My grandfather, my hero.
My cousins dive effortlessly into the water and burst onto the surface with loud shrieks of joy. Even the youngest one leaps into the pool without a second thought as I sit at the edge sweating like melting ice cream underneath a fiery sun. One toe gingerly pokes at the water to see what the temperature is like. My entire leg retracts in an instant. It is freezing cold. Dripping from head to toe, my cousins attempt to persuade me to join them and jump into the water, but I just shrug. I notice secret messages being sent amongst my cousins via eye contact. As they attempt to drag me into the pool, I cling on for dear life, scratching away at the sides of the pool. My mischievous cousins tickle me in an attempt to loosen my grip. I am already in waist deep and my knuckles are turning white. I think about just giving in and letting go. But all I imagine is sinking helplessly to the bottom of that cold, cold pool.
“That’s enough!” A deep voice in Korean booms from above.
It is my grandfather to the rescue. My cousins let go in unison and I scurry out of the pool and into a warm towel.
The next day, grandfather wakes me up at 5 AM. We are going to SeaWorld. I see Shamu for the first time, absolutely stunned by the show in which the trainer swims to the bottom of the pool and is gracefully lifted by Shamu. At the end of the show the killer whale waves with its tail gently, splashing the water and I got wet with the rest of the crowd, and we roar with excitement. I chant with the crowd “Shamu! Shamu!” My heart synchronizes with the chanting and clapping that is growing louder and faster. I beg my grandfather the next day to go see the show again. We end up going back the next three days.
“Why do you like the show so much,” he asks.
“I want to swim with Shamu one day,” I respond.
When we come back from our third consecutive show together, grandfather leads me to the pool. I feel hesitant, but it’s grandfather, so what can I do but follow?
“For today, you can just take three steps down.”
I think he will pull me into the water once I go three steps down so I hold on tight to the metal handles of the ladder, but he really just allows me to hang out on the third step. He does not pressure me to go further. The next day, I find myself actually in the pool with him and a floaty. I sit on grandfather’s back as he slowly breaststrokes back and forth across the pool. I embrace water for the first time in my life. My dream of swimming with a killer whale one day remains intact and even achievable.
My grandfather, my zero.
I am no longer grandfather’s little granddaughter since I am a sophomore in high school now, but grandfather remains the dream-giving, confidence-building, grand wizard he has always been. Just a little older. But today that is all about to come crashing down. An almost comedic, satirical and fantasy-like news story is about to grip the small nation of South Korea for weeks to come. Koreans are about to find out that President Park has been taking advice from and sharing top secret information with a shadowy figure. This shadowy figure happens to be the daughter of a famous shamanistic cult leader. And it so happens that the President is convinced that her dead mother is speaking through this individual named Choi. It is shocking. It is incredulous. It is downright embarrassing. Choi, through her control of President Park, has in turn created a sludge fund to gain financial profit through donations from the biggest corporations in South Korea due to her relationship with the President.
All of this is now about to be discussed at the dinner table. It just so happens to be grandfather’s birthday. Everyone in the family is emotional, ashamed or furious. They cannot believe that the Korean presidency has hit new lows. Then my grandfather suddenly tells everyone to quiet down. He tells us that we should not lose our trust and support of the President. That we should not be fooled by the socialists. That this is a big conspiracy to tear down everything South Korea has built up until now.
“We must remain united and protect our country from the North.”
He goes on to emphasize that under President Park’s father, Korea grew leaps and bounds economically and that South Korea would not be what it is today if not for the Park family. He looks at my grandmother with intense eyes.
“Have you forgotten the day President Park’s mother was shot? Have you forgotten how much you cried that day?”
Grandfather says that his life without his parents had been hard. He understands what President Park must have gone through. That she needed someone to rely on. That she had been taken advantage of. I sit there numb. Dumbfounded really. How can my hero be so blind to the facts right before him? I try to convince him.
“You are too innocent. Do not believe everything you see on the media.”
At that moment, I simply want to rewind time. I want to go back to an hour before when grandfather remained my perfect hero, the man who could never be wrong. I want to pretend as if this never happened.
Hero or Zero?
I now understand that this is a foolish question. I see that it is I who have changed. I am no longer a little girl. I am on the brink of adulthood. And I see the flaws of those around me all too clearly. Grandfather is no hero, but he is no zero either. He is both all at the same time. I guess on that fateful day, I along with the nation grew up. We finally understood what could happen if we did not take responsibility for our country.
And I now realize that my grandfather has always simply been my grandfather.
YunBin Cho is a year 11 student at NLCS Jeju in Korea. She is an aspiring game theorist and political scientist, who writes on current events and edits for school magazine and newspaper. YunBin enjoys reading Dan Brown and George R.R. Martin and watching Netflix. Her favorite series is the House of Cards.