A Korean Aussie adoptee goes back home for the first time. Hilarity ensues?
Say hey… no. Seh heh bok money… Seh heh bok man ee- wait what does that character say? Do I say it as “bad”? “Bat”?
I’ve been practising how to say “Happy New Year” in Korean. I find it hard to say. There’s no rhythm and the consonants seem clunky to my native English-speaking tongue.
It’s Lunar New Year this weekend, commonly known as Chinese New Year. Koreans call it Seollal. Chinatown in Brisbane becomes loud and red and smells like sizzling spring onions. Lions and dragons play in the streets, firecrackers crackle, markets sell pretty things, dancers in silk spin to drums. It’s a spectacle to Westerners, a good excuse to eat Chinese food and marvel at bright costumes.
When I was in school, I asked my Asian friends about the little red packets they received from their relatives in China and Vietnam. It’s a tradition for family to send money on Lunar New Year, they explained.
Beyond the spectacle of Lunar New Year is the time to spend with family and exchange gifts. A bit like Christmas. Something that no matter how much fried rice I ate and how many lion dances I watched, I never got to fully experience as an adopted kid.
In the middle of January this year, I received a large box in the mail delivered by Busan Post. It was full of gifts and letters from my family. Neat, tiny English and Korean characters written on cutesy stationery.
Happy New Year, they wrote. I wasn’t sure if it was a late Western New Years’ greeting or an early Lunar New Year greeting.
I suddenly realised for the first time in my life, I had Asian relatives on Lunar New Year.
They didn’t send me red envelopes, but they did send me nice-smelling Korean skincare products. Koreans take their skincare seriously – there’s five different little creams to put on in order. I fully expect to look like a K-pop star by the time I’m done.
Seollal begins tomorrow. My sisters have travelled to Geoje Island to see the family. Tomorrow they will bow deeply to their elders, kneeling all the way onto the floor.
Even though I can’t spend the weekend with them, I have someone to wish a Happy New Year to at the end of January. It seems like such a minor thing. To me, it’s another symbol of the reality of my family and my heritage. I have a connection to the exciting celebrations at this time of year.
Tomorrow I’m going to a music festival, but in the morning I’m going to record myself saying “Happy New Year” in Korean and send it to them using the magic of smartphones. Hopefully by then I’ll get it right.
Have a great year of the horse, friends!