Sung L. is a 65-year-old senior who is currently residing in the Menlo Family Apartments with her husband. She was born in Seoul, South Korea and worked as a Seoul city official until she immigrated to the U.S. with her husband in 1978. She worked as a caregiver for seniors, making meals for them, accompanying them to the market, and having conversations with them. She retired last year, and in her free time, she likes to meet with her church friends. During quarantine, instead of being confined in her apartment, she likes to go hiking at Griffith Park early in the morning. The Safer-At-Home order has allowed her to feel gratitude for the freedom she had before, but despite this, she wants to spend each day productively.
Interviewed by Crystal Yoon
Where is your hometown?
My hometown is Seoul, South Korea. To be more specific, I was born in Yeongdeungpo-gu which is located in the southwest part of Seoul. When I was in South Korea, the situation wasn’t great. Korea was very poor and it suffered from the after-effects of constant fighting. I remember going outside with rain boots when it rained, and unlike children today who play on asphalt streets, I used to play on dirt and sand roads. There was a mountain in my neighborhood so my friends and I would run around. We would also grow vegetables like radishes. I spent my whole childhood in Korea and worked as a Seoul city official. I worked in a total of four ward offices: Seodaemun-gu Office, Gangnam-gu Office, Gangdong-gu Office, and Gangseo-gu Office. My work as a Seoul city official focused on public affairs and I would usually register families as well as document tax reports.
A few years after I quit my job as a Seoul city official, my husband and I came to America. My husband’s brother as well as his parents had already settled in America. They invited us to come live here and that’s how I came.
Do you live or work in Koreatown?
When we first came to America, we had to start everything all over again. In Korea, we had a path that included attending school and applying for jobs. There was a basic foundation that we followed in Korea and life was natural. However, when we came here, the first barrier we were faced with was language. I couldn’t speak English so I was unable to do the work I did back home. In Korea, I would work in an office setting and my job was to consult with other people, but in America, it was almost impossible to do this kind of job. Although it was difficult to communicate, Korean immigrants who came before have made a path for people like us so I think it was less challenging for us to get a job.
I had several jobs such as working for a business and as a restaurant helper. I didn’t have the ability to be a chef, so I was an assistant. My last job was as a caregiver for seniors. I assisted them by taking them to the hospital, to the market, and if they needed, I would even make meals for them. The ultimate goal was to assist and help the seniors before they had to be admitted into the hospitals. Because hospital fees are so expensive, by helping them out beforehand, we would be able to reduce their stay in the hospital. Out of all the jobs I did, this job had the highest pay. When I retired, it was $13 per hour, but it wasn’t always this high. It was lower when I first started but then it gradually increased. I retired last year (2019) and I’m not sure if the pay increased or not. When I retired, I felt very proud of what I had accomplished. In the end, I noticed that this job was very similar to the job I had in Korea as a city official because I was helping others.
Our family didn’t always live in Koreatown. At first, we were raising our child in Koreatown, but because we were living in Koreatown and meeting mostly Korean people, I thought it would be difficult for our children to learn English and really explore American culture and life. So, we decided to move to the suburbs and lived in Long Beach for a long time. Our children studied there and after they went on to college, we thought it would be better for us to go back and live in Koreatown. Living in Koreatown is very nice and convenient. Although the area might be a little dirty, living here has made it easier for me to communicate with others since I can speak Korean to most everyone here. Also, I love how everything can be solved very easily and how everything is very accessible. There’s a lot of government facilities we can use and we have KYCC right next to us, so we’ve been getting a lot of help.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown?
Koreatown is a very convenient and comfortable place to live. We are able to access a lot of information and when we’re curious about something, we can get answers or at least information very quickly. There’s Korean associations as well as Korean information centers in Koreatown that we can easily access. When we first came back to Koreatown after living in the suburbs, we didn’t really have the need to look for informational centers, but since I am getting older, I’ve been looking for medical institutions nearby and Koreatown provides a lot of information about that. I usually provide information to friends who live far away. I just love living in Koreatown.
Where is your favorite place in Koreatown?
As of right now, Griffith Park is my favorite place because it is one of the few places I am able to go. I wake up early every day and hike from 5:30 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. There aren’t a lot of people during this time so I don’t have to worry too much about coming in contact with others. I am also part of a team consisting of my church friends, and together, we drink tea and exercise at our own pace. We usually walk and stretch and my morning is pretty busy.
What has been the most challenging part of the quarantine?
The most challenging part is not being able to go out freely. Although staying home is comfortable, there are times when we want to go out, and for me, I enjoy shopping. But now, the only place I can really go to is the market. Even though some shopping places like Ross are open now, I am worried that I might get in contact with someone who has the virus. It’s very frustrating not to be able to go out freely like before everything happened.
If quarantine ended, where or what would you do first?
I would love to travel somewhere. Our church usually provides a lot of conferences for people to travel to different places, but since everything got cancelled, it is very disappointing. So, if the quarantine ended, I would like to participate in my church conference and travel somewhere.
What is a moment in your life that you’re most proud of?
I’m most proud of knowing and meeting God. I feel like I am so fortunate to be a part of God’s family. When I didn’t know God, my life was very unclear, but now, I know that all things happen through God’s works. I am walking the steps of my life with God and although at times, it may be difficult, I always remember that I can do everything in Christ. Secondly, I am proud of my son’s marriage. I lived through difficult times and my children were faced with many challenges throughout their lives. But when my son married, I felt very proud. He was now leaving my arms and making his own family so I felt proud and happy.
Do you have any regrets in your life?
I have regrets about my marriage. For most people, they don’t know what marriage really is until they experience it, and to say the least, it’s like gambling. If you meet a good person, it’s fine, but for me, my husband and I didn’t and still don’t match, so there were a lot of difficulties. We still face challenges since we still don’t get along that well, but I’m trying to live my best given my current situation.
Who influenced you the most throughout your life?
First of all, it is Christ and my sisters and brothers in Christ. However, when I wasn’t part of the church, I think my parents influenced my life the most.
What is one memory that you will never forget?
I can’t say I have one specific memory. I just lived a normal life and tried to think optimistically about everything. However, if I had to choose, I think it is the time when I got accepted to college. After graduating high school, I started working and had to work and attend college at the same time. I think my school days are a time I will never forget.