Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Meeting the Family

Several weeks ago, Mark and I had the opportunity to meet two of Birth Father's brothers and their families. This is the first extended family I've gotten to meet, so it was really cool for me. My birth father actually comes from a family of 9. He is the 5th born, so exactly in the middle.

We got picked up around 3:30 pm and drove about an hour to Birth Father's younger brother's house. He lives a little outside Seoul. When we arrived at the house, we had no idea what to expect.

Birth Father's younger brother lives above his 순대 (soondae) restaurant. This is a restaurant that sells pig intestines... which Koreans go absolutely NUTS for. You will see the prettiest Korean girls in their high heels and mini skirts chowing down on this stuff. Mark and I have not been brave enough to try it...

Anyway, we met my uncle, aunt, and their daughter who is in college. Then, another brother, his wife, and their two middle-school-aged daughters arrived also. It was kind of nice... they didn't make a big fuss over me, basically just instantly accepted me as part of the family. No one could really speak much English, so conversation was extremely limited to what SangKwun could translate.

We went into an apartment and sat around several small tables. There were tons of pots bubbling... I was just praying that we weren't having soondae. Luckily, we had plates and plates of delicious food... some marinated 갈비 (beef), 잡재 (jap chae), and 떡국 (the traditional New Years rice cake soup and seaweed). It was all AMAZING. And don't worry, no 순대!

While we were eating, the 3 brothers started downing the 소주 (soju). I mean, it was bottle after bottle.

Here are the three of them... I think Birth Father looks like the brother to his right. The one to his left is the youngest in the family and quite the character.


Here we are with the cousins... I don't see much of a resemblance... what do you think? The one in the purple sweatshirt is in college and is the daughter of the uncle whose house we were at. The other two were sisters.

And here's the whole gang...


The youngest cousin in the Beastie Boys sweatshirt next to me was pretty cute. She couldn't stop staring at Mark, but would get all embarrassed when he'd catch her.
The brothers just sat around and talked for HOURS. Birth Father's brothers were extremely animated and talkative. Then, out of nowhere, they said we were going to the 노래방 (noraebang) to sing. The cousins stayed behind and we headed out with the aunts and uncles to belt out some tunes.
Normally, birth father is pretty reserved, so I was very surprised when he was the first to grab the microphone and a tambourine.
I was nervous at first but I sang a couple songs. There has never been a more supportive group as everyone clapped along enthusiastically.
We finally finished up around midnight. We were walking back to the apartment and I was SURE we were heading home, when we made a pit stop into the 순대 restaurant owned by my uncle. I think my heart leapt into my throat that my time had come to try it. Luckily, we only had some tea. We then sat there for TWO MORE HOURS while the brothers continued to talk.
We finally headed home around 2 a.m., tired, but glad to have had this experience. What a night -- one that I'm sure I will never forget...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ego Blow

K: Korean cell phones have some really cool features on them... for example video chat. Mark and I couldn't figure out how to use it on his phone, so I asked a couple of my 4th grade students:

Kim: "Can you guys show me how video chat works?"

Grace: "Sure." ::beep beep beep click:: "See, it's up now."

Kim: "Wait, how'd you do that again?"

Louisa: "Uh, you have to do it slowly so she can figure it out."

Grace: "Why don't you know how to do this anyway?"

I've officially entered my parents' generation of having kids more than 15 years younger than me explaining technology to me.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

New Year Snowboarding Trip

For the first New Year's Eve in my recent memory, Mark and I didn't make it up until midnight to ring in the New Year. That was because we had to get up bright and early to go snowboarding with SangKwun and his friends.

And, uh... it wasn't even "bright" and early. We got picked up at 5:30 am and it was definitely still dark.

We drove about an hour outside Seoul to a mountain. We stopped in a little shop where we could rent coats, snowpants, boots and snowboards. Mark and I had never been snowboarding, so we were a little nervous.

Here we are... ready to hit the slopes...


Unfortunately, we went right before the big snow, so we were sliding down fake snow produced by snowblowers.

Here are a few shots of the hills and the resort.



Snowboarding is a lot more difficult than it looks! I thought I would catch on quickly, but it takes a lot of coordination and leg muscle strength. There were quite a few wipeouts. SangKwun's friends go snowboarding several times a year and were pretty much experts. They were so helpful in teaching us how to coast, stop, and navigate the hills. I was too chicken to venture off the beginner hill, but here's Mark at the end of the intermediate hill.


We were surprised that the prices weren't too high. We got a pass to snowboard for 4 hours for about $40/person. If we did it again, we would go early in the morning for sure. As it neared the end of our time, it started getting very crowded on the mountain. And as we were driving out... there were at least 100 cars lined up waiting to enter the resort.

