My name is Min Soo Park, and I am from Korea. My first story is about a valuable sculpture that was part of my family. The second story is about how I helped fight for democracy in my country.

My Keepsake

by Min Soo Park

When I was a child, I remember a sculpture that my grandfather owned. It was made of pure gold, and the height was about three inches. My grandmother loved the sculpture especially. Everyday she cleaned it and wrapped it with a silk scarf. She believed that it brought good luck to our home.

After my grandparents died, my father kept the sculpture. However, he moved often due to his work as a military officer, and during one of his moves, the sculpture was lost. Our family was very sad at this news.

After I grew up, I had a chance to visit the National Museum, and I was surprised to see a larger copy of my family's sculpture. It was considered to be the National Treasure, and was kept in a glass vacuum case. I learned that it was made during the era of the Shilla Dynasty in the 8th century.

I very much wanted to find our lost sculpture, but I knew that the world was so big that I would look in vain.

Fighting for Democracy

by Min Soo Park

When I entered the University, my family and I cheered. I received a full scholarship from the Board of Trustees. But some events took place which prevented me from continuing my studies at that University. To understand these events, I will tell you a little bit about Korea's five thousand years of history.

Japan ruled Korea for a long time, but when they lost World War II, the United Nations became involved in the running of South Korea, while North Korea was ruled by the Soviet Union. But the U.N. did not succeed in creating a lasting democracy in South Korea. Except for brief periods, the country was ruled by a military dictatorship that only appeared to some to be a democracy.

In 1970, when I was a sophomore at the University, the military dictatorship became even more restrictive than they had been. Everyday they censored the newspaper and TV and radio programs. Sometimes the newspaper was issued with blank spaces where they had removed information. They modified the constitution so that there were no longer eight year term limits on the Presidency, so that the President could rule forever. And they changed the voting system from one of direct democracy, where each person could vote, to one of indirect voting. Now the military government would select representatives to vote, and they would always select the same person.

All of the students were angry about these changes, and insisted that the military government be replaced by a democratic government. I became very involved in this struggle, and was elected by the students to represent them. But we spoke in vain. The military dictatorship did not listen.

So day after day, in 1970, we ignored our classrooms and went to the streets. We ran out to the main street to the center of downtown, in front of the blue house where the President lived. I was young, fearless and foolish. We began to throw stones at the government, and also explosives made by filling bottles with gasoline, oil and rags. We used all of our energy, resting little, but our efforts did not succeed.

To punish me for my participation in the demonstrations, I was forced to leave the University, and my father was fired from his government job where he had been in charge of agricultural programs. I was sent to jail, but there were too many of us there who were political prisoners, so after two months we were set free. Even though my father suffered because of me, he was not angry, because he agreed with me that the military's job was to protect South Korea from being overtaken by North Korea, but not to rule our country as dictators.

After that I was required by law to enlist in the military. After I finished my obligation of military service, I transferred to another University, but it was a less competitive University than before. I no longer had enough courage and will for my studies as I did in my former University. Also, my family did not have enough money to live because my father was fired, so I had to support them. I found a job tutoring four children of wealthy parents, which I continued for six years.

Later, I was invited to return to my first University as a graduate student, and so I began studying politics. After graduation I began working for a steel company. I did very well in this company. Soon after I began, I won a 50 million dollar bid from the Turkish government for my company, which involved living in Turkey for six months.

Some people are curious about the reason why I left Korea. The main reason why I left was for my children's study. I will go back to Korea part of the year when my children are in college. I do not think about what my children will do when they grow up. It is up to their own will what options they will pursue. I just want them to work hard for their goals.

The stories that we are writing for this booklet are about keepsakes, but Korea is far away from the United States and I was not able to bring many keepsakes with me, Most of my material possessions are all back in Korea. If I were to bring something with me, it would be my library at home. I have three thousand books there. My favorite book at the present time is a thesaurus of antonyms and synonyms in English.

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Last Updated By Gail Matthews-DeNatale: 10/08/96