“Save your tears for when your mother dies.” 💔 I read Crying in H Mart 📚 Bestseller 2023 Book-ish 11

“Stop crying! Save your tears for when your mother dies.”

Hello everyone, welcome to today’s Book-ish video. I want to share with you all, Crying in H Mart: A Memoir by Michelle Zauner. This book is about Michelle’s relationship with her mother Chongmi. It follows the journey of before and after her mother passes away from Cancer. Michelle opens up about growing up half Korean, and how culture impacted her life.  

As someone who lost a parent to cancer, and also having that experience happen at such a young age I thought this book would br relatable and comforting. This book is deeply personal, and I have never read anything like it. It stands out to me because of the way Michelle blends food recipes and memories. She unravels bits of the past through reminiscing and flashbacks. And emphasises the strong power of words and conversation, how communication can impact relationships, for example a language barrier adding distance and feelings of exclusion. 


The first topic I want to talk about is ‘Culture’ as this is the centre of the book.  

Some definitions:

“the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.”

“the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time

Edgar Shein defines culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”

Crying in H-mart highlights the importance of culture and the way it can impact identity. Michelle is half Korean and American. However, Michelle felt insecure about identifying as Korean, as someone who is of mixed heritage she struggled with belonging. Culture is complex; it includes language, food, traditions as well as beauty, music, religion and more. Culture is the way people feel connected to their community and it impacts upbringing. How you see life is influenced by the culture that you were surrounded by.

One vital part about Korean culture is the language they speak, there are even different dialects representing the part of South Korea you grew up in. If you can speak the language it is easy for you to integrate more and build relationships. However, when there is a language barrier it can cause a disconnect and create distance. From as simply as not able able to get around the city easily to when you are talking with others. The problem shows more especially in group settings were everyone else can speak the language but you, this situation will make you feel left out of the conversation and you will also worry that constantly asking for translation you miss the full context. 

Michelle had several experiences of not being able to communicate. During summer breaks she visited Seoul, staying in her ‘halmoni’ (grandmother’s) apartment. Though she was among family she was not really able to build a relationship with her grandmother and aunt; always speaking through her mother or second aunt translating. All she could do was observe from afar, and not understand why her halmoni was so harsh with words and affections. 

And there are some people who use language to manipulate, and try to create cliques and not community. See though language is important, it is not the only thing that makes up culture and therefore cannot disqualify you. Back in America when her mother Chongmi was going through chemo, an older Korean female friend stayed with them. This ‘unni’ purposely spoke in Korean in the house to leave Michelle and her father out of the conversation. It was a way to create closeness and similarity, and exclude those who are not Korean adding to Michelle’s anxiety. This same unni also claimed things like that’s how Koreans eat, when Michelle would ask about food was preparation. And worst she didn’t allow Michelle to cook Korean food at all for her mother 

Which is the next pillar of culture food. Korean culture is big on food, the way it is prepared, how it is eaten, and the places you can find food like fish markets and street vendor stalls. There are main staples like kimchi, there are special occasion dishes like seaweed soup for birthdays and soft easy to digest porridge for pregnant mothers and those who are sick. Michelle’s mother had one rule, you had to try food at least once before you decide you don’t like it. And sometimes in order to bond and get approval Michelle would try impressing her mother with all she can eat. 

Chongmi showed her love through food. So we tastes dishes Michelle could feel the warmth of her mother, and the care and effort that was put it to remember what people liked. When her mother was sick Michelle wanted to care for her through meals, however she was not able to because she did not know how to cook Korean dishes. After her mother passed away learning to cook Korean dishes, was what she desired so much. It played such a significant role is her upbringing, it what what she ate everyday. So it was crucial for her to try to hold on because without it she felt something was missing.

One question Michelle kept wondering about was, now that her mother had died who was the bridge to Korean culture, was she still Korean? Not having language was tough, but being without Korean food was unbearable. Michelle searched for YouTube tutorials and became obsessed with learning as many dishes as possible. Talking therapy did not help her grief, compared to the proudness she felt exploring Korean food and making them herself.


