“우와,” my Appa gawked with seemingly every other Korean in the country. He watched me with a careful eye, wondering if I was enjoying the fireworks as much as he wanted me to. I grinned big at him and gave a hearty “우와” for his benefit, then turned away and quickly wiped the tear escaping down my cheek before he noticed. 

I don’t even remember the holiday or the reason for the celebration. I just remember the fireworks. So. Many. Fireworks. My appa had run by the house to grab me then quickly ushered me down back alleys and winding neighborhood steps before we somehow landed in a huge park by the river completely packed with people. I looked to my right and noticed that even on the highway, cars had stopped. “Just for fireworks?” I thought, half expecting a spaceship to land, based on all the hubbub. But no, all this was really all just for fireworks.

I’ve never cared much for fireworks. They’re fine, I guess. Now, as a dog mom, I quite despise them and the chaos they cause at my house. They’re more than an annual event near us and honestly more of a nuisance than anything.

But for some reason, these fireworks were significant. Maybe it was because I’d been living with my birth family for several weeks with zero English. Maybe it was because I knew soon I’d be leaving them. Maybe it was all the flashbacks that came flooding back to me of summer nights in my teen and college years, having a blast with my friends. Undoubtedly, it was because it was the first time I’d watched fireworks with my birth father, who I am the spitting image of. Because he ran home from a chaotic day at work to get me and bring me through all the traffic and hustle to make sure I got the best view of the Han. Because of the look of pride on his face as he looked between the colorful rockets in the sky and back to me, smiling unabashedly, almost combusting with joy.

I still don’t care for fireworks. No part of my weekend will be planned around them. But, as with every other year, I’ll smile when I see them…as, ironically for this very American holiday, they will remind me of a tiny peninsula on the other side of the world and my happiest memories there with my beloved ones.

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