I don’t know if this is true of all adoptees, but growing up I never let myself truly believe that I would get to meet my Korean mom again someday. Not only did I not want to be disappointed if it didn’t happen, but during quiet times, it was more fun imagining what my Korean family was like, and what they looked like. Even as I got older and had the wonderful opportunity to meet my grandma on Orcas and in Vancouver, I still didn’t entertain the hope of ever meeting my mom. For those of you who don’t know the back story, I was born in Korea and given up for adoption when I was 6 years old. The child of a single mom, I did not fit into the context of Korean society at the time. My mom and I lived with my grandparents who are not blood-related, but out of the kindness of their heart, took us into their home and took care of us as their own.
About a month ago, Andrea and I, with our friend Eunju, made plans to visit my grandparents again as we thought our time in Korea was coming to a close. We wanted to see them at least one more time. Unfortunately, because of scheduling conflicts (Andrea and I had signed up and paid for an ice fishing trip) we decided that we had to go during the week but without the guarantee that Andrea would be able to make the trip since she had winter camp at school. Armed with the knowledge that I might be going alone with Eunju, we continued with our normal week. By the end of the week, one phone call would change everything. I don’t remember the exact day, but we got a phone call from Eunju late one night and she started saying ‘dont be…’ and before she could say ‘surprised’, I had a feeling I was going to be able to see my mom. Grinning ear to ear, I jumped downstairs and told Andrea the news but quickly sobered myself with the thought of how crushed I would be if it didn’t happen.
It took a few tries, but we managed to wrinkle out all of our scheduling conflicts and we decided on Saturday, January 7th. My grandparents wanted to make sure Andrea could make it. Of course, that was the same time as our fishing trip. Although I was really looking forward to this trip, as we planned on going with our friends and also that fishing in Korea was something that I had put on our bucketlist of things to do here, it was a no-brainer to cancel. Even knowing that we were going to meet my mom in a week, old habits die hard, and I still held on to the possibility and probability that it wasn’t going to happen.
My uncle picked us up at our usual spot and we made our routine rest stop half way to Jecheon. I can’t remember what I was thinking during our drive but I do remember enjoying the greenery and being glad for the change of pace by getting out of Seoul for the day. Before I knew it, we were filling up at my grandfather’s gas station only 5 minutes away. I remember thinking that we had time to say hi to grandma and grandpa and relax a bit before my mom came. Just as I was thinking that, my uncle got a call and told us that my mom was at my grandparents house waiting for us. Scratch that idea. The few minutes it took from the gas station to my grandparents house was the only time I was nervous during our trip, but walking up the stairs to the house, it went away, replaced by shock and a little bit of awe.
I imagine most, if not all of you, have seen the video Andrea made and I can’t think of anything else I could add to it. Every time I watch the short clip, I think it looks like I wasn’t excited to hug my mom, when in reality, I just wanted to take off my shoes. I didn’t want my mom to come down to the foyer, as it was wet from snow and I certainly wasn’t going to walk into the house with my shoes on. I probably should have just met her at the edge of the foyer but I wasn’t thinking very well at that moment! I think I was still in shock.
As you can tell from the video, I was really surprised how small my mom was next to me. When we sat down, she took my hands in hers and immediately commented on how they looked like hers. As I looked at our hands, I realized how truly important it was to me that I shared a feature with her, it was just another reminder of our special bond. I had daydreamed about this moment for a very long time. We talked for about a half an hour and then headed out for lunch. We split up into two cars, my mom, Andrea and I in my uncle’s car and Eunju, with my grandparents. On the way to lunch I held my mom’s hand and showed her pictures of our time in Korea. We tried to talk to each other, but ended up just enjoying being close.
