Monday, December 1, 2014

India - Day 1

Post written by Amul:

Cows, goats, overladen trucks, jeeps with 15 people riding in them, and the occasional camel drawn cart. These are the obstacles our driver faces as we make the 250 km journey from Delhi to Jaipur as we plan to spend the next two days in the capital of Rajasthan. Rajasthan translates to “land of the kings”; on our itinerary is visiting forts, royal observatories, palaces and staying in a “heritage hotel” (a hotel built and decorated using historic methods and art that was used to build palaces for kings). More on Rajasthan later.

We arrived in Delhi after 26 hours of traveling at 3am local time. Delhi is typically cool in December but it’s unusually warm this year, highs of 80 in the day with overnight lows in the upper 50s. It was refreshingly cool when we stepped out of the airport to await our hotel transit, a marked difference from our past travels to India (which were hot and muggy with heavy air such that I would break a sweat at 3am just carrying my bag to the car).

After 5 hours of sleep we freshened up and took the train into Delhi for some shopping and sight-seeing.  First on our list was to buy a sari for Kira and a kurta for me. These are to be worn at our friend’s wedding in 5 days (the main reason for our trip to India).  The first shop we went to had beautiful material but did not tailor clothes nor would they recommend anyone to do the work (which I found extremely odd).  We ended up at another shop that mostly caters to tourist selling clothes, art, jewelry, marble and the like. Although we likely overpaid, the quality for the convenience was worth it.  Kira was measured and the store tailored her sari and delivered it to our hotel later that night.  Pictures will follow when we get dressed along with our full accessories.

A short stopover at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar (a royal observatory used for tracking celestial bodies for the sake of astrological interpretation) cost me 5 rupees (passing as a local) but set Kira back 100 rupees (the “tourist price” which is still less than $2). A few pictures are below. We’ll stop by Jaipur’s Jantar Mantar in the next few days, its supposedly bigger and more impressive than Delhi’s.
We then wandered over to a south Indian restaurant I had bookmarked prior to our travels. Trip adviser lists it as the #8 restaurant in Delhi, we had to wait about 15 minutes for a table (at 2pm mind you) as it was crowded with locals.  We had a wonderful lunch of dosa, puri, and fresh made lime sodas for about $7. Following lunch we flagged down an autorikshaw to take us to the Red Fort (a video clip from our ride was posted earlier by Kira).

The Red Fort was built to protect the king’s royal residence, and it is some residence!  A complex of marble sleeping quarters, audience halls, the kings personal mosque, and more was built along the river within the fort’s walls. Water was brought up from the river and placed in an elaborate set of fountains, and waterways that were meant to keep the palace ground cool during the hot summers. Kira and I were commenting how it must have been an amazing sight to see the water flowing through jewel lined channels of marble.  Some of the elaborate marble work still exists including marble screens in the residence’s windows.

We spent some time wandering the markets before catching a rickshaw back to the train station for our metro ride home.






Sunday, November 30, 2014

Monday, June 30, 2014

Sweet Dung, the Cake Tree, and the Bugle of Life

Another gem of a Korean folktale from a different book that I found at the bookstore:

Once upon a time there lived a poor man who had a little dog, a persimmon tree, and a bugle.

One day he went out into the mountains to cut wood, and chanced to find a bees' nest full of honey. He took the honey home and put it in a closet. That night, while he was asleep, the little dog found the honey and lapped it all up. When he discovered what had happened, the man was very angry, so [he] kicked the little dog with tremendous force. The dog became terrified and excreted a small amount of dung as a result. Surprisingly, the dung smelt remarkably sweet, so the man dipped his finger in it and tasted it. He was shocked when he realized that it also tasted very sweet. The man then took the little dog out into the street and shouted, "Sweet dung! Won't you come and buy some sweet dung? This little dog makes sweet dung. Come along and buy some! Very cheap!" People flocked around the poor man, tasting the dung before purchasing some. When a gentleman came by and offered to buy the little dog, its owner sold it for one thousand nyang.

