Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Recap - One Year Later

It has been nearly a year since my last blog post and the great journey that literally took me "home." This blog was meant to be my own personal diary to remember and reflect upon my trip- but it turned into so much more. Thank you to all for accompanying me on my journey, staying tuned, sending encouragement, making comments, and adding your thoughts each time I wrote a post. I am truly grateful that I could share this with all of you- and also that I didn't have to repeat all of it once I got back!

Adoption is not always something that people talk about often or openly, so I'm glad my journey and this blog have opened up the conversation and made it so organic. I am still surprised and humbled every time someone comes up to me - a friend of a friend, a distant relative, a long ago acquaintance - and tells me how my story affected them, or their thoughts on adoption, or that they even read my blog. I have been so happy that it has touched so many people. Thank you again.

There were a few things I had wanted to write about a year or so ago and never got around to writing, that I will try to remember and piece together now. But in the meantime, I will answer the age old question that is still everyone's first curiousity, "Are you still in touch with them?!"

The answer is yes. Kind of. In as much capability as you can be with two people half a world away, who don't speak your language, are not in a relationship anymore, and haven't shared your life's existence with anyone in their own families. So, does that count? I don't know. My father and I still send each other messages via KakaoTalk, but mine mainly consist of photos of the children, and his consist of words that I try to piece together (unsuccessfully) on Google Translate and a bunch of emoticon hearts. They were frequent and daily in the beginning, but these days I have to remember to send a few pictures every few weeks. He always writes back.

My mother and I have not spoken since I left, but I did send her a letter via my translator and a care package a month or two ago. I'm pretty sure she received them but I have not heard from her. I have however called her sister who, as it turns out, lives in Belgium (not France). Today! Of all days. No reason for today except that Tom kept prodding me to call her and finally bought some Skype credit last night and gave me an hour of time to make the call today so I did it. I think she was pretty surprised, although she did know the whole story and told me that my mother had called her to tell her everything and they had looked at my Facebook page together. She said that my mother was doing fine, although after we met she was "very unhappy and cried a lot." She told me that I should not think she is a bad person- and I told her I definitely did not. It is sad that that is what they are still so concerned about and want you to immediately understand; it's still about saving face in Korea.

Which leads me to some of the things I had wanted to say last year and am still processing now. My views on (Korean) adoption have definitely changed since I visited. I was raised to believe that if I had stayed in Korea, I would have lived a very poor and destitute life. I'm not blaming this perspective on my parents, but I do think that was what they were told and probably still believe (my mother still thinks Korea is a third world country. Mom, if you're reading this, it's not. It's really not.). Everyone believed that. It's an American perspective- that through adoption we are "saving" poor children (especially back in the 80s when Korean adoption was so common). That these children had no future and no families and no chance at life. I'm not saying that that story is not true for many unfortunate children but what I have learned since visiting Korea is that there is much, much more to it than that. Every child's story is different, and every adoptee has a different experience. For me, my parents were simply not married and it would not have been socially acceptable for them to keep me. They have both since separately raised two children of their own who seemingly have completely normal lives. Their children work in hospitals, schools, are married, have children. They are not poor. They are not beggars. But they were born to parents who were married (at least at the time). That's our only difference, and what decided my fate from theirs. I think that's my biggest takeaway from all of this. Yes, my life would have been drastically different than it has turned out to be (and I wouldn't change it for the world) but it would not have been a life in the slums. When it comes to Korean adoption, I believe that there should be more support and focus on the single mother and Korea's issues with stigmas and saving face, and NOT just "saving the children."

When I returned last year, I wanted to write about where I envisioned my place with my birth parents today, my feelings toward the other participants, my sister, and the GOAL staff. Since I never got around to writing that post I can only briefly comment today about where we all are now, and how I am still so grateful for this journey I was able to make, thanks mainly to all of the hard work of the people from GOAL. A few of the adoptees have already returned for a "second trip home." A few have decided to move to Korea and teach English. A few have put the trip behind them. Most I have not kept in touch with, unfortunately. I have been too involved with my busy boys and sweet baby girl to think of much else. But I would love to go back sometime in the next five years with my family- hopefully to meet more family, and also to really enjoy the country and its food and customs and scenery.

