Authors: CW Schutter
The Ohana - Copyright 2013 – CW Schutter
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This book is dedicated to
Lincoln & Krista Whang, Wanda, Lloyd, Cale, Cara & Cole Horibe, Jerel, Sandy & Brittany Miller, Elizabeth Whang, Patrick & Clifford Whang, Tony and Joshua Schutter, the Helen Kau family, the Beatrice & Hikoji Nakaoka family, the Wilfred Takeo Tsuji family, the Ruth Galloway family, the Larry Tsuji family, the Johnny Flores family, the Richard Tsuji family
And especially to my late parents,
Nancy Shizue Tsuji Whang &
Richard Chaul Roong Whang
And my sons,
Devin and Stefan Schutter
May they never forget
Special thanks to Patricia Sklar, Hal Thau, and Dr. Dennis Ogawa
who all encouraged me not to give up on this book.
Her granddaughter was dying and only Mary could save her.
"Mom, do you know how to contact my birth father and his family?" The tension in Jackie's tired voice vibrated through the phone like an elastic band stretched to its limit.
Mary squeezed the phone and put a fist to her chest to quiet her fluttering heart. She didn't want to lie to her daughter, especially during this desperate time. "Maybe," she replied.
"Maybe? You either know how to reach them or you don't." Jackie's voice grew shrill, like it always did when she was upset.
"I'll try to reach every relative," Mary faltered. “Whatever is possible.”
"Well your granddaughter's life depends on it!" Jackie snapped and hung up the phone.
Trembling, Mariko Han, now called Mary, knelt near the foot of her bed. At her knees, the old black lacquered Korean chest stood with its lid raised. She reached deep inside the old trunk, her hands seeking a yellowed box resting at the bottom.
Now with the box beside her, Mary closed the lid before running her hands across the elaborate mother of pearl design. She sighed with pride, knowing the piece belonged to her. She’d been given it as a gift from her father-in-law, Chaul Roong Han, before he died. Her husband's family didn't bother to hide their dismay. That their father's blood was passed over for a Japanese daughter-in-law was unimaginable. They thought
hated the Japanese after what they did to his family in Korea. If
had passed on his beloved chest to her husband, or even one of his blood grandchildren, no one would have said a word. Giving Mary the chest was like giving her their Korean heritage.
If only they knew
, Mary thought. Living with her in-laws would have been impossible if it weren't for
. They were very close. His memories of the past fascinated her. The brutal treatment of the Koreans by her people, the Japanese. The murder that drove him to Hawaii. The unspeakable crime that forged an uneasy bond of secrecy forced on her father and father-in-law.
's great love affair and the woman he couldn't forget.
Mary stared at the evidence of her own hidden past, this box within the trunk. She slipped a nail along the top and popped it open. Carefully taking out a figurine of a dancing couple, she placed it on top of the chest.
Even now she could picture herself swirling around the dance floor with the tall, handsome young man in uniform— Jackie’s biological father –who had given her the music box the night before he left for the European battleground.
He’d come into her life at a time when the world was crumbling around her. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 set in motion cataclysmic change. Thank goodness the Hawaii she knew was never the same.
Mary touched the blond head of the male dancer. Ever since the war, she'd lived a lie. Tears came to her eyes. Her granddaughter Ashley had leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. If a match wasn't found within a year, Ashley would probably die. Time was of the essence.
Kneeling before the trunk, Mary turned the figurine upside down. The gold label was faded and peeling, but still readable.
Der Litzle Walzer
. The Last Waltz.
"A soldier's last night," she whispered to herself as bittersweet memories pierced through the veil of time.
Mary kept her secrets close, locked away in intimate, hidden places. Like the music box. There was so much she never told her children. Even now, after over thirty years, she couldn't bring herself to reveal that she knew exactly where to find Jackie's father and his family.
Sighing, she wound the key on the bottom of the music box and placed it on the lid of the polished trunk. The figures took the first steps of their dance as the tinkling tune spun its magic. With each note, Mary slipped further back in time, dancing with the man who once breathed passion into the broken pieces of her life and wove a dream into the fabric of her existence.
The music stopped and Mary returned the music box to its hiding place. She hoped they would find a bone marrow donor within the immediate family soon. Primarily because she wanted her granddaughter to live. But selfishly because she didn't want to let out the secret of the music box. Too many lives could change. Maybe for the worst.
THE WAY OF THE WARRIOR
Cho-Sun, Land of the Morning Calm, Korea, 1911
The Japanese soldiers came without warning, just as they had five years ago when they snatched his brother. This time they took his sister, and Chaul Roong's mother blamed him once again. As she peered through eyes half-hidden behind folds of aging flesh, she cursed her firstborn son.
"You should have been here!" she shrieked. "What good are your fighting skills if you're not here to protect your family? If only your brother were here. He was the true
warrior, not you!"
," he began, bowing his head to her. "Please accept my sincere apologies. I will get my sister back."