The next day the gentleman invited a crowd of guests to a special feast of sweet dung. When they were all seated, he drew the little dog from his sleeve and served them all himself. He squeeze its belly with his fingers, so that it excreted dung into each dish. But when his guest started to eat it they all cried out angrily. The little dog had been fed on cooked rice and its dung smelt as unpleasant as usual. The gentleman realized that he had been swindled, and rushed off to find the poor man who had sold it to him.

The original owner had guessed that the gentleman would sooner or later come to complain, and so he told his wife to cook a lot of rice cakes and hang them high in the bare branches of the persimmon tree. Before long the gentleman came rushing into the house with the dog, intending to demand the return of his money. The husband received him affably and said to his wife, "The gentleman I told you about has arrived. We have nothing much to offer him, but you may as well go and pick some cakes from the cake tree. We haven't a very good crop this year, but you may find some on the lower branches.

The gentleman was very intrigued to hear of the cake tree, his anger assuaged momentarily. Overcome with curiosity, he went out and looked at the tree in the garden as the woman climbed up and picked some to eat. The tree was quite laden with cakes indeed. The gentleman had never seen anything so wonderful in his life, so he decided to say nothing of the little matter of the dog. When he had a chance to taste the delicious cakes, he proposed that he should by the cake tree. The husband agreed at once, and sold it to him for one thousand nyang, including the house. The gentleman went back home very pleased with himself, the proud owner of the remarkable tree. That very same day, the husband and wife moved to another village.

The gentleman told his wife of the cake tree and the wonderful bargain he had got, but she was most sceptical and would not believe that any such tree existed. The next day he took her to see it, only to find that it was just an ordinary tree with cakes hung on it. The gentleman was furious at being swindled a second time, and hastened to the village where the couple had gone.

They had, however, already planned another trick to play on him. The husband had killed a dog, and his wife hid its entrails near her breast. When the gentleman came and called the husband from the gate, the wife pretended to be angry, complaining loudly that his visit was inconvenient. Her husband abused her roundly and shouted, "This is my affair and nothing to do with you. I will not have you being rude to my guests." Then he picked up a mallet and pretended to beat her most cruelly. In a minute or two she threw the dog's entrails onto the ground and fell down, apparently dead. The gentleman was most alarmed by this violent onslaught and the woman's death, but her husband merely went and got his old bugle. He applied it to his wife's buttocks and blew. At once she appeared to revive and in a few moments sat up quite unharmed.

The gentleman was very relieved to see this awkward situation relieved so easily. The bugle seemed to him to be something infinitely precious, so he offered to buy the bugle. The husband readily sold it to him for another thousand nyang, so that he had made three thousand nyang an all by these transactions. He also extracted a pledge from the gentleman that he would not come and complain about his purchases any more.

The gentleman was very proud of his new bugle. Yet when he took it home, his wife was more displeased than ever by yet another foolish bargain and told him off in no uncertain terms. The gentleman got very angry and beat her to death as a result. Everyone in his family was terrified by his sudden nadness, but he merely smiled and poked the bugle under her skirt. When he blew, confidently expecting that she would be restored to life, nothing happened. However hard he blew she would not come back to life and in the end he too fell down in a faint and died.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Noryanjin Fish Market

A group of friends and I made the trip over to Seoul's fish market the other day.  It's a gigantic indoor market with hundreds of fish seller stalls.  It's open 24 hours a day, and every morning at about 3 am, they hold a wholesale fish auction that apparently is an experience in itself.  We opted to forego the 3 am visit, but went for dinner.  Probably 2/3 of the stalls were shut down for the day, but even still, there were plenty of vendors, and it actually was a little bit less overwhelming with a scarcer crowd.



There was every type of fish and seafood you could imagine, and several that you couldn't. For example:
I have no idea what these are.  I know what they look like, though, when they're writhing and squirming around in a bucket together.

We saw a couple very well fed fish market cats as well:


So the way it works is that you end up buying all your seafood from a single vendor. We knew we wanted shellfish and octopus, so we made sure to pick a vendor that had that.  We ended up getting several baby octopi (for sannakji--details on that later), a bunch of different mussels, about 10 gigantic prawns, a few things called sea pineapples, and probably some other things that I'm forgetting.






Each fish vendor is associated with one of the seafood restaurants on the second floor of the building. So having bought all our seafood (for 50,000 won, around $50), the vendor led us upstairs with our "catch" to the restaurant.  Our fish were handed over to the cooks at the restaurant, and were prepared to order.