When we arrived at the restaurant, I was surprised that the woman who owned it and greeted us at the door was a friend of my grandma’s, and recognized me from when I was little. She was amazed at how much I had grown. Lunch was an amazing spread of dishes which were all delicious, but my favorite was a semi-frozen raw beef dish which was drizzled with a sesame oil sauce. After lunch, we went back to my grandparents’ house where we had coffee and fruit, as if we were still hungry!
My grandfather in a typical grandfatherly role told me to take care of my mom since we shared the same blood and generally lectured me with the ubiquitous finger wagging thrown in for good measure. When he was done, he made me promise to take care of my mom and sealed the deal by us pinky swearing, touching thumbs and then making copies(photocopy motion). Too funny! Talking about my grandpa, I have to mention that during our entire stay, my grandpa, grandma and uncle were constantly trying to override each other on where I should sit in relation to Andrea, my mom and grandma. It was hilarious watching them try to come to a consensus, but heartwarming at the same time.
I knew the day couldn’t last forever, however much I wanted it to, my mom had a previous appointment which she had to keep so we made our goodbyes with promises to see each other soon. I gave her a giant bear hug and picked her up off her feet which I’d been itching to do since we met. How could I not? She’s so tiny! Eunju explained later that my mom didn’t want to show me her ‘back’ again, so instead she saw us to our car, waved her goodbyes and waited to leave until we were on the road. The drive back to Seoul was peaceful and once again my uncle didn’t want to send us back home hungry, so we decided to go out for jjajjangmyun (black bean sauce noodle dish).
Homemade food from my mom and a fruit gift basket in tow, we caught the subway back to our apartment. I remember saying to Andrea later that night, “I just met my Korean mom! Now what do I do?”. Since our meeting, we’ve actually met with my mom again, but this time here in Seoul and found out a little more about my family and childhood. I’ll just say I’m not going to have a problem finding things to do or places to go.
I have to take a moment to thank all of our friends and family who have supported us throughout this last year. We’ve been so blessed and had so much help from Andrea’s parents and their care packages and support, to my mom taking care of our mail and encouraging me to meet my Korean mom, to Andrea’s dad, Andrew for his support and advice during our skype sessions . This has truly been a life changing experience and we couldn’t have done it without your help.
Last but certainly not least, this trip wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for my beautiful, amazing and wonderful wife, Andrea. If it weren’t for her interest in Korean language classes, which led her to discovering teaching abroad and dreams of living abroad, I might have never made it to Korea. I thank God that He blessed me with you. From a very grateful husband, thank you.
Since the first visit with my mom we’ve met with her again one other time. She came to our apartment in Seoul. On our own, without the grandparents, I learned a bit more about my past: where I was born, where my parents met, where I had lived before living with the grandparents. My mom did not want to talk about my dad because she said it was too painful for her. My mom also did not tell my siblings about me just yet. I did get to see a picture of my half-sister and her baby boy. She looks a lot like my mom. I hope I will meet her soon. My mom told me there are uncles, aunts, and cousins on her side that know about me and want to meet me. I also may meet my maternal grandmother who lives near Pohang in a couple of weeks.
Shortly after the reunion with my mom, Andrea and I made the decision to stay another year in Korea. Now that we’ve reunited, I just can’t pass up this opportunity to get to know my mom and my half-sister. Andrea tried to re-sign with her school, but it was already too late; someone had been hired. So, she spent most of her time feverishly looking for another job in Seoul. She had a few offers but decided on an incredible opportunity that fell into her lap for a position with another public school. It was truly a blessing from God. Even her co-teachers commented on how rare the possibility was that she would be able to find a public school job so close to the next term.
Now, the Kantors are moving south of the Hangang to an area called Jamsil. Most people would know this area because it’s the home of Lotte World (similar to America’s Disneyland). We will have an apartment within walking distance of Olympic Park (where Seoul hosted the ’88 Olympic Games). It’s a beautiful area and we’re excited to try something new. The apartment (because it’s in a more desirable area) is the same price as our current lofted officetel, but smaller. We move in on Friday and will be sure to post about our new digs soon.