Korea Trip – Part 14: Time To Go Home

On April 14th (day 15), we packed up and headed home. The kids played with their cousins and said their goodbyes to their aunts and uncles. My mom was staying in Korea for another 6 weeks with her sister. My dad was heading home to Michigan, and although we left separately, we ran into him at the airport.

The kids were great on the flight home. This time, Grace took one for the team and sat with them the whole way. I was still recovering from Octogon.

Our trip was amazing and exceeded my expectations in every way. The kids had a great time and hopefully these pictures will remind them of it. For me, I’ll always remember it as the time the kids got me addicted to Temple Run 2 (they’re scary good at it).

Korea Trip – Part 13: Last Night in Seoul

After the party, the cousins rallied for one last night together in Seoul. There was typical eating and drinking. Sandor and Jen had early flights in the morning, but Sandor wanted to make the most of his 40-hour trip. We almost went home, but he convinced me, Patty, Lou, Millie and Myung to go out with him.

We went to Octogon at the Hotel Hilltop. Even before entering, I knew we had no business being there. Sandor coached everyone on how to enter, but wasn’t going to stop in case anyone didn’t make it past the bouncers. Everyone made it (even Lou).

The scene inside was amazing. Despite Koreans’ propensity for aesthetic enhancement, I observed a low percentage of attractive people during our travels (anthropologically speaking). I then realized all the attractive people were hanging out at Octogon.

We lost some of the team due to the volume of the music. I’m convinced I lost some of what little hearing I have left. It was awesome. Next time, first stop: Octogon.

No night of clubbing is complete without going out for some galbi-tang at 4:00am. We finally decided to call it a night. Sandor was contemplating just staying up. I have no idea what he did between then and departure time…

Korea Trip – Part 12: Uncle’s 80th Birthday Party

I mentioned that one of the reasons for our trip to Korea was to celebrate my mom’s oldest brother’s 80th birthday (all related through my aunt). On Saturday, April 13th (day 14), we all met at the Imperial Palace Hotel for pictures with the family. The party was actually 3 celebrations: two 70th birthdays and my uncle’s 80th.

Dinner was excellent, and was followed by speeches from each honoree and video tributes produced by the family. One of the persons being celebrated was a well known MBC news anchor, so it appeared his video received some professional assistance (wow). My cousin’s daughter did an amazing job on our family’s video.

It was unclear for what, but at some point Jen won a prize, and all she had to do to receive it was to give a speech. No pressure. Sandor got up voluntarily and gave a typically hilarious speech in perfect Korean, which he learned growing up among the Amish in Lancaster. The audience was befuddled.

This was an amazing gathering for my mom and her family. Looking forward to my uncle’s 90th birthday party.

Korea Trip – Part 11: Lunch with Jiyong

On Saturday, April 13th (day 14), we had lunch with Jiyong, Yeonoo, and Kiwon. Unfortunately, Gina had to work and could not join us. This would be the last time we would see them on our trip, so we were glad to be able to get together. Yeonoo went off to study (on a Saturday), Kiwon went home, and Jiyong graciously gave us a ride back to the hotel.

One of these day we hope they will all visit the states together. I think Gina has seen one too many Terminator movies as she perceives the US to be too dangerous. I think she feels okay in Canada, so maybe we’ll meet up there?

Korea Trip – Part 10: National Museum

On Friday, April 12th (day 13), Grace, Jen and I took the kids to the National Museum in Seoul. They had some really well-done exhibits for the kids. There were also many interactive activities and crafts to keep them busy there for a while. It was probably the most engaging touristy thing they experienced on the trip.

Afterwards, we went to Doore for lunch, which was another Kimchi Chronicles stop. We met my parents there. My uncle also joined us as he was in the city for work. The food was excellent.

We walked around Insadong and randomly ran into my aunt, Liz, Clarence, and the kids. Even though we were all tourists, it still seem coincidental given there are 10.5 million people in Seoul. The kids had a great time together wherever we went.