One of the more bizarre foods that Koreans eat is sannakji, baby octopus. It's prepared raw and live; the cooks dice the octopus into small bite-sized pieces. By the time the octopus hits the table, it's very much dead, but the nerve synapses continue firing for quite a while afterward, so the tentacles are still slithering and suctioning when you eat it.  It's a favorite dish to showcase Korean cuisine on the weird food travel channel specials.

Aside from the strange experience of the tentacles suctioning to the inside of your mouth and wriggling around as you chew it, sannakji is actually really good!  You dip it in sesame oil, and raw, the octopus has a very mild flavor, and is not nearly as chewy as when it's cooked.


Our other dishes were not so adventurous, but still quite delicious.  We also opted to order the restaurant's house fish stew in addition to the seafood we had bought downstairs.
Spicy fish stew with mugwort
Fish stew

Some of the most delicious scallops I've ever had

A variety of steamed mussels. And a single snail that somehow managed to sneak into our dish.
Maybe it's like the baby in the Mardi Gras cake?

Sea pineapple--tasted like the ocean!


The restaurant bill came to about 60,000 won (the fish stew comprised 20,000 of that).  Split between seven people, the total ended up being about $15 per person.  There was plenty of food (we couldn't finish it all) and some of the freshest seafood I've ever had.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Momentum

My body can tell it's nearing the end of the trip.  Walking about Seoul, my strides shorten and slow. I take to solitary isolation, reflection. I am more prone to tears.

It is always bittersweet, this leaving. I can tell I am ready to go home, and yet...and yet, and yet.

As soon as I board the plane, turn my face toward the western shore of California, my bones long for Korean soil.

My heart aches to understand Korea, her people, her paradoxes. But sometimes I wonder whether it is just tilting at windmills. From home, in my sunlit bedroom office, it always seems as if it is just out of reach, this comprehension. If I could just be there, everything would become illuminated. And when I am here, it seems so far out of reach.

I am walking around in circles about Seoul. No clear destination determined. My footsteps slow, slow, slow. Soon, like a pendulum winding down, I will simply stop. Motion will cease, and I will be at the end. It will be time to go home.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Panic Attack

Sometimes waves of anxiety will suddenly wash over me and it's all I can do not to curl into an immobile ball of hyperventilating panic. I will be walking down the street and my stomach will clench, my hands go clammy, my vision starts to blur.

I am terrified of failure, of incompetence, of being abandoned and dismissed. Every once in a while these fears overcome me and all the responsibilities and expectations that weigh so heavily upon me become crippling.

Over the years I've gotten better at self-soothing, at talking myself away from the proverbial ledge. But every once in a while the panic attacks get the best of me and even once my heart rate returns to normal and the black spots clear from my eyes,  a sort of haze surrounds me for the rest of the day. Shell-shock, if you will.

So I am wandering around these unfamiliar streets of Seoul this afternoon, lost in my own self-doubts, oblivious to the blaring k-pop music from the storefronts, dragging my feet and delaying the transit of the salaryman behind me as he rushes to gets to work, or home, or the bar, or wherever it is Korean businessmen go on an unremarkable Thursday afternoon.

That's all this really is. A non-event on a sunny Thursday afternoon.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Tired of Being Sorry

About a month ago, I switched phones (which is a story in itself), and I took the opportunity to refresh my music playlist.  I went with some “retro” favorites, and one of the tracks that came up on my shuffle the other day was “Tired of Being Sorry (Spanishfaster)” by Ringside. I think I’m probably only one of about maybe eleven people who bought their album back in 2006 when it came out, but listening to it again eight years later brought back memories of that summer.



I was twenty-three, and I had graduate from college six months before, and was living out on the horse farm with puppy Olivia. I spent the summer hauling hay bales, birthing baby horses, and teaching little girls how to ride. It was my last good summer with Bryan (maybe because he was three states away teaching music and discovering Goldschlager). It was the last summer before I got sick, before so many of my memories were lost.  But I remember that summer.
Ann Arbor, August 2, 2006

It was the summer I spent with Amul: going out and about Ann Arbor, cooking, swinging on the rope swing at the farm that we hung from the big black walnut tree out front, talking.  My memories of that summer are always tinted with a nostalgic yellow-gold filter, the shade of the summer wheat fields, of sunlight on the rump of my chestnut mare grazing in the pasture at sunset, her tail flicking lazily back and forth.

