By Amy Paulson (Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
In my dream, I’m sleeping in a large, warm, cozy bed where I have enough space to spread out like a big X. Slowly, the bed starts shrinking smaller and smaller. Or am I growing bigger and bigger? A grumbling lawnmower in the distance starts running towards me, daring me to fall off the bed so it can run me over, while a symphony of vuvuzelas swells up around me. Suddenly, an angry rooster jumps on my head.
No, it’s actually two roosters.
I crack open my eyes, feeling fuzzy and confused. Where am I? And, why are there roosters screaming in my ears?
Sitting up in the dark, I squint at my phone: it’s 5am. Then I remember where I am – at Maisha children’s home in Ruai, a beautiful rural suburb of farms and open plains, sprinkled with metal shack mobile phone shops and wooden fruit stands, 40 minutes outside the city center of Nairobi.
Ten meters from my room, the dueling roosters continue to yell from inside their coops – indignant at the fate that would lie ahead at the end of the week.
I look over at the lawnmower that is my snoring husband. Though Auntie Martha and Auntie Monica have to share this bed every night, sharing with my husband isn’t easy. His rule of thumb is that he is 2x my size, so naturally he should get 2x the twin bed. Nice try, dude.
Not thinking, I scratch my throbbing mosquito bites. The vuvuzela buzzing is actually a swarm of mosquitos dancing just outside my bed net and around the Maisha fish pond next to the house.
Then: a dog starts barking, then howling. Another joins in. Then, another. And, another.
Finally, Mama Maisha starts yelling something in Swahili, while a goat cries out in a high-pitched “Mah-ah-ah-ah-ah!” as if whining, “Don’t forget about me-ee-ee-ee-ee!” while he runs to catch up to his other goat friends.
These are the lively, every day sounds of the Maisha farm. Sounds that soon became familiar music to us with each waking day.
Until that last morning, when the dueling roosters became just one angry man-chicken who lost his friend.
By Amy Paulson (reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
It was 2008. Silvia Vasquez-Lavado and I were finance colleagues at eBay. After one of our regular meetings to discuss financial systems stuff, we (naturally) started talking about nonprofit projects and ideas. Silvia's family in Peru had founded a local project back in 2003 called Fundacion Gracias which gave back to an indigenous community high up in the Andes mountains where her father had lived as an orphan. Starting with small provisions, the project carefully evolved over time and with the trust of the community to enable the people to help themselves.
Meanwhile, I had been dreaming of a startup project which would support individual grassroots community projects just like Silvia's project in Peru. Giving a boost to projects already on the ground.
Silvia and I talked animately about starting a project together - combining the best of our ideas. But, as things often go, our daily lives and demanding careers got the best of us. Though from time to time, we'd talk about a future collaboration, it seemed farther and farther off, until it was only a pipe dream.
The next year, Silvia and Elayne traveled to the Congo, with a deep need to see what was going on for themselves; to reach out to communities of brave survivors. Child survivors of kidnapping and slavery by youth militias. Female survivors of rape and sexual torture. And so began a project to empower local caretakers with trauma healing tools, so they could take an active role in healing their own communities from the ground up.
Then, in 2011, I reunited with my Korean birth family. And, in doing so, I learned that my biological mother was once an orphan just like me, separated from her own birth family only to reconnect decades later. Another orphan story.
And, suddenly, out of a place of joy and gratitude and a desire to spread that to others, it was finally clear what I had to do. I picked up the phone and called Silvia: "I'm quitting my job at eBay. Let's finally breathe life into this nonprofit we've been talking about after all these years."
And so, in January 2012, the Gracias Foundation was officially born.
Our mission is to empower and improve the lives of women, children, and young adults through locally led grassroots projects in some of the most vulnerable areas of the world. We focus on local people and organizations who are already doing good things in their communities, and strengthen and complement their work, maximizing the impact they have on their beneficiaries.
It's not about "throwing money at a problem." It's not about giving handouts. It's about investing in locally led solutions which transform lives. It's about dignity for those we help just as much as for ourselves. It's about building meaningful relationships. It's about being involved as social activists. It's about joining a movement that will enrich the world.
