Sunday, July 28, 2013

Membership Training

So the major reason I’m here in Seoul right now is to participate in the International Korean Adoptee Associations’ (IKAA) 2013 Gathering.  Held every three years, the Gathering is the largest Korean adoptee conference in the world.  This year about 450 adoptees are attending the weeklong conference.  I’m presenting at the research symposium portion of the conference on Tuesday.

So yesterday IKAA hosted a membership training event.  Apparently this is an activity most Koreans are familiar with—when starting at a new company, or starting the new college school year, friends or colleagues go out to the country to drink, play games, and get to know each other.  Kind of like corporate retreats, but with more soju.

IMG_2444We went to a traditional music school two hours outside of Seoul that’s run by an ajusshi (who apparently is a famous samulnori musician), his wife, and their daughter.  They were very gracious hosts, even if they were a little overbearing about their own preferred agenda (they wanted to teach us Arirang all night; most of us were there to drink).

MT was fun, I was able to see a lot of familiar faces, and meet new adoptees as well.  I usually feel like an awkward turtle in new social situations, but it was so nice to feel like part of the group at MT.  All the attending adoptees were so friendly, I felt like I was already friends with everyone, and just go to skip the awkward get-to-know you period.  The copious amounts of alcohol may have also helped with that.  It’s a possibility.

We learned a bunch of Korean drinking games, and then expanded out to German drinking games, American drinking games, Danish drinking games, etc.

Last night the sunsaegnim (teacher) and his students performed a samulnori routine for us.  This morning, several of us were interested in trying the drums, and asked the teacher if he would be willing to give us a lesson.  So we ended up having an impromptu samulnori jam session.  We weren’t nearly as impressive as the teacher’s performance last night, but I think we did pretty well for absolute beginners.


We got back to Seoul around 1 pm, and let me tell you, the cold shower I took when I got back to Koroot felt amazing!  I’ve got a couple hours to rest and reorganize before heading back over to Myeongdong for the Gathering’s opening ceremony.  And tomorrow will be the research symposium.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Street food discovery

A new Korean street food discovery: the best hot pocket in the world!  Crab cole slaw with thousand island dressing, pickles, and hot dog/spam slices, breaded with croquette batter and deep fried. So delicious!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

War and Women’s Human Rights Museum

IMG_2327This afternoon I found my way to the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum.  It’s a brand-new museum which opened in May of 2012 after nine years of planning and building.  With a mix of art installations, history, and artifacts, the museum tells the story of the thousands of women who were abducted and used as comfort women (though they prefer to be called “Halmoni” rather than the Japanese-created euphemism) or sex slaves during World War II by Japanese soldiers.  Navigating the museum was definitely a powerful experience.  So many of the Halmonis’ stories are heartbreaking. Girls as young as 13 or 14 were kidnapped and raped by 30-50 Japanese soldiers daily.  A quarter of the comfort women died in Japanese “service,” and the surviving women bear scars from their ordeal inside and out.


While the museum certainly makes its visitors aware of the atrocities the Halmonis faced, it does not just paint the women as helpless victims.  The museum does a wonderful job of showing how strong and agentive these women are.  A large part of the museum is dedicated to showcasing the twenty years of efforts and activism the Halmonis have put in to erasing the stigma of hiding the bitter past, seeking reparations from Japan, and raising awareness in the general public on human trafficking and human rights.  Every Wednesday (since 1991, I believe) the Halmonis protest and picket outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul, demanding recognition and reparation from the Japanese government.  In December 2012, the Halmonis celebrated their 1,000th consecutive Wednesday protest.  Though there are only 61 known Hamonis remaining, their force is stronger than ever, and show no signs of stopping until justice has been served.



What I really liked about the museum was that its scope is broader than just the Korean comfort women.  The museum makes a point to acknowledge that comfort women were taken from all over Asia, from Korea, to Indonesia, to Taiwan, to the Philippines.  And while the Halmonis are the main focus of the exhibition, the museum also implores its visitors to consider the fact that today, millions of women are still victims of sexual slavery, human trafficking, and rape all across the world.  I found it fascinating and heartwarming that the Halmonis have personally taken an interest and gotten involved in women’s rights advocacy in Africa.  The Halmonis recognize that all gender violence and inequity is connected and takes many forms.  It makes me hopeful that my own work can contribute to the cause.

