Trip Day covered in this post: Saturday, September 20, 2014
I’m reading through my notes (I took a travel journal swearing I would write in it every day…) and I forgot to mention something in Part I. While we were having coffee with Hye Jin at the KTX Incheon Train Station, we showed her pictures of our families. She “oooo”ed and “aaaahh”ed over Jonathan and Joseph’s photos. She thought they were very attractive and told us that the American man look was her style. So any of our single male friends looking for a lady that isn’t going to cook you meals (she only knows how to make one dish apparently) then we have you a winner here! ㅋㅋ (ㅋㅋ is the Korean texting symbol that is pretty equivalent to LOL – someone correct me if I am wrong)
Hye Jin slept almost the whole way to Ulsan. She woke a couple of times when the food carts came by to ask if we wanted anything. Daniel and I listened to our Pimsleur Korean lessons. Towards the end of our train ride, I really had to go to the restroom and I started to feel a little sick. Go figure. 1) We didn’t eat anything for lunch and had breakfast a little after 6. 2) We had Goldfish for a snack. 3) I had been reading and writing Korean from listening to Pimsleur. 4) I was getting nervous – about time some of you are probably thinking. Daniel was giving me a prep talk as we arrived, “Remember last night how Hye Jin hugged you for a while and you probably felt awkward? Well, your birth mom is probably going to hug you a lot longer. She birthed you, so prepare and get over it. ” haha Love him.
We arrived at the Ulsan station around 3:30PM UTC. I followed Hye Jin and Daniel off the train. I remember seeing Hye Jin and Daniel getting hugged by people but I wasn’t sure by who at first. I seriously thought I was going to throw up or pee my pants (I love Southern sayings). As soon as I stepped off, I was instantly grabbed, hugged, and held on to by my birth mom. She started crying and then, of course, I started feeling awkward. I just did my awkward little laughter and told her not to cry. I looked at Hye Jin for help and she was rolling her eyes and laughing. Hye Jin and another voice were apparently telling her to stop (like how kids would whine at their parents to stop kissing or hugging them in public). She finally let go and moved on to Daniel. The other voice, I had noticed while I was getting squeezed to death, was the first-born daughter, Mee Jin. Her husband, Min Shik, and son, Seong Hyeon, had come to greet us at the train platform and hugs were given to all. Hye Jin finally let it be known that I had to use the restroom so we made our way downstairs into the Ulsan KTX Station.
I wrote in my travel notebook that everyone (including the Hotel staff) already reminded me of home and the South. Everyone, it seemed, was trying to make us feel very comfortable and at ease. I walked out of the restroom area and took my time walking back to the group so I could observe from a distance for a second. Min Shik, who we found out knows a decent bit of English, was trying to converse with Daniel. (Journal entry side note, “I am so very thankful that Daniel was able to be with me. I don’t think I would have reacted or been as solid as I was yesterday if he wasn’t here. I think I would have been really frustrated at the language barrier and become homesick real quick if he wasn’t here.”) While Mee Jin and Hye Jin went to get some snacks(Dunkin’ Donuts), Mee Eun(second-born) arrived. Boy, is she tall! We all stood around for a few minutes and stared at each other. They kept asking us who we thought I looked like the most. I definitely agree with Daniel that I look like all three sisters combined. I’ve got a little bit of all their facial features.
We finally left the train station with our next destination about 30 minutes away. We had dinner reservations at 5:30 and were going to have tea and pastry snacks beforehand. We rode with Mee Jin and her family to the restaurant. They must have been very worried about us because they kept asking if we were ok with Korean seating. If you don’t know, most Koreans sit “Indian-style” on the floor at a table to eat. No chairs. We told them we were fine and understood the culture. In all honesty, I think they were more worried about Daniel because every time we went to a restaurant they asked about his legs and told him to stretch out. We arrived at the restaurant and were greeted by three more family members: Ju Hwan, Mee Eun’s husband, and their two daughters Yeo(sounds like yay) Jin and Yeo So. While we had tea and our pastry snack – I don’t think I saw one donut – Mee Jin pulled out her notes, introduced the family, and told us to please speak and tell them if there was anything we needed during our visit.
Dinner was at a traditional Korean house, so it was a traditional Korean dinner. Meaning, that there were many courses and they just kept coming and coming. Before we got our food and drinks, I gave them all their gifts which they loved (thanks Becky!). My birth mom was hugging her photo album and keeping it away from the little ones. We had a Korean wine, makgeolli, which looked like a thick pink-orange drink. It was delicious. They told us to be careful with it or we’d have a headache the next day. Dad, you’ll need to learn how to make this one. (Side note – I don’t think they drink that much at all so I’m sure Daniel and I worried them. Mee Jin, my younger brother, all the husbands, and me are the only ones that really drink.) Daniel and I think the water was fine to drink there. We drank some from the faucet but everywhere we went water bottles were used. At restaurants we aren’t sure if the water came from the faucet or not, but at my birth mom’s house she used bottled water for drinking water. Did I mention there was a lot of food at this restaurant?
