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.
It seems hollow to say my life has changed when nothing about my life in Korea has changed. Except, this huge thing has happened: My Dad DIED. And I’ve had to tell the story to far too many strangers. Far too many times. Too much, too soon, too many.
My life in Korea is easy, and if it were only me alone suffering through something, I’d probably stay and pretend that everything else is normal. I can talk workplace politics. I can feed students. I can hold babies on weekends and sleep in late everyday. I can let the routine and calm and nothingness and mundane simplicity of Korea be home. It would be easy, especially since most days, my classroom is just a stage for the Ginger Show anyhow. In Korea, I can pretend to be someone else with a different life. Actually, I just AM someone else with a different life.
But, someday, I’d have to go home. Since Korea has never been, nor was it intended to be, a permanent plan, someday, I would have to be just regular Ginger again. Someday, I’d have to come back to a life I left at home. When I get there, no one will have washed and waxed Henri Le Celica or made sure my tires have air. No one will call to report how many times Wagger-Grace, Border Collie Extraordinaire, has sniffed the interior of the car looking for me. There won’t have been anyone moving around my boxes or repacking things already packed or printing random new articles about Korea. Because, when I get home, whenever that would be, my dad will never be there again. Even if in Korea I can pretend that he MIGHT be…
So, I can delay the inevitable basket drop feeling of resuming a life where I return to being half-orphan, or I go home now. I’ve spent the past few years delaying a lot of realities, but this one isn’t something I can change with an insane delusion or a lot of hope or strategic planning. There is no use in stretching out a grieving process that never ends, only transitions into another kind of thing. At Christmas, my dad and I were talking about our birthdays and his parents, who had died many years ago. He said, still – there were times he thought of things he wanted to tell his parents, or his twin brother, and there were times he thought “I’m gonna call…” only to remember: There was no one to answer. I think that’s how it is already, except I’m still in some sort of half-denial phase.
If I don’t go home to feel my feelings, I probably will just be delusional forever about my grief. I’ll let grief get caught up in the nasty web of Korean culture clash and bad communication. I’ll let grief catch in my throat instead of be released. I’ll let grief capture me and make me freeze to a moment in time and a place in life. I’ll be trapped – in more ways than one.
And since I’m a girl that really really loves her freedom, that is not acceptable. So, as much as going home sounds super not fun at all, and looking for a new career in a new city, in a world without a dad seems extremely unappealing, that’s what I’m doing, because that’s what a girl does when she doesn’t want to belong to grief forever.
So, someday soon (like next week) this blog ends because there won’ be a Ginger and Korea anymore. But stay tuned, Readers… I’m sure to pop up somewhere else.
It’s really easy to take life for granted. Day-to-day living and day-to-day problems, like: baby and child crises, back-stabbing coworkers, annoying ex-boyfriends, current romance rockiness, traffic, bills and debt, educational woes, and long-distance relationships of all varieties – it’s easy to take for granted these things as constants. Except when they are no longer constant.
Today, I take a short break from complaining about the (sometimes imagined or embellished) difficulties I’m facing in Korea, to acknowledge the loss of a high school classmate. Travis Carter was one of the Granite Mountain Hotshots killed in the Yarnell, AZ wildfire this week. Travis was a year younger than me when I attended a tiny boarding school in the Arizona desert where I lived in dirt and went camping twice a year for credit. There is nothing bad to say about Travis because he was one of those people whom no one can think of anything remotely negative to say. This is not just because he is deceased (which seems often to be the case when a person dies so tragically), but because he was a sincere, genuine guy who was affable and kind. This is, of course, from the far reaches of my non-law-school-damaged brain. I barely knew this person (then or now), so I can only comment that I remember him as sweet boy at 14.
But here’s the thing I must comment on…. this unique sense of grief that people share when they are even tangentially touched by tragedy. My Facebook feed, email accounts, and texts have been flooded with old pictures and comments, and group get-togethers, and random memory posts (like this one) from people from high school that I haven’t seen since we were pimply-faced and awkward (and awkwardly riding horses or awkwardly camping in dirt or awkwardly kissing our first loves – or awkwardly kissing our first loves on an awkward horse during an awkward camping trip). ANYHOW: These people do remember Travis as more than a fuzzy memory; they not only remember, but they know Travis as a roommate, a teammate, a confidante, a friend, a husband, a father, a son. Their memories and their loss reverberates to those of us who can only respond with vague ideas of what and who will forever be missing.
Those of us who didn’t know Travis, or any of the other 18 men who perished, as personally as we would have liked – we still grieve for the small fragments of memory we possess about these people. We grieve, because the loss reminds us of the fragility of our mortality, of the mortality of our loved ones. We grieve in the knowledge that one day can change your life – or end it. And it isn’t the same kind of grief that is being suffered by widows who lost their lovers, or children who lost their fathers, and companions who lost their best friends. But it is grief we share.
Those of us on the fringes can only say that we know we share your grief shallowly – the impact of your loss is only a vibration to us. But, what we share with you is sincere and genuine. We care that the world has lost a guy no one can say anything bad about – even during a pimply and awkward time. There are no words that will give enough comfort or solace, but hopefully, the knowledge that strangers are thinking of these families, of the memories of people we knew long ago (or not so long ago) helps – somehow.