In short, it's about changing lives. Yours. And, the lives of those you are here to support and champion.
We see giving as a pathway to healing - to bringing joy, connection, meaning, and shared humanity into our collective lives.
Because in truth, we want you to give not just your money, but your heart.
Inspired? We are. Join us on this journey - and get ready to change lives together.
Here we go...
By Amy Paulson (Reposted from The Gracias Foundation, now called Global Gratitude Alliance)
When I was a day old, I was abandoned at a police station in Seoul and taken to an orphanage. I lived with 200 or so other babies. At three months old, I was adopted by an American family. Despite growing up in a loving family, I was always curious about my birth parents. But, without names, photos, or any records at all, I told myself that a search would be futile. It was easier to make up stories about what may have happened than to risk heartbreak.
Then, in 2009, everything changed. I took a soul-searching trip back to the orphanage where I’d lived more than 30 years before – to explore my “roots.” What I discovered there changed my life.
Scribbled in handwriting in the back of my old file were the names of a man and woman and their two daughters. Were these people my birth family? The social worker asked if I wanted to search for them. Feeling scared and doubtful that anything would ever come of it, I cautiously agreed.
Years later, on January 5, 2011, a cold yet sunny winter morning, I received an email in my inbox, subject: Sister. ”My sister… Our family is delighted, happy, elated since finding out about you few days ago… I had been crying and dreaming of you [the] last few days, wondering how to proceed and interact with you. Hopefully I have made a right choice in writing to you now…”
Six months later, I was on a plane headed to Seoul, where I’d meet my biological Korean family, together with the support of my adoptive parents. After a tearful and emotional reunion, I learned that my birth mother had her own orphan story as well: at 6 years old, she and her brother were orphaned after seeing their parents killed during pre-war conflict. Separated from her brother, she lived in an orphanage and was later adopted and raised by a loving family. Decades later, she reunited with her brother.
Today, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to have two sets of parents who love and care for me, and for life’s everyday treasures. That gratitude served as a powerful catalyst motivating me to leave my corporate career to co-found an organization dedicated to empowering vulnerable women and children with opportunities to change their own life stories: The Gracias Foundation.
Everyone can find something to be grateful for every day – however big or small. By embracing gratitude as inspiration for giving back (or rather, giving forward), anyone can be an everyday activist, creating a meaningful, purpose-filled life not only for herself but for the lives of others around the world. And that is something to be truly grateful for.
Deep breath. Here we go:
Last Wednesday morning when I was at work, I was scanning through my email inbox when I noticed an unopened mail from a sender I didn't recognize. Subject line: Sister.
I was feeling light-headed and dull from my sinus cold and the previous night's NyQuil, so I had to read it a couple of times to realize what it said.
I'll paraphrase parts of it here:
My sister… Our family is delighted, happy, elated since finding about you few days ago.
We were supposed to wait for your response but forgive me I could not wait any longer and had to write to you. My name is Sara Kim (real name disguised), your older sister. I had been crying and dreaming of you last few days, wondering how to proceed and interact with you. Hopefully I have made a right choice in writing to you now.
Briefly I will describe our family:
Our dad and mom are healthy, independent, and still very active. They live near us and visit frequently. They are extremely anxious to see you soon.
Your oldest sister lives in Seoul, married with one daughter ... She is a perfect sister, supportive, and caring.
I am also married with one daughter ... My husband is a Korean-American who is a ER physician ... You have one younger brother ... He lives in Manhattan... You have same nose and eyes as he.
We do not want to put any undue pressure on you but anytime you are ready, please contact me. You can call me or email me. You can ask me anything then.
I could hardly believe what had happened but we are grateful to you and your parents, friends of all the support and love that you have received.
Hopefully we can be friends, sisters, family as we get to know each others.
We will support and understand you in any decision you make.
P.S call me….
What? No, this can't be true. Surely it's just a scam or a really mean joke. But odd that it came directly to my work email. And is it a coincidence that she says she's 4 years older and the handwriting on the back of my adoption paperwork said that my next oldest sister was 5 years older?
