6.25.17 (09:41 KST): I have sat here for a few minutes and battled writer’s block…for the title. Anyway, I wanted to write this last night (Saturday, 6.25, KST) because I had thoughts, and soju, in my system – but it was too late.
Last summer, on my Welcome Home trip, I featured (completely without her discretion – sorry!) Ashley in a majority of my details about my trip. She, along with all the other “buddys” and adoptees I met, were such crucial roles in my trip – and especially Ashley. Ashley, first, félicitations on the ExpoFrance Ambassador opportunity! I hope you don’t mind me sharing your accomplishment on here, but I need to, because it’s amazing. Ashley is going to be one of 100 (I say, “kids”) youths, aged 20-25, from around the world that has been picked to be an ambassador to France and is going to go to Paris this winter. So happy for you – I can’t even begin to think of a person more deserving and for such an appropriate role. I think that I typically have a pretty good understanding of people and how to read them, and this just goes to show that I’m not off base, and that other people that meet/know you, also see your wonderful characteristics. I know this will be an amazing trip and experience, but please remember that you were chosen because of who you are and what you’ve accomplished. It’s incredible. Literally, the only thing I’ve done today is sit in front of my computer and dust the keyboard with crumbs from my pastry, for a rough comparison.
That’s the best I could do for a segue into writing about this weekend. When I met my birth father, last summer – he, Ashley and I had exchanged contact info on KakaoTalk (the Korean WhatsApp, basically). He speaks no English, I speak no Korean and barely speak English. So, again, Ashely was just sort of volun-told to be our mediator. Without hesitation, she took his contact information. A stranger. Someone she has no connection with. And that’s also I kind of how I felt. Even though, biologically connected – I had met a stranger. Over the course of the next few months, I think my birth father and I had exchanged 3 messages (extremely relatable to the amount of texts I would share with a girl I had interest in…I’ll stop the sarcasm). As if the language barrier between us wasn’t enough – we had nothing/everything to talk about. I’d ask Ashley to tell me what he said because the Google Translation was never accurate. She would, of course. So as things progressed to my move to Korea, I didn’t know the protocol for reaching out to my birth father to let him know I was going to be moving here. Is there protocol for that? I don’t know anyone I can ask that has experienced that particular situation for council. So, I asked Ashley to craft a message to him, on my behalf – again, she agreed to do it, to let him know I was going to be arriving in Korea. His message to her was, roughly, that he wanted to see me and have dinner. I thought that was to be expected and I sit here scratching my head, as to what the purpose is, still.
I’ve been in Korea for 4 weeks now and my birth father had been calling and messaging Ashley about meeting us. “Us” is so important, because without Ashley there – he and I are mute. So here’s where my thought process kind of gets a little erratic. Again, I knew when moving here, that it would be appropriate to let him know that I was going to be living here. I didn’t know the protocol for doing so. And I didn’t know what I/we wanted to get out of it? Ashley set up a meeting for us. She was my buddy last summer, and could officially “clock out” on 8.28.16 and not have to do anything for me after that, but again she kept being such an amazing resource for both my birth father and I (probably because we were both messaging her, haha). She triangulated a meeting point for us, set up a time and most importantly, showed up. We were meeting at Din Tai Fung at the Times Square Mall in Seoul. The absolute best dimsum I’ve had…and a place that Ashley took me, last summer. I’d Yelp it, if I could.
I met Ashley at the mall a few hours before our dinner and we hung out, had some coffee and I let her beat me at some video games. As time got closer to dinner, I didn’t become more anxious or nervous and Ashley even noticed. Again, I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. Not to make it sound unimportant or small, but after I met my birth father, last summer, I kind of checked it off my list, in a sense. I was honestly more excited to see Ashley and spend time with her. I was excited about going to get food – but I wasn’t excited or disinterested in seeing him again, I just felt like it was just another meeting. That doesn’t come off as tactful as I have in my head. Oh well.
