The past week in Korea has been a blur of goodbyes. I’ve managed to visit all of the most important places and say farewell to the most important people. I’ve had lots of meals, lots of visits, and lots of train trips. I swear, I keep Korail in business some weekends. I think Korail will miss me most.
People often ask me if religion brings me back to the orphanage in Gimcheon, but really, *I* bring myself back to the orphanage because I committed to volunteering at children’s crisis nurseries, group homes, shelters, and orphanages when I was 18. I cooked my first solo Thanksgiving dinner at a crisis shelter in Flagstaff when I was 19, which featured only breasts a lot of turkey and limited side dishes, since people donated only birds. I went twice a week to a small shelter in my 20s and my office partner and I decided one year to sponsor their entire Christmas. We bought “appropriate” gifts and took too many illegal pictures, but we both said it was the best thing we did that year. (Of course, she also reunited with her ex-BF/future husband on Christmas Eve Mass…) Anyhow, I have always felt compelled to spend time with displaced kids, and it has nothing to do with my religion or my orphan status. It’s just me (and probably hugely contributed to my parents who did foster care when I was a teen).
So, I went to hold babies and braid the hair of little girls and feed everyone kimbap. I watched the babies dance along to a video and play with balloons and my two favorite babies told me everyone’s names and sat on my lap. Only one peed on me. The babies did take me down, literally, before I left, after a giant baby bit me on the ankle and then the mob of babies attacked me for some last-minute lap time. The Baby Bang (room) is still King of the Hill lap war. My Baby Badass always wins =) I can’t explain the sense of melancholy I felt when leaving the babies for the last time. I will never see them grow up. I will never see the smiles of the girls at Grace Jeep (house) when they recognize me and notice that I, yet again, have changed my hair. I won’t fold laundry with the house uhmma again or let her feed me Asian pears on a tiny fork. The last time to say goodbye in Korea has been harder than I thought it would be. And again, I am reminded how fortunate I am to own the life that was gifted to me by happenstance.
I also went back to my very favorite place in Korea: Haeundae Beach. I took a cab, to a train, to the subway and then met my host, Sohee, who is quite pregnant. We had a lovely goodbye lunch and again, I felt so overwhelmed realizing I would never hold her baby, and likely would never see her again. I watched the waves roll gently into the sand and collected a bunch of broken seashell shards. I tanned my legs and dug my toes into the cool sand. I missed my dad. I then took the subway to the lightrail to the bus to Inje campus, where I had a nice kimchi jjigae dinner with Jihye, Eun Hye and Professor Cho. We said “See you later!” but we all knew: it might be goodbye forever. I also will never hold Jihye’s baby, due in December. Strange that my world is so completely divided… that ocean really gets in the way of my relationships.
And my students… in such a short time, it seems so strange that I have become attached to people with whom I was designed to have a transient relationship. They are meant to flow in and then leave my life, and I was placed here to leave theirs. I’m not sure I’ve left any concrete lasting impression upon them, but I know they have taught me so much about the boundaries of my own patience and about how the future can change in dramatic ways. I think I learned Korean culture through Korean students, both at Inje and at Hannam… maybe my perspective is flawed… but I hope this generation of young people choose to change the social climate in Korea. I hope I taught them that they can be empowered to create change, even if it might require more force than their polite manners permit.
Anyhow, no goodbye is complete without a lot of nore at the norebang (singing at the song room = private room karaoke). AND soju. Lots of soju. I’ve decided whenever I land somewhere, I’ll need to create my own norebang in my home. And I’ll need to find Korean students who are required to sing for their elder sister. =P My students will always belong to me, in my memory, and I hope they will not forget me too soon.
Tomorrow, I leave Daejeon for good. I leave this disgusting tiny apartment where I can hear students breaking up and getting drunk and the chicken delivery scooter show up at the same time every night. I’ll leave in this room conversations where I fell in love over the phone, where I listened to my dad’s voicemails over and over, where I learned how to create curriculum via google search.
Maybe, in this room, I leave Ginger in Korea…
Or maybe, she comes home with me… a new Ginger… in a new world… in Meeguk.
I’m back to ROK, and back on ROK time. I was happy to miss all of the Valentine’s Day hoo-ha on both continents, but felt bad because I think Hallmark really needs the business. I’m happy for all of my friends and family members in love – just be in love the other 364 days too. PLUS, some people who shall remain nameless are clearly using V-Day to compensate for things. Let us all just remember that Facebook, mine included, is mostly an advertisement for how we want our lives to look to other people, and not actually real life. #thatisall
So, after ditching me two days in a row, my lovely friend decided the best way to make me happy was to take me to hold babies and then feed me exorbitant amounts of oh-ri gogi. I also ate a turkey sandwich at the train station, which always makes me happy (turkey is hard to come by in ROK). A train ride to the orphanage gave us 50 minutes of time to gossip about boys and all of my shenanigans and her wannabe shenanigans. Except we gossiped for 56 minutes. So, yet another adventure where I miss my train or train stop in Gimcheon. To our credit, the intercom announcement thingie WAS broken.
