... And a Happy New Year
Trip Start May 15, 2007
65Trip End Dec 10, 2007
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To end my life as a blogger, I better finish up the story of my trip. After Japan I headed back to Korea and made a beeline for Jeonju, which is the capital of Jeollabuk-do province in southwest Korea. Jeonju is also very close to Samnye, the city where I was abandoned and found as a baby before heading to a foster mother and eventually to my family.
I booked a room in a love hotel, which is a pretty reasonably priced hotel "operated primarily for the purpose of allowing couples privacy to have sexual intercourse." These hotels are popular in Japan and Korea, and my room included a condom machine, some nice body oils, a bed with red lights above it, and a multi-head shower. I loved it because the room was cheap and big and comfortable (and yes, I was there alone), but the sounds I heard that first night were... um... interesting.
My first reaction to Jeonju was, "Boy, I'm glad that I didn't grow up here, because this would have been the 'big city'," but as time went on, I got to really like the place. People were really friendly, and the province (hence its capital) is a center for traditional Korean culture, arts and crafts. It is famous for its hanji, which is handmade Korean paper, and its fans. This all meant that the shopping was really great. It is also the place where bibimbap was invented. Bibimbap is arguably the third most popular Korean food here in the US (after Korean BBQ and kimchi), and it is really delicious if you ever get the chance to try some. (I also went to the place where rice scoops were invented and saw the world's largest rice scoop -- oh yes).
But it was a very surreal feeling walking around. It was really cold, pretty empty, and the perfect environment for some "I'm adopted and returning to this strange place where I was abandoned 30 years ago" navel gazing.
Luckily I think I got the navel gazing out of the way that one day and moved on to sheer terror. I went to the tourist information office, and they told me how to get to Samnye. It's about 45 minutes away by city bus. I was worried about how I would know where to get off of the bus, so the tourist folks wrote a note down to give to the bus driver. They asked me why in the world I would want to go to Samnye, and I explained my situation. I'm not sure if they understood.
As I was waiting for the bus, I felt real intense anxiety about it all -- What would the bus driver say? Would he understand? Maybe the bus won't come. Maybe I don't have to do this. Is this the right bus? I think I missed the bus. Aaaaaarrrgggh!
But as soon as the bus pulled up, I felt immediately better to be on my way. As it ends up, the bus terminated at Samnye. I disembarked to find a small downtown area. Because of the small-town charm of the place, and its slightly decrepit look, it really reminded me of Bremerton, although Bremerton is probably bigger than Samnye.
I had always imagined this moment as being very powerful, but instead it was not intense and very peaceful. I had the time and energy to just take it all in as it came. I started by walking around, eventually going by the Samnye primary school where I saw children playing baseball without a bat or bases (ha! -- it was cute). I just wandered around looking at decrepit old houses, cabbage gardens (for kimchi), and normal, small-town life. It just seemed like a normal place, not the scary, intimidating place that I had in my head for years and years.
I headed back toward the center of town and saw a sign for the Wanju County police station. My papers said that I was abandoned at a police station in Samnye, and I always thought that I should get a picture in front of it. I walked and kept on walking, eventually heading out of town on this highway. I kept seeing signs suggesting that it was just around the bend, but it never appeared. After walking for about 40 minutes, I decided that it wasn't really that important for me to go. Just being in Samnye was enough, and I wasn't even sure if it was the right police station.
Looking back on the day, there was a kind of quiet grace to it, instead of big emotions. This was a bit of a surprise, because in the past, just thinking about returning to Samnye, or even Korea, would put a lump in my throat, borne both of fear and longing. When I returned to my love shack, I sat in bed (which by the way heats up to make you all toasty), had some tea, and just felt this great feeling, thinking about the day and feeling a certain sense of accomplishment (closure?). It was the best. I look back on that day as the best single day of the trip.
So that's about it. After Jeonju, I went to Seoul and spent my last day at the Seoul Racetrack, which is a kickass last day if you ask me. Koreans (and other Asians) love to gamble! And going to the racetrack is about one of my favorite things to do.
I'm home now and have had time to think about this trip and what it all means. My lovely cousin (yay Lisa!) asked me what I had learned, and I think the thing that I hope to take from this is the drive and the confidence to do the things I want in life, even if it seems scary or difficult. I guess this is an obvious point, but fear and all of those attendant feelings really have a way of stopping you. I wouldn't want to relive the early days of this trip because it was so overwhelming. I remember sitting in my hotel room in Cairo and really wondering what the hell I was doing. This feeling repeated itself, but to a lesser and lesser degree until I was really comfortable with something that had seemed so overwhelming and impossible for years and years and years.
I think I've adjusted to being back, but I hope to carry these days with me. I was stressed out about a week ago, and I forced myself to remember something from the trip to calm me. I thought of being in Nong Khai, which is a border town between Thailand and Laos, and looking out on the Mekong. I had just ridden a bike to see the famous Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge and stopped into a riverside restaurant for a bite to eat. The sun was setting, and there was a boat of rowers going back and forth. I went up and down either side of the Mekong in both Thailand and Laos, so that river is special to me. There were only a few people on the deck, so it was really peaceful. I hope that these images, and others along the way, will stay with me in a vibrant way forever.