Korea Trip – Part 9: Paying Respects to Im Grandparents

Almost exactly 10 years ago, my maternal grandfather passed away in Korea. My parents came to San Francisco and we flew together to Seoul from here. I don’t recall exactly why, but Jen was not able to coordinate with us and the timing didn’t allow for her to make the trip. When we arrived at the airport, my mother’s best friend came to meet us. She also came bearing the news that my mom’s mother had also passed away while we were en route. This was unexpected, and my mother was expecting to see her mother.

All of the siblings and the next generation spent the next couple days receiving many people who came to pay their respects. Most had only heard my grandfather had passed away, and were surprised to see both my grandparents’ pictures at the funeral home.

Though sad, there was something romantic about them dying only a day apart after 70-some years together. They lived a long, adventurous life. My grandmother was funny and sweet. My grandfather was more stoic, but knew how to enjoy himself. They lived in Japan for decades before moving back to Kwangju and then Seoul. They traveled a lot with my parents, once going on a trip around the world (leaving my sister and I at Clarence’s house for a summer). Later, they traveled across the US with my parents, aunt and cousin. My grandfather enjoyed taking photographs and many of his photos were hung in our house growing up.

It was a sad occasion, but a great opportunity to be with a side of my family that I had seldom seen growing up. On April 11th (day 12), we took the hour and a half journey to visit their resting place.

On the way home, we asked to be dropped off at a Bukchon Kalguksu for lunch, which was on Grace’s Kimchi Chronicles itinerary. We walked towards Insadong and it looked like rain. Lucas, my dad, and I decided to take the subway back to the hotel while the ladies and Olivia went to shop a bit.

Back at the hotel, we did our afternoon happy hour thing with the kids before all heading out to dinner with the Hau family. We went to PoCha, which wasn’t a real pojangmacha, but adequately provided the experience. The kids were tired, so I took them back to the hotel while the rest of the family stayed to eat and drink.

Korea Trip – Part 8: Lotteworld with Haus and Dinner with Ims

On Wednesday, April 10th (day 11), we went out with Liz and Clarence’s family. We tried to go to the Children’s Park, but it was mostly closed for renovations. We changed plans and went to Lotte World. We were advised not to go there on a weekend, but Wednesday was very managable. The longest line we waited in was about an hour. We didn’t stay long as we had to get back to the hotel.

That evening, we went to my mom’s oldest brother’s home in Ilsan. There, we saw his three daughters and their families. The oldest, Seock-Ah, had visited us in SF some years ago, but I hadn’t seen Gina or Kyung-ah in ten years, nor had we met all the kids. It was great to see all the cousins and second cousins together.

My aunt is an amazing cook and prepared a huge feast in honor of my uncle’s 80th birthday, which was a big reason for our family reunion. My uncle lived with us for some time during the 70s, which made for some hilarious and memorable times together. I was so happy to see everyone doing so well.

Korea Trip – Part 7: Back to Seoul and Anniversary Dinner

On Tuesday, April 9th (day 10), we started the day cheering on the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA championship. Clarence and his family were touring in Kwangju, so he was gracious enough to let us use his Slingbox again. Ironically, he did want to watch part of the game, so we Facetimed the TV from Grace’s computer to his iPhone. Did you get that?  And, that’s all I have to say about the game.

Later that day, we explored Gangnam, looking for their “Rodeo Drive.”  I’m not sure if we ever found it, but we were just browsing anyway. The weather wasn’t great, so we headed back to the hotel for happy hour. That evening, my parents watched the kids in our room so Grace and I could go out to celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary. We went to 9th Gate in the Westin Chosun. It used to be the first French restaurant in Seoul, but recently changed to a steak house  It was a nice date night for us in Seoul.