I was happy to see my favorite babies. OKAY, my favorite BABY. I just love her little badass attitude! She was in tip-top form and was busy being independent, but I convinced her to sit on my lap for two hours. I also taught her how to fold tissue, blow her nose, and once my other fave came back from activity, we all played peek-a-boo, and one of the babies watched and giggled heartily in this extremely endearing way. I love his laugh.
As much as I want to keep Baby Badass, she does have a mother that visits frequently. Her mother’s intentions are to take her home when she remarries to another Korean man (yeah, lady, that seems highly unlikely). I hope that happens. If it doesn’t, I hope her mother will help make Baby Badass legally free for adoption so that she can have an opportunity to be raised somewhere that is not an orphanage. (Note: This story prompted a lengthy intellectual conversation about what the word “orphan” means with some coworkers. The bottom line is that if you LIVE in a fucking institution, whether or not your parents have INTENTIONS is irrelevant. A functional orphan is an orphan, whether or not the technical legal status of the child or the Webster’s Dictionary definition is applicable or appropriate.)
I’ve also eaten lots of jigae and settled into my first office. Before, I had a closet. Now, I have an office. I’m excited that some of my favorite students will be in my classes… and that I have the first week of curriculum done. I am so ready for the first week, I’ve decided to visit Seoul for the next few days and have a mini-Inje reunion with Tommy and Mina =)
With so many changes and so much heartbreak in the Desert, I am ready to invest fully in my life in Korea. Some times, we have to break in order to rebuild.
The days turned into weeks and then October happened. I have no idea how. Everyday feels the same here, and yet, time is moving along steadily. I stay busy, but have become totally routinized… I am remembering now why I liked owning my own business and why living a transient life for the past two years actually seemed pretty cool =) RIGHT until it wasn’t cool anymore… (I don’t want to mention being stuck in the elevator again, but yeah, that’s where the story ends).
It’s hard to express how much I am not enjoying my current city. I’m not being a debbie-downer by acknowledging the truth of the matter (almost added the rules for hearsay right there), which is that I am bored, misplaced, oppressed, and hateful when I think about Daejeon. It’s extremely conservative here at my school, and I am finding myself to be more liberal than I expected to declare myself. On the flip side: my students are amazing, inspiring, thoughtful, and young. I sometimes forget how hard it was to be 20 years old. I also really like my department dean, though I do believe it’s difficult for him to adjust to having me as a staff member. Of course, I’m pretty sure every boss I’ve ever had since the beginning of time, including my parents and Not BF, have said the same exact thing. He is a kind-hearted man who seems to have high ambitions for our department. I also think he is very student-centered, which I appreciate. So, I’m just gonna have to grin-and-bear Daejeon to the best of my ability, which is not always very gracefully or happily.
During Korean Thanksgiving (Chuseok), I ended up having a 6 day weekend, so I decided to visit Gimhae, Busan, and then head to Gimcheon to do an orphanage stay. SO WONDERFUL. I loved seeing old friends and I loved seeing the sun and the beach and feel the cool sea breeze and warm sand. I also loved having a super soft mattress at a little hotel on the beach =) I think what I need to do is commit to visiting Busan more often, as a means of pressing reset and keeping myself focused. I was so much happier to be in Korea after my visit!
The orphanage – I might need an entire additional blog entry to discuss Korean social and child welfare and why it’s an EPIC FAIL, in my meager opinion. Of course, I have yet to find a system which I do not grade an EPIC FAIL, so I think I might do a comparative study of child welfare systems as an academic paper. I’m also interested in Korean adoption law, because it seems they keep changing the rules – with complete arbitrariness. I realize now, that by remaining silent, those of us with relatively “normal” adoption stories have failed current orphans; we allowed a vocal (and disgruntled) minority to change a lot of the laws that helped enable overseas adoptions. I’m not really sure how to turn things back.
What I am sure of: children deserve affection and attention. The kids at the orphanage in Gimcheon were bright, polite (relatively speaking), energetic, creative, and super cutie patooties! The hardest and also BEST, part of the visit was the baby room filled with 12-20 month olds. They were adorable, by far my favorite age group for kids. But, sitting on a lap is a hot commodity. These children are socialized to learn they will not be held, to not EXPECT to be held. They are taught early to self-comfort, to play independently, to be distrustful, and to see adults as incidental. Yup, basically they are taught to foster reactive attachment disorder. BUT, they are also taught that developing those independent-comfort skills means survival. Anyhow, sitting in the baby room means lap war. If a baby is on your lap, expect a line to form. Expect a battle of king-of-the-hill-style “I call shotgun” racing-to-be-held to happen. Expect the child you want to hold to avoid you. If you think about it too much, it will hurt your heart and your brain. These children are generally content and relatively happy, so take heart in knowing they are not pitifully broken. However, I still made an extra effort to hold every single baby at least once or that it doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt to have to put one down so the next baby could have a chance to be hugged.
For Korean Thanksgiving, I felt grateful, thankful, appreciative. I don’t take for granted my life, my good fortune, or the happenstance accident of my birth. I strongly advise, encourage, and demand that people who feel frustrated by their life, or who lack gratitude, should volunteer at their local orphanage (in America it’s called “crisis nursery” or “group home”). I promise, it will change your perspective, and hopefully, someone else’s life =) Happy Chuseok!