Korea Part 2: Reunion

Travel

With travel comes tests. With family comes drama. With humor comes ease. I wrote this in the computer room on the 16th floor of a hostel in Myeongdong, a bustling discount shopping district infused with tourists from China, the Philippines, and of course the USA. It wasn’t a computer room as much as two computers on a dirty white table in the hallway between a couple rooms. Kind of like how Step Inn wasn’t an inn as much as a hostel. The power of marketing compels you! I sat there graciously ready to write and physically and emotionally manifest peace in another space, any space, outside of the tiny room my parents and I were staying in.

There was no use having a bad attitude for not anticipating the hostel/inn discrepancy along with my dad’s history of high expectations and low patience. Who am I to interpret cozy as good enough for my parents? Call it the immigrant family trap, model minority rap, of wanting the best for a pair who have roller-coasted around both extremes of the economic ladder in Korea and the US. All so I could write this post.

Before arriving at the Step Hostel, my parents and I stayed at my grandmother’s home for one night where I saw glimpses into my dad’s past. A black and white photo of him with his parents, his twin brother, and older sister was placed on my grandpa’s desk. My dad must have been no more than 14 years old and was in the middle of laughing, his mouth wide open, and I laughed at all the times he scolded me to keep my mouth closed in photos. As I took in my late grandpa’s room with his clothes still hanging on racks and documents lying about his desk, I wondered if he looked more and more at that photo as his time neared. In the hallway, there were three glass cases with military ribbons, medals, and the like. I quickly snapped photos before considering the metaphorical peace and dignity I was stealing by resigning them to tiny squares on a screen.

The day before, we went to the burial ceremony, which involved a 3-hour bus ride both ways, incessant bows, obliging naes, and feeling fed up then resigned about the tense nature of a formal, buttoned-up family who never quite listened or understood one another. At least we were well-rested and, well, alive. Lucky enough to have the time to pay our respects; lucky enough to leave afterward. No more getting told to get married or work somewhere for 10 years. No more expectation of female servitude, at least in close quarters. When you know there’s a limit, anything that may bother you is more tolerable and then at once you may become a saint or, God forbid, the perfect granddaughter – a feat I don’t know if any of conquered while my grandpa was alive.

Korea Part 1: Stasis is Death

Travel

Since I was 12 years old, I have lived by this maxim.

Stasis is death.

Because in my pre-teen angst, nothing was more deathly than resigning to a life where comfort besieged all.

As I got older, I used this to high power my decisions choosing to make mistakes rather than stay in the same place afraid of what may come. The strategy was not misguided, just not directed enough, and I developed a habit of going forward sometimes blind to the heart and guts of my whole operation.

And so I pursued my love of learning and grew my chops in quality management and operations. This was not the wrong decision, but it prolonged what I already knew. I was not scared to make the wrong choices, but I was scared to make the inevitable one that fit my oh so contemplative soul.

Last month, I left my disturbingly high-paying job at a distribution center to pursue something, anything, closer to my heart. My priority right now is to write – my first love, my first heartbreak.

I was overjoyed walking out of a role I knew no longer fit my determination and clear-sightedness. At the time, my nephew, who I helped raise for the past six years,  was planning to move to Seoul, Korea to be with his dad.

The apt choice, an easy one, but only in retrospect. I spent the next week and a half hanging out with my nephew and reconnecting with my older brother. The drama is not mine so I won’t share it but through that previous time, with my whole body and mind, I was finally able to forgive.

When my mom and I stood at the escalator before security check at LAX, trying to wave happily and not let our overflowing eyes be too obvious, I locked eyes with my nephew. At 12, he was a wise one after moving around from home to home adapting to changing circumstances since he was born. His face froze briefly as he realized I was going to cry, then he smiled softly as if to comfort me as he rode the escalator up with his dad.

A week later, my grandpa died.

A decorated 3-star general from the South Korean military and patriarch of my dad’s side, he was a serious man who I didn’t really get to know. The last time I had seen him was when I was 12 years old, the year of my maxim decree. Now, 18 years later, I was going back to Korea for his funeral.

Quick planning helped my dad get a flight out that night, and my mom and I got one for 2 days later so it wouldn’t cost extravagantly more than a month’s rent.

Before I left, I  reserved movers to leave my expensive Rancho Cucamonga apartment for a rent-free room at my parents’ condo in Buena Park. Everything was changing, and at that point, I wasn’t sure if it was good or bad. It was all – transition, death, and rebirth.

To be continued…