At least, that is what we hope.
For more information on a memorial fund created for Travis Carter’s survivors, please see: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Travis-Krista-Children-Carter-Family-Memorial-Fund
It seems impossible that I have now lived in Korea for a year (well, with those two long vacations back to The Desert). But it isn’t impossible; it’s reality – MY reality.
I remember with vivid clarity the anticipation of what it would be like to move to Korea – having so many expectations and also having none at all. I’m not sure what I wanted at that time, except I know I needed life to be simpler. I seem to complicate simplicity so easily, but I’d spent years jumping from one beautiful, albeit sinking, ship to the next, hoping that one would sail me to the Next Best Thing Ever. When I left America a year ago, mostly what I needed was a place and some time to stop jumping altogether.
When I came to Korea, I did not come alone. All of the people who encouraged me, supported me, guilted me, threatened to expose me as a whiny baby, loved me, laughed at me, and who stared at me incredulously (Not BF) and then told people, “she’s not really moving to Korea, don’t listen to her…” – these people, my friends, family, loves, and Wagger-Grace, Border Collie Extraordinaire, all came with me to Korea – some in spirit and some in my inbox (and some – Wagger – came by leaving about 2 pounds of Border Collie Extraordinaire fur on all of my belongings). But mostly, the people that love me came with me by creating the version of me who got on that plane, who knew nothing terrible could really happen, and that whatever happened next was entirely in my control. Thank you – I don’t think I was strong enough a year ago to know I could change my life.
When I came to Korea, I also did not find myself alone. I may have left my family, my LSA family, and my urban family behind, but I landed into the nest of an Adoptee Family. I cannot express how much I still think of these people everyday. I will never forget walking up and down the rows on that Korean Air flight asking each passenger if they were Jenny (I found her eventually). I’m not sure how we all were able to find connections betwixt and between, but I feel like my Adoptee Family from Inje are permanently imprinted as part of me… of part of who makes me who I am NOW. I still incredibly miss Family Dinners. Nothing will ever be as good as Family Dinner…. As I begin to have mini-reunions with my Adoptee Family, I realize there is something there that lets us pick up from a good place… a familiar place.
Maybe too familiar. I recently saw Tommy in Gangnam and as I was on the escalator into the subway, he was on the escalator coming up. TOMMY: “Oh, hey.” ME: “Oh, hey. Did you see Mina?” TOMMY: “I assume she’s at the top.” ME: “OK. See you up there.” So much for an emotional reunion filled with excitement. The rest of the night we laughed and caught up and drank wine and it felt like eight months had not elapsed since our last dinner. Except, I was tanner and Tommy has better hair. 😉 So, I was glad to start my second year in Korea, with someone from my Adoptee Family, and with CJ, part of my new KUF (Korean Urban Family) to celebrate her birthday (I’m not exactly sure how old she is in Korean age, so I will just assume she’s my age – 29).
Things in the Desert are changing with rapid pace. Things in my old life are falling away, dust is settling. I realize now that I spent a lot of time holding my breath, afraid that the air from my lungs would disturb something I loved: predictability. I stayed the same so that I could stay frozen to a moment in a time – but moments are fleeting, so instead, my life became a recycled version of former moments. I was restless. I was static. But I knew exactly what to expect.
Maybe now, I can’t predict the future, or even tomorrow, but… I think… maybe I’m not supposed to know everything that happens next.
1. Makes it impossible for me to remember to blog. I think it’s my job… I’m at the computer so much, I want to be away from typing most days.
2. Still a racist effing place. Can’t BELIEVE the level of institutionalized racism that exists here, the lack of understanding about what it REALLY means to be multicultural. However, I see in my students the hope of coming change… they are trying to learn, see the value in difference, and realize the world extends past the peninsula… Not sure I can always say the same thing about Americans who are pretty confident the USA is the center of the universe….Progress, still like watching your hair grow – it takes time to see the improvement.
3. Korean Tour Guides. I’m not sure exactly how these women get their jobs, because their English jokes are really uncomfortable, but a Korean student has now told me that these tours are NOT the same types of guided tours that native Koreans take, that the quality is low for foreigners. Sad. TT-TT
4. Jindo Gae (Gae = Dog). I WANT ONE. I almost brought one home, but my apartment is just too small, and Wagger-Grace promised she would never die if I never got a different puppy while she was alive. Sigh. I WANT ONE, but instead made a lengthy fact-pattern about Jindo Gaes which is making most of my students cringe.
5. Politics are everywhere. I’m beginning to realize I am not cut out for academia. The type of politics is the same here as at my other academic jobs, and I’m just no good at this game. I’m not making any vast proclamations, just noting that there are reasons why I decided to work for myself… maybe I’m just not good at working on a team or playing nice with others, or answering to any boss anywhere ever. That’s reasonable, right?
