Returning to our regularly scheduled programming…
It was my first trip back in almost 30 years. My memories of Seoul are very fuzzy, as I was 7 years old. Mostly what I remembered were lots of dinner parties with my parents’ friends, while my brother and I sat back and played hand-held video games. (This was pre-Game Boys, but we each received one game upon our arrival. I’m pretty sure we both lost them on the plane rides back. I don’t remember his game; mine was a tennis game.) I remember crossing a HUGE, busy street with my mom, marveling at how large Seoul seemed to be.
In retrospect, that is adorable. Seoul in 1986 versus Seoul today was miniscule. Today, the city itself has more than 10 million people and the metropolitan area is over 25 million people. We were there for just 5 days: we didn’t even scratch the surface.
Instead, we gained some appreciation for my father’s Seoul: the north-west corner of central Seoul, around Yonsei University and his home. We explored historical sites, ate at some of his favorite restaurants, walked through Yonsei’s campus, and (of course) visited the largest bookstore in his neighborhood. It was difficult to put a trip into someone else’s hands (I’m a control freak about such things), but our trust was rewarded handsomely.
But I was reminded, from time to time, of how difficult it must have been for both my parents to move to the US on their own due to language barriers. Occasionally, Chris or I would speak too fast and Dad would misunderstand or mishear what we said. Let me be clear: Dad’s English is FANTASTIC. He’s fluent, much of his research is in English, and he lived in the US for about 10 years before moving back to Korea. My Korean is practically non-existent and Chris’ Korean is actually non-existent. So we all conversed in English. But on occasion, Dad would answer a question that hadn’t been asked (or not answer a question that hadn’t been clearly asked) and I would realize that I needed to be clearer or restate my question. Which is fine, but I did wonder if I missed other moments when we mis-communicated.
Spending time with him reinforced my belief that this visit was long overdue: by the end of the visit, these misunderstandings were happening less frequently and we were conversing more fluently. Our last night was wonderful: we discussed philosophy, politics, and history in an animated and respectful manner.
Like Macau, this wasn’t our usual kind of trip. We didn’t extensively research restaurants and neighborhoods and sites before we went. We didn’t stay in an apartment and live like a local. It was an odd combination of a family visit with Dad and a touristy visit in a hotel, eating out for every meal. (Don’t ask how much weight we each gained!) Unlike Macau, we did gain some appreciation for the history and culture of Korea (Chris moreso than myself — I’m not completely ignorant of my own roots!). But most importantly, we got to know my father better. For the first time in recent memory, my father was not exhausted by travel. He was in his own element. He was comfortable. And he was delightful.