy to make her father back down. “I’m in a position to make life difficult for Jack, but said I’d give up a couple of issues in return for a couple of pendants.”
“And he agreed?” Dahlia’s eyebrows arch. Has anyone ever put anything across her?
“Dahlia,” purrs Auntie, “You don’t realise the influence your daughter has. Her shop is a community gathering place and there’s talk she’ll be president of the business association.”
“Goodness.” Dahlia wriggles forward, like a child about to be told a fairy tale. But this is not a fairy tale, Glory reminds herself, not totally. And it’s about time her mother noticed her achievements. It was kind of Auntie not to say that some people don’t support the shop. Today she learned the new nurse at the medical centre is in a snit because Glory sells alternative health products. Glory can see her point.
“Taa daaa.” She places the bone fish hook on the table with a magician-like flourish. It’s similarity to Glory’s own fish hook has to mean something. Then she places the Tangaroa beside it.
“Ohh . . .” Auntie, keening as if she’s at a tangi, reaches into her bag for a tissue and whisks away fat tears. “You didn’t get the heart.”
“Well, um, the Gunns are attached to it …”
“It’s ours,” says Des.
“For goodness sake,” Glory snaps, exasperated, “it looks a bit like a souvenir.”
Auntie draws herself tall while Des says in an unfamiliar voice, “We don’t value our taonga based on looks, Glory.”
Glory’s eyes meet her father’s. His are dark and shadowed. She’s offended him. “I said ‘a bit like a souvenir’. It’s really beautiful.”
“The heart was given to our great-grandmother,” he says. “Grandma Maraea was devastated when she lost it.”
But was her upset an act? Maybe it was lost, or was Maraea so desperate to feed her family she really did swap the heart for food? Glory won’t mention that. There’s enough bad blood between the Omahus and Gunns. But why defend the Gunns? She’s not. She’s protecting her family.
“What’s wrong with these?” Glory indicates the fish hook and Tangaroa while fighting a temptation to drop the pendants she swapped onto the table. Would they shut them up?
Auntie picks up the Tangaroa. “It’s beautiful and precious.” She might be talking about any one of the hundreds of carnations Tom grows.
“I’ve tried to tell you about the heart,” grumbles Des in that way he has when Glory doesn’t show interest in her heritage. “If you knew its story you’d know its value.”
“The Gunns gave these to me. Maybe they’ll hand over the rest if I ask nicely.”
Auntie splutters with sarcastic mirth. “Why don’t I pop in and have a chat to Henry?”
Glory reaches to take the bone fish hook from her father. “Dad, if these don’t cut it, I’ll return them.”
“And exchange them for the heart?” Des’s words are submachine gun bullets – but he holds onto the pendant – tight.
Glory conceals a sigh. She’d expected him to be overwhelmed with happiness.
“They wouldn’t part with the heart. I did ask.” But her effort was pathetic. What if she’d pushed, really pushed? “Very sorry,” she offers with the smile that always melts her father. “Perhaps you could tell me the story.”
“Fat lot of good that will do.”
Glory stares agape. She’s never seen her father like this, didn’t know he could be like this. “Please?”
“I’ll tell her,” says Auntie, seeing Des set his face in a stubborn frown. “The heart belonged to our great-great-great grandmother Sarah, the daughter of a chief – Manuera. She was born in 1849 and in 1880 married a Dane who’d deserted a ship, here in Kaingatoi. Carl Solberg Christensen.”
“Quite old when she married, then,” says Glory. “Born 1849, married–”
“Thirty-one,” chips in Des, as Auntie and Glory exchange a knowing look.
“He’d been on a timber ship and had nicked something. The crew was going to lynch him. He took off and some Māori workers in a bush camp hid him – about nine miles away–”
“About half way to Crystal and Peter’s place?” asks Glory.
“Near the big bridge,” says Des. “They hid him in a steam boiler that wasn’t being used – and fed him. When the ship had sailed, they told him it was safe to come out.”
“Right.” Glory relaxes now her father’s also telling the story.
“All he had were the clothes he stood up in and his knowledge of boating.”
“And a violin,” says Auntie. “Our ancestors had never seen or heard one before. He entertained everyone and built them a dinghy and shaped timber into oars.”
“Which would have gone down well with Manuera – the chief. My great?”
“Four greats. Wiremu’s father.”
“And Sarah was Wiremu’s grandmother?” asks Glory.
“Yes. Anyways,” Des continues, “Carl became important, so important to Manuera, he said, ‘Carl, you belong to us. I want you to marry one of my daughters.’ Their first child was Maraea, born in 1881. Sarah died in 1897 – fifteen years after her marriage. Her headstone’s in the Kaingatoi Cemetery.”
“The heart?” asks Glory. “Where does it come in?”
“It was Sarah’s. Perhaps Carl gave it to her. No-one’s sure.”
“But the filigree? That must have come later?”
“Ahh, my daughter,” says Des, mellow now. “You are dead right. She married a Wiremu Omahu. No-one’s sure, but he may have sent the heart away to have that work done.”
“Perhaps to Auckland?” suggests Auntie. “We don’t know.”
“Two of Maraea’s sister’s also married Omahu brothers.”
“Perhaps not much choice?” suggests Glory.
“Perhaps strong, good-looking and intelligent men,” says Des, grinning. “And we also know the heart went to Maraea. But at one stage, she and Wiremu lost their house in a fire.”
“Dad, you told us that every time we wouldn’t eat our vegies. They cooked on corrugated iron and something caught fire.”
“Something like that.” Des grins. “Parents don’t always tell their children the truth when they won’t eat their veggies.”
“Dad!” Glory manages to sound indignant. “What’s the real story? Tell me.”
“There are two. One is that Wiremu upset someone who said, ‘Pay me or I’ll burn your house down’ – and he did. The heart was saved because Maraea was wearing it.” Des pauses, puzzled. “Guess she lost it later.”
“Guess so,” says Glory, playing along. “And version two?”
“That’s closer to the story I told you kids. They cooked on corrugated iron and the floor boards caught fire. The heart was saved because the kids had been playing with it.”
“And Maraea lost it later?” Glory repeats while thinking that Maraea might have been desperate enough to barter the heart. But wouldn’t the whanau have supported them?
“Exactly,” Des agrees. “Mum said that after Granny lost it they spent hours searching.”
Perhaps she was quite an actress, Glory thinks.
“If it was with us today, maybe your mother would be wearing it.”
Dahlia fingers her gold belcher chain. “If it’s anything like these knick-knacks, it’ll be very handsome. Glory, they’re a lot like the ones you sell, dear.”
“Mum, they are not knick–”
“My dearest Dahlia,” Des intones with a smile, “these pendants are not and never will be knick-knacks.” Then he turns to Glory, “Perhaps Jack will reconsider.”
Dahlia scoffs. “Don’t be ridiculous, Des.”
They sit in silence until Glory knows what she has to do. Her father has a special fondness for koru and Jack will never realise the koru in the cabinet is a copy. She reaches into her pocket, pulls it out and dangles the koru in a tantalising fashion on its fine cord.
“This was at the homestead as well.” Jack says white lies are okay.
Her father’s face softens and he smiles as he tentatively strokes the koru which appears to glow emerald in the evening light. Then he wraps an arm around Glory. “Good girl. You did your best.”
When Auntie launches into a waiata* Glory knows she’s done the right thing.
“Tangi a te ruru,” Auntie thrills in a voice so clear Glory almost forgets to breathe. “Kei te hokihoki mai e, E whakawherowhero . . .” Kaingatoi Primary School kids have made this waiata their anthem. It was written to welcome home the Te Māori exhibition.
Dahlia dabs her eyes with her fingers. Glory can understand her father having a weep, but her mother?
Auntie’s voice fades. “The waiata’s about paths meeting and giving permission for things to leave. I guess the Gunns made an effort. In fact, it surprises me they’ve given us all these.”
“Guilt,” Glory says rather too quickly.