The next topic I want to discuss is relationships, specially mothers and daughters.

It is truly unfortunate that sometimes in life when you realise how precious something is, it might be too late. While growing up Chongmi would say “Save your tears for when your mother dies” as her way to toughen Michelle up. It was a blunt comment that meant nothing is that serious, this mindset prevented intimacy as it considers vulnerability a sign of weakness. Don’t show you are hurt, and if Michelle did cry she would be told off instead of receiving comfort.

Mother daughter relationships can be complex, some have a more turbulent one where during the teenage years its gets heated; and then when the daughter enters early twenties she starts to appreciate her mother again like she did her in her childlike state. I can relate to Michelle’s relationship with her mother Chongmi. Though I was never a rebellious teen I did close myself off because I thought my mother just didn’t understand how much I was suffering. That can be the main reason for tension, when you believe your feelings are not being heard or respected in the way you like. For Michelle, after expressing to her mother she wanted to become a musician, her mother told her it was pipe dream and it was not realistic. One conversation in particular Chongmi said “I regret allowing you to take guitar lessons, I have just been waiting for you to give it up like all your other hobbies” 

Many daughters wish to have their mothers approval, however Chongmi was strict and judgemental always telling Michelle she can do better. Once they lived apart things did become more relaxed and her mother showed more grace. Still there was the little girl inside of Michelle that wanted mum to be proud. This came out particularly during the Wedding scenes. From when she went dress shopping to actually getting ready on her wedding day; all she could think about is whether or not mother would say she looked beautiful.


Moving on to my next point about wholeness, another one of Chongmi straight forward teachings was “Save 10% for yourself”. When forming any type of relationship, either family, friendships, lovers, never let anyone have all of you. 

The truth is sometimes you may never really know someone fully, because humans are constantly growing and evolving. And realistic it is hard to share everything, as it requires a lot of vulnerability. The idea of having someone to talk through anything with is nice and comforting, and many do want that level of closeness. But it is very easy to think you know someone and begin losing interest in learning about them. So naturally, people have seasons.

If I am honest I do like the idea of saving 10%, there is nothing wrong with having some private moments to keep to yourself. This can give you independence and make it easier to handle when people come in and out of your life. If you relied solely on one person it can create a co-dependence and attachment that they are your diary or therapist.  

However, Chongmi’s stance on save 10% comes from place of wanting to protect against getting hurt. She built layers around her so incase of disappointment she did not feel like she lost herself. She was purposely secretive and sometimes lied in order to not allow anyone to enter her boundary lines. With this I wonder how do you choose what parts to hide? and why those parts?

After her mother died, Michelle learned from her aunt things her mother never shared. She thought it interesting that the people left behind had pieces of the story, and if they gather they could put some sort of picture together of her life. However, no one would be able to tell her story in its entirety, because it was Chongmi’s story as her whole.


Next let’s talk about self-care. This is very important to me as I love skincare.

Beauty standards are interesting, in one country your features are coveted, while in another they think it is ugly. Every country has different perspectives, and culture plays a part but there is also media influence. For example Hollywood standards are used in Korea, India and Nigeria. A key aspect of desirability being skin lightness. I talk about colourism in my previous bookish 10 video, so go watch that. 

As a mixed race person it can be challenging as you have two culture perspectives to balance. Michelle had double eye lids and a small face, so she was always called eppuda ‘pretty’ when she visited Korea. These were features that were praised as the ideal type, and many had surgery to achieve something she was easily born with. Where as in American, she faced the constant question of ‘what are you?’. Being mixed, she had some asian features and children at school would often say she was either Chinese or Japanese, like those were the only asian countries. So, in middle school she wanted to look as white as possible.

Like I said skincare is my jam, it has been life changing for me to learn how to look after my skin. And because of that I believe having the desire to keep your appearance at its best is necessary. I do not mean hold an unrealistic standard for perfection. Too much obsession with beauty is vanity. Instead focusing on achieving inner confidence and wellness through taking care of your outer shell. I particularly love skincare for it allows me to spend some time giving attention to my body and showing it that I appreciate it. It can feel great when I apply a soothing gel or when I my skin feels soft.

