The Most Inspirational Post You’ll Ever Read

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Always give 110%.

Never, ever give up…

…except when things get too hard. Then by all means, you should probably give up.

That’s a (not so difficult) decision that I made during a hike up one of China’s most famous mountains.

One of my favorite sites so far has been from my hike up Yellow Mountain (黄山). It felt good to get outside, use my legs, and breathe in the refreshing mountain air.

The night before my ascent, the woman at my hostel recommended taking the tram up part of the mountain, then walking the rest of the way to the hotel. She said that it was a very quick and easy walk.

Great! I’ll bring my gigantic book that weighs 20 pounds because it’ll be nice to have something to read. Oh, and I’ll bring a few extra shirts just in case they get too wet. How about a full bottle of shampoo in case they don’t provide any? Food and drinks on the mountain are expensive, so I’ll bring three huge bottles as supplies. Great idea, Cara! You’re so ready for this.

That day, I woke up at 5:30am to catch the bus to the base of the mountain, with my backpack full of unnecessary provisions.

There were mountain men waiting at the base of the mountain, offering to carry peoples’ bags up the mountain for 200 yuan (about $30).

One quickly zeroed in on me. Easy target, right? Single female, huge bag, bright-eyed, and optimistic.

He walked with me for about 15 minutes before he realized that I’m too far too strong and I don’t need his help. That, or I’m far too stubborn to let someone else help me carry a bag.

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After the first round of stairs, I could feel myself breathing harder, my legs burning, and I was fully regretting my hefty packing decisions.

Quick note: I am deathly afraid of heights but I have never let that stop me from an adventure. I’ve been bungee jumping, skydiving, and I’ve even stood on the balcony of the 3rd floor of a building (yes, even that turns my stomach).

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There were some points during the hike where it was difficult for me to appreciate the stunning beauty that surrounded me because I was too scared of falling over the edge and plummeting to my inevitable death.

I was planning on getting up to watch the sunrise over the mountain, but snowed all night. The forecast called for rain starting in the evening and continuing into the morning.

I had no desire to hike down a huge mountain covered in snow and ice, so I cut my trip short and hiked down the next day.

By the time I made it to the bottom of the mountain, everything was wet—my bag, hair, shoes and socks, and clothes. I didn’t feel cold (yet) because I had been hiking for the past 5 hours.

I got on the bus to take me back to the nearby city. Unfortunately, the driver wouldn’t leave the bus terminal until the bus was completely full. That took about 30 minutes.

So there I was… just sitting on a bus with no engine running, soaking wet and shivering.

Finally, the bus took off. The heat remained off and I could see my breath for the entirety of the bus ride.

Then we stopped the main bus station and had to transfer to another bus. That bus didn’t come for another hour. So I waited again.

Still cold. Still wet. Still shivering.

You’re probably thinking, “but Cara, you were at a central bus locale—wasn’t there heat in the building?”

Nope. No heat. China doesn’t have centralized heating, just individual units. I’m not sure why, but the doors were propped open. And it was snowing outside. SNOWING.

So there I sat yet again. Still cold. Still wet. Still shivering.

I was miserable.

Even after all that, I would do the exact same hike again in a heartbeat.

I was on such a mountain high after that experience, that I was anxious to get up Mount Emei, another famous mountain near Chengdu.

This time, I was prepared. I packed lightly, dressed warmly, and was nothing but optimistic for my next amazing mountain adventure.

I had significantly less time and flexibility for Mount Emei, so I couldn’t do as much hiking up and down it. That’s fine, I thought—as long as I can catch some beautiful scenery.

After two hours on the bus, I made it to the cable car checkpoint. I sleepily opened my eyes, looked around, and saw nothing but snow.

I knew that I would have to hike about 1.5 hours to make it to the cable car. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem if I had some great views. But I could barely see past the trees around me. Visibility was low and my resolution was even lower.

I got off the bus and walked around, testing the ground beneath me. The conditions were miserable and I really didn’t feel like getting wet, cold, and slipping, both up and down this mountain.

Here’s the one picture I took on Mt. Emei:

Emei Snow.jpg

I had to ask myself: do I really want to put myself through this just so I can see some temple (I feel like I’ve seen a million temples) and some Buddha (it wasn’t even a big Buddha) at the top of the mountain?

Nah.

I don’t want to make any lemonade and I refuse to give more than 45%.

Sometimes you just gotta know when to give up.. or in this case, when to turn around, get back onto the bus, and ride down the mountain to get a massage.

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Posted in China | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

I Thought A Thought

Since I’m traveling by myself, I have a lot of time to think about life, love, family, and any other random thought that inevitably comes to mind. Here’s a small taste what it’s like to be in my head.

Take note of the “*” for further explanations at the end of this blog.

Waiting at the airport when I arrived in Shanghai

I’m so surprised that they let me through customs. That would be the worst if I got to the airport and they turned me away. I would probably cry.

Holy goodness, it’s crowded here. Where’s the luggage carousel? Too many people… must muscle my way to the front. I’m in China, after all. What’s China without cutting ahead of people?

YAY! Puppies! I know they’re drug-sniffing puppies, but aww, they’re so cute with their little faces and their little puppy ears. Must… resist… urge to pet them…

Oh man, I hope they don’t smell drugs on my bags. What if somebody planted something in there? Or what if someone had cocaine on their hands and then they touched my bags? I’ll be in Chinese prison forever. What if they put me to death? Ugh, I still don’t have a will.

