No Proper Title For This.

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.
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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.

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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:

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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 🙂

Cheers,
Ben

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My Biggest Fears About Living in Korea.

5.27.17 (10:09 KST): Let me just start off by saying that I just Googled “What is a blog?” because I’m still unsure of the etiquette/protocol for updating – but, as many of you know, that’s never stopped me before. Oh well.

Sitting at Starbucks with a black iced coffee, a weird Kenny Chesney Spotify loop going and 38% battery left on my computer, I have the opportunity to think/breathe. I was given a journal from my Cell Group (aka Bible Study) prior to my departure and I started writing on the bus, but my manuscript is  even harder to read than the thoughts I jot/type – but I wanted to come up with a list of my “biggest fears” of living abroad/Korea while I’m still a “newbie” and hopefully check back on this, at a later date, and see if they have changed/come off the list. Hopefully the list will double as a personality map that will help me grow, in any sense of the word.

Here’s my first list, since I wrote a letter to Santa:
1. Being unintentionally disrespectful/ignorant because I haven’t done enough due-diligence about the Korean culture, language, public transportation protocol, saying “thank you” in the appropriate fashion, etc.

2. The “honeymoon” phase of being in Korea wearing off. As I’ve shoved down your throat before, I had an amazing experience in Korea, last summer. And this journey has literally picked up where that one left off. I can’t be naive enough to believe that everything I experience, everyone I encounter, or everything I taste is going to be perfect, genuine, or great and, as I’ve lived for the past few years, don’t expect or anticipate anyone/anything to blow me away with positivity. Unfortunately, my newest life motto has become that I’m: raising my standards, but lowering my expectations. While that reads as curmudgeonly as it is – I’m hoping that will change, soon. In the meantime, I’m enjoying every interaction and meeting with whoever I can and trying to not waste this opportunity. I feel like, if I play my cards right, the “honeymoon” phase could be longer term (than most marriages, these days).

3. Donald Trump’s Twitter feed – just go scroll through it, yourself.

4. Obviously, this list isn’t in an order of importance from 1-X, but the yet-to-come homesickness and missing my family and friends. Thankful that I live in a generation and place that is so hyperconnected, with FaceTime, iMessage, KakaoTalk, WhatsApp, Facebook, Tinder (potentially – and also, potentially not), Snail Mail, and hopefully, visits, these things help me keep the needle in the middle. I told some people, before I left, that I was counting down the days until I have a mental breakdown. Similar to the office pool of when the gal that is pregnant is going to be due, I’m putting the fictitious “X” on the calendar for about 3 months from now. Hopefully, the aforementioned remedies listed can help stave off the homesickness.

5. The professional suicide I feel like I committed, leaving my job to come here to teach English. One of the many questions I asked myself, and was only asked once by a friend (Thanks, Josh Byrwa!) was: What the Hell am I going to do when I come back to the States? I had just signed a year-long contract to come to Korea, but was already worried about 366 days away. Hopefully the amazing connections I’ve made both, personally and professionally, I can keep in touch with while abroad. Until then, I suppose I can’t live here, worrying every day about what I’m going to do…when I’m not here? Oh well.

6. Hating teaching/kids. I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty patient and even keeled person. I love kids. And I claim, to this day, that kids probably up to adolescence are probably the only demographic of real raw and genuine people on Earth. They tell you what they want, what they mean and answer honestly. I realized this by getting to hang out with my friend Jen and Sai’s kids – Kylan and Braylen (what’s up, dudes?!). However, after getting to just observe classes for 1 day – I can see the potential adorableness(?) wearing off sooner than later. Yeah, I’m here teaching English…

7. Accidentally turning off “Airplane Mode”. Since I was taken captive by Apple in 2004, I’ve spent the last 13 years tying myself to iTunes, iCloud, and whatever new generation release they come out with, each September. But I am not getting a Korean phone, right away, because I am waiting for the new iPhone to come out later this year…and since I want to be able to keep my “upgrade” from AT&T, I’m going to have to continue to enjoy the ponzi-scheme that I established with them in 2006 to get the new iPhone. Meaning, I’m only available on wifi (which, thankfully, is readily available, everywhere) but it is such a scare to wait for an International Roaming Charge to bend me over.

