Bubblegum 풍선껌 Episode 11
I loved that this episode was dedicated to the backstory. I can’t recall a kdrama that devoted an entire mid-drama episode to the backstory to connect the dots. While a number of the scenes have appeared as snippets along the way, the flow of how the families came to be together created a clearer picture of everyone’s position now that they are adults. No wonder they’re all emotional basket cases. Episode 11 recap – let’s go!
Fall 1989: Haeng Ah runs into the house yelling that she needs to use the bathroom only to find Dad drying off Ri Hwan. “Why is he so pasty white?” she asks. Dad says he must take after his mom. Haeng Ah asks Ri Hwan if he wants to switch – she has a dad and he has a mom – they could have each other’s. But Ri Hwan takes the conversation seriously and replies, “I don’t want to. I have to protect my mom.”
That night Dad explains to Haeng Ah that Ri Hwan will be staying with them for a while because his mother is a resident at the hospital and needs to finish her studies with long hours there. She was the one who introduced Haeng Ah’s parents when they were in college. They are friends, he tells her – she is like a little sister to him – they go way back.
Ri Hwan and Haeng Ah are inseparable buddies who have each other. Dad and Mother/Aunt look in on the sleeping children late at night.
The next day a jealous Haeng Ah scolds Ri Hwan for playing with Sol Mi. Dad comforts a sulking Ri Hwan. He has brought Haeng Ah a bracelet that belongs to his mother. That day Mother/Aunt – not knowing that Ri Hwan took it – looks for it around the house thinking that a thief wouldn’t just take a bracelet.
We meet Aunt Princess for the first time. She works for Mother/Aunt’s parents and has brought some home cooked food for her. Mother/Aunt gets a call from Dad to come quickly – Uncle Gangster has been in a fight and is hurt. She stitches up his wound at the restaurant. Aunt Princess assists and offers to tend to the bandages. It is the first meeting between Aunt Princess and Uncle Gangster and the rest is history.
Curious Haeng Ah and Ri Hwan make the rounds to the adults with the question, “Where do babies come from?” Aunt Princess is startled and fumbles with her answer. The children literally follow her words for a “sweet time” and eat themselves sick with sugar. They wonder, “Is there a baby?” Next, Uncle Gangster’s advice is to have a drink together which leads to consuming dozens of cartons and getting stomach aches. Mother/Aunt’s biologically technical answer leaves their heads spinning. An older girl on the playground instructs the naive children with pictures that leaves them puzzled. Haeng Ah and Ri Hwan head upstairs; when they fly down again – they are teenagers headed to school.
The two sibling-like friends are comfortable and even share gym clothes. Things become murky, however, when some boys play a joke and announce over the school speaker that “Haeng Bok” likes Ri Hwan. Everyone teases that it’s Haeng Ah; when she denies it, the other kids tease that they’re a married couple anyhow. Haeng Ah is embarrassed. Later, Haeng Ah sneaks up behind Ri Hwan who is reading a love letter on a bench outside. She snatches it from him and reads it out loud. It’s from another girl who confesses to him. What gets to Haeng Ah, though, is her comment, “I thought that long-haired ugly girl you were with was your girlfriend.” When Haeng Ah wonders if she is referring to her, a flustered Ri Hwan answers who else could it be? Haeng Ah gets back by sending a fake reply to the girl as if it is from Ri Hwan. Ri Hwan gets slapped by the girl and figures out what Haeng Ah has done, but she denies it and acts disinterested. They bicker all the way to Dad’s restaurant. Mother/Aunt has stopped by for lunch. She and Dad talk about their future – it’s vague, but he tells her to wait for him until the children get through puberty and he gets a bit more…all the ruckus created by Ri Hwan and Haeng Ah interrupts their conversation. The four of them eat a meal together and even with the sibling-friends at odds, it’s a happy slice of life moment.
