Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Recalling Korea (longing and nausea)

A couple of weeks ago we went down to Lakewood for a Korean dinner with our friends Don and Jill Tracy, who had never had Korean food before. I made this layout and just felt compelled to do all the journaling in Korean (on my tablet). I was waxing nostalgic.

My very favorite meal is a good kimchi jjigae bek pan ("bek pan" is the rice and side dish part), but to be really, really good it has to have kim (roasted laver seaweed) as well. Restaurants generally don't provide kim in their side dishes, so when I'm going to have kimchi jjigae I get my own kim and take it along. This always seems to amuse the waitresses. (Look! It's an American eating kimchi jjigae! With kim!) I tried giving Kate some kim before and she didn't like it, but this time she decided it was good and ate several pieces.

This is not where the nausea comes in (though much as I like Korean food, my stomach often does feel a little weird afterwards, especially if I haven't eaten it in a while). Yesterday we got out our home movies from Korea, which we hadn't watched in years. When Doug and I were teaching in Chonan, we borrowed a video camera and shot a few hours' worth of footage. It was fun to watch our ten-years-younger selves and remember all the fun things that we did, and our teeny apartment with the black-tiled bathroom, and Doug's hilarious bit with the green syrup ("My mama always said that one should always put melon syrup on one's pancakes"). Unfortunately, with the hand-held camera shake, I can only watch a few minutes before I start feeling queasy. Motion sickness is not generally a pervasive problem for me, but there are certain things that get to me. It's a shame. I'm sure I'd watch these videos more often if they didn't make me want to toss my cookies. Maybe one of these day we'll get them digitized and I can post short clips of the good parts.

I've been thinking about Korea a lot. Something will come up--a smell, a feeling in the air, a stand of cosmos flowers in somebody's yard, and it takes me right back. Sometimes I miss it so badly it hurts. Actually as the weather has been warming up, my desire to go to Korea has been waning somewhat, thinking about how beastly hot and humid it gets there in the summer. The urge seems to strike mostly in the Spring and Fall. Fall in Korea is just so heart-achingly beautiful. I always get kind of wistful in the fall, anyway.

I've been lucky--after my mission, I got to go back to Korea twice. Many people never get to go back at all. But it's been ten years now, almost, and the itch returns. I've been trying to figure out how we could go back again. When Doug and I went and taught in Chonan, we'd only been married about six weeks when we arrived. People were surprised that we would do something like that so soon after getting married, but really, when else are you going to do it? We had both recently graduated (Doug had finished his M.A.), had no house, no jobs, no kids--sure, let's run off and see the world! We did, and it was great fun. And after Korea, we got to spend three years in Newfoundland. I miss Newfoundland a lot too, though I don't dream about it very much. But settling down (sort of), accumulating lots of stuff and obligations and two large and complex computer systems, not to mention a child, makes uprooting and taking off a rather more daunting prospect.

I find myself drawn to stories about families who get to raise their kids in more than one culture. There's something very appealing in the idea, an increased richness of experience, a different understanding, perhaps a focusing of priorities, after seeing what things are important to people in different places. I recently ran across the story of this American girl (at least I guess she's American--Belgian father, American mother) graduating from high school in Korea. Rural Korea, even. There's also a video at the bottom of this page. She just sounds so astonishingly Korean to me. I am intrigued. I would love for my kids to have an opportunity like that. Maybe not actually attending a Korean high school, knowing what they go through, but, well, it is intriguing.

I've felt a sense of urgency, for some reason, to go, go, do it now before life gets even more complicated. But I have to keep telling myself that Korea will still be there. It changes, but it will still be there. I'll get back somehow, eventually. Maybe to stay for a while, maybe just to visit--long enough to walk the mountains, to explore, to eat, and of course take lots of pictures. Someday.


Julie K in Taiwan said...

Oh, I think a trip to Taiwan would be just what the doctor ordered for you! Of course, when you mentioned nausea, I thought you were pregnant again ;)

Tad REYNOLDS (1991-1993) said...

Helena. It was wonderful to read your entry on missing Korea. I feel the same way. I'll get flashbacks here and there as well.

Your thoughts about living in multiple cultures really struck home for me. We're raising our two children in France and I think it's a wonderful opportunity to show them multiple cultures. We still
haven't figured out how best to cultivate multiple languages though. If we emphasize one then the other seems to suffer. It's a delicate balancing act. There is also a question of where they feel they belong. They've never lived in the US but aren't French either.

Thanks for the post and the memories.

Anonymous said...

Hi! You'll laugh but I've been sort of craving kimchi jjigae bek pan a lot during this pregnancy. Okay, maybe it's just that I've been wanting kimchi. I just haven't bought any for fear the longing is better than the reality.

Great posts lately!
Julie Beth

Gdog said...

Helena, you brought up a good point about heading over to Korea right after graduating. My girlfriend and I basically have done the same thing. :)

Theresa Hernandez said...

What a fabulous post, Helena. I loved your last paragraph the best though. Korea will always be there. If you can find a way to go, go when Kate is older and can really appreciate it and remember it. What an awesome experience to give her.

RedMolly said...

Wonderful essay, Helena. I was just reading in the Oregonian travel section yesterday about a woman who lived in Japan for six years, returned to the US, then recently went back to Japan for a visit with her eight-year-old daughter. She wrote beautifully about what a different experience it was traveling and interacting with the Japanese with her daughter--she said it was the first time she'd ever had Japanese strangers approach her to chat! It was enough to remind me we really need to get the boys their passports.

Chris said...

Oh, I do hope you get back to Korea soon, if only for a visit. Living overseas has been incredible, and we hope it will help our boys develop a broader and more accepting view of the world.

It's funny--I see your pictures of your adventures in the northwest and it triggers pangs of homesickness for my hometown. But I know once we're home I'll miss things about Manila as well. That itch to travel and explore never really goes away, does it?

Becky said...

I absolutely adore this post - I think you put everything into words so wonderfully. It's funny but I feel the same way about Mexico, especially during certain parts of the year. Your statement about missing it "so much it hurts" rang very true for me - sometimes it's just an almost physical pain wishing you were there. I'm lucky because I still get to visit since my in-laws live there, but sometimes that's even not enough. Thanks so much for sharing; I don't think I could have expressed myself nearly half as well as you did. I hope you get to go back to Korea soon and enjoy and share all of the things you love so much and the country that you adore with your daughter.

lea said...

Dol sot bi bim bap!

Seriously, travel before your kid hits kindergarten. It get harder to pick up and go when it starts.

Anonymous said...

I was a missionary in JeonJu 35 years ago. Last week my son arrived in SunChon from the MTC and got his first taste of poshintong. I'm even missing that!

Eric Hansen (93-95) said...

Thanks for this. It's nice to see I'm not the only one. Not a day goes by I don't think about Korea. I've not been back, and looking back now, I sorta regret it. Sure, I regularly eat Korean food and I watch Korean movies and we have a neighbor who's Korean, but it's just not the same.

Ernie said...

Helena, you are so wonderfully expressive - not only with your visually creative side, but with your words as well. Here is how you go back to Korea - with your family. Sell the idea of a book on the subject (including your beautiful photos and layouts). On second thought, you don't need to sell them on the idea... just have them read this post and you'll be back there in know time!