All right, I've gotten some heat from a few of my friends about not posting an excerpt from The Duke of Sunrises. I don't think I should, really. I just finished the first draft at lunch today, it certainly has about a year's work necessary before I should let anyone read it. Anyway, I picked one of the story arcs from the manuscript and am putting it here. I'll warn you: parts of it are a bit rough, as in, don't read this to grandma. Don't say I didn't warn you. Oh, yeah, Rhee Myung Ran is a relatively minor character in the book. I really didn't mean for her to have such a big backstory. Oh well:
Rhee Myung Ran had come to the United States from Pohang , Korea , thirty-two years before. She had grown up in a small farming community near Gyeongju and had dreamed of running away to Seoul . Her mother had died when Myung Ran was twelve, and she was left to work the farm, trying to attend school as best she could. But her father had not seen much benefit in putting her through school. Myung Ran’s father sank further and further into a depression after Myung Ran’s mother died. Eventually he had begun to gamble at bars in Pohang . And he began to lose money.
Finally some men came one night when Myung Ran was fourteen years old. The men had banged on the door and called out Myung Ran’s Father’s name. Myung Ran pulled the covers over her head in the bedroom and shivered as she listened to her father pleading with the men. Finally the door to Myung Ran’s room crashed open, and a very large man known only as Mr. Kim stood in the doorway and pointed at Myung Ran. “Her! She will pay your debt, Mr. Rhee. She comes with me. Now!”
Myung Ran had seen her father behind Mr. Kim. His shirt was covered with blood and he was holding his jaw, which seemed somehow misshapen. She tried to pull the covers back over her head, to somehow hide from Mr. Kim, to hide from her father, to hide from the entire world and to pretend that this day had never happened, that the sun had never risen, that her mother had never died, that his father had never gambled.
Mr. Kim’s enormous hand pulled the covers off of her. He pulled Myung Ran out of the bed with one hand and slapped her, hard. “You work for me now. You will come with me. You will stay where I tell you to stay. You will do everything I say to do, with everyone I tell you to do it with. If you fail me in even one instant….” Mr. Kim turned and gave Myung Ran’s father a brutal backhand across the face that made him fall to his knees, weeping. “I will kill your father while you watch, and then I will kill you. Do you understand me?”
“Yes! Yes! I will come with you. Please don’t kill Daddy! Please don’t kill Daddy!”
Rhee Myung Ran sat in the living room of her home in Clarendon , Virginia , looking at her husband, Tommy, sleeping in his recliner with a Korean Bible open on his chest. She had never seen her father again. She knew that he lived somewhere near Gyeongju still. But he had never once tried to come look for her, never once had written her a letter, never once had asked about her. It was as if Myung Ran had ceased to exist for him from the day he sold her into prostitution.
Mr. Kim brought Myung Ran to a night club in Pohang called “Club New Mexico ”. There were twenty girls working in The Club New Mexico, although only a few were ever actually in the club. All of the girls were expected to work by entertaining a customer nine hours of each ten hour shift. Every customer that they entertained paid them forty U.S. Dollars. Of those forty U.S. Dollars, each girl received 700 Korean Wons: the equivalent of 50 U.S. Cents. Myung Ran’s father owed Mr. Kim over 1000 U.S. Dollars. To pay off her father’s debt, Myung Ran would have to entertain over 2000 customers.
Most of Myung Ran’s customers had been U.S. Marines. When she saw a Marine the first time, she had started to cry. They seemed so large and brutish and wore uniforms and huge boots. Surprisingly, the Marines were much gentler than her Korean customers. Many of them wanted to know Myung Ran’s name and where she was from, and why she had decided to come to Pohang . Mr. Kim had told Myung Ran to never tell the Marines how old she was—that she was twenty one if they asked. “The Marines are stupid. They do not know how old any Koreans are. You tell them you are twenty one and they are happy, I am happy, and I do not kill your father. Understood?” Myung Ran understood.
In fact, Myung Ran understood that the Marines were not really interested in her real story. They did not want to know that they were having sex with a fourteen year old girl who was paying off the gambling debts of her father under pain of her father’s death. They did not want to know that Myung Ran’s mother had died, or that she had grown up on a pig farm that smelled of pig feces constantly. They did not want to know that Myung Ran had never been off of the farm and the whore house were she worked.
The Marines wanted to know that Myung Ran had decided to come to work in Pohang because she liked living in a big city. They wanted to know that she enjoyed her life and that she spent her money improving her house and saving up to go to the University. They wanted to know that she was just doing this job until she could go to the University, where she wanted to study to be a nurse. The Marines wanted to know that Myung Ran had visited Seoul , and had gone to Japan , and that one day she wanted to visit the United States of America . They wanted to know that Myung Ran had taken this job as an entertainment girl partially to meet Americans and to learn to speak English.
