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Transcript of interview with Myoung-ja Lee Kwon by Claytee White, September 4, 2004


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Myoung-ja Lee Kwon began her life on the grounds of the Kyongbok Palace in Korea. In a country where education is valued, her father's occupation as a university professor meant that the family was highly honored, thus this palatial space allowed them live in a state of prosperity. But war changed these circumstances and in this interview Kwon vividly explains the family's evolution. In 1965, after graduation from Seoul National University she married and a year later, moved to the United State of America where she earned a Master's degree in Library Science in Provo, Utah. Her first professional position was at the University of Nevada Las Vegas as a cataloguer and after many promotions, became interim dean of UNLV Libraries. In 2001, she took the job as Dean of Libraries at California State East Bay Library, retiring in 2008. Currently, she serves as a special lecturer and discussion leader with the Fulbright Senior Specialist Program. During her 2009 visit to Korea, she pr

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[Transcript of interview with Myoung-ja Lee Kwon by Claytee White, September 4, 2004]. Kwon, Myoung-ja Lee Interview, 2004 September 4. OH-01049. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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My History: Myoung-ja Lee Kwon and the UNLV Libraries An Oral History conducted by Claytee D. White The Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas 2004 ©The Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2007 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV - University Libraries Director and Editor: Claytee D. White Assistant Editors: Gloria Homol and Delores Brownlee Transcribers: Kristin Hicks and Laurie Boetcher Interviewers and Project Assistants: Suzanne Becker, Nancy Hardy, Joyce Moore, Andres Moses, Laura Plowman, Emily Powers, Dr. Dave Schwartz ii The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of Dr. Harold Boyer and the Library Advisory Committee. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank the university for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases, photographic sources (housed separately) accompany the collection as slides or black and white photographs. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project. Additional transcripts may be found under that series title. Claytee D. White, Project Director Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University Nevada, Las Vegas iii Table of Contents List of Illustrations Preface Interview Index VI 1-173 174-175 Appendix Myoung-ja Lee Kwon to Leave Library Letter to Provost Douglas P. Ferraro Letter to library staff Letter from Carol C. Harter By Eva Stowers Dated December 13,1999 Dated December 13, 1999 Dated June 28, 2001 iv List of Illustrations Myoung-ja's graduation from Seoul National University, 1965 Frontispiece Following page Early Korean Life and 105 Las Vegas Life Bay Area Life And 146 Present Korean Life V Preface Myoung-ja Lee Kwon began her life on the grounds of the Kyongbok Palace in Korea. In a country where education is valued, her father's occupation as a university professor meant that the family was highly honored, thus this palatial space allowed them live in a state of prosperity. But war changed these circumstances and in this interview Kwon vividly explains the family's evolution. In 1965, after graduation from Seoul National University she married and a year later, moved to the United State of America where she earned a Master's degree in Library Science in Provo, Utah. Her first professional position was at the University of Nevada Las Vegas as a cataloguer and after many promotions, became interim dean of UNLV Libraries. In 2001, she took the job as Dean of Libraries at California State East Bay Library, retiring in 2008. Currently, she serves as a special lecturer and discussion leader with the Fulbright Senior Specialist Program. During her 2009 visit to Korea, she presented information to graduate students at the Sookmyong Women's University Library and Information Science division. The family's strong ties to Korea have led the six siblings home for many occasions. Photographs throughout this oral history document some of the family's traditions and Korean cultural norms as well as Myoung-ja's life in the United States. She beautifully serves both worlds. Myoung-ja Lee Kwon is passionate, first about her family that includes her son, Billy, a true artist at heart, husband, Ernest, a teacher and five brothers and sisters. Her second passion is education. Since she grew up in libraries it is fitting that the family's name graces a room in UNLV's Lied Library, the Han-San Lee Faculty Lounge was named in honor of the Han-San Lee Endowment. Lied Library is special to her because as interim dean she helped to oversee the construction of the building for several years of the building process. After this exciting interview, I wanted to visit Korea; you will also. vi ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH CENTER OF UNLV The Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project Use Agreement Name of Narrator: A1 /o |Qo L<^ ^u;o/U Name of interviewer: We, the above named, give to the Oral Historw Research Center of UNLV the tape recorded interview(s) initiated on i 'IJtO'Cr as an unrestricted gift, to be