A Korean Aussie adoptee goes back home for the first time. Hilarity ensues?
After 9 hours on the plane, it’s suddenly 5:09pm Seoul time. According to the flight path screen I checked obsessively over nine hours, the plane is flying at an altitude of 9448 meters and the distance to destination is 240km. Everything outside goes white. The plane shakes and drops a little. I go white and shake myself. Then the plane drops under the clouds.
The first thing I see are endless mountains forever, fading into a misty horizon. A thick grey river and highways snake through the Valley. The land flattens out into thousands of tiny squares or farms and villages. Huge rectangle buildings with bright orange and aqua roofs. More mountains. I’ve never seen so many mountains.
A Korean air hostess asks me something I don’t understand because she has mistaken me for being Japanese.
I see Seoul approaching. High rises staggered up and down mountains. I am shocked. Seoul is enormous. We are 2433m in the air and the spread of buildings vanish well into the horizon. Long highways stretch over the ocean.
The plane lands and I disembark. A dopey grin spreads across my face as I walk past Korean ads, Korean signs, listen to snippets of Korean conversation.
I meet up with staff from G.O.A.L and another Brisbane Korean adoptee, Carly. While we wait for another adoptee arriving from the US we chat about Korean work ethic, parenting, Asians not being able to tell each other apart, the stupid questions we get asked.
I have a look at shops at the airport and am amused by everything. I buy a Batman Smoothie, for the hilarious name and because I’m too embarrassed to attempt ordering a drink in Korean. Still, I say “kamsahamnida” (thank you) and there’s no harm done. I go to 7-11 and notice an entire wall full of sausage and cheese. This makes me happy because I love sausages and cheese and I’m pleased that my country of birth does too. I buy deodorant and say “kamsahamnida” again.
We catch a subway train into Seoul. The Seoul Train! There’s a TV on the train and a scrolling teletext sign. The ones in Brisbane tell you what the next stops are. I have no idea what the one in the Seoul train says. It is very long and I worry that it might be about something important. I don’t understand what’s on TV, though with my limited Hangeul reading skills I pick up that the newsreaders are talking about Syria. 시리아. The adoptees and I laugh about how we don’t understand anything.
After checking into the hotel Hongdae, we’re a bit hungry and decide to go get a quick bite to eat. We walk past far too many cafes, bars, clubs and restaurants than I could count; all seemingly competing for the most colourful signs, the most extravagant LED banners, the brightest lights.
Our quick bite turns into an entire Korean BBQ.
“Can you believe we’re here?” asks Carly over dinner. “We’re in the country where we were born.”
Sometimes it hits me that everyone here looks like me. Not literally. Fashionable Korean women are worryingly thin, with pale makeup and dyed, curly hair. But we’re all from the same land.
We finish the epic Korean BBQ still with plenty of food to spare. An older Korean woman who doesn’t speak English very well runs the restaurant. We somehow manage to figure out how to split the bill with hand gestures and broken English.
“Kamsahamnida,” I say again.
“Kamsahamnida,” she smiles.