She also included a link to what looked like a homepage or facebook page in Korean, with a picture of herself and beautiful daughter. She didn't look like me. Very pretty. But, not the same facial features, as far as I could tell.
I ran two desks over to where Andy sits. His reaction was (1) what? (2) you should confirm that this isn't a scam, and (3) but it sounds like it could be true.
I immediately wrote to KSS, the orphanage where I lived as a baby and visited in 2009, after which I applied for birth family search services. I hadn't heard anything in the past year and a half, other than they hadn't found anyone so far, but be patient, it can take a long time.
The next 24 hours was looooooooong. Luckily, a day full of forecast review meetings distracted me for chunks of time. Otherwise, I found myself day-dreaming one minute, then jumping up and down while giggling like a school girl the next minute, then keeled over in the bathroom with sharp stomach pains the next minute. I told Andy that I was going to bounce off the walls and through the window, or throw up all over my desk. Luckily I did neither.
I did, however, call my parents in Minnesota as soon as I got home that night. I'd already forwarded the email from this alleged sister. I love my parents: they were both nothing short of thrilled for me, as I knew they would be. We pondered whether it could be true and even started looking online for flights to Seoul.
"I want to fly to Bern first! Then we can fly together to Seoul!" my mom exclaimed.
"Let's have Dawn come too, and we can start to search for more information on her!" we said.
The next morning, I walked to work with the biggest grin on my face... as well as the biggest pains in my stomach and worrylines on my face. I was elated... and scared. I'd been checking my blackberry every few seconds, to see if the orphanage had responded.
And like magic, within minutes of sitting down and skimming through my inbox, a new message appeared:
Dear Ms. Amy Paulson,
Attached please find a letter regarding our searching for your birth family.
Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!
Sharp intake of breath. This is it. Here's what the attachment said:
January 6, 2011
Dear Ms. Amy Elizabeth Paulson:
I hope this letter finds you are dong well in good health. I wonder you are still living in Switzerland but I think it is nice to be able to contact with you through email.
I hope your trip to Korea was a good experience to understand your adoption and to learn more about Korea. On your request, we have tried to find your birth family and it is very nice to send you good news that finally we have located your birth family. When we gave the first phone call to your birth parents, they were very surprised at our contact and your searching for them and told us that they needed time to think about this matter because their children did not know about this adoption. But later they were getting more comfortable to talk about you and shared their feeling of guilty for your adoption.
According to them, they had very hard life with two daughters when you were born, so they decided on your adoption for your better future. And we learned that your birth father named you Jung Sook. For their information and interest, we sent your pictures and the information on yourself by post, and they were happy to know that you have been doing well with your adoptive family, and they talked with their children about you.
On the 4th of this January your parents and sisters visited KSS to know about your request in detail so I showed your request letter to them on their request. But I explained them that we needed the necessary steps to be in direct contact between you and them, and promised them that we would let them know when we have any response from you to my letter regarding our searching. They looked to understand the situation but I think your sisters remembered your email addresses on your request letter for KSS. I am sorry to make this problem.
Your birth father is born in 1941 and the birth mother in 1943. And you have two sisters, born in 1968 and 1972, who are married, and one younger brother, born in 1979, who is studying in New York, USA. The 2nd older sister, got married to a Korean-American. She understands English and is now living in Korea with her husband for 2 years. And all family members are doing well.
We are sending your 2nd older sister’s email address for direct contact and I hope you could enjoy the direct contact with your birth family, if it is alright with you. But please feel free to contact us, if needed.
I hope you would be happy with this news. Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!
So....... that was last Thursday.
I spent every day and night since then, trying to figure out how to respond to my new sister's email. I could only get as far as: Dearest Sister... and then: nothing.
How do you start a letter like that?
I've been dreaming of finding my birth family for over 30 years. The dreams never started with a magic email. Rather, someone would instantly appear at the front door of whatever home, dorm room, or apartment I happened to be living in at the time. I'd see a mirror image of myself and instantly know. We'd then hug and cry, and that's pretty much where the dream would end.