And the Marines wanted to know that Myung Ran was twenty one.
Myung Ran reached over her husband Tommy’s recliner and gently removed the Bible from his hands. He was snoring softly. She then removed his reading glasses, which were leaving two light red marks on either side of his nose. Myung Ran looked at Tommy. She knew he was not a perfect man. But she loved him and respected him. Tommy had done something that very few Korean men would ever do. Tommy Song had loved her in spite of his suspicions about her past. Tommy Song had respected Myung Ran when Myung Ran had had no respect for herself. Tommy Song had accepted Myung Ran’s stories about being widowed in the United States and had not asked too many questions. Because Myung Ran could only tell so many stories before she stopped believing them herself.
When Myung Ran had turned 17, she only owed Mr. Kim Two Hundred and Fifty U.S. Dollars. She had calculated that if she had three successful U.S. Marine Exercises in the Club New Mexico, she would be able to pay off her father’s debt. And one day, she decided to go to Mr. Kim’s office and tell Mr. Kim that she was preparing to finish paying him.
Mr. Kim did not get angry. He simply opened his filing cabinet, pulled out a large, green U.S. Government ledger, and showed Myung Ran a page with many numbers on it. The numbers were in bright red ink. And they showed that Myung Ran had earned a lot of money for Mr. Kim. A very large amount of money.
But they also showed that Myung Ran had had expenses. Her clothing had been the first expense. The clothing she had worn as a farmer girl would not have been good for entertaining guests. So Mr. Kim had bought clothing for Myung Ran. And he had kept it clean by having a laundry service that he had kindly given to Myung Ran. This too was quite expensive. Also, Mr. Kim had had the option of letting Myung Ran sleep in the street. He had heard that the girls of the Flower Waggon Club had to sleep on the streets, and bad things sometimes happened to those girls. Mr. Kim told Myung Ran that she was very lucky not to work in the Flower Waggon Club, very lucky indeed.
And of course Mr. Kim had paid for Myung Ran’s heat. Her food. Her drinks. Cleaning and electricity were not cheap either. Indeed, Mr. Kim had graciously supplied Myung Ran with the many comforts of life that Myung Ran now enjoyed.
Myung Ran tried to appear cheerful and tried not to let her voice tremble when she asked Mr. Kim how much money she still owed of her father’s gambling debt. Mr. Kim put on his reading glasses then looked at the figure in the ledger, wrote a few more numbers, then pulled out an abacus and did several calculations. He took off his reading glasses and put them on top of the ledger. Then he held his hands in front of his face, his elbows on the desk and his fingertips touching, and told Myung Ran that she now owed him One Thousand Five Hundred U.S. Dollars.
Myung Ran had looked down at the ledger and the reading glasses on top of it. She wanted to grab the ledger and run away. She wanted to take Mr. Kim’s reading glasses and smash them. But she knew that it was pointless. She would be a whore for the rest of her life if she did that. So Myung Ran decided that she would do what many of the Korean Entertainment Girls ended up doing. As she looked down at Mr. Kim’s reading glasses, Myung Ran decided she would make a U.S. Marine fall in love with her. The Marine would pay off Myung Ran’s father’s gambling debt. And Myung Ran would marry the U.S. Marine and move to the United States of America . And after some time, after she had become a U.S. Citizen, Myung Ran would divorce the U.S. Marine. And she would visit Pohang , Korea one more time. And then she would kill Mr. Kim.
Myung Ran reached over and pulled a Kleenex out of the box on the glass end table next to Tommy Song’s end table, and cleaned Tommy’s reading glasses. She put them down on top of the Bible she had laid on the end table.
Tommy Song walked around the Mercedes Benz in his driveway and checked the pressure of the tires. He checked to ensure that there were no leaves stuck in the grill and that the windshield was very clean. Then he opened the door to their house in Clarendon , Virginia , called to his wife, Myung Ran, and asked if she would please come to the car. He locked the door to the house with a key and then held open the door of the Mercedes Benz so she could enter the car.
Tommy Song looked at Myung Ran as he closed the door and tried to calculate how long they had known each other. Tommy had come to the United States in 1970. He was a young man and he had opened a dry cleaning shop. At that time, there were not as many things a Korean immigrant could do in the United States . Being a dry cleaner was one of those things. He had worked hard to become a successful dry cleaner.