Inwang San

Koroot’s located right at the foot of Inwang San, so this morning I took a hike up the mountain, all the way to the top!  It’s really beautiful, with a fortress wall that traces the spine of the mountain like dragon scales.  I usually try and hike in Inwang at least once when I’m in Korea since it’s so near Koroot, but I usually stick to the paths and public exercise machines located about halfway up the mountain.  Today, though, I took a different trail and hiked all the way to the summit.  I didn’t have my camera with me (it was a kind of spur-of-the-moment decision to hike to the top, so I wasn’t really prepared), but I managed to grab a few shots with my handphone.

I also took the opportunity to grab a couple sound bytes.  So you can listen to the sounds of the mountain while scrolling through the photos, and it’ll be just like you’re there with me! (Apologies for the poor sound quality—I just had the internal iPhone mic with me.  Also, sorry for the rather roundabout way of uploading these files--my internet-savvy is apparently not sufficient enough to figure out how to embed sound files on Blogger)

Mountain Spring 


The first sound clip is of the mountain spring.  Apparently, the water from the spring is supposed to have healing/healthful benefits.  It certainly felt wonderfully cool and refreshing when I splashed my face with the water after hiking for three miles!

The second clip is of Korean cicadas.  I love this sound.  Funnily, the American cicada calls in late summer always gave me anxiety when I was growing up.  The harsh jicka-jicka of American cicadas at night meant that summer was almost over, that school would start again, that I would have to navigate new and uncomfortable situations in classrooms full of unfamiliar faces.  The cicadas heralded the looming approach to the time when I would have to once again put all my efforts into being a model student, poised and perfect.  Exhausting.

Korean cicadas, on the other hand, soothe me, with their mem-mem-mem.  Rather than an external façade, Korean cicadas represent self-discovery and a sense of coming home for me.   This summer, I’ve heard just a few here and there, but when I first came back to Korean in 2001, it must have been a transition year for Korean cicadas, because I remember the sound of hundreds of cicadas calling to each other for hours on end being deafening.

That first trip home was definitely a turning point in my life, when being a Korean adoptee because a central and positive self-identity for me.  Since then, I’ve grown and have returned to Korean many times, and the mem-mem-mem has become a sound of self-affirmation for me.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Rainy Day

First of all, overhearing a conversation right now between an adoptee here at Koroot and Pastor Kim, I love the fact that Pastor Kim is referring Korean pastors to Frantz Fanon to understand approaches to adoptee issues.

It’s raining today in Seoul, it’s hot and muggy.  I’m in the second-story sitting room at Koroot, watching the rain drip down the unripe persimmon fruit on the tree out the window.

I’m reminded of my parents’ trip to Korea thirty years ago at just this time.  Apparently, the story goes, it was pouring rain the day they were to pick me up from the adoption agency, which meant that everyone in Seoul crowded into the taxis.  My parents waited and waited in a taxi queue with growing anxiety as Holt Agency’s closing time loomed closer and closer.  My mother, somewhat panicky, afraid that she would be unable to hold the child she had waited so long for, afraid that Holt would close for the weekend before they could get there, turned to my father, and voiced her concerns.  My father was at a loss, having no answers for her, when the Korean behind them spoke up.  “The next taxi, you go!” the stranger ordered.

And so, when the next taxi pulled up to the taxi stand, with the stranger’s blessing, my parents cut the winding line of Seoullites and dove into the backseat of the car, and arrived at the adoption agency in time to take me into their arms.

I always imagine that scene as something out of an action movie, thunder and lightning, my parents diving into a taxi, yelling at the driver to “step on it!” My parents make it with seconds to spare, and the credits scroll over an image of our newly-completed family.  I’m sure it was much more mundane, I’m sure the Koreans waiting in line  grumbled about stupid white tourists cutting in line for a taxi.  I’m sure the adoption agency would have ensured my parents were able to pick me up.  All the same, it’s fun to imagine otherwise sometimes.