Suddenly, I now have to take it a step further. And, that's when the fear set in.
What if they don't like me? What if I don't like them? What if I've just built up the whole thing so much in my head that the real life experience is just a disappointment? What if...? What if...?
These thoughts were still eating at me when I wrote back to my new/old sister yesterday morning. I had to apologize for taking so long to reply, as I explained how overwhelmed I felt.
She quickly responded back, saying how relieved she and the rest of the family were, as she called each one of my new/old siblings and parents to tell them the news about my email. They are all excited and waiting.
And, so am I.
We are now trying to arrange a time to Skype in the next few days.
I still cannot wrap my head around what is happening - that I may soon meet the family who gave birth to me. It just sounds silly. I can't even say it out loud yet. If I do, it all might disappear.
And while the anticipation, elation, and constant worry threaten to give me a heart attack, there is one comforting thought that I keep returning to: how lucky I am to have such a wonderful family. They are not my "adoptive" family. They are my real family. They have been completely excited and supportive of me throughout this entire process, including now.
My dad Skyped me at 3am Minnesota time last week to tell me that he couldn't sleep (due to his "bad cold") and was thinking about me and how lucky I am to be experiencing something that few people will ever get the chance to live. He told me to remember to take it slow and soak it all in. "Love, Dad #1"
My mom also wrote me to say she was so happy for me, she had tears in her eyes.
And, my sister. Like always, she knows just how I'm feeling and can somehow empathize with all of my unintelligible emotional babbling. And she loves me for it.
I'm so lucky. And, it's only because of the unselfish love from my real family that I have the courage to see what happens next...
On Monday, I made the much anticipated journey to Korea Social Services (KSS), the orphanage where I lived as a baby for almost four months.
Little did I know that my life would change in a way that I didn’t think was possible.
The 45-minute long cab ride seemed more like 45 hours. I was so nervous. So worried. What if I was late for my appointment? What if the social worker at the orphanage forgot about our meeting? What if the navigation system in the taxi stopped working and the driver got lost? What if my Korean money somehow got a life of its own, jumped out of my purse, and flew out the window, and I couldn’t pay for the taxi? What if I got into a fatal car accident on the way there?
After an eternity, we finally arrived and were ushered into a meeting room to await the social worker's arrival. I only had enough time to glimpse at one or two of the yellowing, 1970’s photos of Korean children and their adopted “white” families. I’ve got those same photographs of my parents and sister at home - complete with the wood-paneled walls, brown-tinted eyeglasses, and bad 70’s hairdos.
The social worker arrived only a few seconds later, introduced herself to Andy and me, then placed my file on the middle of the desk. PARK JUNG SOOK, it said in black marker.
First, she gave me some copies of my little black and white baby pictures. I’d seen one of them before in my mom’s old jewelry box. But the full-body picture was new to me.
“You were chubby baby!” she exclaimed. She was nice enough to not mention “ugly baby,” too. But, I was happy to understand that fat = well-cared for.
Next, she went through my paperwork. I’ve already seen the English copy at my parents’ house, stating what I already knew – that I was found at Wooie Police Station on September 29, 1976 and immediately brought to KSS.
I then asked a few questions about what the economic and social conditions were like at the time. In the mid 1970s, South Korea was as poor, economically, as the North – if not worse. She explained that in the absence of any kind of birth control or family planning, most families had five or six children. Unwed mothers had it really bad. Still do, apparently as only recently has the government started to assist these women, even though society isn’t yet ready to fully accept them. And, for those who were too poor for health insurance and therefore proper medical care, there were maternity clinics with midwives throughout the city (such clinics apparently no longer exist, as health insurance is now socialized for all South Koreans).
And then, I don’t quite remember how it happened, but all of a sudden, Kim Chee was telling me that I wasn’t actually abandoned at a police station. That is just the “official” story for the government documents. Rather, a 33-year old woman married to a 36-year old man gave birth to me at a maternity clinic. Because this couple was very poor and already had two daughters, they couldn’t afford another child. So, a day after my birth, I was handed over to KSS.
Just like that.