Tommy Song had also become very active in the Arlington Korean Baptist Church . He had dedicated himself to his dry cleaning business and the Arlington Korean Baptist Church . In turn, everyone in the church took their dry cleaning to his shop, and they had told everyone they knew about Tommy Song’s dry cleaning business. This was not bad practice. It simply was the way things were done. Tommy worked hard. He employed several members of the church as employees, and that made the community stronger. Tommy Song was proud of what he had done with his business.
But several of the members of the church had become concerned about Tommy Song. He worked many hours, often entering the dry cleaning business before the sun came up and staying until late into the night. He did not seem to have a life away from his business. It was not good for a man like Tommy Song to work so hard and not have a family to help him at home. Tommy’s mother and father were still in Korea , so his mother could not easily find an appropriate wife for Tommy. The people of the church decided to find Tommy Song a wife.
But it was not as easy as finding eligible single women in the church. Most of the church ladies were married. And most of the daughters of the church were too young for marriage, even to a relatively young man like Tommy Song. There were a few young women of Tommy’s age in the church who were not married, but they were promised to others. Tommy needed a wife when there were none to be had. So the congregation prayed for a wife for Tommy Song. They did not do this in church- that would be embarrassing for Tommy. They never told Tommy. But every lady in the Arlington Korean Baptist Church prayed every morning and every evening: “Lord Jesus, please send us a wife for Mr. Tommy Song.”
Tommy never would have known about the ladies’ prayers. But one day, Mrs. Tong ran up to Tommy Song after the services, very excited. She said to Tommy, “Our prayers have been answered!”
Tommy said to Mrs. Tong, “What prayer would that be, Mrs. Tong?”
“Tommy, we have been praying for a wife for you!”
Tommy was curious, but then felt deep shame inside. How could they have been praying for a wife for him? Could he not find his own wife? Why were these people getting into his business? Still, he told her, “Thank you, Mrs. Tong. It is very nice of you to pray this way.”
“We would like for you to meet this young woman. But I must warn you of one thing. She is a widow .”
A widow? Tommy was not sure what that meant to him. She had been married. And some people thought that the bible told them that a person could only ever be married once. On the other hand, perhaps that was not true. For example, if a woman got married to a man, and that very day the man was killed in a horrible auto accident, surely Jesus would not have wanted that woman to go through the rest of her life all alone. That did not sound right, either. Tommy remained silent. But he nodded his head, slightly.
“Good,” said Mrs. Tong. “Good, I will arrange a meeting. You will meet Miss Rhee this evening at my restaurant. This is acceptable to you?”
Tommy Song did not see any way out of this. “Yes, Mrs. Tong. Thank you, Mrs. Tong. Until this evening.”
Tommy Song had put on a nice jacket and bought some flowers from Mrs. Park’s shop. He walked into Mrs. Tong’s restaurant a few minutes before 6:30. Mrs. Tong was waiting for him. She shook Tommy Song’s hand, then looked him over. “Yes, you look nice. Be polite with the young woman, please.”
“Yes, Mrs. Tong.” Then he sat at the table that Mrs. Tong had assigned for them, not far from the middle of the restaurant, where Mrs. Tong could keep an eye on them, but also off to one side where they could talk.
Every time the bell attached to the door chimed, Tommy shifted in his seat nervously to see who was coming in. An older couple. A family with a young boy and a baby in a stroller. Another single man who went straight to the bar. Finally, the door opened and a young woman in a black dress came in.
Mrs. Tong walked straight to the door to accompany the young woman to Tommy’s table. As Mrs. Tong and the young woman got closer, Tommy stood up respectfully and pulled out the young woman’s chair. Mrs. Tong smiled broadly and said to him, “Tommy Song, please meet the Widow Rhee Myung Ran.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Tong. I am pleased to meet you, Widow Rhee.”
“I too, am pleased, Mr. Song.” Tommy pushed Rhee Myung Ran’s chair in and nodded to Mrs. Tong. Then he too sat down.
Tommy Song looked down at his menu. His heat was racing. He had not had dinner with a young woman since he had come to the United States . He could not bring himself to look directly at Rhee Myung Ran. He tried to concentrate on the menu, but could not read anything so he decided to simply order a Bibimbap.
“Widow Rhee, have you decided on anything to eat?” Tommy looked across the table and glanced towards the Widow Rhee. Then he saw her eyes. They were curiously dark and large, beautiful. He wanted to look further and further into those eyes. Then he realized that he was staring at the Widow Rhee. He felt very ashamed and looked down at the table.
But not before he realized that Rhee Myung Ran was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
Tommy Song was at the wheel of the Mercedes, driving along Clarendon Boulevard . Myung Ran was at his side, sitting quietly. Although Tommy Song and Rhee Myung Ran were not normally very demonstrative, Tommy reached over and held Myung Ran’s hand as he drove.