One day Mother/Aunt gets a phone message at work to meet Dad outside. He has come to take her out to lunch. She says she only has 30 minutes, but Dad is prepared to make the best of it. She runs to meet him in the white with black polka dot dress. With a silly and fun wheelchair ride he steers her in circles, tells her they’ve gone for a ride, and now it’s time for a meal. They eat street-cart fish bread, vending machine coffee, and finish the date with an impromptu flower presentation. It is a happy and lighthearted day indeed.
But suddenly everything comes to a screeching halt. Dad isn’t as healthy as he pretends to be. Like his wife – Haeng Ah’s mother – he unexpectedly dies of stomach cancer and “like a puzzle that came undone, everything fell apart.”
It is decided that Haeng Ah will move to her aunt’s in the country. She’s never met her, but she is her closest relative. Ri Hwan can’t understand why she has to be sent away. Everyone tells him that’s the way it is, but no one is exactly glad that she is going. Mother/Aunt tells him that she has her own relatives. Ri Hwan argues that he lived with Haeng Ah and he had relatives. Mother/Aunt is finished discussing it. Ri Hwan is not. He says he made a promise to Uncle to protect Haeng Ah. Mother/Aunt says Haeng Ah has to learn to live even if promises are broken. [After all, Dad/Uncle broke the biggest promise to Mother/Aunt – that before a year they’d be together.] Ri Hwan and Aunt Princess send off Haeng Ah at the bus station He runs after it until the bus is out of sight.
Chief Doctor has a talk with Mother/Aunt – she is agitated and can’t sleep and wants more pills. Everything around her reminds her of Dad, even after she has removed all the mementos. She is sleep deprived and not functioning well. Chief Doctor asks if she feels guilty for sending Haeng Ah away, but Mother/Aunt has shut down over that. He offers to give her two days worth and tells her to take some time off. Mother/Aunt is irrational and shouts that will only make things worse, does he want her to stay in that house and go insane?
Ri Hwan can’t forget the way Dad/Uncle put his trust in him to protect Haeng Ah, and he feels like he’s let him down. He finds his way to Haeng Ah’s aunt’s house in the country. He’s brought her a tape player so she can sleep at night. “You can’t sleep at night unless you listen to the radio.” On his way to the bus, he finds the earphones in his pocket and turns back to give them to Haeng Ah. He finds her washing her tear-stained face and realizes she’s been crying the whole time she’s been gone. Ri Hwan takes it upon himself to call Uncle Gangster to come and pick up Haeng Ah and bring her back. Uncle Gangster shows up at Mother/Aunt’s house and tells her the way it is going to be: from now on, he will feed Haeng Ah and she will give her a place to sleep. It is an awkward encounter for Haeng Ah and Mother/Aunt.
On her first night back, Ri Hwan knocks on her bedroom door. He’s brought her a radio and offers her soda. Careful not to be a burden, she turns down both. He hangs around for a few more minutes and before long, he is catching her up on all the school gossip. They forget the awkwardness between them and fall comfortably asleep with things somewhat back to the way they were.
Mother/Aunt can’t sleep. She checks in on Haeng Ah and loses it when she finds RI Hwan asleep by her side. Even though it is all innocent, Mother/Aunt can’t see past Haeng Ah’s presence in her home. On Parent’s Day, Haeng Ah happily brings a flower to Mother/Aunt when she overhears her conversation that she (Mother/Aunt) will send Haeng Ah away if there is ever anything “like that” between her and Ri Hwan. Haeng Ah back out, afraid that she will be sent away again. She doesn’t feel welcome in Mother/Aunt’s home and sits alone on a bench outside the restaurant. Ri Hwan observed the whole encounter and follows Haeng Ah. When she says she has nowhere to go, he tells her they should go home together. In the end, they stay together on the bench.
It’s the day of the school trip. The buses are loaded with students ready to pull out. A teacher blows a whistle and looks for Ri Hwan. He tells him to get off, something has happened at home. At the hospital Aunt Princess tries to comfort Ri Hwan who can’t understand why Mother/Aunt overdosed on sleeping pills when she has him. Aunt Princess tells him to try to understand. Haeng Ah saw the teacher and Ri Hwan leave and followed him to the hospital. She sits at the end of the corridor and overhears everything and is sorry. When a gurney with a bloodied patient passes by in the hall, Haeng Ah faints.