8. Kimchi. Just like relationships (and sarcasm) it’s either too hot or too sour.

9. Trying not to make obvious/weird/creepy eye contact with this gal that just parked herself at the table next to mine at Starbucks.

10. Trying to balance life and want more at the same time. I’m not sure how this is a fear, as opposed to just being a every day thing that everyone experiences, but I want to put it here for later.

11. North Korea. (See item #3).

11a. One of my big things was to see the difference in the news coverage about NK in SK compared to the US. Maybe it’s just the little tv I’ve been able to see, so far, but they haven’t really made much mention of it…or maybe it’s the language barrier?

12. Ordering a haircut in Korean. Ashley – I’m going to bring you with me, for my first few cuts, so I have a translator with me. Hope I can see you, soon!

13. Wasting time/opportunities to be out and about because I’m writing a stupid blog.

My computer is about dead – and I have to go try and find a power adapter quickly, or else these eloquent blogs are gonna stop, for sure.

I miss whoever is reading this. Come visit!

See ya!
Ben

#Korea #Travel #RunOnSentences #Life

Prepping/Stressing for Korea

Hello everyone! As I mentioned about a week and a half ago, I am “taking my talents to Seoul”. Don’t get it? Sorry, that is a play on words from LeBron’s famous taking his talents to South Beach soap opera. (Never thought I’d try to quote a basketball player!)

Anyway, I was scheduled to go to Seoul on Friday, May 19 and be there Saturday. Well, as luck would have it – due to a Korean holiday week, coupled with the bovine pace of the Korean Consulate (Chicago), my Visa and Passport were not going to be back in my possession, in time for me to fly out Friday.

After spending hours on the phone with the Consulate, Delta, my recruiter(s) and my parents – I felt like I needed a cigarette…and I don’t even smoke. I was blessed to have gotten a Delta representative on the phone that was gracious and cared, just enough, to work with me about “changing” my flight details, rather than “cancelling” and making me book a brand new flight. Saving me $1,500.00 USD. Some schools will pay for a teacher’s flight accommodations, MOST will reimburse the teacher for flight accommodations – mine is the latter.

So if getting a few more days to get things together was supposed to ease my nerves, allow me more time at home, etc. – it did. It also amped up my stress, because I am supposed to be starting my first week training on Monday…and will now not land in Korea until Thursday.

With the enormous time difference between EST and KST – communicating my visa status with my school has been about as fluid and timely as getting a text back from a girl I like. My Head Instructor, Owen, and one of the teachers I’ll be working with, Priyesh, have been huge sources of advice, calm and understanding. Since I’ll be missing my training week, I’ll now be subjected to doing training AND teaching my first week – which will result in working hours from 06:30 – ~21:00 (yeah, that’s about a 16 hour day). I understand, with the circumstances, that having to take one for the team is something I’ll have to do – and hopefully I’ll be able to suck it up for the long hours…while adjusting to the +13 hour time difference, to boot. Please send 5 Hour Energy to: xxxxxxxx

Anyway, I’m going to continue to see as many people, as I can, before I leave Wednesday.

Cheers,
Ben

My Seoul Summary (10.2.16)

I went back to Seoul, South Korea for the first time since I was adopted as an infant. I spent 10 days there and got to meet 7 other Korean adoptees from around the globe, as well as, amazing buddy’s that live in Seoul. This was all made possible by the SWS Welcome Home Program. Here is a very long-winded summary of my trip (I can’t find a way to tell a cliffs notes version of the story). The trip was an emotional rollercoaster and I was able to meet my biological father while I was there, which was completely unexpected. Getting to see and experience the place where I was born and put into perspective how different my life could have been with one single choice that could have been made differently, was mind-boggling. Growing up in Ohio, I always stuck out of every class or team photograph and looked different than all of my friends – but when I was in Seoul, I would notice myself thinking about how I look like everyone else, but feel even more disconnected from them and the culture than I do in the States. It was an incredible experience, that I’ll obviously never forget. The people, culture and FOOD were all amazing! My goal of the trip was to return home with an entire new outlook and appreciation on life and see things through a completely different lens. I can’t wait to go back to Seoul, again!