The Ugly Black Rubber Boots
Despite my best efforts to learn English and obtain a job based on my education and experience, my first job in Canada was at a fish farm. I wore ugly black rubber boots for a whole year before rediscovering myself.
Shall I take it off or leave it? I was looking at the price tag on the ugly, black rubber
boots I had brought home from a store. They were so ugly! I would only need them for a couple of weeks or a month, at most, and then I would return them. There would be no reason to keep them longer.
However, I ended up wearing them for a full year at a fish farm.
I did everything I could think of to get a job. I completed every available level of ESL studies and the Office Information Technology program offered by the local community college. There was no special reason to take this course except that it required only a year to graduate. I thought one year of school wouldn’t be too much to impose on my family.
In order for me to get to my downtown school on time, my two small kids and I had to leave the house at 7:40 a.m. My kids were the first kids to arrive at school, and that was not by their choice.
One of the teachers found them in front of the school and told them, “Go back home and come back when the school opens.” They didn’t want to go back to the empty house. Instead, they hid behind the bushes until the other students arrived. Later I overheard my son bragging about this to his friends.
After I graduated, I submitted nearly one hundred resumes to every possible job. I only got one interview, and they didn’t call me back. I couldn’t just stay home waiting. I called my friend who always needed people for his fish farm. There was no interview, no English, no Canadian job experience required. I only needed the ugly black rubber boots!
The night after the first day of work at the fish farm, I crashed on my kitchen floor in tears. I couldn’t deny the fact that I was a worker at the fish farm. I was terrified. What if I was going to be stuck there forever? What if I forgot what I studied as an artist in South Korea and the endless English classes in Canada? What about my parents’ and sister’s and brother’s hope for me, and what about my own dreams for myself? I was devastated, but the next morning I went to the fish farm, telling myself it was just one more day. Just one more day. But one more day became a week and then months and then a year. I hated myself and the world.
I stood for hours each day on the fishy wet floor, packing seafood in the dim light. I felt I was being buried under the monotonous sound of breaking seashells. The songs of other workers broke the heavy air and only numbed time and my weak hope. I wished I could hide from the world in my rubber boots.
After nearly one year, I got a phone call from an office for an interview, and I got the job. It was part-time and a night shift, but I didn’t care.
While working at the office job, I started taking a watercolour class at the community center to rediscover myself as an artist.
Since then, I have never stopped being an artist. I was elected to the prestigious Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour in 2011. My paintings have been displayed and sold at the galleries in Halifax and as far as the UK. I have also taught watercolour workshops in public libraries and privately.
My kids are all grown now, and we laugh about the time when they hid behind the bushes waiting for school to start. My daughter asks me, “Mom, can I take the price tag off these boots now?”
INAE KIM’s native country is South Korea, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts and worked as an art teacher and a commercial artist. In 1996, Inae and her family moved to Canada.