Ashley and I went to get a table before he arrived, and I wanted to run to the men’s room before we sat. On my way, as I was looking for a sign to the toilet – I ran into my birth father, searching for the dimsum place. We did, again, the weird, awkward, half hug/half handshake thing. I walked him over to Ashley – ran back to the bathroom and came back to them talking. I noticed last year, that for Ashely, translating the conversation, twice, is amazingly laborious and as taxing as it is for me to ask her literally everything – I can’t even begin to fathom how much work it is for her to speak for both of us. Also reminding me that I need to hurry up and learn the language, obviously. (More later, on how accommodating Seoul is to Westerners).
We sat at the table, talked/translated/listened and Ashley, as she did before, was an amazing mediator, because when there was an awkward silence, she’d fill it. The back and forth was around me teaching, how our families were, me being in a big city, and so on. General questions. I hate to always compare meetings to “awkward first dates”, but that’s how this interaction feels. From the handshake/hug, to just – what the hell do we talk about? It’s not a negative spin on the evening, it is just definitely not fluid. But thank you, Ashley, for keeping the momentum up.
My birth father likes to drink alcohol. All 165cm of him. So he asked if we could go get a beer after dinner. Ashley, of course being too polite to say “no” and me being exhausted, but also not wanting to decline – happily agreed. We walked to a bar, and the seating wasn’t available, so we decided on Korean Shaved Ice – the Chocolate Green Tea flavor:
It was smooth, filling and good – much different than our discordant conversation. Again, Ashley kept the conversation moving (thank you!) and then the conversation quickly turned into a pop quiz to see how much Korean Ben knows. After failing miserably – we decided that getting a beer was something we had to do. We moved to this interesting outdoor bar, under a tent. Culturally, declining drinking with elders is rude, and I learned a lot more about cultural practices sitting at the table with Ashley and my birth father. When he pours my soju, hold with two hands. Check. When I pour his soju, pour with two hands. Check. When I drink alcohol, face away from the elder. Check.
Then our waitress comes over and places a dish on the table. I ask Ashley what it is…because it appears to be moving. “Sannakji…san-nak-ji” she said. Of course, I have to repeat everything she says in Korean, multiple times. Yeah, it’s fresh octopus that is killed, cut and served. And because it’s so fresh, the muscle memory keeps the pieces moving in the dish. I’ve been called a “picky eater” before…but felt like I had no choice but to put this stuff in my mouth (video on Instagram). I chewed on this piece of octopus for an eternity and probably moved my mouth more chewing than I did in actual dialogue. We sat a bit longer, talked and headed to the subway station. My birth father wanted to set up a meeting for him and I next weekend and he wanted to see my studio.
We walked to the subway, and at the Sindorim station, he and I parted ways with Ashley…making us mute again. We, silently, made the 5 stop journey to my station and I walked him to my place. Once we got inside the majestic 400 sq. ft. room, he sat on my bed and got out his phone to open up Papago, a translation app that Ashely had given him a tutorial on, to confirm plans for this coming Saturday. We exchanged 4 messages and then I walked him back to the station. Last summer, when I said goodbye to him at the subway station, I thought that would be the last time I saw him, potentially, ever. This time, it was a much less emotion and more casual goodbye, as I’m going to see him again. Extremely anticlimactic, for sure.
Either way – my take away from this is that: I am so appreciative of Ashley. She was literally put here by God to encourage and inspire people – and she definitely has, me. Pure angel – I can’t think of another word to describe her. Unreal. Another thing is that I still don’ know what my interactions with my birth father are supposed to be or what they’ll materialize into. I know that I have a half-sister and half-brother here, that know nothing about me. I think I’m more curious than anything about that. Again, not to sound like an asshole, but I want to see so much and meet so many more people, while I’m here, that I don’t expect to hang out with my birth father all the time. Occasional meetings are where I expect things to stay. Perhaps, once I’m conversational in Korean, then the meetings could be more regular. For now, they are way too much and they also require the company of Ashley – and it’s not her responsibility to be there to be our Siri, no matter how great of a job she does.
I had this laid out, much different, in my head, but when crushing keys on my keyboard, this is as good as it gets. Hopefully more and better material to come.
Again, I miss everyone that’s reading this. Time to FaceTime my mom, now 🙂