"Do I have to live in this place?" was the utterly unexpected answer I got from my uncle. I was suddenly saddened. What else was I supposed to tell him in that situation? When I heard this, I had to say that it was astonishing in a kind of sad way. That answer from him was still resonating deeply across my mind. Even though I got some those kinds of answers from him, I thought I'd got to know kind of the history of my family. I thought that in a big picture, this short ten-minute long interview might be just my family's unheard history but be a noticeable part of the whole Korean history in the 1980s.
Interestingly, there are many social good or bad phenomena or events happening right now across one country or even the world. Something big, small or important is taking place across time and places such as globalization or technology revolution. As a matter of fact, I think, there was always something worth listening within people' lives in the tide of the changes. I think one of them is Ichonhyngdo, a term to describe that more and more people go to major cities such as Seoul, Busan and Incheon to move in at some period. Actually, I knew that my grandparents on my mom's side used to live in a small town in the super countryside near Hong Seong and moved to Seoul in the early 1980s. I was curious about a story why they went, what they did for a living, and part of the face of Seoul. So I decided to interview my uncle about his early life in the 80s.
Before beginning of my interview, I thought of the current Seoul itself which represents absolutely modern things like skyscrapers in the downtown or Gangnam and is full of vitality to compare what the city was like at that time. Now, how super-big it is in every perspective like the population. Even more, many exciting places such as theme parks, COEX and tourism spots to go and interesting things to do are all there, attracting to its visitors. Well, I was quite sure that the capital city was always as it is as now in the past.
I began my interview with a no brainer, simple and easy question: "when did you move to Seoul from your hometown?" He answered, with no one-second hesitation, that "the whole family moved to the city in the early 1980s." When I got this, I noticed that it was just about a little more than a decade before I was born.
Then I asked the next question: what the family moved to Seoul for. He said "At that time, there was almost nothing to do for his parents for a living in the town. So we just moved to Junggye-dong, Seoul." When I heard this, I thought that it didn't make sense because Junggye-dong is one of the most affluent districts in Nowon-gu. It sounded like that they didn't have money and went to the affluent district. It sounded absolutely contradictory. So I soon asked him a kind of following-up question to make sure that what he really meant. I said "Where? You lived in Junggye?" With his one hand scratching his head, he looked like he should have mentioned something to help me understand what the area was like in the 80s. He replied, "At first, the whole family lived in a small room in Junggye-dong. Even though Junggye-dong is nowadays so affluent and well-developed part of Nowon-gu, which has a nickname of Daechi-dong of Nowon-gu, the district used to be so barely developed that we lived in a town so called "panjachon" for a while. Literally, we lived in a small room with no "usable and clean" bathroom. Panjachon was like very small, very old and bad conditions houses were so closely and densely built. It almost seemed like a big connected structure. There was a public washroom for each three house. It was so uncomfortable that I did never have a shower in a relaxed way. We also used kind of coal to heat the room in the winter, which was kind of less effective or just bearable."
Getting to know this fact, I became more curious about his thought and early teenage life in Seoul. So I gave him a question about the first moment he came to the city. After thinking quite for a couple of minutes, he took a long and deep sigh. He looked like he really went back to that moment. And then, he said in a slow and calm tone that "I thought my family was so poor. My life would be so rocky." He continued to say that when I saw the room, I asked my parents a question "Do I have to live in this place?" While listening to him, I was sorry for him.
Another question was about the jobs my grandparents did for a living. "What did your parents do for a living?" I asked.
"My parents, so your grandparents, did so called "nogada," he said. This term is used to describe to name some hard jobs like construction workers in a not "polite" way. I later found from him that my grandparents did not get highly educated well for doing so called "professional works."
My last question was this: "Have you ever regretted your choice to move in the city?" he said that "Actually, we moved a lot. At a time when Junggye-dong was being developed, we moved to Sanggye-dong. And when Sanggye-dong was being developed, we moved again to Danggogae. You know, we just kept moving to more and more outside of Seoul because we had no money to afford to live in a developed area. It was just out of budget to do. But I've never regretted that I lived in Seoul with almost no money. I thought living in that kind of circumstances made me to work hard so much. Living in Seoul gave me unshakable motivation to study hard to have a big house with some bathrooms."
When I finished interviewing him, I got humble and sorry. I mumbled, being left with almost nothing to say. I can't imagine what it was like to live in the small room like my uncle did. It was like I was running back in time for a short time to the past of Seoul with some three dimensional guidance. Even though I was not born yet at that time when the family moved, I could picture what it was like in the 80s. Of course the city had super-rich some areas, however, it also has dark sides, too. It's like a coin. Every coin has the two sides. It is same to the city. Although it didn't take that long time to talk, this time was a whole different story that I had expected to listen. It was deeper and real, not a story made up for a film. It felt like this interview was more than just peering, but pouring into the past.