It's funny how one song can trigger so many memories. Maybe not just of moments, but memories of a certain state of mind, of how the hot summer wind felt on my skin back then, of the satisfaction of standing in the middle of a field at night singing Ringside at the top of my lungs with no one around for miles and miles.

I'll never have another summer like that.  So many things have changed, so many things lost along the way.

But my summers these days are ones to cherish as well. They are still spent with Olivia and Amul, but also with Omma, Gayoung, my aunts, and adoptees from around the world. With all that has been lost, we have gained so much as well. We write new chapters and look forward to new seasons.

In the meantime, I've deleted most of the new old songs from my phone's music folder, and have replaced them with the latest K-pop hits (I swear, I run a minute per mile faster when I listen to K-pop than other genres). But Ringside remains, and I look forward to the occasional shuffle of it through my playlist, of that quick glimpse back to the summer of 2006, when everything was tinged with golden light.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Korean Folktales

Cho, Hee-Woong. Korean Folktales. Korean Studies Series No. 5.
Edited by Carolyn Scheer. Translated by Hye-Kyung Yoo. Jinmoongdal, 2001.

I’ve been reading a book of Korean folktales I found at Koroot. This Korean scholar has collected and categorized over a hundred folktales into a number of subcategories in order to try and find patterns:



But what strikes me about Korean folktales is that unlike their Western counterparts, they don’t always have to have a lesson or a moral to make them worthwhile. Some are stories just for the sake of being stories.  Here’s an example:
The Toad’s Tears
One day a Dragon King held a banquet, inviting every imaginable fish there was. They all gathered in his palace and ate and drank until they were full. Everyone was having such a good time until something happened. There was a drunken hair-tail fish [that] was swimming here and there, swinging its tail, and he accidentally hit the King in the eye, blinding him. 
The King was furious. “Bring before me every fish with a tail immediately,” he ordered the crab and the lobster. 
The sudden change in the mood of the party frightened everyone and they ran away. The crab and lobster searched and searched for the fish with a tail, but they failed to find even a single one. 
Feeling very foolish, the crab and lobster went ashore in search of the fish. Finally, they came across a ditch between two rice fields. They heard someone crying, so they followed the sound and found a big toad. 
“Why are you crying so sadly?” the crab and lobster asked the toad. 
“Is it true that the Dragon King ordered every fish with a tail to be brought before him?” 
“Yes, that is true. But what’s the matter with you? You don’t have to worry. You don’t even have a tail." 
“Of course, I do not have a tail, but it reminds me of the time when I was a tadpole.”
I also like that Korean folktales are a bit more ribald and silly than most Western tales:
The Tiger and the Dried Persimmon 
Long, long ago, in the dead of winter, it was unbearably cold and the world was blanketed with snow. Birds in the sky and animals on the earth were having a very hard time finding food.
A starving tiger roamed around in search of food, but in vain. At last he decided to go down to the village at dusk and try to find something, perhaps a hen or a dog, to fill his empty stomach. He stopped under the window of a house, and stood listening to learn what was going on. 
It so happened that a baby in the house began to cry. Then the tiger heard the voice of his mother saying, "Listen! Stop crying. There is a wildcat out there."
Still, the baby kept crying. The mother then said, "Oh my! A wolf is out there."
But the baby was not afraid and went on crying, "Waa, waa, waa..."
The tiger wondered, "How strange! A mere child, and it isn't afraid of a wildcat or a wolf!"
Then the mother hugged the child close, as if to protect him and said again, "Listen! There is a large tiger outside the window!"
Stunned, the tiger squatted flat on the ground. "How does she know I am here?" he wondered. 
The baby continued to wail loudly, without a single sign of fear. 
"He really is a ferocious child. He is not even afraid of me," the tiger thought. 