"Just like you got your brother back? It's your fault I'll never see him again!"
tore at her hair. "If the little men have already made your sister a spirit girl she might as well die!"
Early the next morning, Chaul Roong stood at the top of Mount Jirisan thinking of his lost siblings. To the east, endless clouds created a mystical kingdom of swirling waves undulating softly at the base of misty, blue-gray mountains. The sky slowly turned orange as the sun filtered through the clouds and crimson fingers fanned over the brilliant orb exploding with light and color.
Rescuing his sister would be next to impossible; he needed to prepare himself mentally and spiritually in order to face the Japanese army alone. He turned his mind inward and focused on
the internal energy necessary for strength and physical power, and exhaled forcefully, “Eek eh.” The power of
released, he moved trance-like to the rhythm of the centuries-old mask dance, the
, incorporating body movements of
, the forbidden martial arts discipline. His arms moved up and down, out and back, side to side in continuous motion in order to confuse his imaginary opponents. His eyes narrowed as he gritted his teeth and clenched his jaws. Leaping into the air, he kicked with savage force.
Panting, he first embraced the sunrise, then knelt to meditate on his duty to family. Like all his
ancestors before him, he vowed to train his sons and grandsons to be honorable, restrained, responsible, dignified, and courageous. He promised to pass on the art of combat through
, the empty hand, and teach them the Five Codes of Human Conduct. For over a thousand years, the
lived their lives according to the guiding principles of Won Kwang Bopsa. To serve one’s king with loyalty. To look after one’s parents with filial piety. To treat one’s peers with trust. To withstand enemy attacks with courage. To terminate life with discrimination.
Chaul Roong thought of all the generations of Hans who climbed this mountain to accumulate virtuous deeds. His late father, Han Kim Chun, stood on this very mountaintop and recited the same vows. Being a
was the most important thing in both their lives. His mother knew it and never forgave either of them for the loss of her favorite child.
The soldiers had taken his younger brother, Hodong while Chaul Roong trained with his father on rivers of ice in his quest to become
, the winner of the traditional
-gi, the open hand contests held on frozen water once a year. While he and his father practiced
, Hodong was torn from
's arms, never to be seen again. It was whispered that the strongest and tallest young boys were placed in
where they were given Japanese names and trained to fight for the emperor and the
, the real ruler of Japan.
Now, five years later, while Japanese invaders prowled the villages, abducting beautiful young girls to comfort their soldiers, Chaul Roong had again been absorbed in the way of the warrior. At the moment his sister and the other girls were being snatched, he was running up the side of Cheonwangbong Peak to practice
skills that had been secretly passed down from father to son for thousands of years after the Confucionist court banned martial arts.
searched desperately for him, Chaul Roong was dancing alone in the Chilseon Valley, where beautiful angels were said to wander through the magnificent virgin forests. As the soldiers led the screaming, crying girls away from the village, he was spinning and kicking madly on slippery rocks at the edge of Buril Falls to the thunderous music of the water that shook the world as he lost himself in the medley of colors that exploded in rainbow prisms around him.
The fact that he only felt alive and in balance when he practiced
in the mountains of Jirisan filled him with guilt. He remembered how his wife, Dok Ja's eyes burned into him while his mother cursed him. The soldiers would have taken her too, but she was heavy with child.
As he jogged back to his family's cottage, Chaul Roong's thoughts went back to the innocent day he’d married Dok Ja. He expected to sleep with his bride on their wedding night. To find passion and, perhaps, love as their bodies lay entwined.
But he’d been wrong.
During the first part of their
, the Great Ritual or wedding celebration, Chaul Roong tried to imagine what his new wife, Dok Ja, looked like behind the heavy veils covering her face. Throughout the evening, her small white hands twisted and crumpled the skirt of her wedding gown. Twice she slipped a hand under her veil. He thought he heard her whimper. Other than that, she barely moved and didn’t say a word.
Halfway through the ceremony, his bride was unveiled and he was relieved to see that she was attractive with creamy skin, lustrous black hair, and snapping, dark almond-shaped eyes. After the festivities ended, wailing women led Dok Ja to the marital bedroom. As Chaul Roong watched the procession, he wondered if his sixteen-year-old bride hated the thought of marrying him as much as he resented being married. It was the first time he considered his bride’s feelings since the day his father announced that after consulting with a fortune teller and matchmaker, he had arranged a marriage for his son. Although arranged marriages were customary, Chaul Roong longed to escape a future he wanted no part of. For a while, he entertained thoughts of running away.
After Dok Ja disappeared into the house, his cousin came by and poured more rice wine into his cup. “Don’t look so glum,” he winked. “Her heavy dowry is your family’s salvation.”
Chaul Roong gulped down his drink. “Then get me good and drunk, cousin, so I can fulfill my part of the bargain.”