Monday, July 15, 2013


A family member scolded me for expressing disappointment with the George Zimmerman trial verdict.  I had posted “It’s a dangerous time to be a person of color in America.”  I was then told that I was racist and sexist for expressing an opinion that deviated from a white male perspective, and should get over it because justice had been served.

This was hurtful to me, not because a white male called me racist and sexist, but because as a person of color, I felt that my voice and opinion was once again being dismissed, ignored, and invalidated.  Someone who has never experienced the daily trials of racism and microaggressions was telling me how I was supposed to feel.

It’s not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty.

For me, that’s beyond the point.  It’s that Trayvon Martin never should have died in the first place.  It’s that he was innocent of anything but being a young man of color in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It’s that racial profiling and vigilantism (official or unofficial) exists and so often result in tragedies like Trayvon’s death.  Had Trayvon been a white teenager dressed in a hoodie walking through the neighborhood, would George Zimmerman have seen him as a threat, confronted him, and shot him?

It’s that while there is a criminal-justice system in place that determines what is right and wrong, it is a system that is flawed.  It’s a system that favors white Americans, or people who can pass as white.  In the United States, approximately 30% of the population is comprised of people of color, yet make up 60% of the nation’s prison population.  It’s a system in which law enforcement agents in urban centers are encouraged to stop and frisk Black and Hispanic men to keep patrol quotas up.

But my statement, “It’s a dangerous time to be a person of color in America” isn’t just about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.  What I mean, is, as a person of color, I confront stereotypes and assumptions on a daily basis that my white family members and friends don’t.  And so often, they take that for granted.
Have they ever been approached on a bus and propositioned for sex because Asian women are stereotyped as subservient and hypersexual?
Do people talk about them as if they’re invisible because it’s assumed they don’t understand English?
Do they need to make sure to shave, dress nicely, and avoid eye-contact with TSA agents while traveling like my husband to avoid being fingered as a terrorist?
Have they been spit on by strangers on the street like my Punjabi family members?
Do people assume their mothers are prostitutes like my fellow adoptees and mixed-race friends?
I would hope they haven’t experienced these, because though I and my brown brothers and sisters face instances like this daily, it’s hurtful every time.

I’m not asking for pity, or sympathy, or a guilt handout.  All I’m asking for is recognition that my life as a person of color is different from those of white Americans, and respect and validation of my experiences, feelings, and opinions, even if they vary from your own.  In return, I will promise the same.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

France/Italy Travel Tips

Amul’s travel tips for France and Italy:


Here's an info dump of stuff about Italy and France:


Here's the link to the champagne tour that we went on.  Definitely reserve in advance as they are highly rated on trip adviser and only take a max of 6 people a day.

Get the Paris museum pass, it lets you bypass the lines at most museums including the Louvre.  You can buy it at any museum (go to a less popular one so you don't have to wait in line)

A few good restaurants in Paris that we went to: - right next door is the Shakespeare book store which is pretty cool (they had a reading the night we were there)


We went to Rome, Florence, and then rented a car from Florence and drove around Tuscany.

One really cool (but sometimes tourist trap-y) thing about Italy is that a lot of bars and restaurants have happy hours (Apertivi) where you get free snacks with your drink. The better happy hour deals actually have a buffet that you can pick from. For the most part its worth it and a good time. We did get slightly burned once by someone telling us the drinks were 8 euros but charged us 10 euros after we were done.  There will be a lot of places like this in Rome and Florence especially in the various piazzas. House wine is always a good (inexpensive choice) with dinner. 


The Roma pass allows you free entrance to two attractions where you can skip the line and then discounts elsewhere (but no line skipping).  Its worth it to skip the line at the Colosseum. You also get to ride public transit for free. You can buy it at the airport or main train stations.  

The coolest place by far was the Galleria Borghese.  It has some of the most amazing sculptures that I've seen.  You must reserve tickets in advance (online or by phone), they sell out about a week or two in advance so plan ahead.  

Like we mentioned, Rome is interesting but sprawling and crowded.  We had much more fun in Florence and Tuscany.


The two biggest tourist attractions are the Academia (where David is) and the Uffizi Gallery.  Both of which have long lines BUT you can also reserve tickets online in advances and save HOURS of waiting time.  Plan ahead and reserve tickets to save time.