Until then, the tiger had thought that he was the strongest and the most feared creature around the village, and he was greatly perplexed to find such a fearless child. 
Then the tiger heard the mother saying, "Look! A dried persimmon." 
Suddenly, the child's cries stopped, and all was quiet in the house. 
The tiger thought to himself, "A dried persimmon! How ferocious he must be! That persimmon must be more dreadful than a wildcat, or a wolf, or even myself. I'd better get out of here at once and hide somewhere." So the tiger hurried to the stable. 
That night, it so happened that a burglar broke into the stable, and mistook the tiger crouched in the corner, for a calf. He climbed on the tiger's back and slapped him on the rear to make him start walking. 
 "Dear me!" thought the tiger, "This fellow must be the dried persimmon!"
Terrified, the tiger rushed outside and ran through the hills, between the cultivated fields, up the mountains and across the plains. 
The burglar, equally frightened, clung to the back of what he still believed to be a calf, trying not to fall off. 
Meanwhile, dawn came, and the man finally saw that the animal was not a calf, but a tiger. 
"Waaah! Now I am doomed!" the burglar thought, racking his brains for a way to escape. 
Just then the tiger passed under a big tree, and the burglar caught hold of a branch, pulling himself up into the tree. 
The tiger was so relieved to be rid of the ferocious "persimmon." Without daring to look back, he ran on. "He is really a terrible fellow. I hope I never meet him again! I am lucky to be alive!" 
Just then the tiger met a bear. The bear asked him, "Mr. Tiger, where are you going so early in the morning, and in such a hurry?" 
The tiger answered, "I have just had an awful experience. Last night, a dried persimmon climbed on my back and I have just gotten rid of it. And I am still running for fear it might return." 
The bear burst into laughter. He pointed to the burglar in the tree and said, "What do you mean, 'a dried persimmon,' Mr. Tiger? Don't you see that he is a human being? Let us go and catch him and have a delicious feast." 
The tiger shouted, "How can a man ride on the back of a tiger? I'm positive that he is a dried persimmon." 
"If you don't believe me," the bear retorted, "then follow me." 
With that, the bear proceeded ahead and the tiger timidly followed. 
Meanwhile, the burglar was watching all this and hid himself inside a hole in the tree. 
The bear climbed up the tree to the hole and looked inside, but he could not reach the burglar. So he sat on the hole, hoping to smother the burglar.
Finally, the gasping man could stand it no longer. Looking up, he saw the private parts of the bear dangling above him, so he untied his belt and cinched the bear's testicles tightly. 
The bear roared in unbearable pain and fell over dead. 
The tiger shouted," Didn't I tell you that he is a dried persimmon? If you had listened to me, this would not have happened." And he began to run.
The burglar then came down from the tree, butchered the bear and built a fire. Then  he heated a thin flat stone, roasted the bear meat and ate it.
The tiger, watching from a distance, suddenly found himself very hungry. He timidly approached the burglar and begged, "Mr. Dried Persimmon, could you give me some of the meat?" 
The burglar said calmly, "All right. You shall have some. But when I throw a chop, you must catch it in your mouth and eat it before it falls to the ground. If you fail to catch it, I will eat you up as well. Do you understand?" 
The tiger nodded, and the burglar threw the red-hot stone, saying, "Well, here you are!" 
The tiger caught it in his mouth, but it was so hot that he gulped it down whole. His insides began to roast! He rushed to a stream to get a drink and he drank so much he couldn't move. 
Then the burglar killed and skinned him, and took the skins of the tiger and the bear to the king. He was given a generous reward. 
Able to live decently thanks to the reward money, he stopped robbing and lived happily ever after.
And some are so short they can barely be called stories at all:
The Shortest Story in the World
Once upon a time, there lived a sandal peddler. One day while he was making straw sandals, he began to laugh very loudly and then he died. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Korea Fighting!

