Graduation present Korean style

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I just graduated high school, and even though I was accepted to many great schools, I had no plans on going to college.  My parents were both doctors, so I had been given anything I wanted.  My parents were both Korean, and believed that I must now earn my place in the family.  I have an older brother who is a scientist, and a sister, who is a surgeon.  Me, I am the unexpected kid who came 12 years later.  I had no interest in college, I would rather stay home and party with all my friends without having to study.  My parents and I argued for weeks about my choice, then finally seemed to accept what I wanted.  My friends and I went to Florida to celebrate our graduation, and when I got back home, my parents told me they were giving me a trip to Korea to see my grandparents as a gift for my graduation.  As I had no other plans for the rest of the summer I wanted to go right away, but my dad said it would be too hot in July and August, so They had booked the trip for early September.  The first thing that came to my mind was the party scene in Seoul, and getting to see all the hot Kpop stars.  I spent the next two months planning all the cool places I wanted to see.  I figured I’d spend a few days with the grandparents, then check into a great hotel in the heart of Seoul and party for the next two weeks.

The flight over was long but uneventful.  I was being processed thru customs when I was pulled aside and asked a series of questions regarding my citizenship.  After several minutes the woman started asking why I was calling myself Lisa, not my real name Hyo. 

My grandparents took me to all of the standard tourist type attractions over the next few days.  On the fourth day my grandmother asked me to go see the temple where I had been baptized.  I didn’t remember ever being baptized, but she told me that it was the main reason the family came to visit when I was 2.  While we were driving to the temple I asked my grandmother about the name,

I told my grandparents that I had bought tickets for a Kpop concert in Seoul the next Saturday, and was going to stay in a hotel after that.  They weren’t happy about it, but, it was my plan to be able to party for the rest of my time in Korea.   On Tuesday morning there was a knock at the door and to my surprise, the woman who had questioned me at the airport was now at my grandparents house with another woman in a military uniform.  They told my grandfather that the were there to go over the paperwork required for my conscription into the army.  Much to my surprise, my grandfather invited them in, and said he had expected them.  I was wondering what was going on, and insisted to them that I was an American, not Korean, and there was no way I was joining the army.  The women gave me time to calm down, then it was explained to me that a new law had gone into effect on September 1st that all females now had to serve a 3 year conscription in the army upon turning 18, with the only exceptions for girls attending university, entering a religious order, or having some special artistic skills like an actor or musical artist.  I insisted to the women that I an American, not a Korean citizen but they informed me that because my parents were duel citizens that made me one as well.  The women told me I had until Friday to file any waiver to avoid having to serve, but because all of the universities had started classes already, my only other option was the temple.

It was only after the women left that I started to figure out what was happening.  I asked my grandfather why he had expected the 2 women to come to the house.  He then admitted to me that when my parents couldn’t convince me to go to University, that I had to either serve in the military, or join the order so they could save face in the community.  They knew about the new law requiring woman to serve in the military, that is why they delayed my trip until September, not because of the summer heat.  My grandmother said that we can take another trip to the temple so I could reconsider joining the order.  I was so upset that I yelled at her, telling her that to reconsider joining I would have had to first considered it.  I told grandparents that I wanted to leave on the next flight out, but they told me that they had given my passport to the women that had come and I would be arrested for desertion if I was caught trying to leave the country.

It was just 3 days later, I could tell something was up, as both my grandparents seemed to be very quiet.  Just as we finished our morning meal there was a knock at the door.  It was 2 MP’s from the recruitment center.  They were there to escort me to the military training center.  I was again shocked by the whole situation.  I told them that I had not had time to decide if I was going to join the temple or not (I was absolutely not going to), and I had not had time to pack my things.  I was told in a strict tone that I had run out of time, and I was not allowed to bring anything with me.  I looked to my grandmother, but all she said was they were proud of me, and would keep my things for me.  I was led to small transit bus that was like a prison bus, then placed in the caged area, like I was a felon.