I hope that the airline didn’t lose my bags. That would be the worst. I have so much stuff in there. At least all my valuables are in my backpack. What if someone steals my bag? I want a puppy.

Standing in line for the bathroom at the train station in Shanghai

This line is pretty short—I’ll be in and out in no time. Just five women in front of me and five stalls. I don’t want to miss my train, so let’s hurry it up, ladies.

Fifteen minutes later…

Ok, what’s going on here? I have to pee! Four of the women in front of me have gone in and out of the same stall, but I haven’t heard any movement in the other four stalls. Maybe there’s nobody in them? Are they out of order? I don’t see a sign.

I asked the woman in front of me and she confirmed that all stalls were occupied.

So what you’re telling me is that those four women have been in there for at least 15 minutes? I don’t care how badly I have to pee, I definitely don’t want to go into those stalls. Who knows what kind of horrors I’ll discover in there.

Then I heard multiple phone conversations happening in those stalls.

Ew, why are you on the phone while you’re going to the bathroom? What if they hear something? I wonder if there actually aren’t any toilets behind those doors and maybe they’re just playing mahjong. Awesome.

Walking around in random streets

Yuck, that guy just snot-rocketed right in front of me. If I was ½ a second faster, it would’ve gotten on me. Gross.

This air is really bad. It’s so thick, I feel like I can touch it. I suppose I can forgo running for a few more weeks to save my lungs. Should I buy a mask?

Aww, that baby is adorable. I wonder if it’s culturally unacceptable to go pick that baby up without asking. I could just pretend that it’s normal in America and feign ignorance. Maybe I’ll just pinch her cheeks. I miss my nieces.

I’m hungry but I’m not sure that I want to eat that. What’s this? Some sort of bun? Ok, I guess I’ll try it. Ew, this is awful… but I hate wasting food and money, so I’m going to eat it anyway.

10 minutes later…

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no. My stomach is not happy with my culinary decision. I need a bathroom. Like right now. Please don’t poop your pants, Cara. That’s disgusting. Of course, I would have to buy all new clothes and throw these away. But I like these pants a lot.*

Hark! I smell a bathroom nearby!

Ok be careful. Don’t put your bag on the ground because it’s covered in urine. Squatty potties are the worst. I hope that I have tissues on me.**

Please don’t fall in the toilet and please don’t pee on yourself. Bah, I need to get out of here right now. This bathroom is so gross.***

Of course they don’t have soap in here and of course nobody is washing their hands. I’ll use my hand sanitizer.

Although there are some downsides to China, I am so happy that I’m here. I love the people, the culture, and oh goodness, do I love the food… even though sometimes, the food doesn’t love me.

I’m off to another adventure on Yellow Mountain tomorrow morning. Mom–you’ll be happy to know that the the Heavenly Bridge is closed because it’s the winter. Google that and you’ll breathe a sigh of relief.


 

*This is not the first time that I’ve come dangerously close to pooping my pants in Asia and definitely not the last.

**Chinese toilets generally don’t provide toilet paper. You have to buy little packs and make sure you always have them with you, lest you drip-dry, or in some cases, use a receipt.

***Chinese bathrooms generally don’t provide soap, either. It’s best to carry hand sanitizer around with you.

Posted in China, Food | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

You Can Go Home Again

We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.

–Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon

I am grateful that my parents supported my decision to search for my birthmother back in 2012. Mom even flew all the way to Korea so that she could meet her with me. This was especially meaningful for me because Mom never travels without Dad, let alone to another country where she doesn’t speak the language.

Many people have asked me how Mom feels about me going to spend a month with my birthmother in Korea. I think that of all people, she has been the most supportive of my journey.

Mom had the pleasure (and often times, extremely trying) job of raising me. Being the youngest of five children, I learned very early how a flutter of my eyelashes or a well-timed cry could send my parents running. My favorite thing to say when I didn’t get what I wanted was, “I’m going back to Korea.” I was a little hellion.

After throwing an epic tantrum in the supermarket, I boldly announced, “I’m going back to Korea!” to which Mom calmly replied, “I’m going to miss you a lot, but I’ll help you pack your bags.”

That was the last time that I said that.

My mother raised me into the woman that I am today. She saw me take my first steps and subsequent first tumble, taught me how to share, how to say “please” and “thank you,” and which color tags give the best discounts at Goodwill. She taught me how to be gracious, patient, kind, and forgiving.

She has had to say “goodbye” to me more often than she prefers, such as the day that I left for college, when I moved to China and then to Boston, and again, when I left for this trip.

But she always knew that she would be able to say “hello” to me again.

When my birthmother took me to the adoption agency when I was a baby, the last thing that she could say to me was “goodbye” with no hope of the next “hello.”

My journey to connect with my birthmother has never meant that I love my American mother any less. It is a testament to the strength of my relationship with my mother. It is because she is my mother that she can understand the pain of losing me. She has been more supportive than I deserve, and for that, I am grateful.

Thank you, Mom, for being so wonderfully supportive and sympathetic for me during this journey. Thank you for your reassurance when I was frustrated and discouraged. I appreciate you, I love you, and I miss you.