No documents or paperwork. Only the story from one of the maternity clinic workers, handwritten in Korean on the back of one of the aged, yellowing papers in my file.
Apparently, in the absence of any real documents, the social worker who typed up my file just made up the police station story. Probably quite a common practice at the time, since my sister’s file says verbatim, the same story – only replacing Wooie Police Station with Incheon City Hall. She’d actually been moved from the Star of the Sea Catholic orphanage in Incheon to KSS in Seoul, a few months before my parents adopted her.
She then explained that if I want to do a search for my family, I can make a formal request to KSS. The orphanage then contacts the police, who search their records and hopefully find a match. Apparently, with proper documentation, including exact birth dates and correctly-spelled family members’ names, the chances of finding a match are around 90%. In my case, it’s only about 20%. Then, there’s still the possibility that the family, upon being contacted, does not wish to have any contact with me. In some cases, especially where the rest of the family may not be aware of the child’s birth, the guilt and shame prevent the birth mother from wanting to make any connection. But, in my case, my oldest sister must’ve known and remembered that her mother was pregnant… unless my birth parents told her that the baby was stillborn, I’d think that she’d know that somewhere out there, another sister may exist. And, with the strong internet presence now in South Korea, I feel like the chances should be pretty high that my two older sisters have some kind of Korean facebook or myspace kind of homepage.
And, if the police search and internet searches turn up nothing, there’s a special organization called GOAL (Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link) which also provides a host of search and reunion services and apparently also does some kind of show on national TV, the name of which roughly translates into “I miss the person.” On this show, adoptees reach out to the Korean public with whatever kind of info they might have about their birth families. The TV thing is a last resort since dealing with the media is like selling your emotions so rich business people can make more money. Apparently it’s proved successful in a handful of cases, but I don’t think this is the right path for me. Hopefully, I won’t have to even consider it.
It’s odd. This whole time I’d always assumed that my biological parents were dead. The alternative was to go insane with wonder over the endless possibilities. I never really let myself think or hope that my birth family could be alive, and even if they were, I was convinced that there was zero hope of finding them. When confronted with the question, as I have been countless times in my life, “Don’t you want to find your birth parents?” I’d always answer that, well, I just don’t think they are alive, and even if they are, I don’t know what finding them and meeting them would do for me. Perhaps if I hadn’t been raised in a loving family, I’d have felt differently – as if there was a hole or missing piece of my life that needed to be filled for me to be at peace.
I’d given this same answer so many times before that I didn’t even have to think about the words – they just flowed out of my mouth like a tape-recorded response.
But now, everything has changed.
Sure, my birth parents could indeed be dead. And, given that they were poor and without healthcare, at this age, even if they are alive, they’re probably in very poor health. But, suddenly I’m a million steps closer – actually only a few steps away – from finding them. And knowing that I have two older sisters who are hopefully still alive… I just can’t turn back now. I want to know more.
So, I immediately told the social worker that I wanted to search for my family and would send the formal request as soon as I got back to Switzerland.
The rest of the visit to KSS seems like a fuzzy dream. We made a tour of the KSS grounds, and I took pictures of the now empty buildings, one of which likely housed me for those few months. I saw the old, empty kimchi containers, buried in the ground in one corner of the yard. And, I visited the newly nursery, now home to five sleeping babies. Oh, how sweet the babies were! I would’ve taken all of them home if I had the chance. Each had its own little white crib with a bottle of milk in the corner. One of the babies was sleeping on the floor – its little head turned to the side, so its chubby little cheeks were shmushed up. I kept thinking of the insanity of couples who endure one after another failed IVF procedure, which only results in wreaking havoc on their marriage. Or the couples who pay thousands of dollars for fertility treatments, only to abort half of their “litter of fetuses” just so they can give birth to “their own” litter. And yet, here are five perfect little babies – already living on this earth – just waiting for anyone with a heart big enough to give them a chance at life. It breaks my heart.
After some final pictures of the Kim Chee and me standing in front of the orphanage, we said our good-byes and I caught a taxi back to the hotel.