We thought this was a really fun way to ring in the new year and both felt like we got major workouts. Actually, on the drive home, this was the scene in the back seat...


When Mark's passed out, you KNOW it was a good day! :)

Biggest Seoul Snowfall

A couple weeks ago, Seoul had the biggest snowfall in over 10 years with 11 inches.

Here were a couple shots from our apartment window.



It was really pretty at the time. But now it's still sticking around, gray, and slushy. I hear St. Louis has a little heat wave... where's ours? I'm definitely ready for some sunny weather to melt it all away.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

One Year... Lessons Learned


Exactly one year ago, Mark and I landed in Korea.

It's hard to put how I feel into words... because we have had so many experiences in this time, but it really feels like the year has gone so quickly.

And in a few short months we'll be back home. While I'm very excited to get back to everyone in the States, I'm having mixed feelings about whether I'm ready to end this adventure. I'm actually getting a little teary-eyed just typing about the end approaching. I'm sure there'll be a more dramatic post about the things (and PEOPLE) I'll miss here a few months down the line, but this post'll focus on things I've learned and how I've grown this past year.

When Mark and I made the decision to come over here, sure I was curious about Korea, my birth family, and whether or not I could "hack it" over here... but I had no idea what was in store for me. Here's a rundown of the major changes/growing opportunities I've experienced.

1. Truly realizing the importance of family and friends: The people back home were always very important to me. But the saying "absence makes the heart grow fonder" holds true. I know it sounds dramatic, but phone calls, Skypes, cards, and emails from the people I love have made the great times even better and helped me through the tough times (there have been a few homesick days). Sometimes it stinks missing big events back home, but knowing that everyone's rooting for us has meant the world. Thank you... I love you. (Woah, when did this start sounding like an award acceptance speech?!?!)

2. Seeing Mark and my relationship blossom: I'd say before we left, we had a strong marriage. But we were both slightly nervous about how we could handle living, working, and basically spending every second together for an entire year. But this year has made us stronger. We've done things we never thought we'd do -- the Sky Drop in Seoul Land, asking a random Koreans for directions, eating string ray sashimi, and teaching kids English for 10 hours straight to name a few. And we did it all together. I feel now, more than ever that I can accomplish anything if I have my "partner in crime" and best friend by my side. :o)

3. Stepping out of my comfort zone: This is an area I still struggle with. I hate feeling awkward, or unsure of what to do. But I'm working on this. I think the best way to conquer that fear is to just jump in headfirst. And I have Mark to be a perfect example of what to do. I am incredibly proud of how well Mark has handled himself in this country that can't seem to get over his size and face. Many Koreans see very few foreigners and essentially NONE are as tall as Mark. So he has experienced people staring and pointing at him, being laughed at for the size of his shoes, and even being the only white person at a Korean family dinner (more on that later). He has smiled, laughed, and done his best to roll with (or eat) whatever is thrown at him.

4. Adoption. See my previous post.

5. Being Korean: I was never one of those adoptees who felt like something was missing from her life. I know a lot of people talk about a longing to be connected to the people and the country, but I could never relate. Korea was always an interesting place, but I wasn't a part of it. I was American. End of story. But once I got here, it was like a door was opened that I never even knew I was looking for.

For someone who has always looked different from everyone around her, it's an indescribable feeling to be in a country where everyone looks like me and where people instantly expect me to belong based solely on my looks (until I open my mouth that is...) I read in an adoptee art exhibit brochure that many adoptees say riding the subway is their favorite time in Korea. Because we're not expected to talk and for just a fraction of the day, Koreans aren't questioning who we are, where we're from, and why we don't speak Korean. We're just one of them.

Many people take having blood relatives for granted; but it's mind blowing for me to meet people who have the same blood running through their veins and to be able to look for similar facial features and personality traits. It's just something I never expected to experience for myself.

I've found that Korea is culturally very different from America. Whereas the United States is a melting pot with many different traditions, and lifestyles, and ethnicities, Korea is extremely homogeneous. Everyone eats Duk-kuk to celebrate the new year, everyone knows all the health benefits to their different dishes, everyone knows how to bow to their elders, everyone hates the Japanese and is intensely proud of Korea and its traditions.

I'm proud to be a part of this culture... even if I'll never truly be fully Korean. I plan to incorporate some of the major cultural aspects in my life in the US. Then I can have a sort of hybrid Korean-American life the best way I know how.

This year has done so much for me. I have learned so much about myself and where I come from. I have stumbled across the puzzle pieces that will help to create a complete me.