I would like to share the letter that my birthmother wrote to me back in 2012 after she received my letter. This letter was translated by the adoption agency:

Dear my daughter, SooHee,

How much I longed to hear from you, and how much I have been missing you all these years.

I just want to thank you that you have grown up well and healthy.

When I first heard the news about you, I could not believe my ears.

I am not sure if I even deserve to refer myself any ‘mom’ to you.

I give my deepest gratitude to your adoptive parents.

I was the 2nd child in 5 siblings of my family. It is a long story how I got married, and how I had to choose an option of adoption for your future. Currently I live in Seoul with my mother (your grandmother), and I work as special needs education helper at a local middle school.

You seem to be so active and confident in the picture, and I am just so thankful. I wish I were there for you as you were growing up. I am so sorry. I saved your photo in my cell phone, and I look at more than 20 times a day.

I cried almost every day after you were sent to Holt. There was a time when I wanted to bring you back, but by then, it was not allowed since it could hurt you more than help you. I regretted so much. I cannot find words to describe how sorry I am to you.

I hope that we will be able to meet soon. My daughter!

I really want to meet you.

Your birthmom, Kim Jung Sook in Seoul

I will always remember my time in Korea with my birthmother and family. Despite the language barrier, I could feel their love in the warmth of their smiles and gentleness of their touch. While my time in Korea is over for now, I know that this is just the beginning of a beautiful relationship with my birthmother, my friend, Kim Jung Sook.

Here’s some of the great memories that we made together in 2012.

Posted in Family, Korea | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

4 Reasons Why Day Drinking Is a Great Idea

As much as you might hate to admit it, at one point in your life, you have probably engaged in some form of day drinking. Whether it be pre-gaming before a big football game, drinking to get rid of last night’s hangover, or just out with a bunch of friends at brunch, you have sipped on the sweet nectar that is alcohol. They say it’s 5’o clock somewhere; I say, why even make up excuses? Drinking during the day can be loads of fun and I have 4 spectacular reasons to prove it.


  1. It brings people together

If you’re drinking with a friend or group of friends, it makes whatever situation you’re in more fun. I got to travel to Jebudo Island with my birthmother and her friend. What I didn’t realize was that it would take two hours on the bus and train and an additional two hours by car to get there. By the time we arrived on the island, I was exhausted, hungry, and cranky.

We pulled up to the fourth restaurant (because why settle for the first restaurant you seen on the island?) and got out. It was raining, but I didn’t care. They told me that we were getting sushi and I was beyond excited! Sushi, on an island? It can’t get much fresher than that! As I walked past the tanks of fish, my stomach rumbled. Gimme that fish and we’ll be good to go.

The first thing they ordered was soju (a type of Korean rice wine). Oh, wow, ladies, it’s only 1:00 pm. Props to you for getting started early. I’ll just stick with water for now, thank you.

They picked something from the menu and the food shenanigans began. It was plate after plate of side dishes, sea creatures, and many items that I couldn’t name. The one thing that I didn’t see was sushi. At all.

I looked around and recognized a few dishes – corn covered in some sort of white sauce, daikon, and of course, kimchi. Plenty of kimchi.

The server placed a dish close to me that appeared to be moving. Scratch that, was definitely moving. Squirming is a better word for it. Holy goodness, I think it’s still alive. “Hey lady, I think you missed this one. It’s still alive,” I wanted to yell. My birthmom and her friend grabbed their chopsticks and picked up a few pieces, swirled it in sauce, and plopped it into their mouths.

“What is this?” I asked. Notice how my Korean is getting much better? *Pats self on the back with smug satisfaction*

They responded, “sannakji (산낙지)” Ok yeah… but it’s still moving. It looks like some sort of octopus tentacles. I decline to try some for the time being.

I look around at the next dish and they said that it’s “jeanbuk (전북)”. I couldn’t find what it is, so I’m thinking that I wrote it down incorrectly. Either way, it is definitely still moving. It’s not as squirmy as the first course, but there’s discernable movement in that dish. I poked it with my chopsticks and that seemed to prompt it to wiggle a bit more. Yuck. That looks like nothing I want anywhere near my mouth.

My birthmom and her friend laughed at my apprehension. Then she grabbed a conch shell and pulled some poor sucker out of it and ate it.

I looked around the table dejectedly and realized that I would probably go home hungry that day. As much as I love trying new foods, I’m not about to be one of the 6 people each year that die from suffocation when the octopus suctions to the back of their throat.

They continued drinking and “cheersing” each-other while I peeled a shrimp with its eyeballs still in its head. Stop staring at me shrimp.

  1. It’s encourages the use of public transportation

After lunch, I was under the impression that we were going back to the apartment. After all, we had agreed the previous day that I would go to the gym at 5:00 pm because I couldn’t go in the morning. She wanted me to wear makeup and was afraid that I wouldn’t have enough time before we were supposed to leave.

We hopped on the subway and started back towards downtown Seoul. After only 3 stops (we should’ve gone 15), we got off the train. Of course, I was confused and not at all surprised that our “plans” changed. She said that we were going to meet another friend.

We waited outside the train station and met up with a man. I asked her if it was her boyfriend and she said yes. Wait a minute, lady… two boyfriends? Wow, I can respect that. Only later did I realize that she meant that he is a friend who is a man. Not as much fun, but we’ll roll with it.