Chongmi invested a large amount of her time to look after herself, she cared a great deal to the point of nitpicking. So, cancer was tough for her as she felt she lost her beauty. For someone who spent effort on maintenance, losing her hair was hard. When someone is going through an illness, it is very evident as their body begins to deteriorate, and eating well and small exercise becomes the focus care. The fun self care parts can be neglected, as it might not be seen as a priority. However, when you give them a facial, paint their nails and throw on pretty clothes and make up; this can act as an serotonin boost. Self care is about mindfulness, being present in the moment taking care of yourself.


Now briefly I want to touch on pain. Chongmi’s last words were in her mother dialect ‘appa’ which means pain in Korean. Sickness is painful. Chongmi suffered a lot. I don’t have many words for this point. It overwhelms me to think about it. 

But I do want to say that Michelle also went through emotional pain. The things she had to go through after her mothers death; from dressing the dead body to learning things about her mum knowing she will not have access again. There was a storm within her and it could have caused real chaos if she left it un dealt with. However, she made an effort to try to heal, and she processed pain through creativity. Michelle’s heart breaking album full of raw emotions reached others who were experiencing loss. 


Finally my last point is about travelling. As a musician Michelle had to tour to promote her songs, that is one main source of income. During the early stages of her mother’s illness touring felt like a chore as her mind was not focused. This was something she was passionate about, but during a sensitive time being somewhere new everyday was not a fun adventure.

However, after Chongmi passed away staying in one place was the last thing she wanted. A big part of Michelle’s healing process was travelling with her father. Left behind they had to figure out new boundaries and create a bond, because her mother was what held the two of them together. It was messy and there were many points they still felt empty, which shows that travelling is not a quick fix. Yet the journey was beneficial and marked a chance for restart.

Like I mentioned Michelle made music about her mothers death and Japanese Breakfast her band started doing well. This gave her the opportunity to tour once more, and this time she was excited because she would get to perform in South Korea. The place where her mother was from. The place that is half her, because she too is Korean.

With that we have come to the end of today’s book-ish. I am going to start rating my books, as people like to know what the overall experience means to me. Crying in H Marts gets 5/5. This is not happy book, you will cry a lot. Yet it is truly one that you have to read and embrace the melancholy. There are also the food moments, where real recipes are described and it makes you very hungry. It was a reminder to appreciate life and also continue to learn.

I thought about what my culture means to me. I am full Nigerian, that is my ethnicity but I struggle with feeling apart of my community sometimes, Nigerian society. When growing up I never learned the main language Yoruba, and I have had some people make fun of me for not knowing it. I also don’t believe in age hierarchy so yes I am rude to my seniors if they are rude to me lol. And I did not grow up eating Nigeria food all the time, so I can only make about 3 main dishes one of them being jollof rice. I could sit here and blame my mum for not teaching me these thing, but at the same I had other cultures that I was more interested in. Watching anime from a young age meant that I preferred to learn about asian languages and food. However, over the last few years I have been wanting more of my Nigerian culture. And part of me does regret not being interested. Despite my not feeling 100 percent like I belong, I still don’t wonder if I am Nigerian. It is who I am despite how much of the culture I participate in. Yet for people who are mixed race they deal with a lot of people refuting, and experience identity issues. Culture is important, but even without it you can be racial ethnicity. Michelle Zauner is half Korean, let her claim her half without having to prove anything. 

I am also pondering about Nomadic lifestyle, I think I am not as apposed to it. Settling down and being comfort was importance to me; but now I think as long as I have some place I consider home, a place to go back to, maybe it might not be so bad. Travelling broadens your perspective, and helps with understanding of life. There is this new desire in me to go to visit as many countries as possible, but then again in might just be a phase.

I have linked the book down below; let me know in the comments if you have read it or have anything else to add about some of the points I mentioned. Thank you so much for watching this video. If you enjoyed this video remember to like, comment, subscribe and ring the notification bell so you know when I post. Byeeeee

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