My first time in my birth parents’ home in Jeonju, they broke out photo albums so I can see photographic documentation of their lives. There were many, many photo albums – even a photo album dedicated to each daughter. When I turned to the photos of their family vacations – Jeju Island, Japan, India, Cambodia, etc.- I began to cry, wishing I could have experienced my childhood with them. I felt excluded.
Now that I look back on it, however, it couldn’t be further from the truth. My parents have very warm hearts and am certain that they would have raised me if they could. They wanted what was best for me and that was to give me a life with more opportunities. I thank them for that because I am completely happy with my lucky life.
I’m finally able to say that I had a family vacation. Last weekend was my first Kim sister trip. My sisters have taken many trips together in the past; they are very close with each other. I felt so included and loved this whole weekend. They are just as happy to know me as I am to them. I am still somewhat astonished by it, that they are not jealous of me for getting the attention of my parents or feeling that I’m the abandoned child that does not belong and is now intruding. It’s not the case at all.
After a 3.5 hour bus ride to Seoul, I was greeted by Vora and we subway-ed over to her townhouse in Mapo-dong, a trendy area in Seoul. I was greeted by Yumi’s smiling face, wearing a blackhead nose patch. I gave her hugs, birthday gifts, and birthday wishes. We were excited for the trip the next day, but exhausted from the week.
We woke up early on Saturday morning at my sisters’ in Seoul. Sangjin, Yumi’s husband, kindly cooked a savory omelet loaded with scallions along with brown rice and seaweed soup – a soup traditionally eaten on someone’s birthday. He’s a really great guy. With three minutes to go before we had to leave for the subway, we quickly stuffed our faces, bundled up, and headed off.
When we arrived to City Hall to wait for our tour bus, we stumbled upon an ice rink and a relatively large (fake) Christmas tree. It brought back memories of skating in Rockefeller Center. The NYC Christmas tree dwarfs the Korean tree, but that is to be expected as Koreans don’t celebrate Christmas to the extent that we do. We observed people skating and having a good time until the bus came. We hopped on and found Yu Jin, my oldest sister, waiting with three empty seats next to her. I gave her a big hug and a thank you card with a note I wrote in Korean (with the help of my co-teacher) expressing my gratitude for the jacket, gloves and scarf she sent to me unexpectedly. It was such a thoughtful act and I am forever grateful for her and my family’s kindness. I wore everything well.
Still feeling a little drowsy and my pre-coffee self, I immediately passed out on the bus. Vora did the same. Within minutes, Yumi sent Vora a photo of her and I sleeping next to each other. We wore almost the same color jacket and looked exactly alike. We could not stop laughing. The other quiet bus riders probably thought we were nuts. Well, we kind of are.
After a quick hour and a half, we piled out of the bus and boarded the ferry to Nami Island (남이섬) in Chuncheon, Gangwon-do. Nami Island is coined as the romantic place in the world. With names like “First Kiss Bridge”, “The Lane of True Love”, “Happiness Village”, and “Lover’s Woods”, it is barftastically romantic. It is hugely popular among foreigners of other Asian countries (e.g., Japan, Thailand, Malaysia); my sisters were quick to name a person’s nationality at the site of a face, but they admitted that they can’t tell white people apart. Undoubtedly, there were more foreigners than Koreans, more couples than singles. I taught my sisters the term, cheesy.
We spent the day walking in the slush, acting goofy, and taking too many photos. Strolling along the partly frozen river and through the romantic path between towering trees with linked arms created some memorable moments. Everyone could look at us and know we are sisters. A whole lifetime of confused faces when my adoptive family is out in public caused this sense of belonging to feel unfamiliar.
After a quick few hours on the tiny island, we attempted to dry our feet off at a fire pit before boarding the ferry back Chuncheon. Still feeling the effects of abstaining from coffee that day, I fell right to sleep on the bus only to be awoken after what seemed like thirty minutes. Did I really sleep for an hour and a half? Are we in Seoul? Nope! We’re still in Gangwon-do to visiting the Garden of Morning Calm. I forgot that this was on our itinerary.
I never heard of this botanical garden before that moment, so I came in with no expectations. The temperature significantly dropped as the nighttime approached, so we huddled outside and finally downed some coffee. Immediately feeling rejuvenated, we entered the “garden”. With the exception of winter, this garden boasts 5,000 different kinds of plants.
The photos in the gallery were gorgeous. While the snow covering the gardens was nice to look at, I would have preferred to skip through the flower-covered garden. The other main attraction is the night lights. At 5:00, tourists eagerly gathered around good viewing points. About a dozen expensive cameras with lenses bigger than my point and shoot were set up on tripods, blocking any normal human being’s view.
When the lights finally came on, people ooh’ed and aah’ed. And the touristy photo shoots commences.
Koreans really like to take pictures. They especially like taking photos of themselves. The Garden of Morning Calm is just the place. With cheesy setups of light up hearts, angels, reindeer, and swans, a typical Korean could not resist the photo opp. I must admit that despite the raging tourists, the site was quite lovely. It is perhaps the closest thing you can get to Christmas lights. While I usually am not a fan of Christmas, I do enjoy me some Christmas lights.
That night, we warmed up in my sisters’ apartment and sipped on some beer with a Kim sister meal. The “balanced” meal consisted on galbi, potato chips, shrimp chips, potato sticks, oven roasted red potatoes, rice cakes, tangerines, and cherry tomatoes. We gobbled everything using chopsticks – yes, even with potato chips. I loved pigging out on junk food with my sisters. I can imagine that we would have done the same as teenagers.