Once upon a time there was a little boy named Won and he arrived at an orphanage in Uijongbu, South Korea when he was approximately three years old. He didn’t exactly know how old he was nor his birthday. As it would for so many, he only knew his mother’s name as Umma. She told him to wait for her in a busy market and never returned. He was scared, weeping and absolute in his desire to return to the market so his mother could claim him.
It took him years to realize that his mother was not going to return and to this day, they have never met again. Won is a slender framed boy, with an angular face, probably more to do with his lack of eating. He kept to himself and never really connected with anyone at the orphans’ home. In time, he became the oldest boy and with that came the privelege and responsibility of keeping all the other 20 or so boys in line. He woke them up early to excercise, chided them for not keeping their clothes clean, demanded silence when he watched the news on the only TV in the Home, disciplined them harshly without raising his voice once, woke them up on weekends to work outside on the farm during kimchee making season and drove them for a treat once or twice a year. The other boys acted like punks when he was not around, but were incredibly respectful of him. In their eyes, he was the rare “orphan” and really had no other home. They feared him and would never cross him. He stayed longer than most boys as he had a driver’s license and ended up working for the Home. He kept his aspirations close to his vest, and never revealed his burning desire to leave forever.
Once upon a time, there was a girl named Sun. She is the youngest of four children, two boys and two girls. She grew up in a typical middle class family. Her father was raised by a wealthy family who educated him and allowed him to do well for himself and his family. From her words, she grew up in an idyllic situation. In high school, she had a terrible car accident that derailed her path to college. She humbly attended a lower trade high school and was really demoralized as to what future she might have. Being kind hearted and always wanting to do something with children, she decided to apply for a job at an orphanage. She was dissuaded by her mother who went to temple every day to pray her daughter would change her mind. Sun came from a devout family who believed in giving to others so it was not a stretch for her to want to do this hard work. Her mother feared that her daughter would end up being a spinster and not be valued as a marriage prospect if she did this line of work. After many tears and discussion, Sun went to Uijonbu to work in an orphanage. She lied about her age when she got there as she realized she was only one year older than Won, the oldest boy.
Sun learned quickly that Won was different from all the other boys. He was identified as a “true orphan” and her heart broke for this quiet sullen guy. Won was not impressed and didn’t really acknowledge her for several years. He had seen workers come and go and never stay for long. Sun was just one of many “teachers” who came and cared for the children. However, Sun proved to be very different. Aside from her diligence and cheery personality, she didn’t leave. Year after year, for three years she stayed and took care over the children as if they were her own. She disciplined lovingly and the younger children grew to really love her.
Nearly seven years went by and Sun confesses she has feelings for Won, but doesn’t dare admit it outloud. Working in an orphange was taxing on her body and soul and she decided to leave the orphanage to try and branch out on her own and open a nursery school. It was not long afterwards when Won decided he had enough of the Home and applied for a construction job. He was able to leave with some money as he earned his keep at the Home. Won and Sun go their separate ways but remain in touch.
A year later, Won earned a job at a car manufacturing company. He is proud of his job and calls upon Sun and they begin to date for the first time, finally confessing their love for each other. One year later, they marry.
To marry an orphan is no simple matter. Emotionally and societally, this is not easy. Sun’s parents loved Won and admired his work ethic and never took pity on him. They respected his story and agreed to a very small wedding so he would not be embarrassed that no one was on his side of the room. They helped the happy couple with a honeymoon to Australia and helped them purchase an apartment made for employees of the car company. They became his family. Sun’s father, having been raised by another family, empathized with his new son-in-law and saw him as a person who loved his daughter.
It would be an understatement to say that Won and Sun live happily ever after. They do. They have two beautiful children, a wise daughter and exuberant son. Still, Won’s status as an orphan does not go unnoticed. His daughter is often chided for having no relatives on her father’s side. In a country where the father’s side are considered “real” and the mother’s side is considered “other”, Sun and Won have a rather unorthodox family. Won has worked for the same car company for years now and everyone knows he is an orphan. The women in the apartment complex often mention it and chide Sun for being married to such a lowly man.
No matter, the love these two have for each other has sustained. Rather, the faith Sun had that her love would be enough is truly the gift of family Won so much desired and deserved.
I love this story. Every bit of it is true. I have had a front row seat to this love story and am in complete awe of it. Because we are from the same orphanage, I consider Won my brother. And in turn, his children consider me their Aunt. So, it is with great joy and pride that my neice goes to school and rebuts her teasers that she has an Aunt in America!