I know this post has been long overdue but I’ve finally gathered the pictures, videos and collected my thoughts enough to put it all together. So, here it goes! Back in July we were blessed to have our friend Eunju visiting Seoul for her summer vacation and knowing we were planning on visiting my grandma and grandpa, she volunteered to translate. Andrea and I first met Eunju at NAU (Northern Arizona University) where she was an exchange student from Seoul and also our volunteer Korean teacher at the Korean language class Andrea and I attended. After many dinner parties, kimchi making parties, and tutoring sessions, Eunju became a close friend.
While we had met with Eunju and some other friends a few days after she arrived, we wanted to see her again so we decided on a church date. Andrea, Eunju, (our other friend) Josh, and I went to church and then decided to have coffee afterwards. I knew mom had given Eunju some adoption paperwork for me and my grandparents’ address but I didn’t have a clue that she had given her their phone number, too. To my surprise, a few seconds after we finished our drinks Eunju was on the phone calling my grandparents house. After a few minutes on the phone with my grandfather, Eunju wrote down another phone number and the next thing I know, we’re talking to my uncle who apparently is going to drive us all the way to Jyechon. Working around grandfathers golf schedule we planned our trip.
My uncle wanted to see us before our trip, so we set up a time to have dinner and meet his family. Apparently my uncle and his girlfriend at the time, now wife, played with me at my grandparents house when I was little. Unfortunately I didn’t have the camera but we had a great dinner and it was wonderful meeting his two daughters and wife. We had dinner at one of his favorite restaurants, he has a tab and pays once a month but the kicker is how well he gets along with the owner/manager calling her his second wife! We’ve since gone back to the restaurant with my uncle and took pics of some of the spread.
About a week after the dinner with my uncle was our date to go to Jyechon. After a subway ride and breakfast of kimbab, Eunju, Andrea and I found ourselves in my uncle’s car on our way to my past. I spent most of the first half of the car ride just looking outside to see if I could recognize anything. Just before the halfway point we saw some corn venders on the side of the road and since I hadn’t tried them, we got some to try. Can’t say they hold a flame to what I’m used to back home but they were okay, just not as sweet. At the halfway point we stopped at the most elaborate rest stop I’ve ever seen. On one end it had an outdoor baseball hitting cage capped by an outdoor golf range. Sandwiched between them were a few restaurants, convenience store, arcade games and restrooms. Of course I took interest in the basketball arcade game and played a round with my uncle. Needless to say, age overcame youth as I lost to him!
The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful until we came to a gas station which was owned by my grandfather. I was holding up pretty well up to that point, but after that, I started getting a little nervous. Like, had too much coffee nervous. Throughout the trip there, my grandfather must have called three times to get an update on where we were. My uncle was showing us around Jyechon before going to meet the grandparents so I got to see the building where my mom works and the building where she currently lives. It was strange to think that only a couple hundred feet separated me at that moment from the woman I first called ‘mom.’ Also I got to see a lake I played in as a child. Other than the lake, everything else was unfamiliar and more developed than I remembered.
As we were only a few minutes out from their house my grandfather couldn’t stand waiting inside so he was going to be waiting outside the gate with my grandmother. Driving up to the front gate, I didn’t recognize the area or the gate but later I found out that it had been repainted after I was gone. I think my foot was out of the car before it stopped completely. I gave my grandfather a big hug and struggled to remember the Korean name for grandfather. To my amazement, it just kind of fell out. “Haraboji!” It took me a minute to recognize my grandmother, but I think the biggest difference was her hair color! The last time I had seen her during her visit to Orcas Island, it was jet black. Regardless, I gave her an enveloping hug and then helped her into the courtyard. We sat outside for a few minutes taking pictures of the house and of the whole gang.
