If you didn’t catch the news on Facebook or Twitter (click on the easy buttons to the left), I’ve been in and about Sydney, Australia. More to come!
Sometimes things just leave you speechless. Like a 3 foot-high tunnel that a tourist spot in rural South Korea doesn’t warn you about – and normal adults are expected to be able to get through. Good thing I can kimchi squat.
Expect the use of this hashtag throughout my travels!
Oh, and that’s my mother saying “조심” [careful!] over and over and over again.
“So much love and hate.” Words from my father at dinner two nights ago.
I couldn’t help but laugh because that’s exactly what I felt I needed to write about next.
We all have our issues with our hometowns. Too small, too big, too indifferent, too intimate. And the relationship between Seoul and me is no different.
For example, LOVES:
Did I mention food?
There are so many reasons why being home = happiness.
At the same time, there are moments where being home can bring about a sense of lowness.
Here’s where I get real (welcome to the new-and-improved blog?)
A few things make S. Korea less palatable. Hard to believe with some of those photos I just showed, I know.
1. The land of couples
Don’t believe me? In 10 seconds, I snapped these four photos.
With the Westernization of its culture, Koreans began to embrace romance wholeheartedly. A little obsessively so. Now, wherever you go, you will find yourself surrounded by couples, arm-in-arm. For a single lady, it’s a bit trying. I may sound bitter, and you can judge me for that, but I do enjoy being alone right now. That gets shaken when I realize I’m the only solo person on the street.
2. The image paradigm
Even after years of being in a career where one’s physical image is scrutinized, I feel the most insecure when I’m in Seoul. Women here are just naturally tiny, and somehow I didn’t get those genes. I grew up in a city that didn’t carry my size in clothing. I was taller than most. While those two facts are now false with the passage of time, the warped self-image still takes hold: I need to diet. Why am I so large? How do I look like her? I can’t possibly be attractive in this country.
While I was reflecting on this, thankfully, another fact came to mind.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
– Psalm 139:13-14
This home is not my home forever. I don’t write that because I know I’m returning to the States. I write this knowing that I have faith in a God who gives me a greater purpose than looking like the elevated example of beauty. He sees me as beautiful, born to belong to Him, and better for that.
It’s time to enjoy the city and all I love.
Thanks to a friend‘s recommendation, this went in my belly today. Feast your eyes on this ‘za from the Korean chain Mr. Pizza, complete with BBQ ribs, sauce, broccoli, small potato wedges, squash and garlic (the garlic is optional, but that question is always answered with a “yes”).
Oh, and I forgot.
There’s sweet potato mousse in the crust.**
**Honest assessment: I enjoyed it enough to eat three of the small slices, and the sweet potato in the crust was intriguing, but not desirable enough to order it a second time. Go for the cheese cap (cheese-filled crust).
P.S. This is not an advertisement.
P.P.S. Thankfully (?) Mr. Pizza has gone global, so K-Towners, feel free to give it a shot.
P.P.P.S. This is a tease to my next blog post! Ta da! Applying journalism skills.
The first memory I have of the name Dr. Philip Jaisohn was as a teenager. I walked into a slightly run-down waiting room and sat, looking curiously about me. It had been awhile since I was in any sort of medical clinic in the U.S., having lived in Seoul for three years now.
“Ah, the waiting rooms still have magazines,” I thought.
I asked my grandmother how she was feeling. “괜찮지 [I’m fine],” she replied, next to me.
Soon she was welcomed by a nurse who addressed her by name, and I saw my grandmother’s dentures flash as she realized she could understand everything the young health professional was saying. This an anomaly for a woman who immigrated to a country where she still didn’t speak the language and had managed to survive as head matriarch of a transplanted and scattered family.
A short time later we left, and I asked my mother, “How is there a Korean hospital in the middle of Philadelphia?”
She answered, “This is the 서재필 (Dr. Philip Jaisohn) Memorial Foundation.”
This week I was honored to emcee the Korean American Lawyers Association of Greater New York (KALAGNY)’s 28th Anniversary Gala Dinner. The theme: The Korean American Experience: 150 Years in the Making, as it recognized what would’ve been the 150th birthday of Dr. Philip Jaisohn, believed to be one of the first Koreans to immigrate to the United States in the 19th century. He was the first Korean to be naturalized as a U.S. citizen, the first Korean to graduate from medical school, went onto marry an American woman, and then later returned to his native soil to demand democracy for the people.
His accomplishments are far-reaching, but knowledge of them is not. At the New York event, one of the evening’s honorees asked the room of 300+ attendees who had heard of Dr. Jaisohn prior to that night. Barely a few dozen raised their hands.
In a conversation with the honoree afterward, he lamented the ignorance, including his own. “Honestly, I didn’t even know of him until I started researching him for my speech,” Young Lee admitted. “Yet how many others still don’t know of this great man?”
Thankfully, there seems to be progress. I was privileged enough to attend a university (go Quakers!) where Korean history classes were an option, leading to my Asian Studies minor.
At UC Riverside, a center devoted to Korean American Studies opened its doors just four years ago. It is named in honor of the only Korean American officer in a mostly Japanese-American Army unit during World War II: Col. Young Oak Kim. Be sure to learn more about him, as my dear friend’s father is the one who researched and brought awareness to this great Asian American advocate’s accomplishments.
Clearly, this is only the beginning.
I’m getting ahead of myself, but these are the conversations I hope to keep having in the next few months. I look forward to these triggers, catalysts, sticking points where I’m forced to stop and self-ask,” Is this where my heart wants to venture forward?”
More thoughts and questions to come. Let’s chat.