Author's Note: Disclaimer and Dedication
Hi everyone! Thank you for choosing to read my work, Never A Dream Too Far. I hope you can stick around to the end as I begin to upload one chapter after the other in the coming weeks ahead.
Some places (e.g. Seoul), names, or events mentioned in this work are real, although I have taken the liberty to mix both my imagination and actual online research to make the story more interesting to you. Any resemblance of the characters to real-life persons are unintended and coincidental only. Yes, the story is set in Seoul, South Korea; no, I am not a Korean native, that is why I've done a lot of background reading beforehand to make sure this will be as close to their reality as possible. By no means do I intend to trivialize Korean culture, but hope instead that more culture enthusiasts like me will be transported to their world and enjoy, if only through this written piece of fiction.
This work is dedicated to all the writers who courageously strive to put their stories out there, even at the risk of little to no readership or feedback. Let's keep going and never give up!
1: I Have A Dream
My dad always told me there's never a dream that's too far from reach. You may be the poorest man in the world, but one's wealth (or lack thereof) is no limitation. For if you're determined and persistent enough, you'll get to wherever you want to be— eventually.
I grew up with this mindset while Dad worked hard day and night to raise me. He had 3 to 4 part-time jobs going on for him round the clock; he barely got a day off and only earned enough to get us by without starving. Dad's been working since he was 14 and still is, 35 years later. Some people wondered why after all these years he has yet to provide a better living space for him and me, or how he remained a gardener. Those who lacked the understanding of what living in Seoul is like looked down on him, but I was always so proud of my dad. After all it wasn't easy for him, a single parent, to raise me (mom had passed away after giving birth to me, so it was just me and him for the past 17 years).
Dad's diligence inspired me at a young age to strive for the highest mountain I could possibly dream to climb. I wanted to prove to those who had been mocking my father—simply because he was a middle school dropout— that his life circumstances didn't define him, and that it didn't have to define me too.
To avoid having to ask my father for money when I needed to buy things for school, I took on a part-time job, but only during the weekends when I wasn't too swamped with school work. Uncle Seok-du was one of Dad's old friends who owned the mini mart a bus ride away from where we lived. It hadn't been easy to convince Dad to let me work there, but Uncle was on my side, and he managed to change Dad's mind; I also had to promise never to compromise my studies for the job.
"You're early, Ye-jin," said Uncle Seok-du as he entered, the wind chimes clinking as the door opened and closed. Saturday was especially enjoyable today because the spring season brought about a cool breeze, and most trees colored the streets, their flowers in full bloom.
"Good morning!" I greeted him from behind the counter. "You know I'm always early. Besides, with school done for the year I might as well get busy here."
"Right. Your dad told me you're top of your class, huh?" Uncle Seok-du smiled. "You're a good one, always making him proud."
"I just try to do my best… and I'll tell Appa to stop gossiping about me," I added.
"Ah, why stop him? He's happy, you know." Uncle Seok-du was walking past the aisles to give them a quick inspection. As soon as I'd opened the store, I had immediately swept and mopped the floors, enjoying realigning the items on display, especially the ramyeon packs and juice bottles in the chiller. "The items are fixed and tidy, I like it."
"Thanks, Samchon. Do you want me to make you a cup of coffee?"
"That would be nice."
The mini mart's pantry area was cramped with storage boxes, but there was enough space in one corner to boil water in the electric kettle and mix a sachet of instant coffee. He took his drink as soon as I returned to the counter.
"You'll be starting high school in a week, right?" He asked, looking at the calendar that hung behind me. "Again, your dad's been mentioning it a lot these days. He was over the moon when he heard about your scholarship to that private school."
I agreed. "Appa couldn't stop crying when I first told him. Seoul Integrated High School was one of the top schools in the metro and the admission exam was difficult. Many times I think about it and still wonder how I made it."
"Because you're an intelligent girl, Yejin-a." Uncle Seok-du tossed his empty paper cup in the trash bin. He opened the drawer, took out a folded scrap of paper held together by a clip and placed it in my hand.
A few bills, rounding up to about 70,000 Won were tucked inside. "Samchon!" I folded the paper up, handing it back to him. "I can't accept this—"
"Consider it an advanced graduation gift, or your advanced pay for the next few months; I'm not taking that back." He crossed his arms and walked away from me towards the door. "I'll head to the meat shop for a bit. Watch the store for me, yes? Don't tell your dad I gave you money," he chuckled.
Ye-jin took her shoes off as soon as she got home, going straight into the kitchen. "Dad, are you here? I'm home!"
"Just a minute," he answered from the bathroom.
"I bought us samgyetang for dinner!" She began preparing the pot and stove to reheat the soup and chicken.
"Tired, Appa?" Ye-jin asked, placing some rice in the cooker. "I'll give you all the ginseng in this, don't worry."
"Yejin-a." Her father stepped out of the bathroom and sat on their living room floor. He had just gotten back from maintaining the garden of the Lees' residential home.
"Is something wrong?" Ye-jin sat down beside him.
"The Lees spoke with me earlier today, they wanted me to remind you of the foundation's celebratory dinner in 2 days."
"Plotted and marked on my planner," Ye-jin said. The Lees' Foundation Dinner for Scholars was going to be the first formal event that she will be attending, and she didn't quite know what to expect. Sung-hoon, Mr. and Mrs. Lee's youngest son who was a year older than her, regularly attended this celebration since the foundation was established 3 years ago; he assured Ye-jin that it's just a regular dinner wearing fancier than usual clothes, so that the awarded scholars and their sponsors could meet one another at least once.
"There's also a box of their daughters' old school uniforms in your room. Try them on later so we can get it re-tailored if it doesn't fit you perfectly."
"They really gave it to me? Wow, I didn't think Sung-hoon was serious when he told me about it."
"Sung-hoon's twin sisters have always been fond of you since you were little," Ye-jin's father said. "I'm sure Sung-kyung and Sung-ah would have wanted to give it to you personally." He sipped from his bowl of soup. "Some books and reviewers are in the box too. I would've wanted to buy you your own books but—"
"Appa." Ye-jin glared at her father. "It doesn't matter if I got second-hand clothes and books. I'm just glad I got the opportunity to study in S.I. High. Besides, now that I have my school materials covered, we can easily save more money.'
"You're right— you're always right, my Yejin-a." He took a pause. "If we're saving money though, how'd you buy this samgyetang?"
She shrugged. "I got some money left over from working."
"Seok-du gave you extra money again, didn't he?"
"No…." But the mischievous grin on Ye-jin's face told her father otherwise.
"I told him not to spoil you," he scoffed. "I'll talk to that old man when I get the chance tomorrow."
Ye-jin laughed. "Don't be too hard on Uncle Seok-du. He's not spoiling me, I promise. In fact, I'm the one spoiling you by buying this tasty dinner." She hurried to take a piece of ginseng and brought it closer to her dad. "Open wide, Appa— aaah." She made a funny face, opening her own mouth as though coaxing a baby to take another spoonful of food.
Her father finally gave in and laughed too, eating the ginseng in one bite. "How did I get such a silly girl as my daughter?"
"Of course, I'm just like you," Ye-jin said. They continued to eat dinner, telling each other how their day went— with Ye-jin spending the day at the mini mart and with her father working at the Lees' residential home….
It's not the road you're on that determines how your life lays out; it's in how you create the path which leads to your destiny— making the most of the opportunities you've been given. It's in every choice you make that determines how you'll get one step closer to your dreams.