Our other favorite attractions in Florence:

- The Galileo Museum of Science History - no lines, easy to get into and really, really cool!

- The central market - greatest food market I've ever been to. Go hungry and get sandwiches, meat samplers, fruit, nuts, truffles etc. The market is actually indoors in a large building surrounded by tourist hawker stalls selling leather, purses, and souvenirs.  A lot of tourists completely miss the indoor food market. Do not miss it!  

Some good restaurants: - Get one of the meat/cheese sampler platters and a few glasses of house wine. So good! - get the truffle gnocchi - the cauliflower flan was amazing and they are really generous with the limoncello 


The towns we visited were: San Gimignano, Siena, and Greve in Chianti. We wanted to see Volterra but didn't get a chance.  San Gimignano and Sienna were the most scenic.  Greve in Chianti was a normal looking town but you really go there for the wine.

If you do visit these towns is best to rent a car and GPS is really helpful.  My Samsung phone didn't work in Europe but Kira's iPhone GPS did work.  Some of the larger cities (Florence and Sienna for sure) have zero traffic zones (ZTL) that you can accidentally drive into and then be sent a $300 ticket.  Let me know if you plan to rent a car, I'll send you our PDF version of lonely planet Italy road trips. Make sure you can drive stick shift or specifically reserve an automatic transmission car.

A few restaurants/places we really liked in the various towns:

The Duomo in Siena was absolutely beautiful. It has a "crypt" and a museum and a panoramic view point worth checking out. - winery tour in Chianti : Self serve wine tasting of more than 140 wines (as well as some Spumanti and Champagnes). - amazing butcher and cheese store in Greve in Chianti 

Regarding money, if you have a Bank of America account you can use BNL and BNP ATMs in both France and Italy with no transaction fee. Way better exchange rate than money exchangers too.  Also Paris was about 15% more expensive than Italy in terms of food and drink. 

Let us know if you want more details on any particular town once you get to more detailed planning.

I hope that helps!



Greece Travel Suggestions

Several friends of ours have recently asked us for travel tips for Greece, Italy, and France.  Amul, the gracious and thorough friend his is, compiled a couple e-mails to our friends giving them info. on some of our favorite places.  Below is his Greece travel tips e-mail, which he generously agreed to share on the blog, for anyone else looking to travel to these destinations.


Here are some of our recommendations for Greece:


We actually didn't make it to Oia but I heard great things about it. We stayed in Fira and spent time there and further south on the island Aside from quality beach time check out the following:

1. Santo Wines.  They have great outdoor seating that overlooks the caldera. I think a tasting of 6 wines with cheese was 11 euros, a great deal.  Its best to go later in afternoon to avoid the tour groups.  They are open until sunset and would be a nice place to watch the sunset one evening.  Definately try the Vinsanto (and we would be greatly indebted to you if you have room to bring a bottle of Vinsanto back for us!  We didn't buy one because it was just the 3rd day of 21 days of travel and we weren't sure if we wanted to lug it all around Europe. We now regret that decision.)

2. Ancient Akrotiri was pretty cool. Its a city that was covered in volcanic ash thousands of years ago (like Pompeii) and is an active archaeological site. 

3. Some of our favorite restaurants in Fira:

O Souvlaros: no view, no fancy setup, but amazing home cooked food (the daughter is the server, the mom is the cook).  You will not be disappointed. The Meatballs and the eggplant saganaki were the stars.

Fanari Restaraunt: great view, great food!


We didn't spend much time here but we really liked it.  Definitely go to Delos one day.  Other than that go get drinks in little venice while the sun sets (they are expensive though, 12 euros a pop!).  


Aside from the acropolis:

1. We really liked the old Olympic stadium. Its worth the money to actually go inside and see it in person. They have free audio guides and there is a hidden exhibit (walk up the athlete's tunnel) that has all the modern Olympic torches. You can even run on the track.

2. Check out the acropolis museum if you need a break from the sun.

3. Our favorite restaurant we went to:

Have a good trip!


And bonus, Amul’s made a “best-of” photo album of our trip that you can check out here: