dear diary...

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo — Family VS Self

Recently, I broke my drama hiatus by watching the oh-so-popular Weightlifting Fairy Kim Pok Joo. I devoured it like how a hungry chap wolfs down his lunch having skipped breakfast.

One thread that ties the narratives of the different characters together is the theme of family. From Bok Joo’s unconventional family unit consisting of just her, her ailing father and uncle, to Joonhyung’s troubling and traumatising familial past since his mother suddenly left him in the custody of his aunt’s family, to Siho’s already faltering family ties further destabilised by the confrontation of financial difficulties brought on by her increasingly demanding gymnastics career.

They are all adolescents, at the cusp of adulthood. And to strengthen the notion of independent living and self-sufficiency, these characters are required to stay on campus, I suppose, as part of the college’s residential living programme. For the most part of the drama, we are shown the perspective of the main characters as they get by day after day, week after week of gruelling practice, their personal problems with relationships and their struggle of finding themselves, their own identities. Occasionally, the family intervenes be it through financial difficulties, the threat of break-ups and divorce, or through the worrisome health of an important family member (like Bok Joo’s father).

Having experienced a year of living independently on campus away from my family, these problems and some of the scenes in this drama resonated strongly with me. At times, I found myself getting really caught in playing this independent adult character, someone belonging to no one else but myself. I do my own laundry, I eat whenever and whatever I want to eat, I sleep the number of hours I feel like sleeping on the weekends, I invite the people I loved having over, and the list of liberties from living alone as my own person goes on. It felt good to throw away whatever troubles and considerations that would usually crop up when making decisions involving more than one person about the things they may not like, the compromises that I’ll have to make, the extra responsibilities that I’m expected to shoulder, the times that I have to fit my own schedule to in order to make plans work…the worries are endless, too.

Somewhere in the middle of the entire drama, Si Ho finds out about the impending divorce between her parents not from the parents themselves, but from her younger sister. She had an idea all along that if anything is going to break her parent’s marriage, it would be her budding career as a professional gymnast because of the financial strain it has brought upon her parents and the conflict of interests between her parents right from the beginning. Si Ho confronts her mother at her workplace upon receiving news of the divorce with anger mixed with disappointment. A squabble ensues when Si Ho says she’ll quit gymnastics and work for an income instead. The following in the translated dialogue between the mother and daughter:

Si Ho: I’ll quit gymnastics. I’ll work and make money instead.

Mother: Who says you can? Who says you can quit gymnastics? Do you think your life is just your own? Wrong, your life is part of my life, too.

Si Ho: That has burdened me the most. The fact that my life is also your life. Why are you being greedy over my life? You should have lived your own life better. Why did you have to put me through all of this.

(a thundering slap ensues, duh. How dare you challenge your mother’s authority and decisions, you ungrateful wretch.) 

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So, I have been wondering, at which point do I have full autonomy over my own life? Do I even have complete sovereignty over my self? Do we ever have full autonomy over our lives? Because, what about our parents, people who have made my life possible and existent in the very first place? Or perhaps our parents’ ownership over our lives ceases the minute we exit our mothers’ wombs. If so, how then can we explain the years of love and care given to us by our parents. Is that a simply biologically programmed instinct in parents for nurture or a socially constructed expectation that oblige human parents to care for their children till they are at least of a certain age? If my life is part of my parents’ life too, who makes the final decision?

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dear diary...

Romantic Grocery List

Since young, I have been confronted with societal ideals of the kind of men I should be dating, and resultantly, marrying. They were subtle back then, appearing in the form of male protagonists in superhero movies, television shows and comic books. Some of them weren’t even human in form, but the fact they they prevailed at the end of the day appeals to me. I had known, that I wanted a hero, someone who can save me from all my problems as much as cure the world of its diseases, someone who can tirelessly give me all the material and emotional comfort that I crave.

Then in my teens, and as the societally approved dating age range approached, discussions about our ideal “types” of guys began to surface frequently, often being a hot topic among close friends. My group of friends was no exception. One day, someone initiated the discussion and I found myself running through a grocery list of things I want and envision to be consumed in the next few weeks, except that this list wasn’t about vegetables and ready-made food, it was about a human being, one that I forsee myself being attached to.

He is to be tall, have a matching sense of humour, attractive (a lean physique, and nice facial features)… I had ran out of things to say. As embarrassment visibly spread across my cheeks, I scrambled for other traits previously spoken by my friends and made them seem like I had included them in my list as well. Ambitious, financially stable, chivalrous, responsible… Having averted a small crisis, I was contented with myself and did not put much thought afterwards about the traits that I had just listed about my “dream guy”.

In college, after dating a few people, I realised that my list was futile, useless. It consisted of mere conjectures, of fantasies, an idea of romantic connection inspired by the unrealistic expectations driven into our young innocent minds by TV dramas and Hollywood Rom-coms. It has never felt the ground of reality. In reality, when I am attracted to someone, when I’m in love with someone, I don’t actually tick off all the traits that I had listed on my “grocery list on romance”. I love them without a reason, I love them for everything they are and everything they are not. In reality, “a good sense of humour” is as ambiguous as hell — someone could be funny but in an abrasive way, someone else could be good at cracking intellectual jokes but anything beyond that his jokes induce more of a cringe than a guffaw, nonetheless they are all compartmentalised under the trait “good sense of humour”. Sometimes, you find yourself in love with a guy who is not fantastic looking but makes it up in his character and how he treats you when he’s with you. Sometimes, you may be attracted to someone who’s not doing so well financially and is in a phase of limbo in his life. In all, human attraction is way more complex and unpredictable than just simply a fully checked list of traits, or a block of code that you type into a program expecting a desired end outcome.

When you are attracted to someone, you abandon whatever criteria or yardsticks you previously held. You like them for being them, even if they don’t perfectly fit the mould that you’ve constructed for them. You will find yourself loving how your hands fit perfectly together, how his touch could warm you even in the coldest nights, how he would run to the McDonald’s a couple of bus stops away just to get you McSpicy when you’re a whiny mess complaining of hunger, you’ll appreciate his courage even if his peck on your lips or cheek was sloppy, you’ll find yourself wanting to share with him every intimate secret about yourself, you’ll find yourself letting your guard down for once in a long time, because there’s nothing and no one to guard yourself from anyway.

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