The Korean Woman

By Helena Rho

From issue 22.2 of Fourth Genre

    It is a Saturday in March, but snow flurries swirl as my daughter and I step out of her ballet school. She asks to go to Sam Bok for lunch. Again. I am reluctant to go to the small Korean grocery store in the middle of the Strip, but I agree. It is one of the infrequent ways my daughter, who is half-Korean because of me, eats Korean food. Since September, we have established a routine: after ballet, we go to Sam Bok for lunch, then Klavon’s for ice cream.
    We drive to the center of the Strip District in Pittsburgh. Even with snow and below-freezing temperatures, parking in the Strip is impossible. I drive past the fresh-flower stands, T-shirt vendors, sidewalk carts loaded with pad thai, meatball Parmesan subs, and sweet potato pies. Past the Italian specialty market, the antiques warehouse, the costume shop, and the largest vendor of seafood in the city. Throngs of people squeezed on the sidewalks, spilling into the streets. Many restaurants in Pittsburgh buy their fresh produce, meat, and fish in the Strip District. On weekends, everybody else comes to the Strip to buy any number of unusual things not found anywhere else in the city. When we moved here a year earlier, I was surprised to find, in the midst of what is considered a Midwestern city of mostly Eastern European descendants, a Korean grocery store. How this oddity called Sam Bok exists in the heart of the Strip remains a mystery to me. How many Koreans could there be in Pittsburgh?
    We drive in circles for what seems like an interminable time.
    “Erin, if we don’t find a spot soon, we’re going home.” I blow out my breath. In the rearview mirror, I spy my daughter lounging back in her booster seat, staring out the window, her eyes glazed over. I can see her dark hair pulled back in a ballet bun with pink hair netting to match her pink leotard and pink tights. Her eyes are not as wide-set as mine, without the epicanthal folds. And her nose is more prominent, more Caucasian. But she looks like me; everyone says so.

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Helena Rho

Helena Rho, a former assistant professor of pediatrics, has practiced and taught at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Johns Hopkins Hospital, and the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Slate, Crab Orchard Review, 805 Lit & Art, among others. You can find her online at and on Twitter @helena_rho.