Sunnan Kum is one of my heroes. I am lucky, I have known several of them in my life. All women, all formidable in their own way.
Around 1985 a frustrated Korean housewife was making her way home after working a long shift in her husband’s Pharmacy. Walking past a street drain she heard a faint mewing. On investigation she discovered a small dirty kitten in the drain. She lifted it out and carried it home.
This is the beginning of a very long and heroic story about one of the world’s most determined, stubborn and inspiring women.
I met Mrs Kum in the first few months of my time in Korea. Having walked past 7 pet shops each day for months I decided I needed to do something about these animals before I bought one. Even then I was very sure that buying one of these adorable, but skinny, sickly animals would only compound the problem, and I wanted to make a difference.
I did a Google search and found the Korean Animal Protection Society. One of my Korean Co-workers translated an email for me and I sent it off with my fingers crossed. A couple of days later I received an email back from Mrs Kum. I was to meet her at a phone box outside a local subway station.
The following Saturday I descended into the excellent Daegu subway system and boarded a red-line train to Daemyoung Subway Station. Going up the steps I found the phone box and phoned the number she had given me. ‘Wait there’, she said. ‘Someone is coming’.
After five minutes a short Korean woman approached me. She spoke to me in Korean, I used my new phrase, something my Korean co-worker had taught me that meant ‘I have no Korean’. The small lady took my elbow and expertly directed me. She pushed me to the traffic lights, across the wide road and up a hill, round a corner and into an apartment complex. Up some steps and we arrived at a door. She knocked on the door, bowed to me, then turned around and left.
I watched open mouthed as she walked away, and then the door opened.