“I felt like I fit in, but definitely did not.”

“When I went back twenty-five years later, I was faced with something almost alien to me; it felt right, but it didn’t; I felt like I fit in, but definitely did not.”

~ Noah Cho

I read the above in a Catapult article where Noah Cho writes about a conversation between he and Michelle Zauner. It struck a chord with me.

This is how I felt during my first visit back to Korea, in January of 2013. I was fortunate, that year, being able to visit the country twice. The first time was for work, the second time, that June, as part of the 2013 Journey class.

January was hard because I didn’t know what to expect. I had travelled before but, this was the first time it would be Korea. My birthplace. My first time back since I was 18 months old. Even more difficult was that I had a job to do, and that came with a schedule to adhere to along with a “bubble” of people that I would always be with.

So while I, of course, was trying to take everything in, I was constantly distracted with the task at hand. In hindsight, it was an emotionally confusing couple of weeks where I was being pulled into different directions, constantly.

The June trip was much more pleasurable and gave me more time to understand and process, while at the same time introduced me to far more of the country than I went in expecting. So much so that even now, in 2019 (six years later), I’m still processing what I saw, felt, and learned.

Just over a week to go

“No matter how far you travel, you can never get away from yourself” ~Haruki Murakami

I’m collecting inspirational quotes in preparation for a series of presentations, workshops and meetings that I will be facilitating over the Summer. I’m charged with a lot of new responsibilities (at work), and really want to be sure that I take the right approach in “activating” my team to achieve the set goals and objectives we all face.

In my collecting, I’m findings words that are extremely relevant to my upcoming journey back to Korea. I still can’t believe I’m going back. In fact, I leave just over a week from today!

Recommended reading: Korea, The Impossible Country

korea_bk_cover_1205

Last Christmas, my parents gave me a copy of Daniel Tudor’s Korea: The Impossible Country (Amazon link). This was before my first trip back to Korea (since being born there) so, I rushed to read through it before boarding my flight.

I was pleasantly surprised with how much I learned. And though it contains a lot of history, Tudor does a great job in connecting the history to show why it is relevant today. The book winds between culture, politics, and economics presenting a broad snapshot for the reader to view.

This was very helpful in my visit to the country. I recommend this book to anyone interested in Korea, whether traveling there or not.

Thank you, reader

I want to thank you, the reader, for taking the time to keep up with me on my trip. I had no idea that so many of you were reading (and only learned from the tremendous feedback I’ve been receiving).

Originally, I didn’t plan to blog for this trip. I was worried about whether I could post on a regular basis while still being able to enjoy the trip (I took breaks from social media and the internet in general, which was much needed).

I’m glad that I did post updates here.

Thanks again.
-P

Travel Day, ICN – LAX

Incheon Airport

This morning, I woke up very torn. Not wanting to leave Korea yet really missing my wife, friends, family, and (yes) even my cat, I packed up all of my things and waited for my taxi to arrive.

The remainder of our group was shuttled to the airport in two waves. I was in the last wave with Edie and Jared. Though tempted to take another walk through the city, I refrained out of fear that I wouldn’t make it back to the hotel in time for the taxi pickup.

As the taxi drove us out of Seoul, to Incheon, I couldn’t help but notice the city’s beauty from afar. I began to wonder whether I was romanticizing it in my own mind, simply because it was Korea. But, as we passed by all of the bridges crossing the Han river, I knew that this was truly one of my favorite places to have visited.

Once at the airpot, I breezed through security (no taking off shoes, which I loved). With about 90 minutes before my flight, I spent the time reflecting on the past couple weeks. I really had an amazing time.

The flight was an uneventful 10+ hours. The ajumma on the aisle seat and I (in the window seat) high fived each other when the doors closed and we realized that the middle seat was unoccupied. I didn’t sleep, opting to watch movies in a daze while attempting to stifle my coughs and nurture my sore throat.

After a quick shuttle ride, I finally arrived home. Michelle was waiting for me with the front door, and her arms, open.

