Gilbert Kim is an elder resident at Menlo Family Apartments, as well as a father to three children and grandfather to two. Working as a teacher (for elementary, middle, and high school) in Korea during the 1970s, he has seen firsthand how the country has developed and advanced over the years. He came to America 20 years ago at the behest of his family members, and he now spends his days playing tennis, reading books, traveling and spending time with his family.
Where is your hometown? (고향이 어디입니까?)
I was originally born in Nagoya, Japan in 1944, but I moved to with my parents to Kyungbok Yungduk (경북영덕) in Korea, which is a small town near Pohang and Daegu. I spent the next 30 years in Korea working as a teacher and moved to America when I was around 60. I also spent some time in the Marines, and I moved around a lot during that time as well. As a result, I don’t have very strong ideas, nor any particular feelings about one certain place that I might consider a hometown.
I have some memories of being in Japan, but they aren’t really significant. Also, while America’s large surface area means there are clear distinctions between the different cultures between, say the East and West Coasts, Korea is very small, so it’s kind of the same wherever you go. There aren’t really special characteristics between towns in Korea, so that’s why I don’t have much to say about my hometown or where I’m from.
Did you experience racism/discrimination in Japan as a Korean? (한국인으로서 일본에서 인종차별을 경험하셨습니까?)
I was very young when I lived in Japan, so I don’t really have any particular memories of living there. However, I was teased when I was in elementary school by the other Korean kids. I understood Korean very well, but I wasn’t too good at speaking it, so the children would make fun of me and say that I was actually a Japanese person. But as I got older, I didn’t get such discrimination at all.
Do you live or work in Koreatown? (한인타운에서 사시거나 일을하시나요?)
I live in Koreatown and have lived here since being invited by my family 19 years ago. I’m retired now, but before I was a teacher in Korea. I taught elementary, middle, and high school students, so I’ve taught pretty much every subject before. Most of my students might be in their 40s and 50s now, but they don’t really contact me.
The most memorable experience I had while teaching was during the 1970s in Korea. During this time, Korea’s economy was very bad and everyone was quite poor, so I remember there were many students that could not afford to come to school. Some students were not well taken care of by their parents because they did not have money, and some didn’t have parents at all. There were lots of kids like that in the countryside, and I felt bad for them as a teacher. Of course, there were some kids who didn’t come to school just because they didn’t want to. Then I would have to go to their homes and scold them about the importance of education. But that was a really profound experience during my teaching career.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown? (한인타운에대해 어떻게 생각하십니까?)
I think that it is a nice and comfortable place to live. The hospital and the grocery store are nearby, so it’s very convenient. It’s nice to live here in that sense. It’s like a Korean village that exists within America.
What is your favorite place in Koreatown? (한인타운에서 가장 좋아하시는 장소는 어디입니까?)
There aren’t that many parks in Koreatown, but there’s a small park with a tennis court on 4th and Vermont. Exercising in that park is my favorite thing to do, so I go there often to play tennis. The senior tennis club that I’m part of has around 40 members, and I mostly play with them. I’ve been part of that club for around 10 years, but I’ve been playing tennis for over 30 years.
What is the biggest way your life has changed because of the pandemic? (코로나 팬대믹 때문에 생활이 크게 바뀐점이 있습니까?)
It has changed very much. I can’t move around as I please because of the “stay at home” order. In fact, if I’m not playing tennis, I’m just at home. So the only times I go out are from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m., because that’s when I usually play tennis.
Did you go out a lot before the pandemic started (besides tennis)? (테니스 치는 것 말고, 혹시 유행병 전에 외출하는 것을 즐겼습니까?)
I used to visit my son who lives in Seattle once or twice a year. I also traveled a lot through riding tour buses and things like that. The most memorable place I have visited in this way is Sedona, Arizona. The town is surrounded by big, red mountains and the landscape is truly beautiful. Visiting the Native American reservation was also quite impactful, as it was interesting to see how differently people lived here outside of Korea. It was also amazing to know that these people once were the owners of American land.
If the quarantine ended tomorrow, what is the first thing you would do? (코로나 자가격리가 내일 끝난다면, 무엇을 가장먼저 하시겠습니까?)
There’s not really anything special I would do. All I really want is to be able to exercise and play tennis freely in the park that I enjoy going to.
What is a moment in your life that you’re most proud of? (인생에 제일 뿌듯했던 순간이 있으십니까?)
The fact that all three of my children went on to receive higher education. My first son went to study abroad in Japan and received a Ph.D. in Computer Science. And my second son got into Korea Military Academy which is the Korean equivalent of West Point in America. My daughter also did well in school and went to the University of Hawaii. We as parents worked hard to make sure they did well in school, but in the end, they all went to college and became educated people of their own volition. So yes, that’s something that I am quite proud of.
My children are all in their forties now, but I still see and talk to my children quite often. My daughter lives in Los Angeles so I see her a lot. My oldest son lives in Seattle, Washington, and we go up to visit him and his family around two times a year. He has two seven-year-old twin boys, and although we can’t see them physically, we often video chat and call them. My second son still lives in Seoul, Korea, so I can’t see him in person that often, but I frequently call and message him.
Because I was a teacher, I would always tell my children that they should be role models for other people. I did my best to teach them this by being the person that I wanted them to become and just being a good person in my day-to-day life. And to this day I feel that they still have this mindset, which I am very relieved about.
What does it mean for you to live a meaningful life? (의미있는 인생을 산다는 것은 무엇을 의미합니까?)
I think you have lived a meaningful life if you have been able to fulfill your goals and desires. I’m still in the progress of working towards that to this day. For example, my main goal right now is to be healthy. I do this by playing tennis every morning reading lots of books, and staying at home as much as possible, especially at this time. My philosophy is that taking care of your body creates the fruit of a meaningful life. When I was younger, my main focus was studying hard in school getting good grades, because that was what my parents wanted. Now I think that being healthy is the best because if I am unwell, I can’t go out and discover the purpose of my existence, I can’t meet and communicate with my children, and I can’t be the best grandparent that I can be to my grandchildren. When my grandchildren say “Grandpa, grandpa” I want to be able to respond and say “I love you” to them. If I am sick, I can’t do any of that.
I can’t say for sure if I have been able to lead a meaningful life, but I think that I am going in the right direction. I’ve been going towards the goal. What I mean to say is that I don’t have any regrets in my life.
*Gilbert wished to keep his image private, so this is an anonymous photo.