Elderly Widow Learns Korean Alphabet, Writes to Dead Husband

A widow in her seventies wrote a letter to her husband

A heart-warming story of a 75 year-old widow learning how to write Korean has been doing the rounds on Facebook. The elderly citizen recently learned how to read and write Hangul [the Korean alphabet] at the ‘Culture and Athletic Center of Namhae County‘. The center held a writing contest for elderly citizens who have just learned how to write Hangul. For the contest, the widow, Ms Park Sang-yup, wrote a letter [above photo] to her deceased husband and won a prize. Her story was so impressive that one of the local newspapers put it in print.

A catastrophic war, rapid development and widespread urbanisation means it is not that unusual for some of the older generation to not be able to read or write Korean. Interested in learning yourself? Check out this webtoon.

From Facebook:

To You in Heaven

Today, I call your name with a broken heart. It has been 55 years since you left. You said you’d be back soon, but you’re nowhere to be seen ’til this day. You can’t imagine how our family’s lives have been. Your parents passed away and our then-4 month old son is now a bank branch manager in Busan. He’s on the right path in life. It was difficult to live off of our small plots of land, so I worked hard to educate our son, selling things at Jagalchi Market. How have you been for last 55 years? Will we recognise each other when we meet? One day, when I follow your path to heaven, please find me. Take care, until the day we’re reunited.

November 8th

Your wife.

Comments from Facebook:

박소라:

ㅠㅠ It’s so sad.. I can actually feel her emotion. . It’s gut-wrenching..ㅠㅠ

원인재:

My eyes are watering.

남윤호:

This is so sad…

강누리 :

What a heart-warming story ㅠㅠ

Soojung Kim:

OMG ㅠㅠ

Jeong Kwangnam :

Oh..ma’am.. You are quite a woman.. How you must have wanted to learn how to write..ㅠㅠ

Dmitry Je :

This is so sad… I’m glad her son is doing well 

Hyunjoo Kim:

I’m so moved by this story ㅠㅠ My eyes are watering~

Britney Challs:

It’s so sad.. Tears are falling down my face like rain.

Dohyung Kim:

I really ‘like’ this story.

Se-yeong Jeong:

I’m actually crying ㅠㅠ

YoungHae Park:

*Crying* ㅠㅠ

Yoo Martin Seung Ho:

Ahh…. ㅠㅠ  It reminds me of when my grandmother learned Hangul. It was SO touching when she first wrote a letter to me, ‘Eat your meal before you leave.’

Jong Wook Kim :

THIS is love…

장현정:

Grandma, you rock!!

Sunghwan Cho :

Heart-warming~

Kyunghee Kim :

This is REAL LOVE… We shouldn’t use the word lightly…

Jungsoo Kim

Oh! I’m in the office, working extra hours and crying!!

Bomiee Park:

ㅠㅠ Ah…This is gut-wrenching..

Lucy Kim:

Late in the night, crying

이현지:

Wow… This story is something… It makes me cry..

Kino Lee:

I can feel that this is how married couples are supposed to be…

김종현 :

I’m barely holding my tears back.. I hope she lives a long and healthy life..

추현우 :

The weight of the word, love..

Sangkook Lee :

Wow~ She’s lived quite a life, lost her husband in her twenties..?

김현경 :

Her ‘Han’ and sorrow towards the past are so palpable..

이주형 :

Ah, I’m crying ㅠㅠ I wish you happiness, ma’am!

Sora Lee :

Isn’t there a possibility that she lost her husband during the Korean War, considering phrases like, ‘You said you’d be back soon’, ‘Take care, until the day we’re reunited’.

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  • lonetrey

    My my, this grandma had a lot of determination to learn to write. Bravo on pushing yourself to learning something new at that age!