After dinner at Mrs. Tong’s restaurant, Tommy Song had walked Rhee Myung Ran back to the hotel where she was staying. Rhee Myung Ran had not found a place to live since her husband’s death.
“Widow Rhee, have you been living in the hotel for a very long time?” Tommy wanted to know how long it had been since Rhee Myung Ran’s husband had died, but he could not ask her this directly. He had made no reference to Rhee Myung Ran’s defunct husband in the entire evening, except to tell her that he regretted her loss. Although he did not truly regret her loss. He was deeply ashamed when he had that thought.
“I have lived here for a year and a half now.” Good, thought Tommy Song. It is more than a year. He was not sure how much time one must wait to be respectful to the dead, but he was sure that it was more than a year.
“And why did you decide to come to the United States of America ?” Again, he wanted to know more about the previous marriage, but could not ask directly.
“My late husband was from the United States . He had been a U.S. Marine. We came back here because he was stationed here at the Pentagon. But then he was sent to Viet Nam , and he… he did not come back.”
“I am truly sorry for your loss, Widow Rhee.” Tommy Song was in turmoil inside. Rhee Myung Ran had been married to a U.S. Marine. Surely this changed things drastically for him. There were rumors about the Marines marrying Korean girls. He wondered what kind of girl Rhee Myung Ran was. Then he looked over at her. She was the most innocent, the most peaceful looking person he had ever met. And he realized that perhaps it did not matter what kind of girl Rhee Myung Ran had been in Korea . Perhaps the prayers of Tommy Song’s church had been answered with Rhee Myung Ran and he was not to ask too many questions about where she had come from.
Tommy Song and Rhee Myung Ran were now in front of the hotel where the Widow Rhee lived. “I have had a very lovely evening, Widow Rhee.” It was entirely true.
“I also have had a wonderful evening, Mr. Song.” Tommy bowed to the Widow Rhee, then opened the door for her. As she went past, The Widow Rhee’s shoulder brushed against Tommy Song’s hand. He felt as though his hand had caught fire.
Tommy Song’s Mercedes was passing over the Key Bridge into Georgetown . There was some traffic, but Tommy had planned ahead and had left enough time for this eventuality. They would arrive with plenty of time to spare. Rhee Myung Ran was sitting quietly. Tommy gave her hand a little squeeze.
The wedding of Tommy Song and Rhee Myung Ran had been very small. They had decided to get married in the Arlington Korean Baptist Church . The day before the wedding, Tommy Song and Rhee Myung Ran had gone to the Arlington Courthouse with all of their papers to get a marriage license. There was some confusion at the courthouse, as Tommy told the clerk that Rhee Myung Ran was a widow. The clerk had asked for a death certificate for Rhee Myung Ran’s husband. Instead, Rhee Myung Ran presented the clerk with a divorce certificate. Tommy did not ask Rhee Myung Ran why she had a divorce certificate while they were still in the courthouse. He decided that he had better not say anything until later.
When Tommy Song and Rhee Myung Ran walked out of the courthouse, Myung Ran began to cry. Tommy Song was not sure what to do. So he took Rhee Myung Ran in his arms and he held her. It was the first time he had held her since they had met. And Tommy Song whispered something to Rhee Myung Ran: “It is all right. I don’t care. The clerk made a mistake, that is all. We will be married tomorrow. Please, I would like it very much if you would smile.”
Myung Ran had raised her head and looked Tommy Song in the eyes. And a small smile crept onto her lips.
The next day Tommy Song and Rhee Myung Ran were married in the Arlington Korean Baptist Church . And Tommy never asked Myung Ran about her first husband or the divorce certificate ever again.
Tong Jin Sook, the owner of the Ichiban restaurant in Clarendon, had come from Korea to Arlington , Virginia in 1956 at the age of twelve. There were very few Koreans in Virginia at that point. When Jin Sook arrived, there was no Korean community. There was no Korean church. She did not meet Koreans other than her family members for several years.
Her father had started the Ichiban restaurant shortly after arriving, and the whole family worked long hours to make the restaurant work. They worked seven days a week, only taking time off to go to church on Sunday. The Arlington Korean Baptist Church had not been built at that point, so the family went to an English speaking church where they were tolerated, but not exactly welcomed. Tong Jin Sook learned to speak English by going to that church. And she learned to smile and make people think that she was enjoying herself when she was not. She did so by serving those same people as a waitress and cashier in the Ichiban restaurant.
