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[Family drama] Sir Galahad with a camellia in his hand

By ChinguMode

Sweet Sir Galahad
Came in through the window
In the night when
The moon was in the yard.
He took her hand in his
And shook the long hair
From his neck and he told her
She’d been working much too hard.

– Sir Galahad, Joan Baez

As hard as it is seems to be to be a single mother in South Korea, it was just as hard in 1960s Australia.

As I grow older and learn more about just how harsh the world can be, I am even more amazed and impressed and saddened for my own mother who was abandoned by her husband in the late 60s. He took off in her own car after cleaning out their joint bank account and leaving her only with the shirt on her back and two-year-old twins to raise.

Unlike Dong-baek in When the Camellia Blooms, however, who is trying to run a business while raising her son alone, at least my mother had her mother and a secure teaching job to fall back on. And unlike Dong-baek who struggles with justifying every cent people spend in her bar, my mother was able to fight for – and get- equal pay, one of the first woman in her profession to do so.

Nonetheless, her life after this decision was plagued by sexism, harassment and bullying. She tells me tales of men who had previously been kind and fatherly to the “pitiful little single mother” turning their backs on her and sneering at her at work.

“How dare you?” they sneered, “How dare you think your labour is worth as much as mine.”

“How dare you think my labour isn’t,” she said, “I’m just as good at this job as you are.”

“I have a family to support,” they said angrily.

“So do I,” she retorted. “So do I.”

Nonetheless, the Education Department still fired every woman in December and then rehired them in January so they didn’t have to pay them the entitlements of full-time staff. My mother is only one of millions of women deprived of hundred of thousands of entitlements and superannuation due to structural discrimination against women in the workplace.

Which is to say, sexism is systemic and brutal and my mother is understandably proud of having navigated her way through this world by herself; keeping her family together and being both mother and father to her baby boys. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t hard and lonely and often frustrating and, while she would never admit to it, heartbreaking too.

It was true that ever since the day
Her crazy man had passed away
To the land of poet’s pride,
She laughed and talked a lot
With new people on the block
But always at evening time she cried.

Neither Dong-baek nor my mother ever needed a white knight. They had survived fine on their own and would survive into the future. But contrary to pop culture representations, a White Knight isn’t someone who rescues you or protects you from physical harm. Nor one who sweeps in and solves all your problems. If there is any woman on Earth not burdened by romantic fantasies it’s one whose husband drank, neglected and eventually abandoned her and who was still judged by the neighbours for divorcing him because “at least he didn’t hit her”.

A true White Knight – like the one described in Joan Baez’s Sir Galahad – is a romantic ideal only in the most pragmatic way. It’s about making life just that little bit easier and even, if you’re lucky, a little bit fun. It’s about easing away the cares of the world, giving you a knee on which to rest your head. It’s not about giving your battles over to somebody else to fight. It’s about them giving you the strength to fight your own battles: not for your survival or even for your child’s but because you’re someone worth fighting for.

As Camellia has unfolded, I’ve begun to think of this song. It’s crept into my mind and played while I’ve watched this beautifully-written love story unfold before me. The years of fighting and the constant subtle social judgement have worn down Dong-baek’s self-esteem until she feels as though she is somehow cursed or inherently unlikable. It’s not that she feels she is undeserving of love or even of consideration but that she has learned to not expect it. And while I suspect my mother would be upset or defensive at me making this comparison, I will simply say that I understand why Sir Galahad has been her favourite song for over 40 years.

Well you know I think my fate’s belated
Because of all the hours I waited
For the day when I’d no longer cry.
I get myself to work by eight
But oh, was I born too late,
And do you think I’ll fail
At every single thing I try?

This is not the story of Dong-baek’s romance with Yong-sik. It’s the story of Dong-baek’s romance with herself. In fact, what’s remarkable about Camellia and its golden retriever puppy of a male lead is that he’s not remarkable at all. He has merely his unbreakable certainty and unwavering loyalty. He doesn’t try to solve her problems or fix her life because he understands there’s nothing wrong with her life. He’s just there in a way that nobody has been there for Dong-baek before. And as the show unfolds, he manages to convince even her skeptical and cynical self that he is not someone who’s going to disappear.