Then, the utter bliss of sitting on your own couch, and sleeping in your own bed, after a long hot shower in your own bathroom. No matter which country they are in.

On saying goodbye to Korea…

I know that I’m not going to be able to sum everything up in one post but, I’m still going to try. Settle in because this is going to get lengthy…

First and foremost, I am extremely grateful to Reuben for inviting me to be a part of his GMS Committee for the 2013 SO Winter World Games. Without his invite, I would not have had this opportunity to travel to Korea. And though it never really feels like I do enough to “earn” this trip, I hope that my being at the Games is worth it to him, the GOC, and the athletes.

To my friends, the GMS Committee
Reuben, Mike, Tim, Pat, Kim, Edie, Mel, Melissa, and Shawne: like Athens, I walk away feeling absolutely privileged to work with you. I love our team. I love how our skills compliment each other. I love how our personalities, though different, work well together. You are what make this experience fun.

Marly and Jared, I am happy that you two were able to join us for our time in Seoul. I really enjoyed meeting and spending time with you.

Tim: thanks for being a patient roommate and putting up with something I only thought my wife had the resolve to put up with, my snoring.
Mike and Jared: Jjimjilbang, keep your eyes up. Even Tim knows this.
Pat: Keep on Facebooking!
All: never forget McLovin or his friend (just) Carl.

I would like to thank all of you for your extreme compassion given to me these past few weeks. I think you all understood what this trip meant to me, being back in Korea for the first time since birth. You gave me space when I needed space, you never prodded me with questions, and you were there when I needed friends to be there. That means so much to me.

To my new Korean friends
Seung-Hee (Sharon), Jung-Ki (Johnny), Young-Kyo (Chris) and Mountain: 감사합니다
You helped me to acclimate to here. You helped ease some of my personal fears and hesitations. Thank you for being there and, thank you for all that you did for us. If you are ever in Los Angeles, I will do my best to do the same for you.

To Michelle, my wife
Even though we never had a chance to meetup while here, know that you were with me everywhere I went. I love you.

To Korea
Thank you for being some of the most beautiful landscape that I have ever seen.
Thank you for your food servers, transportation workers, store owners, hotel workers, and everyone I spoke to, you have all been friendly, hospitable, and very helpful.
You are my home away from home.

During yesterday’s Seollal Festival, while the folk singers were performing, I cried. It happened when I realized that it was the last day of my visit and that I didn’t want to leave.

I’ll return soon…

Korea, Day 15

Korean drum performance at Hanok Village

Getting back to the hotel late (after the jjimjilbang) came back to haunt me as I forgot to charge my camera battery for today. I know, right? What kind of photographer doesn’t have a charged camera battery ready to go at all times?

Today was one of my favorite days of the whole trip. We’re fortunate to have had a chance to be in Seoul for the Lunar New Year, and today we ventured to Hanok Village for Seollal festivities. Like any festival, there was lots of craft booths, street food, vendors, and performances.

Hanok Village was especially neat as we also had a chance to tour 5 different hanoks (traditional Korean houses). They were gorgeous and each one uniquely designed based on resources and class of the owners.

We took in performances by Korean drummers and four Korean women folk singers. I especially enjoyed watching the crowd, seeing families interact with one another. There were so many little children dressed in hanboks, all of which would make your heart melt. I also watched a few kids make their own kites and then run through the main courtyard in their attempts to get them airborne.

Between all of us, I think we tried every variety of street food offered by the vendors. We tasted everything from savory to spicy to sweet. And sometimes, all three sensations at once. There were sweet pastries filled with bean paste, sausages, chicken skewers, different varieties of candy, grilled octopus, and even beondegi (steamed silkworm pupae).

That afternoon some chose to explore different part of the city as we slip into smaller groups. I went off on my own, opting to ride the subway a few stops away from our hotel and wander back on foot. I strolled through quiet neighborhoods, markets and past stores (closed for the holiday). My favorite part was wandering through a park, being the only one there, and taking time for some personal reflection.

Our last meal together took place at another Korean BBQ restaurant, located right across the street from out hotel. We were lucky to find anything open. All in all, another great meal.