My head was spinning the whole way back. Andy’s hand was holding mine tightly. He remarked, “How come there was no crying? I thought there’d be lots of crying…” But, how can I cry when I don’t fully understand what just happened? My heart was pounding in my chest and the bright sun burned my eyes. I closed them. I needed time to absorb everything.
Unfortunately, when I got back to the hotel room, I discovered that I’d lost the camera. Somehow that’s when the crying started. I felt like I’d lost everything that had just been found – that I’d undone everything that had happened at the orphanage. In a matter of seconds I went from such a high to such a low.
But after taking a few moments to collect myself and realize that all I’d lost were photos that could be retaken and images of the orphanage that I could easily get from the internet, I became calm... and then elated, once again. So many emotions.
All I wanted to do next was tell my sister and parents about the news. My parents would be asleep but my sister might be online. I went to the free WIFI café next door and saw Dawn on Skype. When I chatted with her about the news, she freaked out. OMG, she typed. OMG.
We talked about how this news changes everything, even though nothing has really happened. I’m still an adopted Korean orphan, now a 30-something adult. I’m still the beloved daughter of Pete and Linda from Minnesota. And, I still don’t know with complete certainty the truth about my birth family. But, what I’ve found is new kind of hope, which before I’d never allowed to exist.
No matter what happens in the future – whether I find any of my birth family or not, what I do know is this: I’m lucky enough to know that who I am isn’t borne from the knowledge of who gave birth to me.
Rather, I’m simply an amalgamation of experiences, memories, travels, friendships, luck, sorrows, all woven together with the love I’ve received from my family and that I share with others. A love that, someday, I hope to share with my own adopted children.
So tonight was my first "corporate dinner" in Korea.
It started out with several of Andy’s colleagues meeting me at the office to escort me to the restaurant. Right away, I could tell who the jokester was – he introduced himself as the CFO. This guy was the “Andy” of the group.
Then: “can I take your bag?” it wasn’t a question because I said, hey no, it’s really okay, I can just pull the handle out and drag it. Well, they wouldn’t take NO for an answer. They just took my heavy laptop bag right off my shoulder, then tried to take my purse, but I felt silly for them to carry my purse. But, this is how it goes. I could get used to this.
Kinda like my finance counterpart in APAC who didn’t go to work today because he was sick and apologized to me on Skype about 20 separate times for not coming to work. Dude, you can’t help it, you’re sick. But, still, the nonstop apologies. I thought I was the only one with this kind of people-pleasing complex. Maybe it’s in my blood.
So, we got to the restaurant and immediately everyone took their shoes off at the door so the hostess could neatly put them in rows on the shoe shelf. Thank god I’d put new foot deodorizers in my shoes this morning, otherwise my normally raunchy foot stank would’ve insulted the entire restaurant. Still, I was embarrassed. My feet sweat a lot and they were sticking to the nicely washed and polished wooden floor while everyone else seemed to glide along in their socks and stockings. I should’ve looked behind me to see if someone was wiping up my sweaty footprints.
We sat down around a long table with 4 big wok/grills. Not like a normal Korean BBQ grill – more like a big wok where you can cook meat as well as soup.
There was laughing.
There was drinking.
Soju (potato-based liquor, like vodka but not as harsh) and Hite, one of the 3 major local beers. Better than any American bitter beer, although it ain’t hefeweizen (then again, what is? I actually used to think that Widmer and Pyramid were real hefeweizen.)
And, the food. Oh, the food. Korean bbq beef, mushrooms, garlic, onions, and the million side dishes which no one but the Koreans eat. Then, when I thought we were all done, there was an after dinner spicy soup. And, a side bowl of rice. Then, watermelon. Then, green tea. I thought I was going to give birth to a big, fat rice baby. I’m still burping and gassing it up (or out) as I write this.
Afterwards, all the men carried the women’s bags and purses back to the hotel. Well, all the Korean men. Andy had his own bag to carry and certainly wasn’t going to carry mine. I told him to take some lessons from the Korean men. He ignored me.