When I first returned home, I wrote down a few words describing how I felt then: tired, curious, disoriented, frustrated, annoyed, grateful. Luckily, all of the negative feelings have subsided (although I will say I am still pretty tired these days, with three little children!).  I was also determined to learn Korean in some way or another- through classes, a private tutor, Rosetta Stone. I was never able to begin that; I couldn't find any local classes or a tutor, I knew I would never have the time or motivation to use Rosetta Stone even if I bought it, so that intention has diminished. But recently I've made contact with a local Korean church and have been renewing my interest in participating in their language and culture classes with my oldest son Tommy, who will be 5 next month. I think it would be really special to do that together. We will see.

I hope to keep this blog alive, in some way, albeit sporadically. In the future, I plan to update whenever I see fit. Maybe I will have some familial breakthrough, maybe I will go back to Korea, or maybe something else will happen. Who knows. I know I want to give back in some way, and my husband and I have been brainstorming a few different ideas, so keep an ear out for that. These days I'm taking each day on its own. I am loving my life with Lila and my boys. I am so grateful for this life I have and will be forever grateful that I had the opportunity to go back and discover the truths to my past. Now I have the end to my story that began once upon a time in spring. I may not be a princess or have a glamorous past, but at least I know my true beginnings.

Thank you,

If you have enjoyed reading my blog, please consider donating to GOAL so they can continue to help others pursue their own journey. First Trip Home 2014 begins at the end of this month, and GOAL volunteers are paid solely from member dues and donor contributions.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Until We Meet Again

My last morning in Korea was a blur- I got up early and left around 7:30 for the airport. I didn't have time for a proper breakfast, but I had one of the apples my father had picked from his farm before I left. We had two volunteers take us on the subway, which was really helpful. I was so grateful that they helped navigate us through the airport, assisted with my bags, and most of all, provided translation services for me. A few cool things I saw at the airport:

These people strolled in with a crew of security and paparazzi so I took a quick pic. Later I found out she is a famous actress in Korea, Lee Youngae, who starred in 대장금 Daejanggeum - a very popular drama in Korea and Asia.

Little did I know, my birth father had also come to the airport to see me off. This was definitely not planned or communicated beforehand- I wouldn't have even known he was there, except when I was returning my rented Korean cell phone, I showed one of the girls a text message that had come through and she said, "Your father's here!" 

I spent the next thirty minutes in a mad rush to return the phone and exchange currency, all while looking for my birth father. Finally we connected, with about 5 minutes to spare before I had to get through customs and board. It was really nice to see him one last time, and I even managed to refrain from crying. He was worried about me traveling alone, but we were able to have a good quick conversation before I left. One of the volunteers even told him about the apple I had, and he seemed pleased. After we said our goodbyes, I was determined not to look back as I went through customs, but I did. He was still standing there, watching me go. His was the last face I saw before leaving Korea. Then the tears came.

I would have dressed a little nicer if I had known he was coming!

Since I've been back, we have kept in touch through a messaging system called KakaoTalk. He doesn't know any English and I don't know any Korean, so it makes for some really interesting Google translations. But, I'm really happy to have a way to contact him, and I've gotten more information about his family, including pictures, than I had before.

My half-sister Mimi, the fencing instructor. I think she's beautiful.

His family. I love their matching Hanboks!

He is so sweet over text messages and KakaoTalk. It is nice to see this side to him, as Koreans aren't naturally very expressive in person and he didn't show his emotions too openly when I first saw him. I probably wouldn't have known how he felt about me if we didn't have this means of communication, so I am really grateful for it. He is constantly telling me that he misses me, and loves me. 

Translated texts

What the texts actually look like- and why I need to learn Korean. He loves emoticons :)

We usually text at least once a day, which is nice and something to look forward to each day. But I do worry that his family may find out about me if he isn't careful. I don't know if he has told them yet or if he will ever tell them, but I worry nonetheless.

Since I've been back, I've also been able to share more of my life with him. Like my son's 4th Birthday party- which, in fitting with the theme of this month, was held at a Korean taekwondo studio this past Sunday.

Before the party

Both boys

With all his friends

Cutting his cake

Breaking a board

So proud, with his instructor Master Yi

I have not had any contact with my birth mother since returning. This is solely because of the language and communication barriers- she does not have KakaoTalk or email- and calling is futile. Eventually I will write her a decent letter, but I just haven't had the time or energy to do that yet. I need to contact her sister in France that speaks English, but haven't been able to do that yet either. And I'm definitely looking into taking a Korean class at a local community college, or at least buying Rosetta Stone. The language issue makes things so hard, but it's not something that can't be overcome.