It was a two hour ride to the military base.  As we got off the bus we were being yelled at in Korean by what I guessed was a drill sergeant, as I did not speak Korean, I did not know what to do.  Within a few seconds I hear the sergeant now speaking in English yelling that “all girls that do not speak Korean report to the special needs unit.”  I noticed several girls heading towards a smaller building, and guessed that was were I needed to be.  We were met by another drill instructor that informed us that unit was for girls who needed to learn Korean, were a risk to run away, or needed to lose or gain weight.  We were then informed that we would stay in the unit until it was determined that we could move to regular basic training.  Much to my dismay, we were told that our time in the unit did not count towards our required conscription time.  She told us that this was our incentive to work harder to meet our given goals.

We were told to strip off all of our clothing, which was collected from us.  I noticed several of the other girls looking at my hairless body.  I had been getting everything waxed off since I started getting body hair.  The drill instructor said all of our civilian clothing would be donated to a charity, as we were prohibited from wearing any non-issued clothes as long as we were in the military.  We were then led to a medical center for evaluation.  We were given full physicals, then weighed and measured.  I was told that I was underweight (48kg / 106lb) for my height {165cm / 5’5″), but  I didn’t give it a second thought.  We were then told we were going for haircuts next.  I had not expected this, my hair has been at mid back for as long as I remember.  We were marched, still naked, down a long hall towards our next stop.  As we got closer we saw a group of other girls coming out another room.  The first thing I noticed were the blue uniforms and boots they all had, but then I noticed that every one of them now had the same very short wedge style haircut.  I felt like I would have a panic attack as I watched them walk by.  I have had my hair to my mid-back since I was a small girl and thought they would let me keep it that way.  We were then taken 6 at a time into the room.  We were told to stand against the wall until the previous group was finished.  I was shocked at both the speed in which the other group was being sheared of their long hair, and the massive amount of hair on the floor.  Within a minute we were called for our turns, before I realized what had happened I was already caped and the giant hair clippers were run straight across the base of my neck.  The barber started running her clipper of a comb over and over until after just a few minutes it was over.  As she pulled the cape off me I still had not seen the finished cut.  We were quickly told to head out the other door so we could receive our uniforms, plus any other gear we would need.

I went into the dispensary, and to my surprise, the majority of people working there were men.  A woman came over to me and started to take measurements of my body.  She started yelling out, in Korean to the other workers. A male soldier then quickly brought out 3 pair each of pants, shirts, socks and boots, and another had big white underpants and a thick white bra that looked like it would come from my grandmother.  We were told to dress and then we would be given everything else deemed necessary.  I was given a basket and as we walked along the counter I was given a toothbrush, toothpaste, shoe polish, a bar of soap, and a package of the biggest sanitary pads I had ever seen.  I told the woman that I had always used tampons, but she told me that everyone gets the same thing so get used to it.  I then asked if I could at least have some deodorant, a comb, and a razor and shave cream.  Again she tells me that everyone gets the same, and with only 4 minutes for bathing each day I would have no time to worry about any of that.  She tells me that my haircut is deigned to fall into place at all times, but if I am having troubles with that they will cut it shorter.

After we got settled into our barracks, the drill instructor told us what our evaluations said.  I was not surprised to be assigned to the area for intense language training, but I was shocked to find out that it was determined that I was classified as both under weight and low muscle mass.  I had always watched my weight, and was proud of my body.   All of the girls who were classified as under or over weight were then told we would go to an special assigned mess hall for all of our meals. There were 10 underweight girls in my barracks, and luckily 2 of them were from America like me.  They told me that they too were sent here by their families to protect the family honor.  I was just glad to have someone else to be able to talk to.

We made our way to the mess hall and then told that we had a strict menu we had to follow, and we must eat all of the food given to us, and failure to comply would get us in trouble.  We were then served with a very large bowl of stew and given a cup that we were told had supplements that would help with muscle growth.  I was not familiar with this dish and asked one of the other girls, but they too had not had this before.  I asked drill instructor what the stew was and she said it was a Japanese stew called chanko nabe, or Sumo Stew, and this is what we would have for lunch and dinner every day, so we should learn to like it.  Lucky for me I liked it right away, but I was struggling to finish even half of the giant bowl.  We were all forced to stay until the last person finished their food.