“I’m not surprised at all.” Des runs his fingers down the koru. “I’ll make sure all these taonga are loved and worn. Often in life, second-best turns out to be best.”
Glory will adopt this philosophy. She’s never wanted a shop that fits with conventional good taste, but she’ll adapt. And she lost her child, but never dreamed of having Sage in her life in such an intimate way.
“I can’t see myself wearing a koru or a fish hooky thing,” says Dahlia plaintively. “The heart, though, it sounds lovely.”
Glory pretends not to hear.
“The heart, if we had it, would go to Glory when she marries,” says Dad.
“Really?” Dahlia sounds like she’d put up a fight.
“How come?” Glory needs to get her father talking, to distract him.
He gazes into the distance. “The heart was given to Sarah as a gift from her husband. She began a tradition of handing it on as a bridal gift to the next generation. She gave it to Maraea – that’s when the gold was added.”
Dahlia looks distracted. History bores her. “The fish hook is like the one Auntie gave you, Glory.” She holds it against her chest, evaluating its suitability as an addition to her jewellery collection.
“Our iwi has produced many master carvers.” Des tips back his chair in the same way Jack did at dinner that night.
Glory has made him happy, but at what cost? She has to return the fish hook and pray the new koru won’t be spotted. But right now Glory needs to do something she’s never done before: listen. Soon her father is telling stories. Glory learns where her ancestors launched their waka, the paths they followed to the beach, the places they had hāngi, the sacred places they stored kūmara. He talks about the land the whānau gave the community so they could build the school that still stands today. She learns about the terrible day three boys drowned when a storm came out of nowhere, and why so many of her family left Kaingatoi and moved to the cities. Staying here was a path to nowhere.
“Plus too many Pākehā here thought they knew what was best for Māori,” says Dad.
Isn’t that the truth, Glory thinks, sipping her chamomile tea. It’s cold.
*Waiata from Te Hokinga Mai, by Te Taite Cooper and Father Mariu, 1986.
NorthWrite 2016: Competition Judges
Mandy Hager is a multi-award winning writer of fiction for young adults, and is a tutor on Whitirea NZ’s creative writing programme. Her most recent award is the 2015 Margaret Mahy Book of the Year with Singing Home the Whale, and in 2014 she was awarded the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship, one of New Zealand’s oldest and most prestigious writing awards, which enabled her to spend six months living in Menton, in the South of France as she researched a new project.
She has won the LIANZA Book Award for YA fiction three times (Smashed, 2008, The Nature of Ash, 2013, Dear Vincent, 2014), the New Zealand Post Book Award for Young Adult fiction (The Crossing, 2010), an honour award in the 1996 Aim Children’s Book Awards (Tom’s Story), Word Weavers Excellence Award (2002), Golden Wings Award (2003) and five Notable Book awards. Her Blood of the Lamb’ trilogy has been published in the United States by Pyr Books. She has also been awarded the Beatson Fellowship (2012) and Writer In Residence at Waikato University (2015).
As well as the above books, she writes adult fiction, short stories, non-fiction, educational resources, blogs and articles, and has a passion for writing “stories that matter”.
James George is a fiction writer of Ngāpuhi, English and Irish descent. His first published novel was Wooden Horses in 2000. His 2003 novel Hummingbird was a finalist in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2004 and the Tasmania Pacific Fiction Prize 2005. An excerpt from Hummingbird, Zeta Orionis, won the premiere award in the Māori Literature Awards 2001. His third novel, Ocean Roads, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in the South East Asia and South Pacific region. In 2007, he was the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellow. He has recently completed his fourth novel, Sleepwalkers’ Songs, due out mid-2016. He is a tutor at the AUT Centre for Creative Writing, and has previously taught creative writing at the University of Auckland (Continuing Education) and Unitec. James is a trustee of Toi Māori Aotearoa – Māori Arts New Zealand and is the current chair of Te Ha, its literature committee. James is based in Auckland, but sees Northland as his “ancestral and spiritual home”.