Memoir Contest Winner: Itaewon’s Sunny Corner by Pamila Florea

by Matilda Butler on September 27, 2012

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #193 – Women’s Memoirs, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

Announcing Honorable Mention Winner in our Memoir Contest Winner – Gratitude is Evergreen Category

Today, Women’s Memoirs continues with the publication of the next Honorable Mention in our Gratitude is Evergreen category of the Gratitude Contest.

Today’s winner is Pamila Florea with a story about her life in Korea — Itaewon’s Sunny Corner.

Congratulations Pamila on your award-winning story. Thank you for reminding us to look for beauty in even the most unlikely places and to recognize it in all its forms.

Itaewon’s Sunny Corner
By Pamila Florea

Itaewon is a seedy part of town. Generally, Seoul is a clean, safe, pleasant place to be.  Not Itaewon.  It is here that American GIs troll the streets, looking for bargains, booze, and broads. Just a block or two from the main subway stop is a street *koff,* affectionately known as Hooker Hill. There’s an old business run up there – the oldest one. It is also the place where foreigners tend to congregate in the Mexican, Greek, and Turkish restaurants. There’s a foreign grocery, English bookstore, and the old fast food favorites – Taco Bell, Quiznos, KFC. It is one of the few places where you will see black people congregate – the ones from Africa and the ones from North America and Europe. This is the place where Spanish is spoken next to Swahili next to Hindi next to Tagalog.

Many Koreans won’t go to Itaewon. “It is dangerous,” they tell me. They have no interest in being a victim, so they stay away. I’m not sure how much is true and how much is conjecture, but I certainly hug my bag a little closer to my tummy and make sure I walk with confidence. Most places in Korea I don’t worry about these things. I lose something? It gets found and returned to me. I drop something? It’s still there when I go back to find it. But not in Itaewon. I’m careful there.

Visiting a pub with a number of Koreans, we drink beer, eat chicken wings, pull pranks on each other and mostly, we laugh. Our group is three or four Korean women, a couple of 20-something Irish lads, a Kiwi man, several Korean men, and me.  At 40-ish, I’m the old lady of the bunch, but no matter.  I still fit in. The laughter and fun we share is moved to the home of X, one of the (several) bad boys of the bunch – the kind that lives carefree and loose – both his limbs and his moral fortitude. As we walk along the streets of Itaewon with its smells and hawkers, its lights and sequined clothes, somewhere along the way I notice a sunflower growing out of a grate in the street. The grate is there to protect the roots of the tree that brings “nature” to “industry,” and yet there is a lone sunflower stretching up higher than my head. It’s the randomness of it that captures and charms me.

sunflower memoir, memoir writing contestThe lady who is selling tsaskes tells me in broken English that she planted it so she would have something beautiful to look at as she peddles her wares, something that will make her want to go stand on the street corner for hours. There is no time to ask her why or when or how she came up with the idea.  I lag behind, and the chasm between me and my friends yawns before me.  I rush to catch up and when I return later, I can’t find it.  I walk in circles, but it is not my forte – directions.  Ah well.  I know that the bright yellow flower is there in my memory, that random beauty.  I’m sure I’ll run into it again.  When I need a little joy, or when I need a little beauty, it will return… it or some other bright spot.

As the summer wind is chilling into fall, and soon enough will be freezing into winter, I can’t help but wonder if that lady will plant something next year.  What will she choose this time?  As I sit here contemplating it, I realize that it was not just a flower that she had planted on that little street corner.  It was hope.  And for that, I am grateful.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jamuna Advani October 7, 2012 at

It is so beautifully written. I feel myself standing near the flower admiring its beauty.

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