In the summer of 2014, we visited Korea for two weeks as a sort of one-year wedding anniversary gift to ourselves. Lee had been once before in 2011 for a sightseeing tour and it had been over 3 years since Whitney had been back to visit with the Jeons. Most importantly, it would be the first time that Lee had met Whitney’s birth family. Expectations were high, but we were not disappointed. Here are some of the highlights:
- Visiting Seattle for a day on the way to connect with our Korean Air flight.
- Lee accidentally breaking the lavatory door when he thought the “No smoking” sign was the door handle. The stewardesses were not pleased, after already being frustrated with us for continually asking for “English, please.”
- Whitney’s birth family’s immediate response to Lee – “You look just like 싸이 Psy!” He consequently bought this Psy t-shirt at 엄마 Omma’s urging and she was delighted. In fact, she suggested he buy 5 more and wear them to work everyday as his new uniform. He politely declined.
- Touring the entire country. This had its pros and cons.
- Pros: visiting Lee’s birth place of 부산 Busan, hitting all the major cities, seeing all the landmarks, making friends in our tour group.
- Cons: traveling by bus forever, roasting in the million degree heat, hitting some 12+ stops (down the West Coast, back up the East Coast) in 4 days. Exhausting!
- Whitney happening to overhear a conversation about “the family coming over tomorrow.” When she inquired, we found out the entire extended family was due to arrive first thing the next morning! It was the anniversary of 할아버지 halaboji‘s (grandfather’s) death and we were having his 제사 jesa (ritual ceremony). Whitney got wide-eyed and told Lee, “Uh-oh…sorry! I will try to teach you how to do the ritual bowing. You’ll represent our family in the ceremony.” Bah! Lee was a champ.
- 엄마 Omma waking at 4am to begin cooking for the 제사 jesa.
- 할머니 Halmoni (grandma) scaring Lee to death. Whitney was in the bathroom brushing her teeth and when she shut off the water, she heard Lee yelling, “Help me!” She ran out to find that 할머니 halmoni had made a surprise trip to visit us and had Lee in a death grip, saying “사랑해, 사랑해, Saranghae, saranghae” (“I love you, I love you”) over and over again. Lee couldn’t understand what she was saying and didn’t understand that she was Grandma. Whitney had to formally introduce them.
- Eating more than our weight in 엄마 Omma‘s cooking — daily!
- Hanging out, eating pizza, & watching movies with Whitney’s 성배오빠 older brother Seong-bae.
- Taking in the sights of Seoul with cousin 소망 So-mang. Her English is ridiculous! Two years younger than Whitney, she is a smarty-pants engineer for Hyundai.
- 3 days in 제주 Jeju Island!
- Whitney receiving a few-day reprieve from translating when her 남동생 현배 younger brother Hyun-bae came home from college in China.
- 엄마 아빠 Omma & Appa forcing Whitney to eat Korean breakfast (kimchi, bulgogi, rice, etc.) every morning, while Lee got the royal treatment and was permitted to eat cereal. (Highlight for Lee only.)
- Unexpected family portraits. Like legitimate, professional studio, matching white shirt portraits from a place in 홍대 Hongdae.
- When they finally caved + turned on the 에어컨 air-con (A/C) for our last couple of days. They froze to death while we were in heaven.
- Lee experiencing true Korea for the first time. On his first visit, he ate mostly McDonald’s and Outback and Pizza Hut. Whitney made sure we made the most of enjoying the Korean culinary experience.
- Maybe not a highlight per se, but visiting 할아버지 halaboji’s (grandfather’s) grave was certainly memorable. They don’t have American-type cemeteries. We hiked a mountain, 아빠 Appa leading the way with a scythe to cut away the overgrown brush. By the end of the trip, he had sliced his hand open and Lee saved the day with his always-handy first-aid kit.
- Being with extended family. 아빠 Appa’s side lives in close proximity so you just pass them daily on the way to the bus stop. The cousins are like extra siblings and the aunts + uncles are like second parents. We love the tight-knit family structure.
- Catching up with old friends from Whitney’s year of living in Korea. They are so special to us!
- Anticipating the next visit. Part of our hearts remain in Korea after every visit. We are anxious to get there in December!
Our next post will delve deeper into Lee’s perspective of being welcomed into the family and observing what a birth family reunited looks like.
© We the Lees, 2015. All Rights Reserved.