He just put his arm around her
And that’s the way I found her
Eight months later to the day.
The lines of a smile erased
The tear tracks upon her face,
A smile could linger, even stay.

Yong-sik may be earnest, genuine and sincere but he’s also bullheaded, bad-tempered and excitable. The show is never selling some romantic fantasy that ends with a fairy tale wedding and a fade to black. Happily ever after.

It’s saying that true knights in shining armour – the kinds who clamber through your window when they see you’ve locked the front door – are perfect merely in their imperfection. Extraordinary in their ordinary. They become someone’s hero merely by existing; by staying where they say they will and doing what they say they will day after day through all of life’s ups and downs.

In the final estimation, that is all it takes to truly be someone’s hero.
If you’re a hero because of your actions then that’s the only action required.
Just being there.

Sweet Sir Galahad went down
With his gay bride of flowers,
The prince of the hours
Of her lifetime.

 
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Beautiful poem and beautiful writing @leetennant!

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Thanks so much, I'm so glad you enjoyed it.
The music and lyrics of Joan Baez are beautiful and timeless.

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A gorgeous article as always @leetennant πŸ’– You’ve written many for this site (some which sadly and inexplicably didn’t get published) but this one might be my favorite of them all. I dropped Camellia, but the parallels you make between Dong-baek’s life and your own mother’s have me considering giving it another chance.

β€œIn the final estimation, that is all it takes to truly be someone’s hero.
If you’re a hero because of your actions then that’s the only action required.
Just being there.”

I love this.

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Thanks so much, Mindy.

But are you really saying you like this one more than Bleeding Flowers? Is this possible? Is this true?

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LOL. Believe it or not, it is.

But maybe it’s time for a reread of that one, just to check...

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Wow

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Thanks for sharing your mother's story, and for the beautiful post!

*Putting some Joan Baez music on now*

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Thanks for commenting half-moon. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post and admire the extraordinary artist that is Joan Baez.

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I went to her concert a long time ago and had a great time. I was very lucky to get an autograph. I should check if she has any upcoming ones again nearby. I would love to go to one again.

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I think she is still performing and she has to be nearly 80.

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Beautiful LT! I now understand your issues even more with the drama's portrayal of motherhood.
Extra points for the poem having gay. I miss using it in its intended meaning.

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Thank you, my friend.

Yes I do have issues with Camellia's sudden fetishisation of motherhood in its back half. I feel too that it undermines a lot of the show's themes since women being people before being mothers was one of its main points.

Still it doesn't ruin what's good about the drama for me. I still like the way it's exploring the tension created when a woman doesn't fit with the limited roles a conservative society wants her to have.

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@leetennant I wish your mother did not have to go through all that, but I am happy to read that she fought back, and she is a mother to be proud of indeed!

Thank you for talking about just being there. I strongly believe that we all would be a lot happier if we could all just be there for each other, and yet it seems so hard for some individuals to accomplish at times.

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Thanks so much for reading and even more for commenting.

I too feel like not enough credit is given for people just being there where and when they're needed.

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congrats @leetennant , a very beautiful and poetic article .
I love it so much , @oppafangirl , @seashell ,@kdramaswimmer ,@shindy

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Thanks so much, May!

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Thank you for this, LT, I love the way you have interwoven the different strands and created a story to inspire and encourage.
It is Always a pleasure to read what you write...!
I was hesitant to start Camelia as I can only manage 1 or 2 dramas at the same time these days, but now I'm tempted.
πŸ’•

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Not created, shared. smh...

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Aw, thanks so much Rukia.

I also am trying to limit my drama intake to only 2 or 3 but don't regret picking up Camellia, even though it is trying my patience with some of its decisions in the back half. But what drama doesn't?

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Very well said! You have a great mom!

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Thanks, Lookie. I think so.

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You write beautifully @leetennant and you know it! 😍

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Well I do now 😘

Thanks for commenting, my Ren.

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Well, I'm crying. This reminds me so much of my own Mum. As usual, I'm your biggest fan, @leetennant! ❀️

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Lots of hearts for my biggest fan πŸ’πŸ’πŸ˜

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I loved your post and your take on Camelia. Thank you @leetennant!

