Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Changing Face of Kindness?

Last night, while having dinner, my family was watching one of those widely-popular "freaky but true stories" TV programs. As with the majority of the Japanese population, we do tend to see those a lot. Anyway, the program went through the expected fare of shocking videos, crimes, and unsolved mystery stories from around the world. Then, as it neared its end, it proceeded to the obligatory "warm-fuzzy" closing segment. The story, as it turned out, was what is currently the "heartwarming tale du jour" in Korea (and has apparently already inspired at least one fictionalized movie version). I tried to provide a link to an online source somewhere, but I didn't have much luck finding one (which makes me wonder), but anyway, this is how the story goes (in a bit of a nutshell):

Sometime in the late '70s a man in Pusan, South Korea, found a woman lying on the street unconscious. There was no I.D. of any kind on her (or so he claimed), so he took her to the hospital himself. She didn't appear to be injured, but when she awoke she had no memory of who she was or how she'd gotten there. The hospital was unable to help her recover her memories, so when she was released (read "more or less thrown out") the man who had found her took her to a family he knew in the city. They provided her with lodging and a job so she was at least able to live comfortably. Her case was taken to the local police, but they basically shrugged the whole thing off and offered no help at all. There was nothing for the woman to do but continue as she was for the time being.

The woman's memory never returned, and she remained with the family. Meanwhile, the man who had found her kept visiting her with increasing frequency and intimacy. Finally he told her he had to return to his hometown and invited her to come with him. She had misgivings, mindful that she probably had a family there in Pusan, but he was persistent. He promised to take care of her until her memory recovered. She agreed, and they went to his old homestead in the country together.

They wound up living more or less in a common law marriage for more than twenty years, during which time she gave birth to a son. She recalled that she'd had children before, but her memory of her former life was still lost to her. Finally, however, they hit the snag to end all snags. Their son had reached the age of compulsory military service, but the government required verification of his mother's family background. Since she still had no idea who she was, their case was taken to the police again. This time, with the assistance of computers and the internet, they were able to track down her missing past.

Not only did it turn out that she was married, but her real husband had spent the previous twenty plus years searching desperately for her, refusing to give up hope, while taking care of their three children alone. His life had been more or less wrecked. Needless to say, when word got to him that his long-lost wife had been found, he insisted on meeting her immediately. She and her "second husband" were reluctant, naturally, but they went through with it.

When the real husband and three children first saw her for the first time in more than twenty years they were ecstatic. She, on the other hand, was frightened. All she said was, "I'm sorry! I don't remember any of you!" Then she ran into her "second husband's" arms. Her real husband, seeing that she was obviously happy in her new life, decided then and there to renounce all claim to her. With tears in his eyes...and his son and two daughters freaking out around him...he returned to Pusan.

This apparently happened very recently, and all of Korea is apparently awash in tears over this true-life tale. Everyone is crowing about how kind and loving both the real husband and the second man were. The empty-headed idiot celebrity panel on the Japanese TV program blathered on and on and on expressing similar sentiments. It was all so beautiful, so moving, so heart-warming, so romantic...

It was all I could do to keep from smashing that damned TV. I was positively seething, and I remained so upset afterward that I couldn't sleep last night. I realized long ago that I tend not to think the same way as most people, but I fail to see how that story is "beautiful", "moving", or "heart-warming" in the least. "Romantic"? Don't make me puke!

When I was in elementary school (in the late '70s, which was when the woman was found unconscious...hmmm...) I once had a dream that I still remember clearly. I dreamed that my mother suddenly disappeared. We found her later, but she was engaged to marry another man and claimed not to know us at all. When we begged her to come back, she just said dismissively, "I don't know you. You're not part of my life. Go away." I woke up in tears. I still remember how painful that dream was, and I'm sure that's coloring my opinion here. I feel very sorry for the woman's real husband and the three children. As for that second man...well...let's just say that neither "kind" nor "loving" has any hope of entering the picture.

If that man had had any ounce of common sense, he would have realized there had to be people and places the woman recognized there in Pusan. Therefore, to recover her memory, it only stood to reason that she should have stayed in Pusan. If he really did care for her and want to help her, he should have tried to help her find her real life there in Pusan, not haul her off to his little country home where he would be the only thing she had any chance of recognizing! Of course her memory never recovered! He made damned sure it didn't!

Bottom line: the man never really thought about what was best for the woman at all. His only concern was for what "felt good". He helped her because it "felt good". He befriended her because it "felt good". He became intimate with her because it "felt good". Then he talked her into becoming his happy homemaker in the country because it "felt good". In the process, he more or less hijacked her life and wrecked the lives of her husband and three children all because it "felt good" to him at the time...and in the end it was this self-centered son of a bitch that ended up winning. Somebody help me here: just what the hell is it that I'm supposed to find "beautiful", "moving", or "heart-warming" about this? On the contrary; this is about as cynical as it gets! This is the epitome of the sucky side of human nature! "Romantic"? Do you really want to eat this crockery?!?

It used to be said that real love sometimes hurts. I still believe that for some reason even though it's clearly passe. Nowadays it seems to be the norm to think that everything is okay as long as it feels good. That's what the media says. That's what so many parents say. That's what so many of my educator colleagues say. Love and kindness means everyone feels good.

"Umm...that kid just hides in the corner and never does anything. He's not going to get anywhere that way. Maybe what he needs is a little push..."
"Umm...letting him stay a helpless baby all his life is your idea of love?"
" this your idea of education?"
"Umm...meaning indulging them and not helping them grow?"
"Umm...better get a bucket..."

Maybe I need to go back to school to learn what kindness really means. I'm getting seriously confused here...and in need of beer, obviously...


