A matter of time
By Hyon O'Brien
Moving is a chore. Recently I spent a week getting cabinets and wall units added to our kitchen, bedroom and bathroom to increase organizational and storage space.
The contractor I hired doesn't speak much English so he showed up with someone in his family to interpret for him each day, first his sister and then his 11-year-old son. This was a great opportunity for me to encounter some Latin Americans living in the greater Miami area. Besides the construction of wall units and cabinets, they also did a small paint job and mounted various pictures and screens on the walls.
The problem was that I never knew when they would show up. They always said they’d come at 9:30. For six days I had to learn to be patient about their own peculiar time concept. Usually they were at least one hour late. When they finally arrived no one thought it necessary to apologize. Their casual attitude about keeping time reminded me of our own ``Korean time" that we used to practice before we learned collectively to be more mindful about being on time. The ``ppalli ppalli” mentality is of a more recent vintage.
The other day I got together with five Korean women in Aventura, a neighboring town to us, for lunch and I was extremely impressed by the punctuality of each of us. Actually they were all five minutes early so when I joined them at the table on the dot at noon, they were already there.
I had the same experience with a Korean tour group in Turkey. All thirty-four of us on the eight-day tour were exemplary at being punctual so we were able to depart on time and get through all the activities on the itinerary on time, much to the delight of our guide. I was so proud of that group accomplishment.
It was not this way at the beginning. I recall my high school classmates monthly get together in 1965 when one of the five was so habitually late that we ultimately abandoned that gathering for good. Our impatience hit saturation point one day and we declared it was not worth it.
Korean companies, political players and diplomatic representatives, academic scholars in their interaction with other counterparts in the international arena and the businessmen and women these days working in all parts of the global market know the vital importance of being punctual and observe the expected rules and manners that are expected in advanced industrial countries.
With time, I expect that those workers of Latin American origin will also learn to practice punctuality as they recognize what’s at stake. It’s a matter of time.
Our granddaughter until last year was fiercely competitive with her brother who is four years her junior. Some months ago, I was thrilled to see this immature behavior was being replaced by really thoughtful manners. It was a matter of time for her to acquire the beauty of being magnanimous and accommodating to her younger brother’s childishness.
When we arrived in Miami Beach four months back, I despaired at not knowing anyone and losing my entire social network as well as the support system I was accustomed to in Seoul. Many times I wanted to hop on an airplane and head back to Seoul. I walked the beaches with homesickness as big as a rock in my heart. I saw a cloud that resembled the map of Korea just as the writer Carlos Eire did when he was desperately missing his beloved Cuba after coming to the States as a child in the ’60s. Thanks to God, with time, I am slowly beginning to function in this new place. Not all things trigger a lump in my throat as at the beginning. Yes, time indeed does the trick as a great healer.
Time has brought many changes to Korea. We see signs everywhere around the world of Koreans’ influence. On a walking tour of Mostar, Bosnia, the most important city in the Herzegovina region learning about the devastating Bosnian War of 1992-95, I marveled at seeing LG wall-mounted air conditioner units in so many apartments.
Coming to Miami, we chose to buy a Hyundai Genesis from a huge Hyundai dealership, and are still delighted with the quality of the car. A Palestinian taxi driver in Newark, N.J., boasted of his new Samsung smartphone to us. I wonder whether our grandparents ever imagined that Korea would become this important player in the worldwide market. All the hard work Koreans have put in over the past sixty years is now paying dividends upon dividends.
So I hope and think that it is a matter of time before divided Korea will be united and one day we’ll be looking back on the dark age of division in the peninsula as something of a temporary nightmare that fortunately ebbed out with the passage of time. I certainly pray for divine intervention in bringing this chapter to a close.
It’s a matter of time.
Hyon O'Brien is a former reference librarian now living in the United States. She can be reached at email@example.com.