CHADWICK – Daniel Nardini, born near a farm in Bloomington in 1960, realized that he had a passion to learn about other languages and cultures at the tender age of 15. China, Taiwan, the Koreas, and its peninsulas, cast a spell on Daniel, and he wanted more.
“For a good part of my life, I wanted to learn something about Chinese culture and history,” Nardini said. “It was always a dream of mine.”
A Beloit College graduate, he landed a job as an English teacher in Taiwan in 1990 after reading an ad about the opportunity in a newspaper.
He lived on a farm in the countryside of Taichung, the third-largest city in Taiwan.
The room and board weren’t part of the program that he had been contracted for, but he didn’t want to stay in the city because it was jammed with people.
“When you’re in the city ... it was crowded. It was kind of hard on me,” Nardini said.
He paid the equivalent of $150 a month for rent. That was a good deal, and it was out of the city, just like he wanted.
“The average temperature from March until November was 95 degrees to 105 degrees,” he said. He rode a bicycle 8 miles to work on most days.
It was around this time that his mom died, and his dad lost the house. Nardini worked on the island for about 4 years, and returned to Illinois for about a year and a half.
Job security didn’t exist for Nardini stateside, so he took up a teaching gig at a private school in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, in 1996.
“Having lived among Taiwanese, it wasn’t a major hurdle going to South Korea,” he said.
“South Korea: Our Story,” chronicles his year in Seoul, and life after leaving.
“This [book] is a dedication to my wife,” Nardini said.
The story makes clear his devotion to Jade, a native of Seoul. The couple now live in Chadwick.
For 5 years, between 1997 to 2002, he and Jade traded letters and emails to stay in touch. It would take about 7 to 10 days for a letter to reach Jade. This was before text messaging and video chat became commonplace.
In May 2002, a “small group” of about 200 people witnessed them marry in Seoul, but it would take 2 more years for the U.S. government to grant his bride permanent U.S. residency.
“She’s a wonderful, kind, sweet, very gentle lady. And very intelligent,” Nardini said of his wife of more than a decade.
He also hopes the book “gives some cultural and historical background on the Republic of Korea.”
“A lot of things were happening during this time period that made it hard for the both of us,” he said, referring to a sharp change in political climate at home because of the terrorist attacks of 2001.
Around the same time, changes came to South Korea. A left-wing president had been elected who wasn’t pleased with the Americans. Within the same year that fanfare welcomed the World Cup to Asia for the first time, people rallied in the streets of the capital protesting the impending American invasion of Iraq.
“We saw what came next … the anti-American riots,” he said. “It was a bad turning point.”
“She was a nurse before she came to this country. Unfortunately, people at my wife’s hospital [in Korea] knew that she had married an American and gave her a bad time.”
Frustration, and at times, grief, bleeds through the pages of Nardini’s book as he discusses the never-ending piles of rejected immigration paperwork and red tape.
“Slow as molasses,” he described the immigration process, as the family struggled to fight strict U.S. immigration laws, at first, without an attorney.
Nardini’s written account of what happened mixes heartache and atonement throughout his quest to reunite with his wife.
“It felt wonderful to finally get her to this country,” he said, letting out a sigh of relief.
Where to buy the book
You can find “South Korea: Our Story” online through iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.