He drove us to a Korean BBQ restaurant and they ordered soju and beer. Again, I declined and stuck with water.

They mixed the beer and soju together and continued “cheersing” throughout the meal.

Cheersing at Second Dinner

  1. It opens up doors to new adventures

After eating lots of meat and finishing the meal with the standard bowl of noodles (I like cold noodles the best), we left. Her friend said “one dinner, two dinner—cheekuhn!, coffee.” I’m pretty sure that he was joking because we all agreed that we were stuffed. I was ready to go home because it had already been a long day and I still needed to get to the gym.

We walked around for a bit; I thought we were looking for his car. Nope. Not even close.

We entered a chicken restaurant and I couldn’t help but wonder, “How much can these people eat?” Don’t get me wrong, I love a good second dinner. But not immediately after finishing at the first dinner. Give me a few hours and I’ll be raring to go.

They ordered more beer and soju. This time, I got a green tea (I know, I’m wild).

The server brought out a salad doused in dressing with fried chicken on top. Woof. I want nothing to do with that. My birthmom ate some of it and to be respectful, I grabbed a few of the leaves that didn’t have as much dressing on them and munched slowly. What the heck is happening? He didn’t touch the salad. I wonder why he was so excited to come here?

Fried Chicken Salad

We left the restaurant and I thought “Finally, we’re going home. Gym time.”

Nope.

We entered a random building and went up three flights of stairs. I looked around and thought, “Oh my goodness, this place does not seem like the kind of place that I should be on a school night.” Here are some pictures of the entrance. What does it look like to you?

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It was a karaoke place! While I personally do not sing karaoke (trust me, nobody needs to hear me screeching into a microphone, no matter how under the influence you are), I do enjoy listening to and encouraging other karaoke singers.

In their drunken stupor, they sang a duet together and continued singing and playing the tambourine for the entirety of the room rental, which was about 30 minutes. I enjoyed watching them and did, for only a second, entertain the idea of singing a song in English. I mean, they won’t know if I’m off key if it’s in a language they don’t know, right?

Karaoke With Birthmom

Before I knew it, our time was over and it was time for us to leave. What a great new adventure! Thank you, alcohol, for bringing me to that magical place!

  1. Drinking loosens inhibitions

During the second dinner, when birthmom was talking to her friend, she started crying. I understood enough to know that she was talking about me but I didn’t know what she was saying. Alarmed, I asked her if she was upset with me. In retrospect, I could’ve been more patient and warm to her earlier that day. Frantically, I thought back through the day and the previous day and wondered if I was not kind to her, if I did not thank her enough, or what I could’ve done to be a better and more gracious guest.

She continued to cry and all I could do was hug her and pat her leg. I pulled up the translator app on my phone and typed in what she said “옛날생각에,죄책감에”. Basically, she had a lot of regret from the time of my birth. When I met her in 2012, she said that the next day after she dropped me off at the adoption agency, she tried to get me back. But, by then, it was too late. She had signed the papers and I was officially no longer her baby.

It was all I could do to stay strong for her and not to cry myself. It pains me to see people I care about crying or being upset. I continued patting her leg, then hugged her and kissed her on the cheek. I told her that I loved her and that everything would be ok. After what seemed like ages, she was able to calm down. She and her friend “cheersed” with the rest of their beer and we were off.


In all seriousness, I do not promote excessive drinking. Alcohol is not good for one’s body or health, and while it can be fun to partake in certain situations, it should be enjoyed if one is over the legal drinking age, in a safe situation, and not driving. Plus, alcohol is expensive.

While I didn’t make it to the gym that night (it was far too late), I did get to experience my birthmom in a manner that I hadn’t yet seen. She was more honest, open, and oh my goodness, did she love calling people on her phone that night.

I’m happy that because my birthmom was drinking, I was able to see her through a new lens. I learned to open my heart up and have more compassion for what she’s been through. I learned that I need to not be so impatient or calloused and that I should be gentle and as accommodating as possible.

This woman wants to give me the world but has missed out on 28 years of my life. She is only now getting her “baby” back, and she is trying to make up for lost time. She’s doing her best to start a relationship with me given the difficult situation that not only do we not speak the same language, but we are also culturally miles apart from one-another.

I am learning to take each day, each experience, each hesitant glance or touch on the arm, as an opportunity to open the doors for what I know will be a lasting and forever-loving relationship. I have a strongly renewed sense of purpose to learn Korean so that I can better communicate my feelings with her. One day, I vow to bring her to America so that she can meet the rest of my family and see the wonderful opportunities and love that I was afforded. I know that when they are able to meet each other and effectively communicate the love, respect, and gratitude that I know each of my family members feel for her, that I can finally feel that my family is complete and that my heart will be full.

 

Posted in Food, Korea | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Near Death Experience

I’ve been told that I’m gullible. I say that I have faith in the goodness of mankind, that people are innately good. I trust easily and it’s because of this that I had my first (and definitely not last) near-death experience.

My birthmother noticed that my  knee was hurting, probably due to the fact that I’ve been icing it religiously (remember when I wrote about being old and having my body break down?). She pointed at her knee and made multiple poking motions with her fingers. I figured that she wanted to take me to get acupuncture and I figured “why not?”