My next post will be some closing thoughts on all of my time in Korea, the program, and how it's been since getting back home. I plan on updating the blog at least once a month after that, to keep track of any changes or major updates, and show the progress of the relationships I may or may not build after this experience. I will also post links to any media coverage, once I get them, like the Korean TV show I was on.

They liked to focus on my belly

Again, thanks for reading and following along. It means a lot to me that so many have been interested in my journey and my story. ♥♥♥♥

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Last Days in Seoul

This post has been a few days in the making. As I said before, even if you don't hear from me for awhile, it doesn't mean the blog is "dead." I simply needed some time with my family to catch up and more time to myself to rest. I do, however, intend to finish telling the rest of my time in Korea as well as closing thoughts, and plan on continuing the blog whenever I see fit in the future. Who knows, I may return to Korea and pickup where I left off. The end to my trip is only the end of the beginning of my journey. So here goes...

We had some much needed free time the last few days in Seoul. After a pretty emotional three days, I was ready to unwind and explore the city. Some of the staff gave me a few recommendations on places not to miss so I added all of them to my Korean bucket list and off we went.

On Wednesday evening, my sister and I set out to see the Banpo Bridge. It's not something that most tour books recommend (or even mention) but it sounded neat and I needed something relaxing. We headed on the subway and got to the right stop; when we got out we stopped in Shinsegae for a quick dinner. I wasn't too hungry so just opted for dumplings and a popsicle. 

Yes, those are tomato popsicles on the top row

Cute desserts

After walking a bit, we found the bridge. It's the longest bridge fountain in the world, and moves with lights to music being played.

Not long after we got there, the music came on, and it was my wedding song (Lucky, by Jason Mraz). It felt magical, and so fitting. Great end to the day.

Lucky I'm in love with my best friend
Lucky to have been where we have been
Lucky to be coming home again

The next morning, we had a cooking class at the Institute of Royal Cuisine. I had really been looking forward to it. It was tucked away in a really neat neighborhood full of traditional style homes.

Entryway to the Institute

Team 1: Mike, Anders, Me, Constance & Trina (not pictured)

The class revolved around the food from the Royal Banquet from Han Bok-rye, the Title Holder of the Royal Cuisine of the Joseon Dynasty. The royal cuisine indicated social status and dignity of those who were served. It's the essence of Korean traditional food, that's eco-friendly healthy food and contains the best culinary culture of the day. Royal cuisine was the peak of Korean culinary culture, expressing traditional aesthetic consciousness through food.

We started out watching a quick slideshow about the history of it all and then watched the instructor do her thing. It was a little simplified since she had two sous chefs and most items were pre-prepared but we got the general gist of everything.

On the menu was bulgogi, japchae and fried tofu. I was a little disappointed because I already make bulgogi and japchae on a pretty regular basis, but it was good to learn how to make the tofu and a few sauces that I hadn't tried before. Our group, though self proclaimed as "number 1" did manage to mess up the bulgogi a little bit (eh hem...Anders ;)), but everything still tasted great. Probably also because we were all starving by the time we ate. Afterwards we were given a drink that was supposed to stimulate all five senses of taste (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, spicy) that was pretty interesting.

We finished up and went outside for some pictures. 

The owner came by to greet us and gave a sweet speech about sharing our Korean culture through food with our friends and family back home. I ended up walking back out of the neighborhood with a few other group members to head to Insadong, a touristy shopping area by the palace.

We spent some time shopping for gifts and other interesting treats. One of the cooler things we saw were these ice cream "cones" - I swear they would make a killing in the US at festivals, amusement parks, malls, etc. Franchise anyone?

Trina couldn't resist

We walked around a bit more then headed to the palace.

Passed a Korean photography studio; modesty apparently does not apply to babies here

Gyeongbokgung(경복궁), also known as Gyeongbokgung Palace or Gyeongbok Palace -- is a royal palace located in northern Seoul. First constructed in 1395, later burned and abandoned for almost three centuries, and then reconstructed in 1867, it was the main and largest palace of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty. Fitting that we had our cooking class earlier in the day. Here are just a few of the many pictures I took.