used for such schola/ly/and educational uses as shall be determined, and transfer to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, legal title and all literaiy property rights including copyright. This gift does not preclude the right of the interviewer, as a representative of UNLV, to use the recordings and related materials for scholarly uses. There will be no compensation for any interviews. Signature of Narrator Date tL,— Kwirvi ^/3/ £'4 \\cuj C.A Address of narrator Lied Library Special Collections 4505 Maryland Parkway, Box 457010, Las Vegas, Nevada 89154-7010 (702) 895-2222 Graduation from Seoul National University, 1965 (p.20) This is Claytee White. It is September 4, 2004 and I'm in Hayward, California, in the home of Myoung-ja Lee Kwon. Now we are going to get started talking about your early life. Tell me about some of your first memories? Actually, the first memories I have are all about my family. Sometimes, because we have a big family, some of the stories that people told me were kind of added to my real memories. I don't really have early, early memories. But they actually begin with my 1st grade of the elementary school or probably a year before or after that. The reason I always think about the 1st grade is that I have three older sisters who all went to one elementary school but by the time I was ready to go to elementary school the school district changed on us. So I had to go to a different school than my sisters. My grandfather took me to school everyday on his bike. I rode with him on the backseat of the bike. So that's my first childhood memory and it was a very fond memory in the sense that my grandfather was just very good about teaching me things like how to cross the street and how to avoid traffic. I especially remember one time after about three months, my grandfather told me, "it is about time for you to go to school by yourself and I'm going to watch you cross the street." I ran when I crossed the street and my grandfather told me, "Myoung-ja, you should never run when you cross the street. What if you fall and then a car comes? So, you always have to walk and always remember that you have enough time to cross the street." Tell me about your parents, give me their names as well as your sisters' and your brothers'? Ok, my parents' names, in Korea, we don't change the name when we marry. So my mom has a last name different from ours. Her name is Kyong-nam Suh (Aj 1 ]). Suh(^"|) is the last name. My father's name is Hong-jik Lee and Lee (°1 [^]) is our family name. When you see my name, Myoung-ja [BJ!T]) Lee (°] [^] Kwon [II]), since I came to the United States, I [added] the married name, but I kept my maiden name, Lee. Then when I got divorced, [since] I had a son carrying the last name, Kwon, I kept that name. Also in your professional life you needed to have a constant name. Anyway, that's my parents' names. My sisters' names: the first one is, Soon-ja [^^"]); second one, Song-mi v] [fSH]); and third one, Yoen-ja [Md^]). My brothers' names are Chee-kyu (A] [inS]) and Song-kyu T?" [fi£l£]), the last one. What is ja? Ja (*}• ["?"]) is actually a Japanese name convention for girls. We were born during the period when Korea was under Japanese occupation. So our names are actually Japanese names. You may hear about Aki-ko and Yoko that end with a Ko in Japanese names, [which is pronounced as Ja in Korean], My second sister, somehow got the name, it wasn't Japanese. It's weird. The way my parents named us was unusual. When my father was a young starting professor, he used to do a lot of instruction from one college to another. I was bom in the year he started at the college whose name starts with Myoung. My third sister was the same, Yoen-ja. There was a university that is called the Yoen-hee University (^s] £]] 'SjToL); right now they changed it to Yoen-sae University ^JT). SO we would always tease my parents about that. Tell me about your parents what kind of work they did, if your Mom worked outside the home, those kinds of things. 2 We were actually an educated family. My mom was a high school teacher before she was married. She continued teaching until 1960 or '61. You can imagine— she had seven children while she was teaching. We have a lot of stories about how all of us were girls, one girl after another, but no sons, and then [finally] she had two boys. All of us girls have nicknames about when she gave births. My father would come to the midwife and say, "What did she have?" The first daughter is considered a jewel of the family It is always good to have a first born daughter. So they were pleased. 'Oh, it's a girl.' Then the second girl came and they said, "Oh it's a girl again." Then the third one came and "Again?" Then the fourth one came and said, "Don't even ask!" I was actually a fifth one, because the very oldest one died when she was nine years old. When I came along my grandmother couldn't even say anything to my father. She just ssighed, "Ahhh." So, my third sister would say, sometimes, jokingly, "I am the 'Don't even ask!"' Tell me where you grew up? I grew up in the city, Seoul, the capitol city of Korea. The reason I hold fond memories about my first grade was that at the time, my father was the Assistant Director of the Korean National Museum and all of the museum staff lived in the residential area behind the Kyong-bok Palace [iS '£?]), one of the palaces in Korea. The palaces had the most beautiful ground, one of which was our playground. So you grew up in a storybook