Korea Trip – Part 6: Visit to Kwangju

The last time I visited Korea was 10 years ago in July for my paternal Grandmother’s funeral. She lived her entire life in Korea, and thus I didn’t have many chances to see her or get to know her well. She visited the states when I was very young and I didn’t visit her until my first trip to Korea in 1979.

The following year, I remember my dad coming into my room to show me the Sunday New York Times. In it, there was an article titled, “Korean Courts Condemn 5 to Hang for Kwangju Riots.”  At the time, he only showed me her name, “Cho Ah Ra.”  Later, I found the article online, which said “Prominent among those drawing long sentences were Kim Song Nam and Cho Pi Oh, priests of the Kwangju diocese; Myung No Kun and Oh Pyung Mun, professors at Chonnam University in Kwangju; and Cho Ah Ra, a Protestant laywoman who has been active for many years in the city’s Young Women’s Christian Association. Now 70 years of age, she was sentenced to four years.”

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At the time, I only vaguely knew of her plight, but later learned that she was eventually released and left Korea, traveling to Switzerland before finally coming to stay with us in Michigan for a short while. She was anxious to get back to Kwangju, and when she did, she had attained some prominence as a political dissident and was protected because of it. Throughout the rest of her life, she continued her work for the YWCA, an all-girls school in Kwangju, and an orphanage.

Thankfully, I was able to see her just prior to her passing. She only vaguely knew who I was, and confused me for my cousin. I didn’t mind. She was cute then and I enjoyed our brief time together.

When she died at 91, my family traveled to Korea and joined my dad’s brother’s family at the YWCA to receive the hundreds of people who streamed in from all over the country, at all hours for days, to come and pay their respects. She had come to be known as “the Mother of Kwangju.”  During her funeral, some officials arrived from Seoul to award her a one of the country’s highest civilian honors. The processional for her funeral included numerous stops around the city including at a memorial to the May 18th (1980) uprising. The most moving was at the girls’ school, where thousands of students, all dressed in their uniforms (on a Saturday), lined the streets to pay their respects. I was surprised to see her passing and funeral as national news.

She was laid to rest at a national cemetary, which is dedicated to those who died in and participated in the uprising. My grandmother was jailed for being a part of a “group of community leaders,” who sought a peaceful resolution to the standoff with the military paratroopers. My grandfather passed away when my father was only three. He was buried nearby and through some strings pulled, he was exhumed and laid to rest alongside my grandmother.

On this trip, we went to Kwangju for a day to visit her colleagues at the YWCA and the school who continue to do the work to which she dedicated herself. It was nice to see a room they had memorializing her, which included personal effects, books, and clothing. Many of my memories of her are from an age similar to Olivia and Lucas now. I don’t know how much they’ll remember from this, but maybe they’ll read this one day and will hopefully ask a lot of questions.

I regret now that I didn’t get to know her better and spend more time with her. I also regret some of the memories I do have of me being a total pain in her ass. I see now that she really did not have time for my shit. My cousin would always tell me how much she missed us and wanted to see us. Being a strong, independent woman, she was atypically not all about her grandsons, and had a strong connection to my sister. Jen was often told she took after my grandmother.

On every trip, I learn more and more about my grandparents and my family’s heritage. The city is planning to build a more perminent memorial to her, which I look forward to visiting. We’ll be sure to take the kids to learn more about their ass-kicking great grandmother.


Korea Trip – Part 5: Seoul with the Rhees

On Sunday, April 7th (Day 8), we spent time with my dad’s family, including my aunt, my cousins, and their families. We all met at the hotel and then went to a historic area of Seoul where there are many traditional houses. Like any good tourist trap, we paid to see the inside of one, and realized they had dish washers hundreds of years ago.

It was cute to see the kids play with each other, even though they couldn’t really communicate. Afterwards, we went our for Italian food at Villa Ottimo, which was excellent. It’s been 10 years since I’ve seen this side of my family (though Jiyong and Yeonoo have visited the states a couple times since then). It was great to spend time with them and see how well everyone is. I hope it isn’t another 10 years.