Posted: Monday, February 25, 2013 10:54:21 AM
I haven’t seen TV for five years. However, there is one TV show that will always shine in my memory: Jewel in the Palace. It is a South Korean television series that came out when I was still a child, but I have never been able to forget it since.
Jewel in the Palace was based on the true story of Jang-geum, the first female royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty. She is an orphan who rises above intrigue and betrayal to learn the secrets of Korean cooking and medicine and overcome a rigidly patriarchal Korean society.
I watched Jewel in the Palace when my mother was depressed and lonely, a suffering I resented; and I was beginning to feel truly stifled in my mother-country. My dream was to become an English writer, but I felt trapped by an education of route memorization where I had to teach myself English for years without any help. My friends were like caged birds possessing the beautiful plumage of perfect GPAs…but my song was different. I was desperate to fly away – or give up.
In this depressing situation, Jewel in the Palace wrenched at my heart like no TV show ever did before. As an orphan girl with centuries of prejudice working against her, Jang-Geum had no hope of becoming a physician or cook, but she worked nonstop with a passion and perseverance that challenged me. Though her parents died, her friend betrayed her, and she even lost her sense of taste – a prerequisite for a cook – she never gave up. Just because my environment isn’t conducive to my dreams doesn’t mean I should give up. A new creed became mine: a hope that fate and my dreams might collide.
I also came to fall in love with Korea. I had never realized the richness or depth of Korean culture, but learning about Korean royal court cuisine and the fascinating complexities of traditional Korean medicine, I began to appreciate just how beautiful my culture was, and felt a pang of remorse for my coldness towards own country. A true writer possesses not merely impressive technique, but love and understanding.
Best of all, watching Jewel in the Palace created a special bond between my mother and me. We shared a quiet intimacy as we snuggled in front of the computer sipping tea and enjoyed the episodes together. In the scene where Jang-Geum pressed a handful of crushed berries into the lips of her mother, who died for her, I turned to see tears trickling down my mother’s eyes; I leaned over and hugged her hard. I felt a rush of gratitude that I, unlike Jang-Geum, had a truly loving mother to support me every step of the way to fulfilling my dreams. Before we knew it, our hurts had been washed away, and healing had begun. Jewel in the Palace had sifted through the dirt to uncover the sparkle of so many jewels in my life, and I felt – and still feel – profoundly grateful.