6. Mosquitoes are no joke. It’s 30 degrees at nighttime. WHY ARE MOSQUITOES BITING ME, BUZZING NEAR MY EAR, or … ALIVE????? Really? WHY?
7. Soup is delicious. Koreans think it’s boring, but I could eat the many common varieties of Korean soups everyday and be completely happy this winter. For awhile I thought I could live off soondooboo jigae. Then, I realized I could not. Then, the next day, I realized there are about five million trillion different cheap semi-homemade soups in Korea, and I could just try those. =)
8. My Korean eyesight. Just found out my eyeglasses prescription is SUPER wrong, like almost a full diopter in one eye, and a half diopter in the other. Since it’s highly unusual for your eyesight to improve before the age of 40, AND it only improves through retraining the eye to avoid bad eye habits, this means I’ve basically just been wearing the wrong prescription for… I think FIFTEEN YEARS. WTF? Also, my eye test was FREE in Korea. America – you might be on my s%^tlist. I can buy TWO pairs of glasses without insurance for LESS than one pair WITH insurance in the States. AND the frames will probably stay on my nose!
9. Fishing, Fish, and Seashells. I’m learning to re-like the taste of fish, since it is inevitable that you must eat it. I’m not sure how people with shellfish allergies survive in Korea, because it’s in the broth, in the sauce, in the stock, in the side dishes. So last weekend, I ended up going to this tiny fishing village, and catching mudfish with a bamboo fishing pole, and digging for clams, and doing a bunch of stuff that regular Ginger would hate. But, since I’m here, I just have to do it – everything and try to find the fun… so the rest of the Korea experience doesn’t swallow me whole.
10. Friends. My friend Erica and her son recently moved to Seoul, Pia came to visit, and I went to visit Gimhae. It was so great to see familiar faces, and be greeted by people who are already invested, interested, and understanding about my own idiosyncrasies Over and over, “Korea-style” takes its toll… it’s why I KNOW I will never be a lifer here. I HATE “Korea-style;” people say “embrace the culture!” but, there are some things that I have made an informed decision NOT to embrace (like most things having to do with male-female hierarchy, workplace (non)strategic planning, child/social welfare perspectives, and race-relations. You know, the stuff I basically built MOST of my career/life around up until I moved to Korea?) But, anyhow, I need to focus on reaching out to my own people, having them here makes it easier for me to be a better version of myself – my authentic self – whatever that means to me… in this current, Korean incarnation… TO BE CONTINUED.
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!
I’m safe, sound, and a day ahead in Daejeon! (Hm… that sounds familiar).
My leaving wasn’t the grand Farewell Tour as it was in February (mostly because this was just a visit home) but I still managed to see some important friends, my family, my doggie, and a bunch of now unimportant people (that is another saga for another blog title altogether). I appreciate all the small kindnesses people have shown me during this summer, this past year really, and the unconditional support of those in my life. I find it amazing that people will reach in for you and I promise that I will start reaching back more and more, even if it is from a farther distance.
Also – I’ve decided it’s worth the $200 to fly KoreanAir. There was nothing wrong with Asiana, but the food, service, and 3 extra inches that KoreanAir provides REALLY makes a difference on a 11 hour flight. Plus, the movie selection was better on Korean; I actually watched only one movie on the flight this time, which made time go R E A L L Y S L O W. (BTW: Please watch “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” it was a great film!). I also started and finished “The Lover’s Dictionary” by David Levithan – HIGHLY RECOMMEND to anyone wanting an innovative, non-linear, modern-romance-end-of-the-affair fast read. I love the writing style.
Once I got to Daejeon, I had trouble finding my ride, but managed to ask a taekshi (taxi) driver if I could use his han-ponuh (hand phone = cell). One of the other foreign professors was able to find me in front of a police station and drive me back to our apartment building, called the “Global House” I think because it houses international faculty and some grad students. So far, I’ve managed to lock myself out twice in the rain by forgetting my little key card thingie that buzzes me in through the front door. I think I became spoiled at Inje that I never needed a key. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the door to my apartment uses only a keycode and no key/card. I’m sure to lock myself out again and I’ll have to figure out alternative ways to get into the building and/or find a way to put that key card thingie on a key chain.
My ah-pah-teu (apartment) is about twice the size of my Inje Dey dormitory. It hosts a twin size bed (NOT a bunkbed!… great, now I AM playing Death Cab for Cutie) a full wall window, a teeny kitchen, a desk, wardrobe, and wet room (the entire bathroom is tiled as a shower and there is a huge drain behind the sink. At least it’s a western style toilet – I am already not happy about the number of squatters I’ve had to use!) It feels like a dorm room still, but mostly because I need to acquire some homey stuff, like a chair and a small table, or maybe a teeny cafe table. We’ll see what I can pick up/find soon =)
I haven’t done much exploring yet, mostly because it’s been raining a lot, but I walked around the neighborhood yesterday and found the essentials: Paris Baguette, Etude House, InnisFree, Isaac Toast, a Daiso (dollar store), and about five 7-Elevens. This means if I never find anything else in Korea, I could probably survive just fine… As long as I remember that key card thingie to get back into my house….