Photo from nottoomuch.com
Amul and I and bunch of friends from Berkeley got the opportunity to watch the World Cup Korea style the other day.  Since hosting and their unexpected advancement in 2002, Koreans have been World Cup crazy. From what I've heard, the crowds in 2002 were incredible. Millions of people in the middle of Seoul's city center cheering. Academic ethnographies have been written about Korean soccer fans' nationalism.

agefotostock.com
This year, things are a bit more subdued. With the nation still reeling from the Sewol Ferry incident, City Hall has become the site of a massive memorial for the students and other civilians who lost their lives.  Instead of the usual party at City Hall, the city put up a temporary screen at Gwanghwamun Plaza, right in front of Gyeongbukgung's gate.  While only about 20,000 people came out to the site (I believe there was another site set up in Gangnam, with Psy purportedly making an appearance), it was still a great experience to watch the game and sing the chants with thousands of Korean Red Devils fans. We got to the party at about 5:30 for the 7:00 am kickoff and the square was already 2/3 full. Walking past the night before, Amul and I saw the super hardcore fans camped out for front row spots.

Watching the game with several people of non-Korean descent, it became apparent that our group was being singled out for human interest stories for all sorts of television programs, and we found giant cameras focused on us a number of times. Amul was even asked to do a short interview. Minsu, the native Korean in our group later informed us that the interviewer was actually a fairly famous television personality (her name escapes me).  Apparently, she was a contestant/cast member on a Korean reality survival show called "The Genius." In addition to having the looks of a K-pop star, she also has a through-the-roof IQ, Mensa membership, and a degree from Seoul National University. The whole package!

Amul took several photos and videos during the game:







Korea fighting! Korea's next game is on Sunday against Algeria.  Korea time, the game starts at like 4 int he morning. I don't think I'll make it over to the square again to watch (I'm not even sure if they're planning on setting up a screen again--it was completely taken down within four hours of the end of the match), but I'll probably tune in from the comfort of Koroot's couch and high definition tv.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Unexpected news

So my birthfather has been "found." Gayoung and I were trying to be covert and ask our aunts if they could track down any information on him without having to dredge up bad memories for Omma. After contacting old friends and neighbors, they were unable to turn up anything.  Turns out, Omma's had his phone number all along. Living now in Pohang, he had apparently cut off all ties with friends from his past to the point that he didn't even inform anyone in their family's hometown of my grandfather's passing a few months ago.

Over bowls of makgeolli, Omma tells me, "My greatest wish is that someday he will meet you face to face and apologize to you. I have his phone number when you're ready."

Trying to decide what my next steps are. When is anyone really ready for something like this?

Walking the Beach

My Korean mother, sister, and I walk along the beach in their coastal hometown of Ulsan, and it reminds me of summer afternoons beachcombing the shores of Lake Michigan with my American mother and sister. I am struck by the magic of this moment, all the miracles that took place that makes this walk, the three of us together, possible. After so many years walking Haeundae Beach alone in tears, wishing and wondering,today we walk abreast, three women with the same blood coursing through our hearts.

Omma tells me that when I was born, she she saw my foot. That split-second glance of heel and arch and toe is all she saw before I was gone. She says when I was lost, that was the only image of me she had, and she kept it safe in her heart--five tiny toes, like precious pink pearls. Today she watches me navigate the Sandy terrain of the shore and marvels, "the last time I saw these feet was over thirty years ago. They were just born and I thought I would never see them again. And now look! These feet can walk and run and have trekked so many miles that will forever be incomprehensible to me.  They have grown up attached to a woman I can once again call my daughter. And I am blessed to walk this short coastal path alongside them."

I have always thought my feet were quite silly. Too big for my body. Flat, unlike the graceful arches with which my American family is clad.  My toes are fat and knobby, like lollipops, with nails that can never keep a polish looking presentable for over a week. But through my mother's eyes, I now seen them for the miracles that they are. I wonder what new adventure they will take me on next.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Bad Days

To be honest, yesterday wasn’t a great day. I had to send Amul back home, and then it seemed that every single interaction I had with a Korean resulted in them being frustrated and exasperated with my bumbling attempts at communication.

But I’m learning that one bad day isn’t the end of the world.  This morning I greet this new day as an opportunity to start anew. Face forward, carry on.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Whale Museum

After visiting Gayoung and Jiyoung at Freedom Station yesterday afternoon, we went to Ulsan's Whale Museum on the recommendation of Gayoung. While Ulsan is the headquarters of Hyundai's manufacturing and hosts not only the largest automobile manufacturing plant in the world, but also the largest oil refinery and a shipyard that builds the largest ships in the world, Ulsan was originally a whaling town, or as the museum claims, korae-i kohyang (Amul's computer doesn't have Korean text installed): whales' hometown.  The Whale Museum was actually really interesting; it gave the history of Korea's and Ulsan's whaling industry as well as lessons on cetacean biology and ecology.

