Saturday, January 20, 2007

Meh-ri

My sister called to inform me that one of our cousins from Korea had just landed in Los Angeles for an overnight stay with her travel group touring across North America. She asked if I could come over and meet for dinner.

It was around 5 o'clock in the afternoon when she called, but I hopped into my car right away with no hesitation despite the daunting prospect of driving nearly two hours through rush hour traffic which included downtown LA. I had not seen Mi since my visit to Korea in 1989, and I was not about to pass this one up.

Mi is the second oldest of my aunt's five children all of whom are older than me and my sister. The seven of us grew up together practically as siblings under the same roof at least over three different periods in my childhood years.

There is something you should know about my family.

When I was about four, my father left the family, leaving Mom to fend for herself and the two young children. It was at a time when single motherhood was unheard of and career opportunities for women scarce in this third world country ravaged by war and political and social turmoil. We had nowhere to go when my aunt took us in even though she had her hands full with five rambunctious school aged children and her husband's meager teacher's salary.

Mi greeted me with a warm hug and tears. It was great to see her.

You young people out there may want to note that when we old people get together, we scrutinize each other for signs of aging. I did what I could so as not to highlight my wrinkles and angled myself to conceal the gray around the temples. Sometimes my smile looks more like a scowl because of that.

We reminisced about the past as old friends and family do. Although it was a very difficult period for all of us, there was no shortage of hilarious stories which had us gasp for air. What a time warp that was.

Mi was my favorite cousin. Although some of my cousins loved to terrorize and pick on the baby of the family as you could see below, Mi always loved me and took good care of me.

Then the subject turned to the family dog that we had. She reminded us that his name was Meh-ri. Meh-ri? Doesn't sound like a Korean name, does it? Where did that name come from? I asked.

Following America's military involvement during the Korean war and also generous aid after the cease fire, Koreans got to befriend American soldiers and relief workers who brought them food, medicine, and shelter and helped rebuild the war-torn nation.

They came to owe Americans a debt of gratitude and apparently one way to express it was by naming their dogs after their American friends. Thus two of the most popular dog names to this day in Korea are "Meh-ri" and "Chon" which are the Korean variations of Mary and John respectively.

Since it was against tradition to give their children non-Korean names, this was how Koreans honored their generous American friends who touched their lives in the postwar era. They named their beloved family pets after Americans.

And they ate them.

That was stupid. My joke was, not how Koreans including my aunt's family honored their American friends. So let me make a commitment not to burden you with another stupid dog meat joke again.

BTW, Noah has been doing this a lot lately for some reason. Do you think he's praying? Hey Noah, it's just a joke.



Back to Meh-ri.

I remember the dog very well. He was a Korean Jindo. All of my aunt's five children and my sister were school aged, so they were at school during the day and my mother worked two jobs to save up money to get a place of our own.

My aunt was home with me, but having five children left her very little time to look after me as you can imagine. So Meh-ri was my babysitter and we became inseparable companions.

One cold winter day, Mi recalled, Meh-ri and I were nowhere to be found. They frantically searched all over for us. The gate was locked and I was too small to reach the latch, but my cousins combed the neighborhood and the woods nearby to no avail for hours.

Then it occurred to someone to shine the flashlight into the dog house just in case.

And there we were in the dog house: Meh-ri and I cuddling up together and keeping each other warm and shielded from the cold and harsh world outside. Apparently we had been there huddled up for hours.

Even though it was a period when I first became cognizant of the harsh realities of life and my carefree childhood was nearing an end, Meh-ri showered me with unconditional and pure love. He loved me and took good care of me when no one else could.

That is how I came to love dogs. That is how I became a big dog person.

**********************************


So what happened to Meh-ri, I asked. Did you guys Wok him?

Mi didn't get the "joke." Understandably so because I said the above in Korean except for the word "Wok.".

Note to self:  When you play on words, you should not mix three different languages (Wok is Chinese), one of which originated from vastly different linguistic roots. I knew that, but I still couldn't help myself. Sometimes a man's gotta do what he's gotta do.

When my aunt's family packed up and moved to Seoul, they couldn't take him with them. So they gave him up for adoption after crying buckets. By then we had moved out to another place, so thankfully I was not there when this happened.

After they settled in Seoul, my uncle took a five hour train ride to visit Meh-ri's new family and to check on him. He could barely afford the trip, but he missed the dog that badly.

By then, Meh-ri had gone to dog heaven. He never ate, my uncle was told. My best childhood friend never recovered from a broken heart when his loved ones left him.

31 Comments:

At January 20, 2007 10:59 AM, Anonymous BarBarA said...

David! What an amazing story. It was so interesting to hear about your childhood. Your family sounds very close and loving. Meh-ri was some special dog.

Love your sense of humor...you crack me up.

Maybe Noah is praying for you?

 
At January 20, 2007 11:12 AM, Blogger Gretchen said...

Great story David! What a life you had before coming over here. Thank you for sharing, it was heartwarming and funny! =) (I actually got a tear in my eye!)

 
At January 20, 2007 3:56 PM, Blogger Amber said...

Awwww, that is so sad. People who don't believe dogs are people should read this. Their love and devotion are unlike anything else. BTW, Noah looks so pretty with that shiny coat.

 
At January 20, 2007 7:05 PM, Blogger The Gig said...

I really enjoyed reading this story. I enjoy reading about the lives of different cultures. I was fairly close to some of my cousins too.

You write very nicely -- keep up the good work.

 
At January 21, 2007 12:31 PM, Blogger Gary Means said...

Wow, David, thanks for telling that story. Very touching.

When our family was considering getting a dog, one of the breeds we investigated were Jindos. They are pretty cool looking. But the more we read, the more we realized that Jindos would not be a good match for us. However, it was cool to read about how incredibly protective they are of their host family.

As to cousins, I have little if any contact with my cousins except at funerals.

 
At January 21, 2007 12:56 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

barbara - Thanks. Speaking of praying, have you noticed that people seldom say to pray for their pets?

They ask for prayers for inanimate objects - job, house, etc - but not for their beloved pets for some reason.

gretchen - thanks.

 
At January 21, 2007 1:00 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

amber - don't you think they are better than people some times?

gig - thanks.

Gary - They are definitely not for beginners. You have to know what you are doing, but once you earn their trust, their loyalty cannot be beat.

 
At January 21, 2007 1:01 PM, Blogger L-girl said...

OMG David, thank you so much for sharing this story. It's really moving - beginning with your aunt taking your family in. Your memories and love and affection for that dog are beautiful (and painful) to read about. But oh my, Meh-ri's demise from a broken heart, I can hardly stand it.

Thanks for alerting me to this post. I replied to you over at wmtc.

Let me ask you something: did you ever see your father again? Do you remember him at all? Maybe one day you'll write about that.

 
At January 21, 2007 2:03 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

Thanks Laura, we did get reunited with dad in Japan a few years later. But then never saw him again after that. Maybe some day I will write about.

Have you heard of Jindos? This breed is not officially registered, but I think they would be perfect for you. They are definitely for experienced dog owners. Because they are so fiercely loyal to their masters, they are unadoptable once grown up. That's what happened to Meh-ri.

 
At January 21, 2007 3:03 PM, Blogger L-girl said...

I'm glad you saw your father again. I'm sure it was a painful experience.

***

I've seen Jindos - they remind me of Norwegian Elkhounds. They sound great! That loyalty is a heartbreaker. Like my Buster. :) That must be why you thought of me.

But how could I get a dog who can only be adopted as a puppy? I only adopt rescues, so they're always a little older.

8 days to Tala! T minus 8 and counting.

 
At January 21, 2007 3:04 PM, Blogger L-girl said...

Oh no, not Elkhounds. I meant Shiba Inus. Jindos must be related to Inus.

 
At January 21, 2007 3:08 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

I think they are closely related to Akitas, which makes sense because they are from Japan.

My neighbor spent $3,000 to get an Akita from a breeder. Isn't that crazy?

 
At January 21, 2007 3:41 PM, Blogger L-girl said...

Yes, I think it is. People routinely spend thousands of dollars for dogs. I hate it. All that money changing hands - so ripe for animal abuse. And so unnecessary!

 
At January 22, 2007 12:28 PM, Anonymous Rufus the dog said...

The amiable qualities of dogs cannot be overstated. I love dogs.

 
At January 23, 2007 5:39 AM, Blogger A thinker said...

Wow. It's so touching...and so sad. What an amazing dog. No wonder you loved him so much. And no wonder you are a dog person now. It must have really, really hit you how much Meh-ri loved you when you heard that story...

