Connections to My Seoul

I’m having some trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that we only have about three weeks left here. I can already feel the loss I’ll feel in returning to the States.

I haven’t posted as much as I thought I would while we were here. Likely because we have been pretty busy so I’m in a perpetual state of exhaustion but also because I’ve tried to be present in the moments and less distracted. And maybe even more so, I’ve had some challenges in putting all my thoughts, feelings, and experiences into words. I also don’t want to leave here with so little captured about this amazing adventure.

A view of 한강 (the Han River) from 63 SQUARE

I recently posted some photos of the food we’ve consumed. One of the ways I’ve immersed myself here is in devouring all the food. I suppose it’s a way of feeding my soul and healing from the inside out. I had great hopes of rediscovering the flavors and foods I ate as a child while enjoying the foods I am already well acquainted with. I also assumed I would learn of and eat new dishes. Surprisingly, I found that foods I thought were new were just forgotten until they sank into my heart, opening a door to my childhood without pictures. It’s simply a taste of home.

The food here weaves in through all the senses. The aroma transports me, the flavors, balanced and complex, bombards my tastebuds, the textures keep me enthralled, and the beautiful interplay of color, simplicity, and variety is pure art. But more than that, the food has history and soul and sweat. It tells a story of resilience and fight and adaptation to a long, trying, and traumatic past. Maybe it is that very concept that draws me in so close to the food here. It’s also my history. My story. My soul.

I wish I could say we are all enjoying it as much as I am. I am awed not only by Dragon’s willingness to try all foods (save the spicy things, understandably) but her enthusiasm in wholeheartedly embracing it. Monkey would rather do with a good burger and fries. We have struggled to find a regular way to provide sustenance and, though I’ve relaxed a bit in our typical practices, we cannot rule our daily eating around her 5 meal limitations. I recognize it’s likely some mixture of trying to gain a sense of control and a way to stay connected to home in the States. Empathizing with it has been quite difficult. I do the best I can to provide her one thing that she likes but that’s not an easy task these days.

Dragon has found a deep love for 김밥 (kimbap), the burger of Korea. 김밥 is various ingredients like vegetables and/or meat in rice, rolled up in 김 (kim) seaweed. Dragon could likely eat through all the 김밥 in Korea and still not get enough. Her eyes twinkle as she bites into yet another food that speaks to her little heart.

At 경복궁 (Gyeongbokgung Palace)

Overall, watching Dragon and Monkey taking in, learning, and embracing this part of themselves is a sort of joy I hadn’t fully anticipated. Honestly, it’s not even the big things like wearing 한복 (hanbok, traditional Korean clothing) and going to 경복궁 (Gyeongbokgung Palace). It’s the little things like Dragon expressing her love of all the various smells of food and spices in the 시장 (sijang, traditional market) or Monkey uttering the few full Korean phrases in her tiny voice.

I’ve been witnessing them transforming here, soaking in their culture and mannerisms, not without a little help from me and all our many friends here. I am so grateful to see this and am hopeful and determined to continue to foster this in them and our home through time. It’s seeing them bow and greet people daily, it’s them receiving gifts two-handed from others, it’s them asking questions to explore and learn more.

I think for me it’s so meaningful, in ways maybe other non-adopted Koreans may not quite understand because so much of this lay dormant for me for so long. To be able to cultivate and teach them about their own culture at such a young age to hopefully grow over time is a privilege. I am grateful for the opportunity and support that allows me to do this for and with them. I can only hope that it takes root in their hearts and blossoms fully throughout their life, in the same way I hope is happening with their Mexican culture.

Walking through 북천 한옥마을 (Bokchun Hanok Village)

There’s something about being able to move about a space where I can blend in. Having spent a large part of my life often being the only person who looks like me, I have always had the experience of being different, drawing in people’s curiosity or notice. While certainly the children grab people’s attention, I can exist here with a sort of anonymity. Attention here is also greatly different than in the States with the main focus being adoration not questioning belonging or origin. My muscles lengthen with ease when walking the streets, something I’ll miss enormously when returning. While I don’t fully belong here, my sense of belonging is greater.

정 (jeong) is a Korean word that holds great importance and significance. It’s quite difficult to translate directly because it’s more of a concept and/or feeling but it’s something like affection, attachment, and/or connection to something or someone. In our time here, we’ve been lucky to have made friends and connections but have also met folks in the community with whom we have developed some sort of connection. One such connection is two women who work in the 시장 (sijang, market) next to our apartment. We see them nearly daily as we pass by there or purchase 반찬 (banchan, side dishes), which is often. Though I cannot call them friends, there is some unspoken connection we seem to feel. Additionally, there are a few folks who work in an office on the lower floors of our apartment. They thoroughly enjoy seeing Dragon and Monkey. They’ve invited us into their offices to show them their birds and fish and, recently, gifted them with 한복 (hanbok) wearing dolls.

I was telling a friend, my 언니 (unnie, literally older sister but can be used to refer to a female who is older than you) about these interactions. She immediately cited 정. I know the concept of 정 and though I cannot quite explain it through words, it makes sense deep in my bones. I clearly feel a sense of 정 to this place and people in a way I don’t recall having before, except in previous trips here. It is a strange and disconcerting thing to feel so connected and attached to something from which I also feel foreign and removed.

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