Approaching the entrance

Standing guard

That night, a few people went to a pizza place close to our hotel for dinner. They came back saying it was "the best pizza they'd ever eaten" so naturally I had to try it. Unfortunately my expectations were set a little too high (I was comparing this to the likes of Mack & Mancos and actual pizza from Italy) so it did not quite live up to the hype, but it was still pretty good. Again, we were starving so that helped.

Bulgogi pizza; all pizzas had black sesame seeds in the crust

My "summer salad" pizza- literally had a salad on top of it.

We ended the night with an interesting panel of speakers from other adoptees who were living in Korea and were in the process of searching for or had found their biological families. I find all of this so interesting; everyone's stories, views, and opinions are completely different.

My last full day in Seoul was a bit underwhelming. It was raining, so that really dampered our plans- I had also been trying to meet up with a friend who was also visiting Korea at the same time but it was difficult due to my crazy schedule and communication issues. Anyway, I decided to head to Coex, which is supposedly the largest underground shopping mall in Asia. It's located in Gangnam- yes, the place from the popular song- that was unfortunately about an hours' cab ride away from our hotel. 

When we got there, we realized a lot of it was under construction, so I literally got back in a cab and headed to Namsan/Seoul Tower- where I had really wanted to go that day anyway. Luckily, the rain had stopped by then, and the moment I got out of the cab, my sister and some other participants had arrived.

The Tower is located on Namsan Mountain, the highest point in Seoul. From there, you can see the whole city, stretching out from all points. First you take a cable car to the base of the tower, then pay an additional fee to ride a cheesy, space themed elevator to the top of it. But it's all worth it for the views.

Departing on the cable car

Riding up

At the base

The Tower


Neighbors to the North 

Ready to go home

When we came down, there were a few performers and people dressed in traditional clothing for pictures.

I was embarrassed to take this picture

Haechi is Seoul's symbol, an imaginary creature that helps realize justice and enhance safety and happiness 

More love letters & locks- this practice (as seen in Busan) actually originated here

Heading back down on the cable car. I had wanted to walk, but since it was raining and we were short on time, we did the round trip option.

We actually had to get back to the hotel by 4 to meet up with everyone to go to a cultural performance. We had no idea what it was going to be, so it was quite a surprise - the show was called Nanta (aka Cookin'). The best way I can describe it is that it was a non-verbal cooking/magic/comedy performance incorporating samul nori rhythm. This sounds a bit weird but in Korea it all made sense. And the audience loved it. I actually got in trouble for taking these pictures, and they don't do the show justice at all.

After the show, we went back to change and then headed to our closing dinner. We had come full-circle back to the cooking studio owned by one of the GOA'L staff members (where we had orientation the first day), who actually prepared an 18-course feast for us. It was really special. They had made a ton of Korean dishes and named each for one of us, with an explanation of our "food personality."

Hoya, the master chef & studio owner

My dish: Oiseon is a Korean royal cuisine appetizer, consisting of cucumbers stuffed with beef strips and fried egg yolk and served with a sweet vinegar sauce. "Similar to the ingredients inside the cucumber, Lauren also has a beautiful baby inside of her belly. She has a fresh personality like cucumbers and is sweet just like the sauce. But Lauren is also a strong and straightforward person like vinegar.

It was a little enlightening reading that description of myself. I didn't realize I came across so "straightforward" but was told that on more than one occasion this trip. I think it was my "no bullshit, I'm pregnant" attitude that I took for the most part, but I'll take it as a compliment. :)

My sister's dish: Ggul-dduk is a Korean dessert made of round rice cakes that are brightly colored and stuffed with a sweet Korean syrup. When eating it, you should put the entire rice cake in your mouth before chewing or else it will burst everywhere. "This food reminds us of Constance because she is spontaneous, candid and colorful. The sweet taste of this dessert also reminds us of her sweet and reflective personality." So fitting. Especially the bursting part.

The night was bittersweet. All of the hard work that GOA'L put into the whole program culminated with that dinner, and we were all sad our time with them was ending. We were given special gifts of stamps with our Korean and English names on them. If you ever need to do official business in Korea, you would use that stamp as a signature. At that point in time, I was super tired and a little overwhelmed with knowing I still had to pack, so being the unfun pregnant person I am, I bowed out early to go back. I heard that the night went on and there was more karaoke and fun to be had- on my next trip I hope to partake a little more in the Korean nightlife. But for now, it was time for me to prepare for my return home.