The men would’ve carried our stuff all the way up to our hotel rooms if we hadn’t stopped them from getting on the elevator. It’s okay, we said – you don’t have to carry our stuff all the way up, you have your own homes to go to, which are probably 45 minutes away, at least. They weren’t sure. This would be impolite. But, we reassured them that we could survive and would be okay to drag our own rolling bags.
Drinking with colleagues, as in other cultures, is really important. You can bridge many differences just by sharing food, alcohol, and charcoal pills (yes, I introduced them to these anti-hangover pills, and unlike my skeptical European friends, the Koreans were all over those pills – hey why not, they said as at least half of them just swallowed them down without caring if they were really laced with LSD). Especially in an environment like this one where you’re integrating one company with another (Gmarket into Internet Auction Co. (eBay Korea for the lay person)), it’s important to bring the people together. Important for the working relationship, so important for business. And, it was lots of fun.
I’m paying for it now though. BBQ beef + beers + soju + spicy soup = ethanol. Maybe this can be fuel of the future.
(A self portrait from one of the many sidewalk media towers. You can take a pic of yourself and email to anyone right there from the sidewalk. Check out the background - except for a few black-haired folks walking past, you'd never know we were in Seoul.)
So... I finally made it to Seoul!!!!
Mental note: when leaving for lifelong-awaited journey to visit birthplace, don't start the day out with 2 large starbucks mugs full of strong coffee and only a tiny yogurt. By lunchtime, you'll just be a dizzy, sweaty mess... with stomach problems.
It wasn't until the Frankfurt to Seoul leg of the trip, about an hour into the flight, when I started to calm down - thanks to the stupid, mindless comedy: Bride Wars. Thank you, Kate Hudson. You helped take my mind off the enormity of this trip, and you gave me a break from the fun of the budget spreadsheet I was working on. A couple more hours of work, then 3-4 hours of dozing off, and I was descending into Incheon.
I met Andy at the hotel, and minutes later, we were at a nearby restaurant, eating a mind-blowingly hot and spicy chicken stew lunch with potatoes and glass noodles. Yum. Needless to say, our noses were a-drippin' and our foreheads a-sweatin'. But when I looked at the other Korean customers, they were blowing their noses and wiping their foreheads too, so I didn't feel like as much of a spice wimp. And, I even ate the kimchi. Okay only half. Okay just 2 bites.
Next: we took the subway to Insadong, the main artsy/shopping district, where my head exploded from all the souvenir trinkets, ceramic vases, wooden and jade sculptures... and fucking people. Yes, Seoul has 20 million people and I swear that they are all following me wherever I go. I guess I can't complain since it's the first time I've actually "blended in" and looked like the locals. Actually, I'll be relishing this until the second I head back to the land of cows and blondes where there are maybe 5 Asians in total, including me, and the other 4 are in the restaurant business.
What I won't be relishing, however, is the goddamn heat. Apparently, Seoul is a jungle. It's ~90F (~33C)and something like 60-70% humidity. Okay, it's no Singapore. But, the air is definitely thick enough to cut with Korean meat scissors.
In 15 hours, I'll be on my way to the Motherland. My real Motherland: Seoul.
I've been waiting for this trip for... ohhhhh... almost my entire life.
All I know is this:
1. I was found on the steps of a police station in Seoul as a newborn baby
2. There was no i.d. or info on me
3. I was taken to the orphanage at Korea Social Services, where I lived for 3.5 months until I was adopted by Pete and Linda from Minnesota
And now, 30 (something) years later, I'm finally going back.
To visit the orphanage. To find the police station (does something that sounds like "woo wee" police station ring a bell, anyone?). And, to learn about the kind of life my Korean mother might have had. What circumstances led to so many abandoned babies still in the 70s? What's it like now? Are there still honor killings? How different is rural Korean life from the urban, metropolis of Seoul? So many questions. I need to write them all down.
I'm so overwhelmed.
I haven't had time to absorb the fact that this is a journey back to my "roots"... Work has been busy and blah blah blah.
For so many years, I've dreamed about this and what it would be like. And now it's finally happening and all I can think about is finishing this damn work spreadsheet before I leave for the train station