Why I’m Sending My Money Again

Pumasi Practice on Paypal

Pumasi is a Korean tradition that started as an exchange of labor in agricultural villages. The system benefited the community as a whole and worked on a high level of trust among its members. In modern days, the word evolved into any type of collective effort. For example, pumasi education refers to a circle of parents sharing their knowledge and expertise with the children from all their families.

Over the last two weeks, I have seen a new phenomenon on social media: supporting others through Pumasi practice on Paypal. The system has been around for a while, but the sheer volume and extent of the activity were the highest I have ever witnessed. I myself made seven payments via Paypal:

Sending money via Paypal might not look like pumasi due to its obvious format of monetary transactions. After all, pumasi did not involve any currency. However, it still feels very much like pumasi because of their common goal: helping each other within the community for its holistic survival.

Previous to COVID-19, I had never given any money to the recipients listed above. I rarely made a donation in general. Something from my experience amid this pandemic has motivated me to give money.

Most of all, it is the notion of sitting in a sinking boat with the whole world. I saw a Titanic meme where teachers delivering classes online, like myself, are compared to the musicians who continued to play on the deck while passengers were escaping. If this part of the story was true, I don’t think the music performance actually helped the situation. Who can appreciate or even hear the music when adrenaline is kicking your whole body to get the hell out of a dangerous situation? So, while I continue to teach my students online, fear and helplessness pulls me down throughout the day and begs me to do something else to save the world. Sadly, I can’t save it, but I can send money to musicians in economic hardship.

Guilt plays a role as well. My pantry is packed with food that will last me another few weeks. There is enough toilet paper in the house that I don’t need to count the number of squares for each trip to the toilet. I can take a walk in a nearby park every day. Yesterday, I even went on a bike ride and enjoyed the afternoon sun and a warm spring breeze. I feel guilty for having enough resources for myself while others don’t.

I help my students with the transition to online platforms. I counsel them on various challenges they are experiencing with their health, children’s school closure, and work safety. I check on my elderly parents daily and assist them remotely with resources that would help my father who is suspected to have the virus. I maintain connections with friends and coworkers to support their mental and physical health during the current lockdown. Yet, I feel inundated with guilt. The voice of guilt is too loud for me to ignore and pushes me to click “send money” again.

The last motivation behind my donations reveals another similarity to pumasi: human interaction. Each of my transactions carried a personal meaning and involved human interactions. I “clapped” and praised the performance along with other audiences on live chat during concerts. I moved my body in sync with the instructors during dance and exercise classes. Afterward, I left positive feedback on the lessons, which were followed by the instructors’ show of appreciation. Ruth, a swing dance instructor, and I have never met in person, but now we “look forward to seeing each other again.” The donation to my sister-in-law’s fundraiser was a prelude to attending her birthday party, where family members in four different locations shared a toast, dinner, gift opening, and birthday cakes via Zoom. And lastly, participating in the Girl Scout cookie drive gave me a chance to reconnect with a former coworker in another state.

Now when I look at the list of transactions on my Paypal account, it feels quite different from that of my bank account. It is rather a new form of a diary, showing what I have been up to recently. There are faces attached to each line. I can vividly remember what I did with that person and how I felt during that experience. As long as we continue to stay distancing ourselves during this pandemic, the list on my Paypal will grow, and probably on many other people’s Paypal or Venmo. If it works like pumasi, it could actually keep our ship afloat through the storm until we get to the other side of the shore.

Update: This was written on April 10th. My father is currently recovered from his illness. My mother, who lives with him and had suffered similar symptoms after him, has recovered as well.

Originally published at https://definitelynotokay.svbtle.com on April 25, 2020.

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Linda S. Park (she/her)

Queer immigrant from S. Korea to NYC, now in Providence, who writes about ugly truths and vulnerability. Connect and heal at definitelynotokay.com