This is the third installment of our series on women of Williston Park. This week we try to study Asian women. Ji Yang of Pembroke Cleaners, a Korean, asked me why I was doing a series on women and I said, “Why, you want me to analyze the men? No thanks. If you’re interested in them go do it yourself.” That quieted her down a little bit.
Williston Park has a 9 percent Asian population. I know many through the shops in town like the former Pretty Nails, Aroma Nails, Pembroke Cleaners and Sweet Pea.
As Americans we all have a broad sense of the Asian woman. In the classic film “Tokyo Story” the role of Noriko was played by Setsuko Hara and it made her an instant star. She was a natural actress and was able to display great gentleness and sense of loyalty. In more modern films like “Miami Vice” the radiant beauty of Gong Li stole the show with her depth, sadness and feeling.
Then there was Japanese film star Koyuki playing Taka the love interest of Tom Cruise in “The Last Samurai.” She showed once again that serene and quiet beauty of the Asian film stars.
Ruth Benedict, an anthropologist from Columbia University, wrote the definitive study on Japanese culture entitled, “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.” As the title of this text suggests, she found them to be both submissive and at the same time very strong. It was time to take to the streets and do some real interviewing of my own.
My first stop was to see Suhwa Kim, the owner of Aroma Nails and Hair. From the first time I met her she won me over with her politesse and sense of grace. When you enter the shop she will greet you with a genuine smile and asks to take your coat. These kinds of manners went out back in the 50s in America and it’s too bad they did.
I asked her to describe Asian women and she said Korean women work very hard and try to instill a sense of respect in their children. From here I traveled to Pembroke Cleaners to interview Ji Yang, the women who asked me why I wanted to interview women. She told me that Asian women were strong, believed in education and tried to teach their kids to show respect for their elders.
Her remarks reminded me of the bestseller “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” by Amy Chua. In the book, Chua’s treatise is to teach your child to show respect for others rather than to worry about the child’s self-esteem. And this may be why it is so rare to see an Asian child misbehaving in restaurants.
On the way back to my office I ran into Jenny Hou of the post office hard at work on a Saturday afternoon. She told me that Asian women are family oriented, hard workers and know how to save money. Having written about Asian economics in the past I knew that to be true. She also thought that Asian women possessed a rich interior life.
About a week before all these interviews I recall asking a Korean American girl in town what she thought defined Korean girls and she quickly said that she thought Koreans had a strong sense of unity amongst themselves that differed from the American girls. She is of course referring to that Asian concept of jeong or mutual respect and love between the group.
This was a wide ranging exploration to find the secret behind the Asian smile and I think we did a good job. You can see Asian women have very good manners and a refined sense of etiquette. Remember that Asian culture transformed being a hostess into an art form. This sense of good manners is what makes daily interaction with them so pleasant.
They are also very strong and very hard working. Suhwa works six long days a week and raises her family as well. Then there is the sense of respect they teach their kids which in turn translates into jeong or a connection and mutual respect you sense when you meet them. They will greet you with a bow rather than a handshake.
I leave you with a recommendation. If you want to watch a film that demonstrates undying sacrifice Asian women have for their children go rent “The Way Home.” This award winning Korean film made in 2002 is about how a grandmother’s love is able to overcome the hatred and anger she sees in her grandchild. But make sure you have a box of tissues because the tenderness of the end will break your heart.