We walked into the clinic and there were about 20 people in the waiting room. The receptionist spoke enough English to ask me to fill out my name, address, ask where I was hurting, and if I had any allergies to medicine. I completed the form, showed her where I was in pain (my right knee and left hamstring), and confirmed that I have no medical allergies.

Pictures with famous people?12250468_10100403224457033_63551838_o

When it was my turn to see the doctor, I was a little nervous.

I removed my shoes, sat on the table, and looked around. Supposedly, this doctor is famous in Korea, and according to the nurse, he is the doctor to the President of Korea. He even has lots of pictures of himself and (I’m guessing) famous people, and this weird, framed picture of himself.

As I was sitting on the table, nervous and a little excited, I asked the nurse if I could take photos. She nodded and I prepared to get some great pictures of needles sticking out of my body.

Then the doctor entered the room and came at me with a needle full of an unknown substance.

I exclaimed loudly enough for the receptionist to come in and ask me to quiet down. I tried to stop him (this does not look like acupuncture), but he attempted to calm me down. This needle is most definitely not an acupuncture needle.

Well, maybe he needs to numb the area before he injects me. I’ll let him do that, I guess.

Then he proceeded to poke and inject, poke and inject, poke and inject, all over my knee. I didn’t feel any numbness.

Then I flipped over onto my stomach. He did the same poke/inject sequence all over my hamstring. Again, no numbness.

Hamstring Injections

The doctor left the room and the nurse started pulling my pants down. I was very confused, but I figured that maybe they had to do more injections to help with the blood flow to my hamstring. At this point, I was laughing.

And before I knew it, my session was over. I was curious about what mysterious liquid they poked me with, so I asked the nurse for the name. She said “it’s a kind of honey medicine” and gave me the Korean words for it.

I immediately dismissed this treatment as a waste of time and money. Honey? To cure my gimpy knee and hamstring? Doubtful.

I meandered down the road to a nearby coffee shop and Googled the Korean that she wrote down. It was dried honey with bee venom. Very interesting since I happen to be allergic to bees.

Being a hypochondriac never helps in situations like these. I frantically began Googling everything I could think of:

  • Will I die with honey bee venom injections if I’m allergic to bee stings?
  • Bee venom: uses, side effects, interactions
  • Wikipedia: bee sting
  • Dried honey bee venom
  • How long does it take to have an allergic reaction to bee venom?
  • Foods and bee stings
  • WebMd (I probably spent far too long on WebMd and as any doctor can attest–that’s a terrible idea)

It had been around an hour since I got the injections. I looked down at my knee: no swelling, itching, or otherwise alarming side effects. Wait, is my neck itching now? Is my throat closing? I think my knee is getting redder. Yes, my neck is definitely itchy.

On the walk home, I started thinking some really  morbid thoughts.

How do I make a will? I bet I can find something online. If I do it online, is it legal? Do I need to get a lawyer? I don’t have any debt, so that’s a good thing, right? Do I have any lawyer friends who specialize in wills? Should I ask my brother for his lawyer’s phone number? Should I write a goodbye letter to my family? Did I tell my family that I loved them today?

I didn’t sleep well that night. I was afraid that this would be like getting a concussion. You know, where you’re fine until you go to sleep and then you never wake up.

I miraculously did wake up and lived to tell the tale.

Posted in Korea | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

What Not to Wear to a Wedding

This weekend, I went to my first (and probably last) wedding of 2015.

I’m sure you’re wondering what I wore to this wedding. I certainly didn’t bring any wedding-appropriate attire with me on my trip. The fanciest and cleanest(ish) clothes that I had are jeans and glorified long sleeve t-shirts. I did have a nice white sweater, but I couldn’t wear that for fear of breaking the unwritten wedding rule of not wearing white to a wedding.

My birthmother insisted that the clothes that I brought would be fine. I was in disbelief, but I wasn’t about to go out and buy a dress.

I spoke to an American that has been living in Korea about my concerns. He told me that, generally, Korean weddings are fairly casual. It’s a quick ceremony, usually held at a hall specifically used for weddings (not at a church, country club, or a gorgeous, carefully selected venue).

Wedding halls are designed for mass weddings and usually have at least 3 or 4 weddings a day there. After the ceremony, it’s a mad dash for the buffet where it’s the same cafeteria-style food that they serve to everyone. He confirmed that my jeans would likely be just fine.

Flash forward to the morning of the wedding…

My birthmother was getting ready for what seemed like hours. Actually, it was three hours and fifteen minutes, but who’s counting?

My process was a little faster. I smoothed out my fanciest and only pair of jeans and carefully selected a shirt (ok, one of my only clean shirts).

I was very conscious of the color of my shirt (red) and what that might symbolize in Korean culture. I read that the color red could symbolize good fortune and prosperity, but it’s also a bit risque. I held up the shirt to my birthmom and asked her if it was acceptable. She said that it was beautiful and would be fine.

I was a little uncomfortable because while my birthmom insisted that jeans would be fine, she chose a fancy dress and fancy matching jacket. Hmm.

Since I didn’t bring any hair products with me, there wasn’t much I could do about styling it. So I did what I do best and threw my hair up into a ponytail. Mind you, this wasn’t just any ponytail. It was a high ponytail. And I feel like this is the fanciest of all the ponytails and especially befitting a wedding.

