Book summary and reflection: Quiet Odyssey: A Pioneer Korean American Woman in America

This was a part of my assignment for EDSC 541K class:

Quiet Odyssey: A Pioneer Korean American Woman in America

By Mary Paik Lee

Edited with an introduction by Sucheng Chan

Published in 1990, Quiet Odyssey: A Pioneer Korean American Woman in America by Mary Paik Lee and edited by Sucheng Chan, is an autobiography by one of the first Korean Americans, and one that is a first in documenting the life of a Korean American woman. Since the book is quite easy to read, with text written in plain sentences and simple descriptions about various places, people, and things, the book seems suitable for students as young as grade 7. It is 130-pages long with about 70 pages of appendix that includes historical background provided by the editor, which also seems quite useful as a historical reference. As someone who did not have much knowledge about the personal lives of the first Korean Americans, I found this book interesting and enjoyable, and would recommend it to others who would like to learn about what various places there were that the first Korean immigrants settled in, and what sorts of hardships they faced.

Written in a chronological progression, over half of the 16 chapters are titled after the places that the author moved to, followed by chapters that are about the times during World War II, about her reflections on discrimination, her sons, and old age. Born in Korea in 1905 as Kuang Sun Paik, she and her family emigrated to Hawaii when she was five, after her parents were convinced by the advice of the Christian missionaries from the U.S. From Oahu to Riverside, then to Claremont, Roberts Island, Idria, Hollister, and finally to Willows, Paik-Lee moved to many places within California with her parents as a child. She has many details about her childhood that were often heavy with hardship and hunger but always full of love and support from her parents and her older brother. Some stories include her working hard as a housemaid even while attending school, her memories of her loving parents being very strong but slowly weakening by the intense labor they had to endure to make a living, the generous and helpful people she met throughout the years, and the not-so-kind people that ultimately strengthened her character.

She explained in straight-forward sentences about the places she lived in, the people she met, and the stories that were described with little ambiguity. I also felt that the author was at peace with all the hardship she faced in her life, as her words that detailed the stories and the incidents were described with positivity and acceptance, even the ones that were about the mistreatment and injustice she received and dealt with while growing up. I thought her bold character was able to be nurtured because of her loving parents that really seemed to have lots of good advice and care for the children that left a profound impact on the author, which later helped her become someone who was brave enough to face the hardship and smart enough to learn how to deal with the problems. I hardly felt the author was projecting a strongly negative feeling towards an incident, or still holding grudge against someone. She seemed very content with all that has happened in her life and was happy to share it with the readers.

As I read on, I started to feel a personal connection to the author and really wanted to know more about the joys, the struggles, and everything in between that the author experienced. At one point, I had an urge to check again what the publication year of the book was, and then I found myself resisting from simply turning the page to look it up. This was because I wished that the author was still alive and that I will have an opportunity to meet her. But soon, I reluctantly informed myself that the book was published in 1990 and the author was already in her 80s when the book was written. In fact, later I had learned that she had passed away 5 years after the book was published. Additionally, there were parts in the book that made me feel very emotional. One part was when the author talked about her husband’s death and the exact spot in which he is buried. I felt a desire to go and visit the burial site, and pay respect to the husband whose life was also detailed in the book. He seemed to be an honest man who worked very hard to support his wife and children, and who supported his wife for her rights during a time when women’s rights were dismissed.

If this book were used in middle and high school classrooms, it would be meaningful for students to read it and receive guidance on how they can narrate stories about their own parents and grandparents’ stories of growing up and their knowledge of their ancestors. It would also be a good lesson for students to map out the places in California in which the author lived, and then compare how the places were described in the book to how those places look and feel now. Also, since the author has several accounts of her interactions with friends and schoolmates, and many of these are stories of experiencing racial discrimination, it would be a good idea to use this book to start a discussion on racial discrimination and bullying that may be happening in schools today and see if there have been improvements in how schools, students, and teachers address and deal with discrimination and bullying in today’s society.



새해니까 뭔가 쓰고 싶어서

새해에는 뭔가 더, 내가 그동안 생각해왔던 것들, 과감하게 시작하고 꾸준히 해봐야지… 했지만

또다시 망설여진다.

누군가에게 나의 계획을 말씀드려서 조언을 구하고 싶다.


Cuz I want to confirm that it’s a decent plan?

Or maybe to learn about a better way to do what I wanted to do?

응, 그래서 그런 거 같다.

조언을 구하지 않고도 시작해버리면, 뭐가 안 좋은가?

If I later decide that it’s not worth my time.

That I disappoint some people with the negative result.

근데 난 글을 쓰긴 하는데, 그리고 쓸때만은 그 시간이 아깝지 않은데,

글 쓰는 거 때매 해야할 다른 task들을 못하게 되면 나중에 약–간 후회한다. 글 쓰는데 너무 많이 시간 보냈다고.

그래도 이게 나에게 도움이 되는 것일까?

Maybe I need a responsibility to do some kind of writing consistently, and with a specific audience in mind. Maybe that’ll be a good way to train myself. But doing it like this– just rambling on and on without any specific style or guideline that I need to follow, it really may be not that worthwhile for me, for the time being.

Sociology 605 – Week 2 “Modern Liberal Individualism”

  • Maurice Friedman – discussed notion of “community”
  • By the way, Dr. Choi is publishing a book on community soon!
  • We have to stop making communities an abstraction. Don’t study communities as an abstract thing.
  • Just as people who get into relationships are making a commitment to each other, communities should work in the same manner.

Modern liberal individualism:

  • an impersonal way to see the world but this is the dominant view right now!
  • Communities of affinity – similarities (But a real community should be one of differences and diversity…!)
  • Treats society as free floating atoms that just bump into each other. (and school systems help to reproduce this kind of society. Making a sorting system!)

3 types of leader:

  • charismatic
  • traditional (divine right) – irrational
  • rational – legal (in the modern era, “legitimized authority”)
    • French Revolution was one of the renowned peasant revolution

With theories, we’re always making maneuvers. Leaning techniques is not the only education.

Consistency & validity – just because something is consistent, doesn’t mean it’s valid.

Bureaucracy: a way for us to justify and legitimize. and the reason that we’ve exchanged our humanity with it!

By the way: Hobbes said humans are evil by nature!

Good / Evil –> the idea that Good = good, evil = evil, therefore good does not = evil (the Western tradition has always run on this idea)


  • Society = good, individuals = profane
  • Then to go to heaven, we have to repress our humanness… gotta become anti-human to go to heaven!

Dr. Choi’s quotes:

  • We’ve just met, but we’ve always known each other. (meaning, because humans influence each other, you know each other even though you haven’t physically met each other before)


  • Reification – giving something a life of its own

Dr. Choi’s story:

  • he changed majors 4 times! first mechanical engineering, then forestry, then business & law, then sociology… in the last semester of his senior year!

Poor versus poverty… ideology and hegemony

Dr. Choi’s father – 서라벌 대학교 교수님이셨다고?

John Murphy – Dr. Choi’s mentor

As long as our society believes in dualism, we will always have discrimination and oppression.

So… the marginalization of gays, women, minorities… is all due to the same mechanism.

It is important to know the historical and philosophical roots of sociological ideas. For any academic field!

Recommended book:

  • Reiman’s Rich get richer, poor go to prison
  • Donald Palmer’s Looking at philosophy (animated book) a great book for learning about different philosophies easily!

Thaelis claimed that everything is made of water = essentialism.

  • and this notion is still used to describe a certain category of human.

Considering society as a tree with deep roots… so it cannot move… so perhaps bamboo is better?!

Society should be given a different imagery. Not body. Not machine.