Remembering Kim Bok-dong halmuni

by Grace Ko


Friday morning started earlier than usual. I woke up immediately at the sound of my alarm.
I felt the weight of what today would be.

It began like any typical day. Mommy duties called: cuddles with J, diaper change, breakfast, wash-up and outfit change.

Then we packed into the car. I was the first of today’s drop-offs. First stop: train station.
With a few minutes to spare and to warm my fingertips, I got an Americano on my way to the train. The lull of the train ride felt oddly contradictory to the jittery anticipation I felt for the ensuing day’s events.
I pulled my phone out to see a message from my husband: today’s devotional titled “Deeper Love”.

I ran out of the train, and hopped into a cab, the driver navigating the busy streets of Central Seoul, skirting traffic for me. He turned on the radio, a Whitney Houston marathon. The first song? “The Greatest Love of All.”

Then I saw the crowd. I became one among hundreds, maybe even a thousand in front of the Japanese Embassy.

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My toes and fingers became numb in the bitter cold but I didn’t dare complain at the thought of how Kim Bok-dong halmuni stood in that very spot every week for Wednesday rallies for over 25 years.

Inspired and challenged, by the stories shared, but also by the people gathered, I made a promise in my heart… to remember Kim Bok-dong halmuni forever.

But that day, my heart was broken, shattered by the stories. Stories from those who were closest to her. Stories of who Kim Bok-dong was, not just as a justice fighter, an activist, but who she was as a human, a woman, a daughter.

How she was but 14 years old when she was taken from her family at the mercy of the Japanese army.

How at 93 years old, battling cancer, she called out “엄마” (“Mom”) in pain.

How she longed for a family of her own but that dream was ripped away from her.

How she cared for justice everywhere, how she started a foundation to help other victims of sex slavery, how she apologized for Korea’s wrongdoings towards Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War.

How she gave every last won she had to help others.

How she wanted to fly like a butterfly… how she wanted us to wave a hand to say goodbye to her when she left this earth… a thousand waving hands gathered, a pool of tears left behind.

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 “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”

Halmuni,

Your life was worth far more than these stories, these anecdotes, these words.

You have taught us that despite evil, injustice and violence, we yearn for peace.

You showed us that suffering and hardship can strengthen our hope.

You fought relentlessly until the very end to give hope to future generations.

You displayed light even in darkness. Maybe your light shone brighter because of darkness.

Your sacrifice, your love will be remembered.

You will be remembered.


김복동 할머니, 감사합니다 Thank you, Kim Bok-dong halmoni

by Grace Ko


Over four years ago, when I moved here to Korea, I would’ve never imagined that my heart would burn for the things it does now… this land, its people, its history, its stories.

A few months ago, I saw a post on social media of an interview with Kim Bok-dong 할머니 on Asian Boss. I paused before clicking the play button, in an attempt to prepare my heart for her story… but how can you ever really be ready to hear of such atrocities? Such pain and suffering? To have carried that weight by herself, to dedicate her life, every last bit of her energy to fight for justice. I was changed. I could not remain silent. And so I grappled, pondered, pored over words. How could I put onto paper the depths of agony, the heights of courage? I was at a loss. I gave up before I even started.

But last night, I found out that Kim Bok-dong 할머니 had passed on January 28, 2019.

Long before the #metoo movement, Kim Bok-dong revealed her story to the world in 1992 as one of the first “comfort women”. Since then, she fought tirelessly to bring justice to this issue, attending weekly Wednesday rallies and testifying around the world to receive a sincere apology from the Japanese government.

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Activist, hero, fighter.

Brave, courageous, selfless.

The grandest and most monumental of words still seem too small in comparison to who she was, what she did. Words fail me now as they had months ago.


When I first found out I was pregnant, I thought we were having a girl. And the ways God was speaking to me in that season, the things that were burning on my heart, were often about gender inequality and injustice. I see it all around, here in Korea. But really, it’s everywhere, isn’t it? The subtle and the not-so-subtle, the microaggressions and the aggressions. It would overwhelm me. I would sit and pray, asking the Lord for wisdom to raise a daughter in this day and age. When we found out we were having a boy, I was left disillusioned….“Lord, what was all that? I thought I had been hearing from you.” Until it dawned on me… “Gender inequality” isn’t a “female” problem. Fighting injustice isn’t just on us women. It needs to be a joint effort.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
— Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, I promised myself I would do something. I sat and pored over articles about her life, her death, her legacy. I watched the movie, “I can speak” inspired by her life. I journaled, I prayed.

And so I promise to remember her story. I promise to share her story.

김복동 할머니,

할머니의 용기와 끊임없는 희생과 헌신을 기억하겠습니다.

I promise to do my best to raise my son to be a fighter for justice, to stand up for what is right, but more than anything, I will teach him of your life, your story, your courage… You will not be forgotten.

Thank you.

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 Kim Bok-dong halmoni’s obituary

Sign petition for the Resolution of the Japanese Military Sexual Slavery Issue


Oh, Canada: The Niagara Falls Edition

by Grace Ko


So let me tell you about that 12-hour flight from hell.

Leading up to our big trip to Canada, J hadn’t been feeling well. He was running a fever for a few days and my mommy-instinct told me it might be an ear infection so we took him in to see the doc the morning of our flight. Lo and behold, ear infection. We picked up the prescribed antibiotics (sigh…) and headed home to pack up. It was a fight to get him to take the meds, only for him to throw it all up. It was an eventful start to our trip and we hadn’t even left home yet.

Luckily, the airport shuttle ride lined up with his nap-time (these are the logistics of parenthood people don’t tell you about) and once we arrived to Incheon Airport, J was in good spirits. That all went out the window once the plane took off. And rightly so. Poor guy was in so much pain with his ear infection and the cabin air pressure.

I am not kidding you when I say, he cried at a four-minute interval for the entire flight. It didn’t help that the flight attendants were crabby and unhelpful. Boy were we glad to land and get off that plane! (Understatement of the year)

It didn’t end there. We picked up our rental car and then had a two-hour drive ahead of us to Niagara Falls. (What possessed us to think THAT was a good idea…?) But thanks to dear husband, J and I had a nice sleep in the car.

We arrived to a rainy, dreary Niagara Falls but it called for snuggles and room service. I ordered myself a glass of red wine (yes, please!) and chocolate chip cookies along with our dinner.

Hotel beds & room service. My son after my own heart

Hotel beds & room service. My son after my own heart

View of the falls from our room

View of the falls from our room

We looked out our window to an incredible Falls’ view and fell asleep brimming with anticipation to meet it up-close and personal.

Day 1:

The next morning, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast buffet where we each had our fill of our favs: coffee for me, yogurt for J and pastries for Y. With tummies full, we sat J in his stroller (our hero: best investment ever!) and walked over to the Falls.

Family selfie, fail. But makes for good laughs.

Family selfie, fail. But makes for good laughs.

We snapped a ton of photos (Y captured some of J+mommy’s love fest: shown above), walked even more and got our introduction to Tim Horton’s. Despite the large amounts of coffee consumed, on my part, jet lag hit us hard and we all rolled into bed for a slightly-too-long-to-be-considered-a-nap nap.

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We closed out of our first full day in Canada at the outlets, J and daddy enjoyed some ice cream fireside, I strolled and shopped.

Day 2:

Traveling with a sick toddler is not for the faint-hearted. On Day 2, I woke up achy and feverish with a sore throat. With a busy itinerary ahead of us, I decided to take it easy. Dear husband took J out for the day and I spent it in bed. The boys took an excursion to the nearby Butterfly Conservatory and J absolutely loved it.

When the boys returned, I had a major case of FOMO. Being our last evening in Niagara, I mustered up every bit of energy and made it out to the Peller Estates for a wine tasting. Mixing cold meds and wine was probably not my brightest moment. Neither was doing three flights of tastings. But hey ho, you only live once. And come on, ice wine? How can you resist?

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By the time I finished my three flights of wine tastings, it was well past dinnertime. With a hungry toddler in tow and no shoddy internet connection, we frantically searched for a place that would serve us food late at night. After several fails, we finally settled down at a pub and helped ourselves to a large serving of fish and chips and a burger.

More on our trip to be continued…


A tribute

by Grace Ko


I still remember the day like it was yesterday. I was new to the church, the city and the country and was still trying to get a handle on public transportation. I ventured off on the bus and found my way to Gangnam for my first women’s group meeting. Arriving at a cute little apartment, I coincidentally reconnected with a friend, and as we began making our introductions, in walked M.

I don’t often remember what people were wearing the first time I met them, but with M, I do. Because I immediately had a girl crush on her. She was wearing a gray sheath dress, of the chicest kind with a houndstooth-patterned coat.

The next time she and I really got to chatting was at a quaint cafe hidden in the alleyways of Gangnam. It had Alice in Wonderland vibes and the tea to match. As we poured ourselves cupfuls of tea, the autumnal kind, we got to connect about our passions - that night, about writing, specifically. About this very blog I’m posting on. About facing our fears that hold us back. About just starting.

A bit later, I met our fellow partner-in-crime, K. And our trio was complete. That’s until The Three Stooges (Y, D and A) joined and the six of us officially became “SQUAD”.

When Y and I moved to Korea, I was near thirty and a bit (okay, I lie… a lot) reluctant to meet new people. I didn’t feel the need to make new friends.

But life, it’s full of surprises.

When you meet people like M, K, A and D, you can’t help but open your heart and let them in. They’re the funniest, the funnest, the deepest, the truest. And to think, from our small group of friends, M and A went from friends to husband and wife! Life truly is full of surprises, eh?

A 12-hour plane ride from hell didn’t stop us from being there for the big day. J had to make his debut as a ring boy!

The whole wedding weekend was one celebrating love of the deepest and best kinds: in God, in friendship, in family, and in matrimony. I still get warm and fuzzy thinking back to that weekend because two people we love fell in love and got married.

You may or may not know. But I cried a lot on my wedding day. The cheeks-drenched, sobbing, ugly-crying kind. But I may just have cried more at M & A’s wedding.

Here’s the video to prove it:

M, she’s one-of-a-kind. She’s the kind of friend I can talk to about anything and everything: from the geopolitical in nature, to food, family, fashion and fun. Creative to her core, her life and presence itself inspire those around her to make things beautiful, to create, to love and to enjoy. She’s a rare kind of friend - one who isn’t in the same life stage as me but has always fully embraced, fully empathized and fully validated me. She’s my sounding board, someone who “gets” me on so many levels.

A, he’s adventurous in spirit, a rebel of sorts. A teacher and a life-long learner, always curious and inquisitive. Always thinking and asking. He makes me want to learn, to read, to explore. He doesn’t like to sit still for too long and is often who gets us up and on our next expedition.

Today, as I reminisce on that beautiful weekend, I just miss them…

Until our next adventure!


This is 33: Birthday weekend

by Grace Ko


Okay, so I’m a bit behind. So let’s play some catch-up.

Last month (August), less than three weeks after our big move out of Seoul, we hosted a small get-together for a housewarming/birthday barbecue.

You know those days that you keep replaying in your mind over and over again? Because it makes your heart full? It was one of those.

I got to hit the gym and take a shower and full embrace me-time thanks to the husband. And then it was a mad frenzy to clean and prep and cook in anticipation of our guests.

People made their long trek from the city to the countryside and the rice paddy in front of our house made sure to welcome them so. After hugs and house tours, we got seated to start grubbing. Skirt steak started us off. Yea, it was one of those meals. Dear husband prepared course after course. I blew out the candles and then we filled our bellies with carrot cake (chosen by yours truly) and washed it down with some coffee. A summer BBQ playlist streamed in the background as we all caught up on each other’s lives.

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The backyard is the best part of our house. And the weather permitted us to bask in it and finally put our tent to use. The mosquitoes eventually chased us back indoors but we got a good lounge-around. The ladies chatted, The boys made up a game, their own version of corn hole and it was entertaining to watch, to say the least.

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It was truly a delightful in every way.

If this is 33, it’s going to be a good one.