Migration heritage - Oksun Kim Lee

Interviewee: Oksun Kim Lee

Interviewer: Noelene Pullen

Date of Interview: 25 Aug 2009

Transcription: Kevin Murray, Aug 2009

his interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee

I was born in 1958 at Taejion (South Korea), which means "big hill". It's a two hour drive from Seoul, my capital city. I was the ninth of eleven children. My father came from a small family so he decided to have many children so he wouldn't be lonely. I had a happy life in Taejion. I played with my brothers and sisters. I used to play outside until dark, so my mother was calling to me... "Come on, we're having dinner!"

We have four seasons - Spring time and Autumn time we went to the mountains, bushwalking and picking berries, all kinds of food - chestnuts, persimmons. And in Summer time we went to the river for bathing, swimming, catching fish and shells. And in Winter time the water of the river is freezing so we did ice skating. I had a good time in my childhood in Korea.

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Oksun Kim Lee in traditional dress

The Korean Civil War had occurred in 1950, before I was born, but I understood the sadness of my parents' generation, being unable to communicate with family and friends in North Korea. We were taught traditional Korean customs based on Buddhist culture but my father converted to Catholicism when I was a teenager. My father was a Chinese herbal doctor and his surgery was in my house so there was always many people in my house. I saw my father doing a medical practice, so I thought I could do Pathology, so I studied in Pathology. In 1987 I decided to study for a career in Pathology, but my friend lived in Australia, so I chose Australia to come and stay with my friend and study... that's why I came to Australia. Life was very busy for me, looking after my divorced friend and her family, as well as studying at the TAFE. But I became disappointed with the course so I changed it to an Interpreting course. In 1989 I met my husband through my friend and we were married in Korea with families present. In Korea there were two wedding ceremonies - one is Koreanstyle, the other is Western style. It takes one hour. Western wedding style is wearing the white wedding gown for half an hour with all the guests, and then straight after that we had the Korean wedding. That's wearing the Korean costume we call "Hanbok". And we bow to our parents-in-law and our relatives, so it took just half an hour. So, basically the wedding is two ceremonies, Korean and Western style.

In 1991 we bought a house in Baulkham Hills. It was quieter and more suited to raising my children. Actually after we were married we settled in Parramatta but it was busy and noisy so we decided to buy a house in Baulkham Hills. 

We still practice Korean traditional customs, such as respecting elders, and we remember the anniversaries of deaths, and also we celebrate my child's 100 days and one year birthday after they were born. We prepared food for the celebration so the table is spread with Korean food such as the Korean rice-cake, and bulgogi and vegetable noodles and all kinds of fruits and, most important, we show them a selection of items such as pens, money and a long thread. 

Money means wealth, pen means scholar and long thread means long life. So my children chose money and pens, so we were all clapping, saying they're going to be rich and they will study well and become a scholar, so we all had a good time!

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Traditional wedding ceremony of Oksun and her husband

Traditionally we celebrate using the Lunar Calendar where the Lunar New Year occurs in February, but in Australia we adapted it to have New Year's in January. Every two years we went to Korea to see our grandparents and uncles and aunties and cousins, so we visited temples and mountains and cities. I want my children to learn Korean speaking and writing Korean. Also I want them to play the Korean drums. That's in Sydney, at the Silverwater Korean Church. I've been involved in a prayer group and Bible study at the Korean Catholic Church in Silverwater and at Baulkham Hills. There is a Korean Church called "Our Lady of Lourdes" in Canyon St in Baulkham Hills. There is an eleven o'clock mass every Sunday but I usually go on Thursday for Bible study. This is for Koreans.

I have enjoyed living in The Hills Shire... it's a nice, quiet and safe environment, and it has good schools. And there are two grocery shops (in Baulkham Hills), and a Korean video shop, a Korean hair salon and a Health Shop in Castle Hill, in the Castle Mall, opposite Showground Road.

It was lonely for me as a young mother without any family or friends for support, so after my daughter went to school I formed a Korean Women's Group in 1998, but it closed for a while because of the renovation of the Hills Health Centre, but it started again in 2001 at Castle Hill Community Centre. We meet every Monday morning. The purpose of the group is to break the isolation, obtain information and get new skills such as craft, painting, yoga, exercise and English. I work in the Korean Senior's Group Social Day Program, one Wednesday at Blacktown and one Friday at Baulkham Hills.

We have a mini-bus to collect all the clients from home and take them to the Centre for a day of socialising and activity. And we also go on outings too. Because of the language program and because of the mobility they don't just stay at home, they come to our group - the Korean Senior's Group and they meet together and socialise, learning some activities and playing games and going out to clubs like the Catholic Clubs. We sometimes went to Wisemans Ferry to have lunch... so, all sorts of outings and activities.

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Multicultural celebration during Seniors Week at Baulkham Hills

Here Oksun describes the meanings behind some of the objects on her table...)

This is a pair of ducks... meaning a happy, long marriage, so when the bride and bridegroom stand for one pair of ducks. And this is a Korean traditional wedding dress... bride and bridegroom wear clothes like this. And this is the tea ceremony. Winter time in Korea is very cold so when neighbours or friends or familiy relatives come to my house we usually serve them Korean tea. We serve like this... with two hands. Long ago in Korea there were many trees in the mountains, so we didn't have gas or any fuel, so we used the logs, but we had to bring them down to the house, so we used a special backpack. There are all sorts of logs here. These clothes are actually just plain Korean dress, not a traditional one,actually, but just plain working clothes. This one... when we use a needle we use this thimble... we stitch it.