A hospital counselor suggests that she meet with Haeng Ah’s Mother/Aunt to help address her hospital phobia and get treatment. Haeng Ah says she can’t do that. A school counselor talks with Ri Hwan. He asks how the class president can skip the graduation trip and brings up that he missed other events due to family issues. When the counselor suggests talking to Mother/Aunt, Ri Hwan says he can’t do that. Both children are walking on eggshells so as not to disturb Mother/Aunt and taking on the role of protector the best they know how. As Ri Hwan leaves the school office his voice-over says, “I’m worried that when I get home my mom will be asleep. And that she won’t be breathing.”
Haeng Ah sits up when she hears her letter being read on the radio show. It is from Pebble Girl who writes, “Lately, I get the feeling that I am like a pebble in the show of someone I know.” The advice given is that she shouldn’t feel that way; if it were true, the person would have shaken their shoe and thrown her out long ago. (Isn’t that what kinda of happened, though?)
Ri Hwan checks on his mom and sits by her bedside. When he tiptoes out, Haeng Ah motions, “Is she asleep?” He nods, and tells her to sleep well, too. Ri Hwan’s expression these days is too heavy for a teenage boy to be wearing. Mother/Aunt sits against the wall and stares; her expression is listless and scary.
Haeng Ah waves to Mother/Aunt across the road. As she runs to meet her, a car screeches to a halt and barely misses hitting her. Mother/Aunt comes unglued and scolds the driver. She scolds Haeng Ah, too, for jumping out like that. Haeng Ah takes her arm and calms her. They are on their way to Secret Garden restaurant. It is the one-year anniversary of Dad/Uncle’s death and Aunt Princess and Uncle Gangster are cooking favorite foods in his honor. Mother/Aunt sits at the same table at the window where the four of them – her, Dad, Ri Hwan, and Haeng Ah sat that happy day. She looks out and watches Ri Hwan and Haeng Ah as they comfortably talk and play together like students, siblings, friends. Mother/Aunt’s thoughts are a mix of happiness, sadness, loss, reality.
And, just like that, so many years later, Mother/Aunt sits in that same spot. It is the present again, and she realizes her memories are fading, but in some ways things are becoming clearer. Dong Hwa serves her a healthy drink she’s made herself. Mother/Aunt tells her she is pretty and asks her name. dong Hwa says her name is the same as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow. A happy grin spreads across Mother/Aunt’s face when Dong Hwa tells her that she is pretty. Mother/Aunt beams. “I am? Thanks.”
- This episode was really done well. It was like a clear walk through memory lane that helped sort out, or maybe explain is better, some of the complexities of the relationships in this “family.” But, in the end, I can’t help but think that Mother/Aunt has been out of control to the detriment of both Ri Hwan and Haeng Ah that not only is it unfair, it’s unacceptable that no one reined her it. Especially Chief Doctor who knew her history and enabled her to handle things her way because she threw a tantrum. An out-of-control adult has unleashed years of hardships and burdens on her children. That is not okay in my book.
- While I enjoyed the way this episode was presented, I wonder if the writers thought we would come to understand Mother/Aunt’s behavior, because if that’s the case, then I don’t understand. Mother/Aunt has too much power over everyone (and consequently, the way the story is going). Furthermore, they’re a family of doctors; c’mon – if anyone should be capable of setting Mother/Aunt down and making her get help, it should be one of the doctors in her circle. I’m upset that Haeng Ah is her scapegoat and that Mother/Aunt’s manipulation is so far-reaching.
- Now where will you go, kdrama? If healing rests on the pinpoint of Mother/Aunt’s realization that she has been wrong about Haeng Ah, then that is not going to be enough for me. I’m looking for a good resolution here; please don’t disappoint me!
- Did anyone else like the full backstory episode, or not…? Thoughts?