I was ready to go. Jeans, red shirt, extra fancy ponytail, and earrings that I bought for $0.85 in a street market. My birthmother gave me a pair of sunglasses to wear so that I could look extra cool. It was cloudy outside, but the weather shall not stand in the way of fashion!P1070733 (1)

Just as we were about to leave the apartment, she stopped me. She opened up a pot of concealer and started towards my face. I figured that I had a zit that she wanted to cover up.

Nope. She very carefully applied the concealer to my scar.

For those of you who don’t know, I was born with cleft lip and a partially collapsed nose due to the cleft lip. Cleft lip a birth is a birth defect where your lip is not fully formed and causes a split on the upper lip. These were fixed when I was very young.

I have never put makeup on my scar because I am not ashamed of it. It is there because of what I was born with and it’s part of who I am. I am more than the scars on my body.

I understand that my birthmother was going to introduce me to many of her friends and that there might be an element of shame surrounding this “defect” that I was born with. I tried not to be too hurt or angry that she wanted to cover it up. But to be totally honest, I was hurt. And I was angry.

I had to shrug it off and just go along with it.

A little after 11am, we departed for the wedding. It was a very long train ride and I was grateful that I brought some reading materials with me. My birthmom brought a bottle of nail polish and decided that this would be a good time to paint her nails. People did not seem fazed by this.Painting Nails

We rode past the train station that we were supposed to get off at. Ok, so maybe I didn’t know what we were doing or where we were going. Were we actually going to a wedding?

We got off at the last train station and, by then, my birthmom seemed really frazzled. It was already 1pm and I thought that the wedding was supposed to start at 1pm. I don’t think she planned this very well. I definitely didn’t get my Type A personality from her. Check out this blog post where I talk about how much I like to plan and you can get an idea about how shocking this lack of preparation was to me.

Even though we were late, she decided that this would be a good time to stop at a bank. Interesting time to get some cash. Perhaps this could’ve waited until after the wedding?

We rolled up to the venue at 1:30pm, 30 minutes after the wedding was supposed to start. I immediately knew that this was not going to be the casual wedding that I expected. This was not a wedding hall; it was a huge, beautiful hotel.

Uh-oh.

I looked down at my outfit, looked over at my birthmom, and looked back at my outfit.

I could already tell that I was severely underdressed.

The escalators didn’t work. I laughed. Of course the escalators don’t work when we’re already late.

We stopped at a manned table just outside of the wedding. My birthmom pulled a wad of cash (300,000 Korean Won or about $250 USD) out of her purse (the money she got from the bank) and put it into an envelope with her name on it. Then she signed the guestbook and basically burst through the doors. What an entrance!

Unfortunately, we missed the ceremony, but we did see the family pictures being taken on the front stage.
Wedding PhotosI tried not to be too embarrassed about my attire, but it was hard not to feel extremely out of place. Everyone was dressed very nicely in dark clothing (I didn’t see any red shirts).

I helped alleviate my feelings of tension by drinking wine. A lot of wine. The more wine I drank, the more my feelings of self-consciousness dissipated. Magic!

On the bus ride back from the wedding, I was able to take some time to reflect on my experience. I realized that it didn’t matter that I was wearing.  It didn’t matter that we were late.  It didn’t matter that I couldn’t speak the same language.  The only thing that mattered was that we were there to share in the celebration.

Here are some random tidbits that didn’t make their way into the post:

  • Wedding guests brought money (not gifts) for the bride and groom. If you have a close relationship with them, you bring more money. It’s usually at least 100,000 KRW.
  • There is no “reception.” After everyone eats, they leave.
  • Guests are encouraged to take the flowers. There was a free flower wrapping station where people could get their flowers arranged, cut, and wrapped.
  • I was not the only person wearing jeans.
  • The bride got married in a western-style white dress. She changed into a traditional Korean hanbok for the cake-cutting and remainder of the wedding.
  • The bride and groom did not eat. I was told that they would eat after everyone was gone.
  • There were two long tables on either side of the runway. Anyone could sit there; they were not intended for the wedding party or family members.
  • Once the ceremony was over, the lights turned on and the staff immediately started clearing the tables. It was a very fast wedding.
Posted in Family, Holiday, Korea | Tagged , | 4 Comments

If You’re Single and You Know It… Eat Some Pepero

It’s a special day here in Korea because it’s November 11th, also known as “Pepero Day (빼빼로데이)”.

People eat Pepero Sticks on this day to become taller and thinner because Pepero sticks are tall, thin, and so delicious.

Really, this holiday is just like Valentine’s Day because it’s an excuse for friends and loved ones to give Pepero sticks to each other.  And it’s a cash cow for the company that makes Pepero sticks (like Hallmark on Valentine’s Day).  I read somewhere that they make between 50-65% of their annual sales on Pepero Day.  And the internet never lies.

In order to become the tallest and thinnest, it’s said that on 11/11, one should eat 11 sticks at 11:11am (and 11 seconds) and 11 sticks at 11:11pm (and 11 seconds).

Does it still count if I eat (nay, inhale) Pepero sticks all day today, tomorrow, and for the rest of my life? I’ll monitor my progress on getting taller and thinner as a function of the number of boxes that I eat.