When other Koreans came to Arlington , they naturally gravitated to the Ichiban restaurant. Some took jobs there, and others started businesses with the help of Tong Jin Sook’s father. Jin Sook’s father became an important man in the Korean community of Arlington . One of the first things that he and the other Korean men decided was that they needed a church where they could practice their religion in their own language. It took time to collect the money, but a year after that decision was made, the Arlington Korean Baptist Church was under construction.
Tong Jin Sook grew up in the Arlington Korean Baptist Church . She got married in the church when she was still quite young, and her children had gone to Sunday school there before they went on to also be married in the church.
When Tong Jin Sook’s father grew older and too tired to take care of the Ichiban restaurant, he told Jin Sook that she would be taking over the restaurant. It was not a big change in her work. She already was doing the ordering and the books. But once Tong Jin Sook’s father died in 1970, Jin Sook realized that the rest of the Korean community looked to her as a leader, as a matriarch.
Tong Jin Sook never took credit for the new Clarendon Korean School that was built shortly thereafter. Nor did she tell anyone that if they came to her when they had problems with their residency papers, she had contacts that could solve those problems. But little by little, Koreans in all of Northern Virginia spread the word that Tong Jin Sook was the lady to go to if you needed a problem solved.
That is why, one March afternoon after church services at the Arlington Korean Baptist Church , Mrs. Rhee Myung Ran visited Mrs. Tong Jin Sook. Myung Ran had a problem that she needed to have solved.
The problem would have been difficult for Rhee Myung Ran to resolve on her own, although she had promised herself many, many years before that she would take care of this problem herself. She would have had to return to her native Pohang , Korea to solve it herself, and recently it had become difficult for her to travel. But she had saved up money from her husband’s Dry Cleaning business, and she was willing to pay handsomely to have someone take care of her problem for her.
So Mrs. Rhee Myung Ran visited Mrs. Tong Jin Sook and they had a pleasant afternoon reminiscing about their childhood days in Korea , lamenting the fact that it was probable that neither of them would ever visit Korea again, but agreeing that the community they had built here in Virginia was strong and wonderful.
When Rhee Myung Ran left Tong Jin Sook’s house, she discreetly handed Tong Jin Sook an envelope containing Twenty Five Thousand U.S. Dollars and an approximate address for a Mr. Kim Bong Chol of Pohang, Korea. Some problems are expensive to solve, but worth every penny of the expense.
Park Daeshin had fought against the North Koreans as an infantry soldier. He had watched every other man in his platoon get killed in the defense of Muchuk. Some of the soldiers who had died were as young as twelve years old. In the residence home the other residents called him “Colonel”, although he had never reached a rank higher than Corporal.
Colonel Daeshin was old. He could feel every one of his eighty years in his bones. He had worked very hard his entire life, finally retiring a few years before from more than forty years working in the steel plant in Pohang , Korea . Colonel Daeshin had had the forethought to put some money aside so that he could live in a nice residence home when he got old, so his children would not be burdened. He would not have liked to be a burden. Unfortunately, Colonel Daeshin’s wife had died more than ten years before. He had a picture of her in the breast pocket of his shirt.
As a single man in the residence home, he shared a living quarters with another man. Colonel Daeshin did not care for his roommate, a Mr. Kim. Mr. Kim had a reputation for being a retired crime boss in Pohang . Colonel Daeshin thought this to be dishonorable. Also, Mr. Kim was loud and disorderly, and Colonel Daeshin enjoyed order and quiet.
One of the dishonorable things that Mr. Kim would do would be to stay out well past curfew playing at the Bingo parlors. Mr. Kim would invariably come home at two in the morning and wake up Colonel Daeshin with his loud, drunken voice. Mr. Kim had gone out to play Bingo the night before. When Colonel Daeshin woke up that morning, he was surprised to see that Mr. Kim had not come home.
Colonel Daeshin shaved carefully, then got dressed and entered the common room, where all of the residents were gathered around a television. The other residents were pointing at the television screen in horror, and some of the residents were crying. Colonel Daeshin did not like to watch the television, but he was curious to find out what had provoked such horror in the other residents.
There on the television news was a report of an apparent execution style murder. The images were gruesome—an older man had been kidnapped, then brutally tortured for several hours. Finally, the man’s tormentors had hung him alive from a cross in the middle of a field on a pig farm and slowly burned him to death with a blowtorch. The body had been so badly disfigured that there was no way to identify the victim other than with dental records. But the dental records had finally shown that the victim was the reputed retired leader of the Kkangpae organized crime syndicate, Kim Bong Chol.
When the report was finished, Colonel Daeshin returned to his quarters, closed the door behind him, and smiled with satisfaction.