Panorama of Ulsan's waterway along the Whale Museum
It was a rather strange juxtaposition of how the perspective on whales has changed over time.  On the one hand, the whaling industry was presented with pride and nostalgia, with a tinge of regret on the demise of the industry with the international ban on commercial whaling in the 1980s. Pictures of the whale processing and rendering process went into precise detail.  On the other hand, whales were also presented as majestic and intelligent creatures worthy of admiration and conservation.  Further, the whole international political conflict of who has rightful ownership of Dokdo Island was brought into the mix, as ship logs from US whalers in the 1800s clearly state (according to the museum display captions) that Dokdo was a Korean territory.  And all of these packaged in a family-friendly museum format, complete with cartoon talking whales and dolphins and clips from Disney's Pinocchio wherein Gepetto and Pinocchio are swallowed by the whale.

Anyway, apparently while whale meat used to be widely available and a very popular delicacy across Korea, nowadays, there are only a few restaurants left in a small corner of Ulsan where you can get whale meat. Amul and I did not indulge, but we wondered, if the whale hunting industry in Korea has been dismantled for over twenty-five  years, where is this meat coming from?



Aboard an old whaling ship




Freedom Station

Amul and I took the KTX down to Ulsan yesterday, a trip I've very much been anticipating.  While I've been reunited with Omma for going on four years now, this is my first time visiting the city in which she lives.  Additionally, both Gayoung and Jiyoung have recently moved back home, and have opened up a cafe together a few minutes away from Omma's house.

Freedom Station.  A quaint and cozy cafe, another reaffirmation of the strength of DNA. My sisters have created my dream cafe. I could spend hours, days, tucked in the cozy corners of their little shop, sipping vanilla lattes, reading poetry, and watching the light of the afternoon make its way across the room through the window.

Stepping through the door, I see my sisters. So wonderful and surreal to say that. To have both of them there in the same room as I. And still quite strange. Jiyoung doesn't know yet. She probably won't know for quite some time. It's an indescribable experienced to meet your sister when she doesn't know she's your sister. To Jiyoung, I am a friend Gayoung met during her time in the US.  Not even an adoptee, but a Korean American who only knows the most basic of sentences in Korean. Yet something more profound manages to peek through. Those intangible connections that seem to abound in my interactions with my Korean family. Gayoung tells me that Jiyoung was certain she had seen me somewhere before. My face is so familiar. Perhaps some of her own features shining through without her even realizing it. But despite the veil of secrets, it is wonderful to meet and talk to Jiyoung, even as a stranger, as a friend of her sister. She is sweet and charming. Happy in this space of hers that she's created, bustling back and forth about the cafe with her sister and her boyfriend, who works just down the street at Hyundai, and visits multiple times a day.  Our baby sister lives in an enchanted world, and I am more than willing to maintain the facade we've created to keep that innocent happiness in her eyes and in her smile.  Not that the knowledge of our connection would destroy her, corrupt her. Someday she will know the truth. When the time is right. But she is content in the place she is right now, and I understand Omma's and Gayoung's desire to shelter her from such complexities of our situation for now.

Gayoung and Jiyoung serve us with care, each item on the menu made with sincerity and deliberation. Jiyoung holds her breath as I taste the brownie she handmade this morning, her hand over her heart. It is delicious, and I savor the effort and care she has put into every bite.  The five of us sit around the table--myself, Gayoung, Jiyoung, Amul, and Jiyoung's boyfriend of two years, Youngho. We chat and laugh, and I think that we all could be doing this years from now as family. The Park sisters getting together over coffee with their husbands. The familiarity which we immediately seem to find is remarkable to me.  Youngho, who has only just met us minutes ago, to whom we are merely the American friends of his girlfriend's older sister, offers us his car to use for the afternoon.  We decline the offer, but it impresses me that Jiyoung has found such a good man. Maybe someday I will call him my brother-in-law.  Someday all things will come to light.















Freedom Station's handmade menu (all menu photos by Jiyoung):