By Benjamin Kwack, age 9, Illinois.
Hi. My name is Billy and my family was visiting Seoul which is in Korea and I loved everything about it. As soon as I heard that we were staying here for the entire summer vacation plus three months into the school year, I was so excited. Partially because I was going to not have three months of school. But anyway. I was going to be in Seoul because ever since the Korean war started and the fighting began, America had sided with South Korea. My father, who actually had joined the army 15 years ago, had to stay in South Korea to help, just in case the Northern part of Korea attacked again. I hoped I would enjoy my time, especially on the holidays. In America, holidays were still fun but this was a whole new country with different traditions so I couldn’t wait to be in Seoul.
The first holiday I witnessed was the New Year. Everyone stayed up really late until after midnight and in the wee hours of the morning. I was sleepy but tried to stay awake just to see what happens. I saw a big bell that was right next to a street and people had gathered around, cheering as they jumped out of their houses running to it. The only light was the light from thousands of cellphones, and they glowed brightly in the dark. The night was silent until somebody started talking into the mic. I felt a little nervous. The person with the mic stopped talking as someone rang the gigantic bell with a mallet that was hooked onto a chain. The big shouts of celebration filled the air, and children ran around with big smiles on their faces. I heard noises like, “It’s the New Year already!” and “See you next year!” The bell rang 33 times before it stopped. The sound of the heavy gong filled my head even after it ended but I was too excited, so it actually didn’t really matter.
Finally, everyone went back into their houses and went to sleep. When we woke up in the morning, my mom realized something. She said that we should have gotten a traditional food, called Tteokguk (It is a soup with sliced rice cakes inside it). I walked up to my mom and said that we had to try some of the soup because if this was a tradition, then I wanted to try it. She said, “Of course Billy. Why not?” So that was the reason why we rode to the supermarket in a taxi. The supermarket wasn’t crowded because everyone already had Tteokguk prepared a few days before. Luckily for us, one container of Tteokguk was still there sitting on the shelves. We quickly bought it. The cashier said, “Annyeong.” We said that we didn’t speak Korean so it was kind of difficult talking to the cashier but we finally managed to understand each other.
After we were done, I skipped out of the supermarket, and we rode another taxi home. It was a while for us to get back there but we unloaded the food and started cooking. I drooled. We waited and it was finally cooked thoroughly. The soup had a natural taste that felt rich as I rolled the pieces of sliced rice cakes around in my mouth. The soup warmed me inside and made me feel calm after all the excitement. I was thinking about the New Year. I tried some more, and it felt plain but at the same time, strong. I saved some for later; I didn’t want to eat all the Tteokguk in one meal.
Then, I watched as people came back out onto the streets again. But this time, a lot of older people also walked onto the streets. I followed them with my mom and my dad. The children bowed to their elders saying, “Saehae Bok mani badeuseyo!” and the elders smiled back, and they gave the children a little money. This went on for a while and when the last coins rattled, I held my breath with a little disappointment because I thought everything was done.
It wasn’t. There was one other thing. It must have been really meaningful because everyone went to visit their grandfathers and grandmothers or their ancestors who had passed away by going to their ancestor’s graveyards. Their family members who had lived in other cities also came and joined them. They laid food by the graveside and prayed for them. The family members chatted for a while and ate some of the food together and waved to each other for a long time before finally leaving. I was struck with a little confusion because this was a new thing for me, and I only knew a little of what was happening. That’s why everything made me feel awestruck and amazed. I actually liked the Korean way of celebrating the New Year. It soon became dark, and I went to bed and gazed up at the ceiling smiling waiting for the next holiday.
“What?!!!!!” I yelled waking up the next morning. My dad had announced that he had received an early retirement. It was such an honor to turn it down. Plus, my dad had been wanting to go back to America as soon as possible. I just sat there on my bed and scowled, but there was nothing I could do.
I gloomily walked to the airport with the family, boarded the plane and looked out the window. I had actually begun to like Korea and didn’t want to leave. Helplessly, I just flew back to America and cried to myself.
20 years later…
Billy had been in the army for four years. He had been sent to Korea to serve there. The happy smiles and laughs struck him and he smiled. It was good to be back!
“My name is Benjamin Kwack. I am 9 years old and I really like to draw, to do math and most of all, I like to write. I like to write fantasy, fiction and I really enjoyed reading informational books in class this school year.
In my story, ‘It was Good to be Back ,’ the main character, Billy, is a boy from America and his dad was in the army for 15 years. His dad was sent to South Korea to serve the army. Billy enjoyed the Korean New Year celebration because this was a new country with a new culture and traditions for him.
I wrote most of the story from Billy’s point of view except for the last two lines. I thought that way, it would seem special and more like a real story.”