Expect a full report in a month.

Posted in Food, Holiday, Korea | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

On Getting Older and Sleeping On the Floor

I can still remember the day when I could run for days without breaking a sweat.  When I could walk down a flight of stairs without holding onto the handrail.  When I could sit down and stand back up without having to hold onto something, awkwardly readjusting my body into my “I’m going to stand up now” position, and making a hrrmmph noise.

Gone are those days.

I could blame this on my recent ACL surgery and arguably, my decision of playing soccer exactly 6 months after having my knee sliced open.

But honestly, I think that it’s just because I’m getting older.  Older, fatter, and slower.

When did that happen?  When did I round the corner from youthful vitality into old, crotchety-ness, where I shake my fist at loud teenagers and get concerned about the sugar intake of kids these days?  Also, when did I start saying “kids these days”?

This all came to a point when I decided to go on a run around the neighborhood.

Full of blind ambition and excitement, I started running.  Excruciatingly slowly.  With each step, I could feel pain pulsing through my knee, but I kept going.  I figured it would feel better if I kept going.

It did not.  In fact, it felt worse.

Twenty minutes later, I hobbled back to the apartment, feeling like a huge failure.  A huge (old) failure.

My birthmom saw that I was in pain took me to a jimjilbang (찜질방).  

A jimjilbang is a Korean sauna/bathhouse where people can go for the day or stay overnight.

We were given tiny towels and clothes to change into.  The shorts that they gave me were tiny and it was quite the feat to squeeze my gigantic American body into them.  I think I still have marks where the waistband was slowly constricting the life out of me.

We started out in the sauna.  It wasn’t like a western-style sauna, where there’s only room for 10 people sitting on cedar planks.  It was a huge room with carpeted floors and a television.

Here’s a picture that I secretly took.  I figured that nobody would bat an eye if it looked like I was taking a selfie.  
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After sweating for 15 minutes in the sauna, we went into the cold room (my favorite room!).  It was like walking into a giant refrigerator and the rapid temperature change felt phenomenal.   I think it was about -19°C.

One magical room wasn’t incredibly hot, but there were heated stones on the floor with colorful lights.  12214311_10100398742204503_321217239_o

After we switched back and forth between the hot and cold rooms, we went to this room with large logs on the ground.  People were sleeping everywhere.  I also fell asleep, using a wooden block as a pillow.12209316_10100398737813303_223471173_o 12209235_10100398987932063_1536583457_o

Here’s a picture of a room where people go just to sleep.12209134_10100398743861183_2071250487_o

Ironically, this person was not in the sleeping room, but they very comfortably set up shop at the base of the stairs.  This did not seem strange to anyone.12204351_10100398743851203_985812173_o

I absolutely loved going to the jimjilbang and will definitely go back before I leave Korea.  Maybe it will magically heal my broken knee.

In the meantime, I’ll continue struggling with stairs and the whole “sitting down and standing up” thing.

For a great video of Conan O’Brian visiting a jimjilbang in the States, check this out!  (Mom, there is cursing and censored nudity in this video.)

 

 

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You Want Some Kimchi With That Kimchi?

WARNING: There are graphic images in this post.  If you are sensitive to said images (Mom, I’m talking to you), I do not recommend reading this post while eating or right before you plan on eating.


Before I embarked on this trip, I accepted the fact that my diet would drastically change. No more green smoothies, protein shakes, spinach/kale salads, or Greek yogurt. Goodbye carrots and hummus.  Goodbye oatmeal. Goodbye regular bowel movements.

Instead, I’ve been eating rice, noodles, and what feels like all of the kimchi that’s been in existence in all of Korea, past, present, and future.  Seriously.  I’ve eaten more kimchi in a week here than I’ve eaten in my entire life.

And the kimchi supply never seems to run out.  It’s like Jesus feeding 5,000 people with bread and fish.  Except instead of bread and fish, it’s kimchi.  And instead of 5,000 people, it’s me.

The other night, my birthmom gave me (what appeared to be) a salad.  It was iceberg lettuce, carrots, apples, and grapes… coated with what appeared to be salad dressing.

I thought “yay! It’s salad(ish)”.  It has some fresh vegetables and fruit, and even though it’s covered in dressing, it’s better than nothing, right?

I grabbed my chopsticks and picked up a piece of lettuce.  I put it in my mouth and chewed slowly.  Ahhh.  That’s not salad dressing.  It’s yogurt.

She looked at me expectantly, hope glimmering in her eyes.

I smiled and nodded my head enthusiastically.  While it didn’t taste good, I really appreciated the effort she made to prepare a dish that she thought I would like.  I ate the whole “salad” to show her how much I appreciated it.

She made the same “salad” for breakfast the next day.

At least it’s not beondegi 번데기 (silkworm pupae).  I tried this a few days ago and was surprised at how soft it was.  I was expecting it to be very crunchy.  The flavor wasn’t bad but the texture was not my favorite.  It was like eating a soft grape; the inside was really soft and squishy and the skin was chewy.

Beondegi 번데기 (Silkworm pupae)

After eating the beondegi, I was presented with this plate of food.  The food on the left side is fish and the food on the right side is gaebul 개불.  I tried a few pieces; unlike the beondegi, the texture was harder and kinda crunchy, similar to what you think cartilage would feel like.

