Grandpa and Korea


Plants at Home Depot.


My maternal grandfather, Keum Whan Chang, was born and raised in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and immigrated legally to Hawaii in 1904 after signing a contract as a laborer for the sugar plantation.  He was met at the dock in Honolulu by his boss and then lived for many years in Hawaii until his death in 1963 at the age of 79, a few months shy of his 80th birthday.  He died a millionaire, having amassed a fortune in real estate.

This is one of the parcels he owned in Honolulu (a 2 story house and a 3 story apartment building).  I lived in the house with my maternal grandmother while I attended the University of Hawaii, graduating in 1968:


My maternal grandparents, Keum Whan Chang and Do Yun Hong, were honored by the South Korean government in 2002 as “Patriots of Korea.”  Their bodies were exhumed from a cemetery in Hawaii and cremated.  Their ashes were transported in urns to Seoul, South Korea and were buried with full military honors in the Korean National Memorial Cemetery.  They are considered heroes, because they led the liberation movement against Japanese colonization.

David and I attended their funeral and burial in Seoul, South Korea in 2002 with great pride.  We stayed in Seoul for 5 nights and thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

My friend, Helge, stayed in Pyongyang, North Korea for 8 days in 1990, attending an international seminar regarding “Creativity.”  It was open to scientists from all over the world.  Helge told me North Korea is very mountainous and very beautiful. Since Grandpa was born and raised in Pyongyang, I assume he has many relatives still living there.  It’s too bad that there are no diplomatic relations between North Korea and the USA.  I guess I will never get to see Pyongyang.

8 Responses to “Grandpa and Korea”

  1. honoluluaunty91 Says:

    What a great family history! It is too bad about North Korea – so controlled by a crazy man. Hope that peace and understanding happen in our lifetime.

  2. joared Says:

    Your ancestors are ones to be proud of. The recognition of your grandfather and your visit to South Korea must have been a very special experience. How fortunate your grandfather left North Korea considering the government there. Tragic the country ever divided to begin with. Sounds like the North has some beautiful countryside. Very sad that you, especially, likely will never be able to visit there. Also, the rest of the world is deprived of freely visiting the nation and their people us — not to mention the conditions that reportedly exist there. Expect you must wonder about your family there and wish you could explore those relationships.

  3. DeniseinVA Says:

    A very proud part of your family history Gigi and so honored by South Korea. How amazing it must have been to attend your grandparents funeral in 2002.

  4. Christine Says:

    So impressive Gigi, you are smart like your grandpa!

  5. anonymousinthemainland!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Says:

    Your grandparents esp. your grandfather sounded l courageous and brave! The fellow who is in control now they allege killed his own half brother oh, my goodness sakes, the people suffer in that part of Korea..How wonderful you are from wonderful people it has boded you well in your life..but too bad you cannot visit your family..Maybe some day, one never knows what the future will bring, aloha in Hawaii!

  6. Olga Says:

    You are fortunate to know so much about your grandparents. Now that I have questions about mine, I have no one to ask.

  7. DJan Says:

    It’s so wonderful to learn of your illustrious family history, Gigi. I would have been proud, too. My grandparents were all just normal citizens and nobody would have honored them like that, other than family, that is. 🙂

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