They fed, literally, Daniel and I this one thing that looked like sandwich meat with sides that they rolled inside of it. There was a lot. Octopus, squid, beef, noodles, soups, beans, duck, and different styles of kimchi. All of it was yummy. By the third round of food I was so stuffed, but they said there was still more! And when you wanted it the least, rice came last. Keep in mind, we were at a traditional restaurant, so this amount of food was not normal. Which is a good thing or you’d see a lot of overweight and obese Koreans. After eating, we went outside and had a mini-photo session. Then we headed to, what I am assuming is, Downtown to a Hanbok store.
Jamie, my Korean teacher, had told Mee Jin that if possible I wanted to get a Hanbok. At the restaurant, Mee Jin told me that it usually took 7 days to make one but they found a shop that would have a customized one ready by Thursday. We rode with Mee Jin, Min Shik, and my birth mom to the Hanbok store. Mee Jin proceeded to tell us our schedule for our visit while Daniel and I fell asleep during the 20 minute car ride. We were woken up to rushed sounds to get out of the car. I wish I had a picture of Daniel’s face because he was so confused. We walked into a store with so many beautiful and bright colors. We – well my sisters and birth mom – started looking at different fabric colors that the seamstress already had laid out. It didn’t really register with me but we were picking out every aspect of my Hanbok. After picking out everything for mine they all turned and looked at Daniel, “Daniel’s turn to pick!”. He was getting one too, even though he tried to tell them no, no, no it was just for MeeRee. But they didn’t listen and Daniel got to be flustered too.
While we were picking out colors for Daniel’s Hanbok, Jeong Hun (son born after me), made a quick appearance. I gave him a hug but he seemed very quiet and reserved. But I guess growing up with three older sisters would do that and he just finished his 24-month military duty. Side note – All Korean males must do 24 months of military service. I didn’t get to talk to him much because I got pulled away to be measured. I got measured a lot. They laughed because I’m not even. Poor seamstress looked distressed because of my measurements. Daniel of course has a perfect frame that many Koreans “ooooh” and “aaahhh” over, said my sisters and birth mom. We were getting ready to leave the store and I could tell payment was being discussed. Daniel and I said we would pay for it, but we were told no that it was a wedding present. And this is where we began to learn that they literally meant, “Just buy your tickets. We’ll take care of everything else.”
After the Hanbok store, we went to Mee Eun’s house. They had apples and grapes (they peel their grapes) but Daniel and I were still full. We got to look at a baby album of Mee Eun and Daniel and I noticed some similarities of Mee Eun and me in baby photos. Mee Jin, the planner, and the rest of the crew decided on what time to leave the next day and we headed to my birth mom’s apartment. They all live in apartments because they live in the city. Min Shik’s parents live in the “country” so they have a house, but never really saw anything but apartments while we were there.
My birth mom lives on the fifth floor with no elevator. She has lived in the same apartment for thirty plus years (ever since she got married to my birth dad). There isn’t much furniture. If you sit anywhere in her place, it’s going to be on the floor. Unless you want to get on the exercise bike on the balcony where they dry and wash their clothes. She has a kitchen area with a good amount of appliances, a little balcony off from that; a bedroom that Hye Jin turned into a closest with a space big enough for her to sleep and have a desktop computer; one bathroom that is also where you wash using a shower hose attached to a water faucet; a “master” bedroom that has a hot STONE bed with no mattress, one huge ornate dresser that she has had since she has lived there, and another little dresser; and then a living room area with a piano, a vanity-like piece of furniture, and some storage furniture that takes up one side of the wall. Jeong Hun and Hye Jin still live at home, but that night Jeong Hun stayed somewhere else. I think because there were many people in the apartment. So we didn’t see or get to talk to my younger brother much that night.
Daniel and I finally got to get ready to head to bed. It was probably early still for them but we were drained. I got asked why I did not use face cream at night and only in the morning, which I learned that they use a lot of facial products. And I remember it took a while to translate/communicate that I only used face cream once a day. I wasn’t really sure why that was a big deal and I still don’t really know. I think they are just really into facial products.
I remember waking up in the middle of the night, after lying on my left side for a long period of time, and it hurting so bad. The next morning Daniel and I both said, “Stone beds are not for me.” We also were really hot. There is no air conditioner in her place. Just a fan that she would later give us to put in the bedroom. Come to think of it, I don’t think air conditioners are a big thing in Korea. A lot of places had fans.
Shew, I’m tired! This was a lot for just one day. I did pretty well writing in my travel journal about Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That’s why the posts for those days will be so long. But then the rest of the time, we stayed up so late that I wasn’t able to stay awake or wake up early enough to write in my journal. But I did try to make notes throughout the day so that it would jog my memory of what I wanted to write about.
Next on the “Meeting the Birth Family” adventure: Breakfast; Busan adventures involving a temple, coffee, lunch with a special guest, and shopping; and an emotional night with Jeong Hun.