A half hour later, Chaul Roong swayed outside the bedroom door listening to the women as they continued in their sobbing. Although it was traditional to mourn a young bride’s passage into womanhood, the shrieks irritated him. What about him? He wanted to cry too. At nineteen, he was being forced into spending the rest of his life with a stranger he might not even like. What if they hated each other? He put his right fingertips to his temple, dropped his head, and tapped on the door with his the knuckles of his left hand.
Hushed voices and the rustling of full skirts moving about all at once filtered through the wall Chaul Roong leaned against. Within seconds, the door opened; the weeping women left the room, his new mother-in-law being last. She nodded slightly and her lips parted as if to say something. Instead, her eyes flickered skeptically over him.
Chaul Roong had turned, his eyes on his mother-in-law, when the door slammed behind him. Spinning around, he thought to force it open when he heard his new wife bar it.
Dok Ja’s mother gasped behind him.
The humiliation enraged him. Chaul Roong pounded the door with his fists and yelled in a voice made loud with wine, “Open the door!”
“Go away,” Dok Ja sobbed from the other side. “I don’t want to be married.”
As Chaul Roong walked into his cottage, his thoughts returned to his lovely, shy fifteen-year-old sister Hae Sun. His heart tore when he thought of his sister. To go from innocence to forced prostitution. The very thought made him want to kill for the first time in his life.
Chaul Roong took out the sword his father gave him before he died—a sword passed down through the Han generations.
"Where are you going?" Dok Ja now asked, her flashing black eyes pricked into him as her right hand cupped their unborn child.
"To get my sister," he replied as he wrapped a scarf around his forehead.
Dok Ja placed a hand on Chaul Roong's arm. "Don't be foolish
. She's a spirit girl now. As
said, she is better off dead."
Chaul Roong moved away from his wife. "As long as she breathes she's not a spirit. She will always be my sister."
Dok Ja screamed and fell to the ground. Her skirt and the floor under her was soaked with water.
Chaul Roong wondered briefly where the water came from. But he was on a mission. As he walked out of the room, he called out to his mother, "
! My wife is ill."
"The baby…" Dok Ja whispered toward him.
But Chaul Roong was already out of the house.
Chaul Roong knew how to move like a shadow—silently amidst the fringes of life. It wasn't hard to find the marauders. There were so many—on horseback, on foot, and driving wagons. The fires from their campsite flickered brightly in the moonless sky. The smell of sake the invaders had imbibed and the rice boiling in big pots lingered in the cool night air. He heard the soldiers drunken laughter and sensed the fear of the young women and pre-pubescent boys who were snatched from their homes to fulfill the military ambitions of Japan's emperor-god and the insatiable
who occupied the land of the Morning Calm—Chosun, the country of Chaul Roong's birth.
Chaul Roong moved swiftly along the perimeter, his eyes alert, his body ready to do battle. Preparing himself to face the Imperial Army of Japan, the land of the Rising Sun, he silently repeated the code of the
, “The way of the
is courage, self-sacrifice, and the ability to face death with reckless indifference."
As fate would have it, he found Hae Sun weeping, flanked by two obviously drunk guards outside a tent where crying and grunting could be heard simultaneously. One of the men holding Hae Sun put his hand on her breast. The spirit of the angry tiger took over. Leaping into sight, he kicked the guard so forcefully he heard the man's bones crack. The second man charged; Chaul Roong quickly spun and slammed his foot into his head. Both men lay dead.
The commotion caused other soldiers to come running. Grabbing his sister's hand, Chaul Roong pulled her into the forest. Gunfire blasted behind them. Chaul Roong had allowed anger to step in reason's place. He had to calm down and think fast.
Before he could settle on a plan, Hae Sun stumbled. When he tried to help her up he saw that she had been shot.
," Hae Sun gasped. "Big brother, leave me. I'm dying."
, little sister," Chaul Roong stroked his sister's hair. "I'll take you home."
Hae Sun grasped his shirt, "No,
, you must save yourself," Hae Sun fell back. "I'm dead already." His sister closed her eyes.
Chaul Roong put his finger on her cheekbone and felt her tears.
"Let me die,
, I have no wish to live…" Hae Sun sighed and her body trembled. She was dead.
"There he is!" one of the soldiers yelled.
Chaul Roong pulled out his sword.
Tied to a stake planted in the ground, Chaul Roong's mouth felt as if it were stuffed with cotton. Chills savaged his aching, weakened body which felt so heavy, he wanted to sleep and never wake up. Dimly aware of people passing by him, the hours turned into days. His muscles cramped and his head exploded. Why were they keeping him alive?
It was evening when a familiar voice whispered into his ear.
He raised his head with great effort. Dok Ja wet his dried lips with a rag soaked in water and with his last bit of strength he sucked on the cloth. The water eased his torment and she had him sip the water slowly. As the precious liquid infused life into him, he became aware of a baby tied to her back.
"Your daughter was born soon after you left," Dok Ja said.
"How long has it been?" his voice struggled out of him.