Though his time in this country was brief, Bong Kun Chin, the son of a Korean fish merchant, had worked very hard and he had prospered. He left behind many close friends, most of them Korean immigrants like himself, but also a few Americans, who mourned the accidental death of a kind man who cared deeply for his family, loved beauty and was good with his hands.
He was struck and killed by a car last Saturday at his brother-in-law's Oriental vegetable U-Pick farm in Beltsville, the last place anyone would have expected something like that to happen. The farm is almost a place of ritual among Asian immigrants who go there each fall to gather the vegetables of home, and the driver of the car was a countryman, from Seoul.
In their grief, Chin's friends and relatives, among them his widow, who has been in this country just 63 days, gathered at a Silver Spring funeral home and recalled the odyssey of an immigrant who belonged to a Washington-area community of 35,000 Koreans. It is a story they know well as many of them have lived a similar one, from Korea to America.
Bong Kun Chin came here nine years ago, at age 37, a graduate in English from the prestigious Korean University in Seoul. He went to work as a lab technician for a Maryland milk testing company, where his boss prized his punctuality and meticulousness as well as the classical music he played on his lab radio. "The other technicians would be playing rock and roll on their radios, and Chin and I would just look at each other and shake our heads," laboratory manager Ron Barber said.
Chin shared his culture with his American colleagues. He made Korean delicacies and brought them to the office -- kim chi, bulgogi and susi. He also kept a Korean-English dictionary in his lab and was eager to learn the latest American slang. He became an American citizen last year. He was a reserved man, and a friendship with him was something precious, requiring patience. "It took a long time to get to know Mr. Chin," said Mildred Wack, laboratory administrative assistant, who met Chin soon after he came to this country. "He was a beautiful person." The president of the company came to Chin's funeral.
Chin spent his weekends working on the farm of his sister's husband, a farmer's son named Byong Yoo. Yoo had begun nine years ago on 10 acres of land with an idea that other Asian immigrants also were homesick for such vegetables as big white radishes, Chinese cabbage, Chinese parsley, edible chyrsthanemums and chard. The beginning of the farm was marked by bad fortune. Before the first harvest was in, Yoo was hit by a freight train as he drove across the B&O tracks in College Park. Friends called it a miracle: Yoo escaped with only bad bruises and pulled muscles. But he couldn't work for several months, and thus was the U-Pick idea born. The farm that is known as the Dr. Yoo Farm thrived.
Yoo and Chin became as close as brothers, and when Yoo bought another farm in Howard County two years ago he invited Chin to live there, in a house next to his own, where Chin's 78-year-old mother lives with her daughter and son-in-law. Chin's first marriage ended in divorce, and he had no children. Yoo, 42, has three children, two sons and a daughter. "I didn't want him to be spending so much time alone, watching T.V.," Yoo said. "I told him to come live here, and when he got old my children would be good to him."
Yoo 42, has a doctorate in food science from the University of Maryland and a head filled with farming schemes. He and Chin, the English scholar who could fix anything and make anything with his hands, complemented each other well as business partners. "They were like husband and wife on the farm," their friend Duk Joong Won, an economist, said. "Chin was like the mother of the farm."
"He was my right hand man," Yoo said.
The accident happened on the 11th anniversary of Yoo's marriage to Chin's younger sister. Chin was weighing vegetables for a customer in a flimsy wooden shed beside Cinder Lane, a narrow road that runs between two fields. Maryland State Police said that Choon Cha Kim, 39, of Glen Burnie had apparently already bought her vegetables and was slowly backing her station wagon off the field and onto the road when she hit her 13-year-old daughter, who had been standing behind the car. She then hit the accelerator instead of the brake, police said, and, still in reverse, backed into the shack. "She wiped it out completely," Trooper William Starvis said.
The station wagon caught Chin and pinned him against another car, which was parked nearby. Someone drove to another field about a quarter mile away, where Yoo had been working. But when Yoo arrived at the scene moments later, his brother-in-law was already dead.
"Dr. Yoo kept touching his face. The ambulance people tried to keep him away, but he said, 'Please, he's my brother,' " said June Brandenstein, the Korean-born wife of an American engineer, who visits the farm each year. "It was a nightmare. You expect death on the highway, but not on the farm. The farm is a safe place."
Charges against the driver are pending, Starvis said. The driver's 70-year-old mother was seriously injured in the accident. Six others, including Chin's widow, were slightly injured. The driver's brother, who left Korea four years ago and owns the Na Na grocery store in Baltimore, went to the funeral. "I felt like I had to do it for my sister," he said. "I met Dr. Yoo. He was so kind. We shook hands. I really didn't know what to say, but I told him that my family feels really sorry. He said, 'It wasn't our day. We were unlucky. What happened is beyond the control of human beings. What should we do?' "
Bong Kun Chin left behind a 34-year-old widow from Seoul who knows little English. He had gone back to Korea a year ago to marry Chun Sook and then returned to America to wait for his bride to get the necessary papers to join him. She arrived, finally, in September. Theirs was an arranged marriage, though such an arrangement, their friends say, has changed from the days when a bride and groom were introduced on their wedding day. "Today the family will suggest, 'There is a beautiful girl. Why don't you meet with her?' " said their friend Duk Joong Won, an economist.
"They really loved each other," Yoo said. "They were happy together."
They lived in an old two-story white frame house on 73 acres, where Chin hung a still life by Paul Cezanne on his bedroom wall, filled one room with Korean artifacts and pottery and lined his bookshelves with the works of Shakespeare, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, John O'Hara and Pearl Buck. He renovated his house and that of his brother-in-law. "Byong is no good with the hammer. He's the brain, " said June Mattick, whose friendship with the family began when her husband was Byong Yoo's adviser at the University of Maryland.
Yoo buried his brother-in-law last Wednesday at the Gate of Heaven Catholic Cemetery, off Rte. 97 in Silver Spring. Chin's widow, a small, slender figure in a black dress and black veil, laid her face against the casket and wept. There was work to be done on the farm in this, the busiest time of the year, but Yoo had little heart for it. "There have been good years and bad years," he said. "Last year was a bad year. It was dry. This year was a good year. But we lost a member of the family."