We spent the next 12 weeks spending 8 hours per day studying Korean, and 6 hours per day working out.  We were also having chanko nabe and our supplements 3 times per day.  I was still not getting a hang of speaking Korean, but I was certainly having no problem adding weight, I had put on close to 50 pounds.  Just 3 months ago I had a nice thin figure with pert B cup breasts, but now I had muscular arms and legs, and my chest was now just muscle with no boobs at all.  I did notice, however, that with all the exercise I was doing, I was now sporting somewhat of a beer gut.  I was looking forward to putting this behind me so I could get thru the rest of my conscription.

On the next Saturday were finally allowed to have visitors, and while I was still mad at my family, I was glad my grandparents came for a visit.  My grandmother seemed to be upset by my new appearance.  She again started to tell me that I could get out of the Army if I wanted to join the temple, or even the Catholic Convent if I wanted to.  I told her that I had gotten this far, and should see it thru.  She seemed to get more upset by my answer and told me that I could change my mind anytime before I started regular basic training.  I didn’t think about what she had said at first because I expected to be starting basic training next week.

Later that day we were called to formation to be given our new orders.  The drill instructor started giving all the girls their orders, all of them were transferred to the regular basic training center, but when she came to my name, she read that I was to repeat the special needs training.  I was not ready for what she had said.  She came over to me and said my language skills did not meet minimum standards so the commander ordered me to repeat the course.  I asked if I would go with a group that just needed language skills, as I certainly didn’t need to gain any more weight, but the drill instructor told me that as a punishment, I would stay with her group until I passed.  I stood there still in shock that I had to go through the course again.  The drill instructor came to me and said that having to gain more weight was an incentive to study harder to learn the Korean language.  She then said I would not be doing any exercise during the next 12 weeks, and my food intake will increase by 50%.  She said she will have me well over 200lbs by the end of the training session.

The next group of recruits would be arriving early the next morning, so I was sent straight to the dispensary to get a new uniform and haircut.  I walked into the base barbershop expecting the same haircut I received last time, but the barber tells me that everyone that fails the course gets a different haircut to let everyone know that we had failed.  The barber clips all the hair on top of my head, leaving the back and sides hanging down.  The barber then proceeded to run her clippers over the back and sides, leaving nothing but skin.  The top is then combed down and cut straight around my head a full inch over the top of my ears.  The barber smiled at me and said “see you next week”.  I then walked to receive my new uniform.  They measured me for my new uniform, and to my horror, they told me due to my size I will wear a men’s uniform from now on.  I would also be given an oversized uniform that I would “grow in to”.  If that wasn’t bad enough, when I asked about getting a new bra I’m told “What for?  You don’t any need for one now”.  I have the rest of the day to think about what the next 12 weeks a going to be like.

The next morning I walked to our dining room, and when I saw the amount of food, I expected someone else to been coming to eat.  There were 2 bowls of Sumo Stew plus 2 full bowls of rice.  The drill instructor comes in and tells me I have 20 minutes to eat all of the food on the table.  When I start to tell her that I can’t possibly eat all this food, she interrupts me, “This is your new diet.  You will eat this amount of food in 20 minutes for every meal., and you will have meals 4 times per day until your Korean improves.  Let’s see if 8000 calories per day can motivate you”.

Over the next few weeks, the drill instructor was relentless towards me.  She told me that no recruit of hers had ever failed special training twice, and she would not let me ruin her perfect rating.  I was now putting on weight at an alarming rate, I could barely remember my old skinny body.  The funny thing was I was becoming used to being a fat girl.  I was no longer concerned with how I looked to other people.  On my next trip to the barbers, I decided I no longer cared about my hair or my looks anymore either, and told the girl to give me the same buzz cut that all the male recruits got.  I might as well look like a male if I am wearing their uniform.

After I finished the second 12 weeks of “Special Training” I passed my language test, but by then I weighed in at 260 lbs which was 10 lbs over the maximum allowed.  I was given a discharge, told as long as was over 250 lbs I was free from my 3 year conscription in the army.  I decide to stay in Korea.  I was still mad at my family for the trick they played on me to send me her in the first place.  I also figured that none of my old friends would want to be around the obese Korean girl.  I kept using my Korean name, Hyo, as I came to realize that I would join the temple and remain chaste for the rest of my life.  I knew that they would accept me as I was.








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