  • Brett Sanbon

    All I ㅠㅠㅠ am reading ㅠㅠ is people ㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠ crying. ㅠ

  • Matt

    I know I’m supposed to be moved to tears and whatnot, but how can you be a native speaker of Korean, living in Korea for 75 years, and NOT know how to write hangul? For all THAT, I’d expect this letter to be written entirely in hanja…

    I know it “explains” it in the article, but frankly, the war ended 59 years ago, and I don’t see how rapid development and widespread urbanization are a hindrance to literacy…

    Sorry if it sounds like I’m hating on a 75-year-old widow… :/

    • Brett Sanbon

      There are actually schools in a lot of rural areas made specifically for teaching elderly women how to read and write Hangul. A lot of the women had to stay at home to work during, and after, the war. They had no opportunity to attend a school and learn Hangul. There was a tv special about the schools and students Spring of last year. My wife just kept repeating how cute it was when the 할머니s misspelled words.

      As you noted, around the time of the war, Hanja were more commonly used than Hangul. Maybe she knew Hanja as a child, maybe she still knows. I know the President of a University in Korea and even today she only writes in Hanja… a President of a University!!

      Most likely, the woman in the story is the type of lady who never travels further than the market, neighbors’ houses, or local church. She mentions in the letter that she had a son (during the war?) and this is one reason she may have had to stay home all day, everyday. She probably just never had to read anything in her life.

      • Matt

        I get all that, but hangul takes about a day to learn the basics, a day to learn the phonetic exceptions, and maybe a week to get the hang of reading and writing it. Add to that maybe a month or two for an already-fluent speaker to learn proper spelling. Doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult to fit this into a 59-year time frame, especially considering she wasn’t just a stay-at-home housewife and indeed had to go out into society to take care of herself and her son…

        Has she never read a magazine or newspaper over the span of 75 years?!? o_o

        • An anonymous boy…

          It’s hard to understand a life far different than one’s own especially with so few details. Obviously, she had no need to learn. Like the article says, it was not that uncommon for people of her generation.

          Here is a possible scenario: Living in a rural area and being a solo parent, she was too busy trying to survive and raise a child to care about learning to read or write in Hangul. While her son or children were growing up, they could of read to her so she had no need to learn. After her children left, she had no reason to learn since she survived her whole adulthood without knowing how.

    • Jess

      Yeah, hangul wasn’t very common during her generation.
      Though, now that you mention it…a 20-something writing a letter entirely in hanja would probably be more impressive than this.

  • skippy

    Awesome old lady! I don’t need to say any more.

  • Jahar

    I learned to read korean in restaurants and my friends bathroom. He had the alphabet posted on his wall in front of the toilet.

    • Brett Sanbon

      Just how much time did you spend on your friend’s porcelain throne?

      • Wang that!

        LOL!

        Bret your comment made my day!

      • Jahar

        Actually I had it pretty much figured out by the time I started hanging out with the guy. Point is, it’s really easy.

      • lonetrey

        XD @ “porcelain throne”!

    • Noori

      As a native Korean speaker, I didn’t even need the alphabet board. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. However, that doesn’t mean the lady is intellectually lazy. Women of her generation were deliberately ostracized from ANY type of education. Their parents wouldn’t have allowed them to read and write Korean. For example, my grandfathers from both sides knew how to write Hangul, one of them even had a bachelor’s degree; conversely, my grandmothers didn’t have a desire or time to learn it.

      • An anonymous boy…

        I don’t know if they were specifically ostracized or how widespread it was, but I think it is also well known that equality of education was not realized for women in the past and the social atmosphere forced females to sacrifice for their brothers or family. Women with poor family backgrounds were the first targets to sacrifice their educational lives.

        Even in the early 90s, I remember there was still 6% disparity between women and men’s literacy rate. Education became the norm and disparity is really low now.

        Also, I remember a Korean novel that captures these ideas very well: Please Look After Mom. If people read that, it would help them understand how something like this could happen.

        Finally somewhat related…To this day, women’s rights are problem in South Korea: sexual harassment and gender pay equality are huge issues. These have far reaching implications how women were treated in the past. I think that is enough evidence to understand, why this lady could not read.

  • doug

    This sounds just like my wifes mother,who lives with us-Her husband killed in the Korean war, and she never learned to write beyond her own name. I guess in the rural small town she lived in, it just was not much of a priority.

  • Paul M

    Her hand writing is really clear, well formed and wonderful to read. Unlike a lot of my uni-student’s handwriting and what you see on film posters and restaurant signs.

  • Janelle

    So sweet ㅠㅠ Ma’am, I’m sure your husband is so proud of you.

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