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I couldn’t find a translation for gaebul with the dictionary on my phone so I had to wait until I could Google it.

Wikipedia tells me that gaebul is urechis unicinctus, otherwise known as the “penis fish” or “inkeeper worm”.  Here’s a picture of those little guys before they were cooked (at least I hope they were cooked):

Gaebul (penis fish)

What’s the weirdest or most interesting food that you’ve eaten?  I would love to hear about it in the comments below!

Posted in Food, Korea | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Plan On Not Planning Anything

I’m a planner.  I always have been and I always will be.  I like to know what I’m doing, when I’m doing it, and where I’ll be.  Let’s get it on my calendar at least a week in advance so that I can plan my schedule.  A month in advance would be even better.

Now I don’t know what what I’m doing until the moment it happens.  And even then, I don’t really know.

It’s been really hard for me to adjust to this and even harder for me to stay patient and in good spirits.  For some people, this lack of planning might not be a problem.  But for me, it’s extremely stressful and causes more anxiety that I care to admit.  I have to keep telling myself to just breathe and be patient.  That’s so much easier said than done.

For example, take what happened today:


7:30am – Wake up.  Birthmom sees that I’m awake and immediately starts speaking to me in Korean.  Wait, what did you say?  She sets a plate of fruit next to me.  I eat a banana and some apples for breakfast.

8:00am – Turn on my computer, get some Peaceful Media work done, screw around with my blog, catch up on emails.  Working gives me some feeling of normalcy.

12:00pm – Eat lunch with birthmom and her boyfriend at the apartment.  We ate curry with rice.  Gosh, I’ve been eating a lot of rice.  I need more vegetables.  I don’t think I’ve pooped in days.

12:30pm – Leave the apartment for a bike ride… I think?  Get on the bus and ride it for an undetermined amount of time to an undetermined location.  Wait a minute… I thought we were riding bikes by the river near the apartment.  We could’ve walked there.  Where are we going?

1:00pm – Fall asleep on the bus.

1:15pm – Get off the bus.  My birthmom seems to be in a hurry.  Why are we rushing?  Do we have an appointment somewhere?  Are we going to the adoption agency?  She mentioned something about that yesterday.  It’s really cold and windy.  It’s hard for me to keep up with her because she’s basically running.

1:30pm – Birthmom has been asking a lot of people how to get somewhere.  She doesn’t know where we’re going?  I’m trying to contain my frustration.  What are we doing? Who are we meeting?

1:35pm  – Observe many plastic surgery centers.  I’ve seen a lot of those.

1:45pm – Continue following my birthmom while she is on the phone with someone.  Is it my uncle?  Is he picking us up?  Why did we take the bus here?  She walks one way, stops and turns around, then walks back the other way.  *Breathe, Cara, breathe*

2:00pm – Tiny Korean woman runs up to us and hugs me.  Hi, tiny Korean woman.  Who are you?  She grabs hold of my hand and the three of us start walking somewhere. She’s not dressed for a bike ride… those are loafers that she’s wearing.  Who is this woman?  This is kinda adorable that she’s holding my hand.  Gosh, she’s so tiny.

2:05pm – Walk by a shop with a golden retriever in the doorway.  I stop and pet him (it’s the first big dog that I’ve seen this whole trip… all the dogs are what can only be classified as “little fluffies”).  I feel a bit better now.

2:10pm – Arrive at tiny Korean woman’s house.  She gives us tea and apples (I realize that I’ve been eating tons of apples).  We leave her house with her bike–it has two flat tires.  Why don’t we have two bikes?  I’m so glad it’s not a tandem bike.

2:15pm – Follow birthmom.  Find a bike shop where we pump up the tires.

2:20pm – Approach a bike rack, unlock a bike (I’m guessing it’s her friend’s other bike), then walk the bikes towards another undetermined location.  Why aren’t we riding the bikes?  Is there a law against riding bikes on the road?  This looks like a bike path.  Wait a minute, there are other people riding bikes.  Let’s get on our bikes!  It would be so much faster!

2:30pm – Walk up to the Han River (it’s huge).  Get on the bikes, start riding.  Are we riding towards something or are we just riding for fun?  I have to remind myself to relax, have fun, and enjoy the scenery.  I don’t like feeling like I’m trying to catch up but that’s how I’ve been feeling all day.

3:00pm – Koreans seem to take bike riding very seriously.  They’re decked out from head to toe in their riding outfits, riding gloves, hats, glasses, backpacks, and face masks.  I look ridiculous.

4:00pm – Head back to the apartment (I think?).  Stop.  Get off the bikes, leave them by the path.  Will they get stolen?  Start walking back in the same direction that we just came from.  What the heck is happening?  Stop on a bridge, take a picture with a pot of flowers.  Walk back towards the bikes.  Birthmom runs a little bit.  I continue walking.  Phew, the bikes are still there.

4:15pm – Walk the bikes towards the apartment (yay, I recognize this area!).  Why aren’t we riding them?  Stop at a store.  Get some vegetables. Go home.  I guess we’re not meeting my uncle tonight.


Do I know what we’re doing tomorrow?  Nope.  What about the next day?  Nope.  This weekend?  No idea.  *SIGH*

Breathe, Cara, breathe.

Posted in Korea | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments