After school, my harabuji (grandfather in Korean) would call out, “Come on dow-oon!” And I would know, that despite the fact that my harabuji’s English was limited, this was one show that he greatly enjoyed. So my curious elementary self would join him in front of our television with dials that went “teuk-teuk-teuk” when you turned them. On the screen, I would see the silvery white hair and the tanned skin of a man named Bob with people jumping excitedly up and down. As the theme song played, Bob would say, “Welcome to the Price is Right!” It left me confused because I thought the game show was called, “Come on down!” As I looked at the smile on my harabuji’s face, I smiled back big. What I found my joy and delight was not so much in the game show, but the television itself and all the things that surrounded it. The VCR connected to the television, with the automatic rewinder by its side along with a dozen white boxes of black VHS tapes. It was probably what was on those VHS tapes that really brought me joy. It meant that there was a recent trip to the Korean video store and new things to watch together.
Even before Blockbuster, Korean immigrants would tape all the Korean dramas and shows and redistribute them to various “tape houses” (which is the literal translation of what we used to call the tape rental store because they would also have various household goods and clothing from Korea – imagine it being an extremely small mom-and-pop style of Target). The labels were handwritten in Korean and there would be several shelves of tapes that had documentaries, variety shows, dramas, and comedies. After picking out one of the series, the ahjumma (auntie or older woman) would put the whole set of tapes in a white plastic bag and neatly tie the top to make it easier to carry. Of course, this would happen after my grandparents or my mom caught up with the ahjumma while my younger brother and I looked around the store at the Korean toys, hair barrettes, heavy mink blankets, clothing, and the like.
And when we got home, after dinner, we would pop in one of those tapes and for an hour, escape America to be transported back to the home of my ancestors. I quickly caught on that my harabuji liked to watch the variety shows and historic Korean dramas with kings and queens of the past and all the drama that ensued. My parents, on the other hand, would also watch those melodramatic romantic dramas that were a true slow burn and often included someone dying a tragic death. Later, as I grew older, more comedies would come out and I would laugh together with my mom and halmoni (grandmother in Korean) while munching on chewy strips of dried squid.
And now today, although my harabuji is gone, my halmoni and mom 3,000 miles away on the other side of this country, Korean dramas and the television bring me so much joy, delight, and comfort. For me, it is akin to a going home with familiar sounds, foods, and ways of relating. More than being transported back to the home of my ancestors, it is now a transporting to the evenings where three generations of my family once gathered together around a low table of chewy dried squid and barley tea, huddled around a television that had dials that went “teuk-teuk-teuk” with the background of the soft whir of the automatic rewinder that would pop open when it was finished. I can still feel the warmth of the electric blanket and the softness of the heavy mink blanket that we would sit on top of while the television glowed with stories from a land that I had never been to, but was somehow attached to.
As I select Netflix from my Roku television and click through the myriad of Korean shows, a huge smile comes across my face as my shoulders do a little shimmy in delight. The sentimentality of it is definitely there, but more than that, I find the delight in, once again, being transported somewhere else for a moment. And in that moment, the joy is found in the memory of three generations laughing, crying, and finding themselves in the stories of the glowing television screen.