  • Okay, Greg, do you understand the "moody" thing yet?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 7:26 PM  

  • LOL -> MM's comment.

    Oh well... everyone has their own views... their own expectations...

    If I'm the daughter from the first husband... probably I would get hurt in the first place because the mother doesn't recognize me anymore but then speaking the reality.. 20 years, the mother couldn't remember anything.. what can we expect from her? Even if she comes back to the first husband, she probably is just a complete stranger. I wont expect that she will be the same mother like I used to know...

    So, why bother?

    By Blogger Selba, at 7:41 PM  

  • Moody indeed.

    We don't know how the woman ended up in the situation. How do we know her first husband didn't beat the crap out of her and dump her on the street?

    Was the second husband supposed to spend the next 20 or 30 years of his life tracking down her relatives? Was she supposed to stop living a full life for decades?

    Tragic? Perhaps. Something to lay blame about? I don't think so. At least with the limited information we have.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:04 PM  

  • a fine line between compassion/kindness and the "feel good" factor.

    like panda, i m intrigued by what happened to her in the first place... (no ID and unconscious and everything) and if she lives in Pusan, and if her 1st husband has been desperately trying to find her, how come no one recognize her or come to identify her when she was in hospital??

    many questions left unanswered... your verdict?

    By Blogger YD, at 8:34 PM  

  • According to the story as it was presented on the TV program, the first husband spent a lot of time going around with his wife's photo asking businesses and people in the street questions and putting up posters with her picture and an "If you see this woman, call..." message. He also reportedly went to the police and all the hospitals in the area (apparently including the one that treated her!), but it seems they were less than cooperative. He was always dismissed with a curt, "Nope. Haven't seen her. Good day."

    (Apparently Pusan isn't known for its cordiality...or at least wasn't in those days. Remember, it is a fairly large city.)

    The woman had no notable injuries of any kind. All she had was bruises consistent with someone passing out onto the pavement. The doctor's prognosis was that it might have been heat exhaustion...or a stroke. (I didn't catch that part exactly, but they ruled out violent assault.) She had a handbag, but it was empty.

    The second man took her to the police after she left the hospital and then introduced her to the people that housed and employed her. Beyond that he offered no assistance at all. He just started dropping by and visiting her and then dating her for a few months before asking her to come with him to his homestead.

    No, I wouldn't expect him to dedicate his life to trying to track down her family. (I'm not THAT stupid!) However, he should have known that staying in Pusan was the only way for her to have any chance of regaining her memory. His getting her to go off with him pretty much ended any hope of her recovering. If he really cared about her, instead of merely wanting to have her for himself, he should have left her where she the care of that family.

    Who knows? Maybe then the interval would have been a lot less than 20+ years...and she might have recovered her memories.

    Whatever. Everyone is calling the husband a hero for letting his wife go. I would agree on that point 123.75%. However, I don't agree with the praise that second asshole is getting...and I definitely do NOT consider that story either moving or heart-warming. It just irks the hell out of me.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:55 PM  

  • How strange! It's a good story if it was fiction, but it is true! There would be no point in going back to a family that seemed like strangers, but yes, the 2nd guy didn't do enough.

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 5:37 AM  

  • You could also consider that they made the best of the situation they found themselves in.

    There are many nuances we could take on this.

    At the same time, the logical thing for the police to do is check missing person reports matching her description and employ the process of elimination.


    In a similar vein, I saw a tv movie about a teenage girl who found out she was kidnapped as a toddler. The couple she was living with thought she was their granddaughter, and she thought they were her parents - because she had been kidnapped by their very prodigal daughter, so they brouight her up as their own in the absence of thier daughter.

    13 years later she is found by her biological parents, who want her back, but the only parents she knew were the ones she grew up with. She was claimed by her bio parents but she was miserable and wanted to go to home to her 'real' parents.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 7:15 AM  

  • Hmmm. Upon further reflection, when Momo strayed into out life we spent a good deal of effort trying to find her owner before adopting her. And she's a dog (no offense Momo).

    Decades would be too much to ask, but the guy should have done his best for some reasonable amount of time to find the woman's family. You're right.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:46 AM  

  • Quite often, memory-loss is the result of a tragic event. I wonder what tragedy this woman encountered to make her lose her memory. I imagine there is more to the story than meets the eye.

    Okay, now for my conformance: [nasal voice] "Oh, how awful, and yet romantic! What great kindness! My heart goes out to these people." [/nasal voice]

    By Blogger DewKid, at 10:21 AM  

  • Interesting story... had a good laugh at your comment about the TV commentators... but quite bewildering a story indeed...

    By Blogger Lrong, at 2:33 PM  

  • Your mother!

    By Anonymous some guy, at 7:40 AM  

  • Thinking back, it's the perfect story for the 40-episode Korean drama series! (adding in some twist of the story like finding out the two husbands are actually long-lost brothers, or finding out the wife and one of the husband's parents were once together, or finding out the real husband have leukemia and the wife has to go back to him...)

    i think this issue has been commercialized and "entertainmentalized" by the tv show.

    By Blogger YD, at 4:35 AM  

  • i agree w/ you here. i don't see this as any love story. i really feel sorry for her husband and children. here in looked for her for more than 20 years and then finds out that she has another life w/ another man. i can't imagine the pain.

    By Blogger tooners, at 3:51 PM  

  • I feel sorry for the husband and the three children. It is traumatic for them to find his wife/their mother and to lose her again. Tragic.

    For the woman, can't blame her choice for staying back with the second man. Fear of the unknown is understandable.

    MM, what a nightmare, yours.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 4:41 PM  

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