As it usually happens, I remember everything being much much bigger in my memories of the house. I do have to say that the floor plan was just as I had remembered it though. We decided to head inside as it was overcast and threatening to rain. After we got my grandma settled, my uncle reminded me how to do the formal bow and then I had my turn. The motions came pretty naturally for me. Andrea, with Eunju as a guide, had her turn as well. While we were waiting for lunch to be served, I got to ask a lot of the questions I’ve had about how I ended up in their care and how my mom found her way there as well. Just a few things I didn’t know or didn’t remember correctly was 1) that my mom and dad met when my mom went to get x-rays and my dad was the x-ray technician that helped her, 2)my dad didn’t die of heart problems as I previously thought, but died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.
We learned that my dad was imprisoned for embezzling funds from his work, which was why my mother was raising me by herself. My grandma met my mom when she was working in a ministry to help provide support for single mothers. For some reason, my grandma and grandpa decided to take my mom and me into their home and support us like their own biological family. My grandma took care of me while my mom was at school and work. Grandma said I was like her own child, since she had no children of her own, except three older stepchildren from grandpa’s previous marriage.
After chatting for a bit, we helped my grandma up and she motioned to have my uncle help her with something from her room. A minute later, he comes out with a fold-able presentation board. When he unfolds it , there are pictures of me in korea and pictures of me that my mom sent from Orcas. On the other side, there is beautiful calligraphy covering the entire length of the board. My grandma explains how she made this in remembrance of me about the the day I left Korea. I learned that she loved poetry and calligraphy. It amazes me that she composed the poem and did the calligraphy herself. Eunju translated the poem for us.
After a few tears, none from me surprisingly, lunch was served. I think I was too hungry to take any pictures, but I should have. It was a beautiful spread, and apparently all organic. My grandpa had some business to take care of, taxes if I remember right. He reassured us that we’d see him before we left. After lunch, we lounged for a bit and watched it drizzle outside.
I had mentioned how much I had enjoyed one of the side dishes at lunch and so my grandma had the kitchen helper pack me up some to-go and also sent her to get me some fresh gim(roasted seaplant) as she remembered how I used to love it so much! In fact, she told us how I would hoard it at meal times when I was little . My grandma seemed a little tired, and so we made our goodbyes with promises to come back.
We took a short drive to my grandpa’s office where we had some juice and coffee. He shared some albums of golf vacations he had been on and we talked about how happy he was to see us. He told us that he was in contact with my mom and how he was working on convincing her to see me sooner rather than later.
After our visit, I learned that my grandma asked my mom if she could give me a box of my belongings that my mom kept from before I was adopted. My mom said that she wanted to give it to me herself when we met in the future…I didn’t get to meet my mom this time around, but I know I will someday. My mom remarried after I was adopted and has some stepchildren and a daughter who is my half-sister. I am a huge secret; none of her children know about me. We learned that my mom wants some more time before she reveals my existence to them.
We shared some heartwarming stories of me as a little boy, and how I liked to take care of everyone. It was late afternoon and grandpa didn’t want us to be driving in the dark back to Seoul, so we said our goodbyes and headed back on the road to Seoul.
We stopped at the same rest stop on our way back to stretch our legs. I think the real reason we stopped was because my uncle wanted to hit some baseballs in the batting cage. It’s been at least 20 years since my last baseball experience, and that was t-ball. We had a lot of fun and Andrea even got in on the action. Back on the road, my uncle’s cell phone rings and he rolls his eyes because it’s my grandpa calling yet again to make sure we’re doing well.
He orders my uncle to take us out to dinner when we’re in Seoul so we don’t go home hungry. At this point we’re still stuffed from lunch but we can’t refuse. I’m glad we didn’t. We ended up at a traditional Korean themed restaurant decked out with a waterfall and displays of old Korean folk villages. The food was delicious and somehow we waddled our way back to the car. We said our goodbyes at the subway station and made plans to have dinner soon.
We can’t thank our friend Eunju enough. Luckily, she’ll be back for winter break at the end of December and I can’t think of a better Christmas present than another visit to Jyechon.