Similarly, he failed at teaching me Korean. I remember lessons at the kitchen table, with colored wooden blocks and bowls of fruit. "Sagwa-juseyo." I would hand him an apple. "Bae-juseyo." I would hand him a pear. I would repeat the phrases after him in a dull, uninflected voice, and he would grow impatient at my lack of competence. "No, no, no. Bbbb-ang!" He would make an explosive sound with his lips. "Not bang. Bbbb-ang means bread. Bang is room! How many times do I have to tell you?"
When I was in eighth grade, he shipped me off to the basement of the Korean church. A self-proclaimed atheist and crusader against blind believing, my father had to turn to God to teach me his native language .
On Thursday afternoons, Michael Lee and Danny Kim played paper football across their desks, while I gossiped with Jenny and Eun Gyeong Lee about trampy Su Ok Min and her Hell's Angels boyfriend.
"Did they really do it?" I asked once, only to be met with the cold, mascara-clotted eye of Jenny Lee.
"Whaddya think?" she replied disdainfully. "The guy rides a Harley."
"An-nyeong!" Pastor Park would welcome us each week, with a hopeful expression that quickly turned desperate. "Hanguk-mal halchul-arayo?" Do you know how to speak Korean? And we would refuse to look at him, rolling our eyes and snapping our gum, muttering, "Aaaa-niyo," sullenly under our breath. No.
After six weeks of this, Pastor Park abruptly ended classes. My father eventually gave up trying to teach me either of his two languages. It was my perception that he gave up on me altogether. I was too difficult, too rebellious, too unlike any Korean daughter he could possibly have imagined for himself. "Myung Hee-ya," he would say, "you should have been born a boy." And we would both think about Stephen and say nothing more, because it was true that I should have been, and because it was true that I was not.
Excerpted from Secondhand World by Katherine Min Copyright © 2006 by Katherine Min. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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