Sunday, June 30, 2013

So I went to Korea...the beginning of something new.

If you didn't get to see any pictures, I will share some first experiences here and include brief intermixed excerpts of the rare journal entry or two I wrote. :)

I went to Korea for 2 weeks on a whirlwind of a journey. I barely had time to process the events as we moved from one place to the next so fast. I was honored to be able to go to Korea with the InKAS Summer Camp program. InKAS stands for International Korean Adoptee Service. During our 10 day trip we traveled to various cities, toured cultural sites, learned a large amount of history, and made many friends. I also received the opportunity to reconnect with my Korean biological family, meet my brother from my real adoptive family (+ his bff and bf's gf) and spend the last few days of my journey meeting many old friends. I planned on journaling or spending time processing through the trip, but found myself rather busy meeting people and keeping up with the excitement.

Even three weeks after my return, I come back to ponder remembering the people I met and the novel experiences in South Korea.  Not until landing in Korea, did I realize how blessed I am to know so many precious people all in one small country.  There are many people in my life connected to that country. Korea will always have a large place in my heart regardless of where I live in the world.  

Koreans are very hospitable to their foreign friends and especially loving and kind because of what they call "jeong" - a special term for a deep bond, love, or affection only known in Korean.  I was warmly welcomed and experienced this feeling of "jeong" immediately after arriving in Korea.  

The first day, I landed at 430am and had the whole day free. I spent some time lollygagging around the airport until shuttle service opened, soaking in the "fresh" hot, humid Seoul air. I use quotes here because I actually arrived on one of the hottest days of the year thus far and on a day with "ozone layer" warnings cautioning people to be careful and stay indoors because the air was so dirty! I began to process the weight of what was to be on my shoulders as I journeyed forward. On the limousine bus, I did some deep breathing and meditative prayer to prepare my mind for the next couple of days.  I felt extremely peaceful and in a state of complete serenity.  I knew that this is where I was meant to be at this very time. 

I checked into my guesthouse. It was really uncomfortable, and the beds had some bugs or dirt in them, but the joy and exhilaration of being Korea alone overrode any negative feelings.  God only knows if I'll be living like this in a developing country or a country that doesn't have clean running water one day, so I figured I might as well let this be the beginning of that experience (even though I paid a lot for the room!).  By noontime, within four to six hours of landing, I was waiting outside of the all too familiar Sinchon subway station. The Sinchon area is home to some of the best universities including Yonsei, Ewha, and Sogang as well as lots of nightlife, food, bars, shops, and things to do for the young crowd.  I met with JH (friend's initials for anonymity), a good college friend. 'twas a beautiful day spent with this friend. She took me to a park where we walked around and then found a shady spot to rest and converse. It had been 3 years since we last met. Though much time had gone by, we reconnected like best friends picking up where we left off. We both hadn't changed a bit, we even looked the same. (Agh, I'm trying to look older! My baby Asian face doesn't always gain me the most respect or best treatment in the real world.) That evening another friend barged into the room with the guesthouse owner while I was deeply sound in my REM sleep finally able to rest after almost 30 to 40 hours of no sleep and a whole lot of jetlag. After the initial shock, and eventually coming to my senses she pulled me out of bed. We went out around 9pm and enjoyed a hot soup called samgyetang made up of a whole chicken. Eating this hot soup on a hot day increases sweating to cool the inner body. This lovely friend stayed the night.

The second day I met up with a different friend I briefly met during her last week in San Diego before returning to Korea. She asked me to meet her if I went to Korea. I kept that promise!  
That evening,  the Korean adoptee fun began with our welcoming dinner. I sat with my roommate and her friends from the Netherlands and the special Danish guy on the trip! From that moment, people began building friendships and sharing their stories. We were each fascinated with the number of other people present in the room from different countries clothed with various expressions of curiosity. We began to engage in social activities and travel the countryside with the help of some of the best leaders, organizers, and one of the most amazing women I've ever met - the President of InKAS. Her story and history deserve its own post in itself. She inspires me beyond comprehension.

My connections to Korea and friendships extended around the world after meeting adoptees on this trip from many different countries such as Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and France. Each and everyone of the adoptees had a very unique experience and background. Though different, we all shared the bond of being born in Korea and displaced or moved to grow up in another culture and country from the one of our blood.  This common factor brings the Korean adoptee community together creating an immediate connection. Korean adoptees as a whole have a unique history, a history that wants to be known and communicated to the Korean community.

We visited more sites than I can remember. We walked around Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, watched Nanta, traveled down to Mokpo to  visit the orphanage, met college students, toured a factory where gochujang sauce is made, visited COEX, went to the National Assembly, walked through Independence Hall in Cheonan and so much more. It was quite a trip.

The trip also had a fair share of its challenges and mini culture shocks. Having been to Korea in the past, I still find myself surprised by some of the differences. Despite these challenges, each time I return, I become a stronger person. There's always a new piece of me I didn't know existed until I return to the Motherland. Many of the other participants felt the same. After the short trip, several fellow participants already began making drastic changes altering the course of their life path.

I had been longing to go to Korea and only through a special opportunity such as returning with a program like InKAS was I able to return. To InKAS, I'm beyond grateful and indebted to you for this opportunity. Because of this trip, my eyes were opened to a parts of Korean history not only fascinating but relevant to the history of orphans and adoption in and out of Korea.  

This trip was only the beginning of many new things to come. I pray that my faith in the unknown circumstances of my current life situation will continue to grow as I prepare to find new ways to not only rediscover my own identity but give back in a relevant way that uses my life experiences.

So it is...

More to come later!

PS. I'm sorry the photos are really bad. My computer crashed and I have no good source for photos at the moment. Editing to come  


Anonymous said...

this is some really deep meaningful stuff...

i respect you posting something so close to your heart... it's quite humbling.
It's easy to forget about others and only think about one's self...selfish. i don't really know you... but i appreciate your "ramblings" :) faith is a fragile thing...

(Mark 1,10)

Dan Chung said...

I myself returned to my Motherland, after being away for more than 30 years! Going back to where you are from definitely re-aligns your life, doesn't it? Thanks for your posts!

radiaNTLake said...

Dan! Yes, I've been to Korea three times. The first and third for the short trip I mentioned above and the second for about a year to teach English Every single time I learn so much more about myself and about the culture. I love learning about people and cultures, but even more so learning about our roots and origins. Though some would consider them really sad, I think positively and hope that we can have a healthy dose of both the positive and negative!