setting? Almost like that. So, when you see some of our pictures taken during this time, we were in pajamas or the really utterly out of place clothing in front of the palace. It was just wonderful to grow up in that setting. We were just so happy with everything, the seasonal changes, and the birds and flowers on the ground. It was just beautiful. My 3 grandparents used to grow things in our backyard. My grandfather always wanted to do something to add to our family economy. He grew chickens and when they were hatched, the chicks stayed in his room since the Korean heating system made the floor warm. We lived as an extended family, so my grandparents and my uncles, one aunt, and six of us with our parents lived together. Which side of the family, your father's side? Father's; yes, 12 of us. We had two housekeepers since my mom was working. Our grandparents took care of us a lot when we were growing up because there were so many of us. My elder sister is the one that really took charge of all of us. At dinnertime, we'd have two tables, the grown ups and children's tables and we were yapping away and grandfather would look over at us and 'shhhh.' We were quiet for awhile, and then we started the chatting again. It was a really pleasant good way for children to grow up. That changed when the North Koreans invaded. Tell me the approximately the year that happened? It was 1950.1 actually forgot what year that was, but it happened on June 25 and I think it was 1950 when they came and the government completely evacuated — only higher officials fled ~ and all of us stayed. [The Director of the Museum went in hiding] Then the North Korean [soldiers] came and [in July] they told us to evacuate the entire palace ground. We didn't really have any place to go. Fortunately, my mom's older sister had a house and was living by herself. So we moved in with her. Everybody all 12 of you? By then my grandmother, actually that year just before we had to leave the palace ground, she had a stroke and passed away in her sleep. My grandfather wasn't really 4 comfortable living in his daughter-in-law's sister's house. So he chose to go to the country where we had a mountain house, where the caretaker was living. So he went there. Now you just mentioned a mountain. Tell me about having a mountain and a house? In Korea, there were a lot of people who had a family mountain. We had a really illustrious ancestor, who rose to an equivalent of the prime minister position. When his father died- I could be a little bit wrong about exactly how the mountain came about-the king gave him a real big funeral service [in honor of his father] and gave the mountain to the family, a piece of the mountain. Now we are talking about a regular mountain? It s like this hill, but we call it a mountain. Actually it is bigger than this mountain because there are a lot of trees. You can see the pictures. It is a climbable mountain, not like Rockies and things like that. When she said 'where we are now' we're in Hayward and the house is on a hill where we are right now. Tell me a little more about the class structure before the invasion. Well actually, when you say before the invasion, I should say before the Yi Dynasty (Choson dynasty, 1392-1910) collapsed, before the Japanese occupation or before the Westernization began. We basically had a three-class structure: aristocratic [noble] class (°^), middle class (irT!) and low class (Ti <?]). The aristocracy composed of royal family, landowners and scholars. The middle class are people who are engaged in commerce. Then the lowest class is composed of artisans, shamans ... I'm not explaining this very well because I'm not sure where the sharecroppers, the farmers who do not own 5 land fit in . Also there is the servant class. Although we don't really call it slavery, but there is the class who serve people. I am not really giving the exact historical facts that I would like to give. Our family is part of an old aristocratic [literati] family simply because we were all educated people. We also served the King in a very important way. We can trace our very first ancestor back to around the 1350s, when Koryo Dynasty 930-1390) and Yi Dynasty changed. Our ancestor was one of the staunch loyalists of the old dynasty. When the dynasty changed over, that ancestor was given poison to end his life. We have the place [along the Han River) where he actually drank the poison that came from the King. In Korea there are a lot of [historical] stories, and our family has our share of very interesting family stories. A couple of years ago my sister and I were driving and we were visiting small places. We visited the particular area [where a small gazebo [pavilion] stood with a sign explaining the death of our ancestor]. Usually when there is the change of a dynasty, some trusted officials [of the demised dynasty tend to meet] a real atrocious end. This wasn't. It was a graceful ending. We all know that. He was a scholar, so we have a lot of his works still. They are now reprinted. [Over time], as his descendants increased, the Han-san Lee family branched out. In our family branch, the closest we can trace our ancestor is the afore-mentioned illustrious ancestor who was awarded our mountain. We have the monument that the King gave which was erected in the late 18th century. Usually when a son is a high official and his father dies, the funeral service is really big, and in our case, the government provided all that [in recognition of our ancestor's contribution]. When he himself died, his son wasn't really as important a his father. So he never got his monument or the gravestone built. So, the eulogies that his contemporaries wrote for his gravestone never got inscribed on 6 his gravestone . It was a really long one, listing his accomplishments. Some years ago, a large part of our family mountain had to be sold because of the city planning development project. My brother, Songkyu, carried out the project of moving all our ancestors' graves that were scattered all over the mountain into one place, creating a park like setting]. At that time my brother found a real good calligrapher, built a monuments, and had the eulogy inscribed on the newly erected monument on his honor. I'll show you the picture of the monument. Now is the mountain a cemetery as well? That is the purpose, I mean the King gives a mountain or the family buys a piece of the mountain. There are some mountains that are used to plant chestnut trees, oak trees, and other kinds of plants. At the same time, mountains are used for all family members' final resting place. When we were young and before the grave consolidation project, my father used to take us around the mountain and pointed out, saying things like, "this is your seventh-great grandfather and he used to be a governor of a small province." We all became very ingrained to our family history tradition. One of the things that my father did annually was to air out and hang the ancestor's portrait on his birthday, sometimes in August. We prepared a small altar in front of his portrait to burn incense and light candles to memorialize him. This portrait was done when he visited China as a member of official envoy which took place annually to tribute to Chinese emperor. The portrait was in silk screen him sitting in his official robe and in color. That portrait was actually displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for two years [1997-99?]; now it was returned to Korea and my brother has it. When we had to relocate to a different mountain for the second time, we built a house in the mountain for the family to 7 come and spend time. In that house, my brother collected and stored works of our branch ot Lee family members. A copy of our ancestor's portrait and other photographs of my grandparents, parents and uncles are displayed in the house. In a way it will probably become a small private museum of our family. Now tell me about your mother's family? My mother s family was resistant to the Japanese occupation. My mother's family is also large [I had three aunts, and four uncles (mother's sisters and brothers)]. Compared to, or contrasted to our family, hers is a much more politically active family. Aristocracy also? Yes. They are landowners in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, Jon-la Province (-fl while our family is from the central part of the peninsula, Kyongki Province ( « 71 -A)- My [maternal] grandfather was very active in the resistance movement against the Japanese government. Literally he was in and out of jail all the time before 1945 [during the Japanese occupation]. Also he was very much active in the early Korean labor movement. My brother is actually in the process of writing a biography of his life, because he is a very important person not as in officials or president or that kind of thing. (My brother's book was published in 2008.). My grandfather has done a lot for equality in the Korean labor movement in the 1920s and 1930s when he was literally in and out of jail. My grandmother actually pulled the family together and raised the children. In 1945 when Japan surrendered to the Allies and Korea was liberated, the Korean government was formed, he became [was elected] one of the members of the constitutional National Assembly ("H1^ ^"3]). During his term, the Korean Constitution was drafted. Then in 1950, the Korean War began. His son (my mother's oldest brother) was also a member of 8 the National Assembly. When North Korea invaded the Seoul city my grandfather refused to leave. The end result was he was captured by North Koreans and we have never seen... we never knew what happened to him. My grandmother always believed that he was still alive so she kept one set of his clothes in the bottom of her dresser drawer. She passed away 1969 (it was in March 1970) and we held funerals for both. Because she refused [to believe that her husband was killed by North Koreans] . That was something. By then, I had left for the United States, so I don't know the whole story. I heard that the government recognized his death as well at that time. Do you remember the occupation at all first hand? Do you remember when the Japanese came in? That was 1909. We were under Japanese for 36 years. So you were under Japanese until 1945? Then in 1950, the civil war, the Korean War. There was a five-year period there where you were a united Korea? No. When Japanese surrendered to the Allies, there was a meeting at Potsdam to discuss the fate of all these colonized countries. The Soviet Union is a part of that Allied forces. By then communism was growing. One of the countries was Korea and it was determined that, "in due course", the Korea will be unified, but already the line had been drawn with the communists along the 38th parallel line. The North and South became the separate nations, North Korea and South Korea. We always say that the liberation date was August 15th because that's when the Japanese surrendered to the Allies and that ended the World War II. For a couple of years, the border was not as strict. There were a lot of crossings at night as people escaped from North to South. When the border was finally established, some people literally left all of their family in North Korea. The family 9 separation [division of of North and South] caused many families never to see each other again. Our family was really fortunate that we didn't have to do that. Then, the Korean War broke out and a lot of families lost their family members. My two uncles, my father's brothers were captured by North Koreans and they were conscripted into the North Korean People's Army One uncle escaped and one day, he came back. He had to live underneath the floor for two months in hiding. The other uncle became a Prisoner of War and when the War ended, he was released as part of the War Prisoner exchange. So we really didn't lose anyone. My mom's brother, the youngest one, also was captured, but he ran away and came home. That was really a bad time. So the Korean War, first one, the first invasion was on June 25, 1950 and the North Korean Army went all the way to the end, taking over the peninsula except one city, the Pusan Port. If Pusan had collapsed, the South Korean government would have become an exiled government because you're not on the Korean soil anymore. With the U.N. intervention, our side started moving back restoring the capital city in September of that year [1950]. We didn't go anywhere when they [North Koreans] invaded first time [because we did not have time to flee]. But in January of '51 when the Chinese got involved in the Korean Conflict and [the UN troops began to retreat], our Seoul City was invaded again. At that point, our family went to our mountain, 40 kilometers away from the city. And we walked. You walked the 40 miles [kilometers]? Oh yeah, we stayed at inns in between and we had the horse drawn cart that we took our possessions. Literally we left almost everything in the house and we just left. That's 10 how refugees are; you just go. We didn't wait till the last minute. My parents decided we would just evacuate ourselves, so we went to our mountain and stayed there. What provisions did you have there? What kind of housing did you have there? We had a house. Actually the mountain came with a village, the village is ours. [We don t own the houses in the village but the land of the village belonged to our family. There was a couple who stayed at our house and took care of our mountain. The husband would visit us in the city once a year and reported to our father on the condition of our mountain. He also brought blocks of soybean paste which we made soybean soup.] Because you own the village. Yes not the people but the land. We didn't have anything other than what we brought and we really were on a subsistence living mode for a year in the country. But my father [did not stay with us in the country as long as we had], I need to say more about my father [and his family] . He was one of the most important persons in my life in the sense that he and I were just so close. I don't know how that came about but everyone knew that I was his favorite. I took care of him in whatever ways a daughter could take care of. My grandfather really wasn't successful in making a living. He tried a lot different things in his life, [teacher, salesman, small business owner, etc.]. As a last resort he moved his family to Japan, during which time we were under Japanese occupation and one can live in Japan without any problems since we were one nation. This would give his children better opportunities. So they lived in Tokyo, Japan for really a long time. My father graduated from Tokyo Imperial University, the most prestigious university in the nation. (Now Tokyo University) Once you graduate from the University, you've got it made. 11 After graduating from high school, he received an Emperor's scholarship to attend the university. While the Japanese occupied Korea, the Japanese government encouraged Korean youth to be educated in the prestigious Japanese universities and provided scholarships. My father received the King's scholarship. [When Japanese occupied Korea, they took the son of the last Korean king and arranged him to be married with a Japanese royal family member. This prince established a scholarship for Korean students]. After graduating from the University, my father came to Korea to work in the Yi Dynasty Palace Museum [°] %^irT}"]. During that time, my mother's father knew of my father [through his family mutual friend]. So, they arranged the marriage. My maternal grandfather told my mom that she had a mission to make this young man (my father) a true Korean since he was raised in Japan and received Japanese schooling. That s how they got married. By the time the Korean War started he was serving as the assistant to the director and also was teaching at various universities as an instructor. That's how our names got to be the names of universities. Which year were you born? I was born in '43 when we were still under the Japanese occupation. It was very unfortunate that the Korean War happened. He [my father] was trapped in the sense. [During the three months of North Korean occupation of the city (June- September)], the director went in hiding. My father managed to continue the operation. After the reoccupation [in September 28, 1950], he was accused of collaborating with [North Korean] communists. He was fired from the museum. [He was given an administrative leave without pay for three months.] There was a lot of [hearsay], I 12 remember. I was just seven years old when the bombing began. [The night before] the U.N. troops advanced to push [North Koreans] back to North, they bombed the city [Seoul City] quite a bit. My father and another assistant moved a lot of museum treasures into the basement [to save them]. Shrapnel hit [him in the face] and he almost died. I remember he came home after two days of not coming home. He was completely bandaged. He was captured by U.N. troops. The South Korean people would kill North Koreans or communists in sight at the time. So, he [my father] was imprisoned and beaten. Fortunately, one of the officers was his student and that's how he was saved. After that [September-December 1950] he didn't have any kind of positions or anything. I remember that winter my mom and my dad made a huge pot of porridge everymornight to sell to workers [at the market]. That's how we made living. It's just unbelievable how we survived. When we retreated into the mountain as the UN troops lost the City [Seoul], there was nothing for us. I don't even know how we managed... Now, how long did you stay [in the country mountain]? We actually stayed almost a year [not positive], but my father went to the South alone [first] to get a job. If we look at the calendar chronologically from when the Chinese came, approximately January '51 and when we went to the mountain and the countryside, we were there altogether a whole year. Then we [the UN Troops] moved back. So, after a year, they actually re-captured the Seoul city, but the government still stayed in the South and nobody could go into the city. Then the war talk began in '52 or about that time. When the fighting stopped and the talks , were going on, there was still a lot of back and forth activity on the peninsula. My mom decided that my father should go where the people and the government were, so he could re-establish his professional career and 13 livelihood for us as well. So he left the countryside to go to Pusan where the temporary government was established. All the schools were opening and things were getting back to normal. While still in the countryside, he did not stop [his research activity]. [He started] a project of indexing one of the first the Korean history books ( that was written in the 13 century that didn't have an index. He undertook that indexing project [borrowing notebook papers from his children] and took it with him when he went to the South. People thought that my father went to North Korea, because some people believed that he was a communist. When he showed up, [many welcomed him since] he still had a lot of good friends and colleagues. One of his mentors or senior colleagues during the war was in the Navy, working on a project compiling Korean Naval history. So this colleague ran into him and immediately hired him to assist him in the project. Now that he had a salary, he came back and got us. So we went to the South, Pusan, and stayed there for two years. When the war talks were over and the government and the schools moved back to Seoul City, we came back. You've mentioned a lot of published works in your family. What is the family's goals for those works? What do you plan to do with them now? Well, actually we are not really in possession of those original pieces. They are all reprinted and available in libraries everywhere. That's how that is. When did you leave Korea? I left Korea in 1966, August. Whom did you leave with? 14 By myself, because my husband was already here. Tell me what it was like to go to school for you and your sisters? High school? Oh yes, actually, my sisters were really smart. Like when we were in the country [during the war], intermittently the school opened, and we went to a school in the countryside for six months. It was time for my elder sisters to go [to a middle school (7th grade) . My sisters were really smart and the age difference between the three sisters was just one year apart. Between the third and me was a complete two years [apart] and that's such a [difference when you are young]. So I was more associated with my younger brothers than my older sisters. The three of them were always going together and they learned a lot of things together. I was always separate [from them]. When war began, I was just beginning to do multiplication. We memorized all those tables. My reading wasn't as fast as my sisters' [reading level] and when the first day arrived we went to school in the country, most of us in one room. My one sister happened to be in my room, her classes and mine. She witnessed that I couldn't remember the multiplication table. She went to mom and said, "Myoung-ja couldn't remember." So that's when my mother really took me seriously. To this day actually, I don't really read fast enough. All the time I was the top one or two [in my class]. One time I was embarrassed [when] we were assigned to read a page silently; one kid in my class had done it, read the whole thing [before I finished]. The teacher was completely upset with that kid because 'if Myoung-ja couldn't finish the reading how could you [have done it]?' I couldn't tell the teacher what was really happening: [that I was a slow reader]. 15 So, anyway, my oldest sister needed to go to take a national exam [when we were still living in the countryside. [At that time in Korea], once you finish 6th grade, you must take a national exam. Based on that national exam score, students can apply for a certain school [middle sch