Also, your mom sounds like a badass.

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Thanks so much for commenting Luzitania.

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Beautiful LT! Your mum is amazing! You're amazing!

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Aww, thanks Kat.

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I've heard this story from you before, but here you have written about it so beautifully. I hope you are able to share this with your mom @leetennant, because it's a lovely tribute to her strength, and I'm sure she would be proud of your talent as well.

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Makjang Mondays did bring up a lot of these family stories and got me thinking about them a bit. And then I guess it was in the forefront when I starting watching Camellia. When you're a child I don't think you give too much thought to how your parents felt about things that happened in their lives. The fact that my Mum was married before was just a fact. It's only as I got older that I've realised how truly difficult the whole experience must have been.

Thanks so much, egads.

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πŸ’–

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Dang it @cloggie, you always know the exact perfect thing to say.

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Damn writers.

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writers only go for the emoticons when they're lost for words

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The writers have had some difficulty with Yong-shik's character. I like the way you characterize his nature- he certainly is imperfect and yet he is truly a hero, in part because of his unshaken certainties. He hangs in there- and that is what matters the most.

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I do feel like he's basically a giant Golden Retriever. He essentially followed her home and now bounces around her place, greeting her exuberantly and barking at people he doesn't like. Golden Retrievers are lovely loyal dogs but they're not particularly bright. And I think Yongshik regularly makes things worse with some of his actions because he doesn't think them through.

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You are right about his not thinking things through and this is what I do not understand about the writing- that they portray this character as someone who never learns from his mistakes. Impulsive is fine and imperfect is actually wonderful- someone who has done the things that he has done, including the mistakes, should have attained at least a modicum of judgement by now. Of course, all of the characters in CAMELLIA are very imperfect- including the child Pil-gu.

In any case I think that this article was very well written.

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I've not seen this drama yet but this was beautifully written. Your mom also sounds like an incredible woman. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

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And thank you for reading and commenting.

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I love this tribute to your Mom's strength. I remember realizing in junior high how strong my mom was, and how hard she fought to not break down. My dad when I was 9 and my sister was 7. She was so afraid of money issues, especially since she had grown up during the Depression. Whenever I need strength to deal with life, I always thank my mom for passing hers on.

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I'm so sorry to hear that, it sounds like she must have had some difficult times to live through. At least that gave her strength to pass on to you.

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Thank you, @leetennant, for your beautiful writing and also reminding me of that song. This resonates with me as well. My mother is fiercely independent and fought for every dollar she made. She was a seamstress by trade and largely paid by an honor system by how many dozens she sewed. Luckily for her, she was in a field full of women and found solidarity in that. Then when she went into business for herself, she was the CEO/CFO and had my father to do most of her heavy work. Now, in my life, I’m the middle paid with two male partners on either side. Pay inequality does exist my field, but I’ve not been affected by it. But what you say about the β€œwhite knight” is so freakin’ true. I’d much rather someone just be there for me and support me than grand romantic gestures any day. Luckily, I’ve found that and hope you will too. I try not to take it for granted, because it’s writings like this that remind me not to. Thank you again!

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In the original draft of this piece, I had also briefly mentioned my grandmother who survived by working as a seamstress in her later years, especially when my grandfather was dying of emphysema (sewing is a skill that has skipped several generations). It occurred to me that my mother came home with twin toddlers only a year or two after my grandfather died and my grandmother must have been struggling herself.

I'm so glad you have a true "white knight" who supports you every day. I've never had time for grand romantic gestures myself and I think this whole process of writing has made me realise why.

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Thank you for sharing @leetennant.

What you say about your mum's struggles reminded me of what @michykdrama shared about a movie, "Kim Ji Young Born in 1982". The lot of women even now, as depicted, has changed only a little. We've probably become stronger and more capable because of it, if that can be considered a hidden blessing.

Congrats on having such a great mum and take care!

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Lovely writing. Thank you!

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πŸ˜­πŸ‘β™₯️ Thank you for your words and wonderful story.