 
At January 23, 2007 6:50 AM, Blogger Brian Buriff said...

There's truth to the phrase "Man's best friend..." huh? I'll have to teach Taser and Jasmine the art of puppy prayer. I don't think they'll go for fasting and prayer. Just prayer.

 
At January 23, 2007 7:52 AM, Blogger Bruce said...

In Ecclesiastes 4, the writer is talking about bonds of friendship and he writes: "If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?" What better description of the relationship you had with Meh-ri, and probably Noah (and yes Brian, Taser).

Interesting story.

His peace.
B~

 
At January 23, 2007 9:24 AM, Blogger Friar Tuck said...

a very touching story, and probably could be published somewhere.

 
At January 23, 2007 1:20 PM, Blogger SUPER said...

Awesome story. It's amazing how animals can touch our lives.

My dogs are more than just a pet. They are my companions, my friends, my comforters. When I laugh, they play gleefully. When I cry, they immediately come sit with me until I stop.

People make fun of me for spoiling them so much...but to me, they deserve everything I can give them!

 
At January 23, 2007 8:14 PM, Blogger Oricon Ailin said...

Dogs are the coolest creatures!!! They love unconditionally and are always there for you. I've grown up all my life with dogs around. I have three here where I live. My mom and dad are taking care of my dog for me. When I moved in with my husband and his family, they already had three dogs. So, I left my baby with my folks. But I see her at least once a week. They only live about 10 miles.

 
At January 23, 2007 9:17 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

thinker - yes, it is amazing how much our childhood years shape us in so many different ways.

brian - I would love to see that. Then what, Taser on the Christianity Today cover?

bruce - that is a very nice verse.

Clint - thanks

 
At January 23, 2007 9:19 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

super - Yeah, it is amazing how in tune they are with your emotions. Noah tries to cheer me up literally by pushing up my chin up with his snout. I wish I could videotape that.

heather - How are they liking the snow?

 
At January 24, 2007 7:09 AM, Anonymous Mad Ethel said...

David - I was laughing so much at your story until the end when we learn that Meh-ri dies of a broken heart. The picture of you (?) getting pummled by snow balls: Priceless. HAHAHA! I picked up on your sarcasm and had a good laugh at your "joke" too. Dogs are the perfect companion.

On a more personal note, I really enjoyed reading about your childhood. You sound like you have an amazing and close-knit family. I'm glad you got to see Mi.

 
At January 24, 2007 8:59 PM, Blogger San Nakji said...

I love 진돗개 they are such a wonderful breed. I like making dog eating jokes with my Korean friends and family too!

 
At January 25, 2007 9:26 AM, Blogger rubyslipperlady said...

What a wonderful post! funny, poignant, touching, sad.

The pictures alone are fabo. Family is important and I'm glad that you were able to see a cousin so dear to you. I also grew up with a couple of my cousins nearby, but I am the oldest of them all, so it was a different spot for me.

Thank you for blessing my day with your story.

Did I mention what a great picture that is out in the snow?!

 
At January 25, 2007 10:37 AM, Blogger Jenny said...

You know, Terrence's story is similar to yours. Not really about the dog, but about his father leaving his mother in a community where a working woman was more of an abnormality.

 
At January 25, 2007 2:18 PM, Blogger Jenny said...

It is an Episcopalian monastery that is located in upstate NY, near Poughkeepsie. They happen to be connected to an Episcopalian monastery that is located in Santa Barbara. (http://www.holycrossmonastery.com/OHC/OHC.htm)

 
At January 27, 2007 4:37 PM, Blogger Miss Cellania said...

What a great story. Except for the dying of a broken heart part. Loved the picture of you as a toddler!

 
At January 31, 2007 9:28 AM, Blogger theGracegirl said...

Wow. You are a seriously great writer. You need to compile your stories and publish them.

I hardly ever see my relatives, and really don't know them all that well. The American way of life can be pretty sad in that area.

 
At January 31, 2007 10:02 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

Thank you all for the kind words. Now go hug your dogs :)

 
At February 01, 2007 1:33 PM, Blogger San Nakji said...

Hi David,

I am being very slack in adding you to my blogroll! Thanks for adding me and I shall add you today. You are the second Korean on mine ;o)

안녕히 계세요

 

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