I'm in great admiration to every single mother out there and to mothers who are married but their partner's behaviour makes her take the burden of raising their kid(s) by herself and become sort of a symbol of a fireplace which can have any forms and doesn't need to be lit up all the time but providing comfort by it's warm, security and light when needed and to every mother who didn't give up. In prehistoric times it was the woman's role to be keeper of fire because it ment keeping life on. There can be mothers who are giving out, similar to DB's mom, but I think every mother has or could have moments in her life when she thinks she doesn't have enough strength or ability to keep the fire alive.

Children are our biggest treasure and the most painful moment especially for me is when your child tells you that you are not good enough, hates you and tells you things to intentionally hurt you. That's why I understand that moment when DB is worried about her mother and tells that she hates her but she needs to be alive and keeping to be by her side forever. I was myself kind of horrible to my mom while teenager but now I can't imagine she could leave me once even when we're so far away from each other. Sometimes there are times I get my buried depression to reach me and all those insecurities and burden try to doubt myself but fortunately it gets back to me that I need to keep the fire on.

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About the social injustice in unequal payment between women and men I didn't know until it wasn't spoken of. I'm surprised why it can't change because all those arguments men provide for their alibis are total bull... I remember when I got to know one summer that for the same job I got paid half of the money my man's co-workers had been paid I got mad and saddened. I'm glad that there are still some women out there to fight for our rights even when their are looking down upon them for it.

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Wow BC, that's a terrible story about pay inequality.
Talking briefly about structural financial inequality, there are recent stories of credit card providers using algorithms to assess and give credit to their customers and those algorithms have been programmed to give less credit to women than men - even with the same income and credit scores. Algorithm discrimination is the new frontier of systemic prejudice, not just for women but also people of colour. Unfortunately the fight does not end, which is depressing and a bit exhausting too.

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That's why until 24 I wanted to be a man. I was dreaming about becoming a photojournalist and travel a lot around but was so demotivated when I found out that men can do such things as rape.

Why they would do algorithm with inequalities? Even Eve was much more wiser than Adam and wanted to know more than required. πŸ˜‰

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The problem with algorithms is that they have heuristic learning capabilities, which mean they learn by integrating the bulk of human decisions into their decision-making processes. Unfortunately, humans have inherent sex and race biases that impact their decisions, often without them knowing it. Feed that information into a program and, hey presto! Racist, sexist algorithm!

The most recent example of this was an algorithm they use in the US health system that makes resource allocation decisions based on decades worth of data on human resource allocation. They now have an algorithm that allocates more resources to white patients than black patients.

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How to use math like double weapon... Obama care was a great change but rich don't care about poor so it's neglected. In my country the insurance companies are behind all payments but have made enormous profits. I'll never understand it's logic. It's in hands of few people to decide if you are worth to live.

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Thank you for sharing this story. I agree with all the comments here that this is a beautiful and wonderful piece. I, too, really like Camellia, but for a different reason. It's more about how it resonates with the place and people of my childhood, my favorite part in life. I wish I have half your talent in writing so I can contribute to this month's theme. :)

It turns out, you not only have a great dad, you have a great mom as well! No wonder you turned out great. It's just a little sad that what she went through in 1960s are still mostly true in the world today, in 2019. :(

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I would personally love to hear about the place and people of your childhood and am sure anything you wrote would be beautiful.

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Thank you for sharing ❀️ Your mom is an inspiration and this story also reminds me to be thankful for so much I have that I take for granted.

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I love this! Well done @leetennant.

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A very nice writing. I love it and enjoy reading it. I admire your point of view of dongbaek and yong sik relationship. Yes, there's nothing wrong with dongbaek life after all so yong sik is just being himself and let dong baek being herself. They're both hero of their own life.

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Wonderfully written. Thanks for sharing a bit of your world with us @leetennant

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Beautiful!!!

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What a lovely and thoughtful piece of writing. I read it the other day, but as I watched the final episode of Camellia, I came back to read this post again.

Particularly this ...
"They become someone’s hero merely by existing; by staying where they say they will and doing what they say they will day after day through all of life’s ups and downs."

These words really resonated with how I feel about the people in my life. I don't need any hero to save me, I need them to just be there and be true to their words. I will work harder at doing the same.

Thank you for your insight and sharing your mother's story with us.

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