NCT 127

Top 10 K-Pop Songs from 2016

Before I kick off the top ten I would just like to state how hideously under qualified I am to comment on what constitutes a good K-pop song. If I were to name some desert island discs they would include Echo & the Bunnymen, Interpol, Joy Divison, Radiohead and Tears for Fears. You could not get a more polar opposite to K-pop. However, as a rule I do not discriminate any given genre of music and there are always pieces which I can get on board with, be it Pop, Metal, Country & Western and now K-pop. Yes, I have a K-pop playlist on my phone and I really enjoy listening to it. Would I have enjoyed K-pop as much if i had not lived in Korea for nearly half a year, I can’t honestly say? To help me work this out can you, the reader, please be the judge and report back to me your thoughts of my choices. Opinions on this blog are mine and mine alone and are in no official capacity whatsoever. So without further ado, here’s the countdown.

10) Brave Girls – Deepened

Brave girls did a “comeback” in 2016 after a 3 year hiatus with their mini album named High Heels. I put “comeback” in quotes as they left a 4 piece group, but “cameback” as a 7 piece group with a new look a new sound…and a new lineup making them pretty much a new group entirely. This “comeback” song is about some boy treating these girls badly in a breakup (an extremely common theme in female K-pop). Deepened is an uptempo RnB track with a customary rap piece in the middle. The video also takes me back to the late 90s/early 00s watching MTV videos on my NTL cable TV.

Sounds like:

Aaliyah, Ashanti, Rhianna

9) Gfriend – Navillera

This track from all-girl group Gfriend falls into the bucket of ‘sickly sweet K-pop’ and have to admit is annoyingly catchy. Navillera is a classic pop song which starts with an electric guitar solo before going in heavy on the synth. It won Korean TV show ‘Inkagayo’ (a cross between Top of the Pops and Xfactor) about 3 times in a row which is no easy feat, but I can easily see why as it has all of the elements which Koreans care about in music; a big group, cheesy video, catchy song, cute look and good dancing.

Sounds like:

Carly Rae Jepson, Selena Gomez, Little Mix

8) Stellar – Crying

Stellar are a relatively old band, having been around since 2012 but their previous songs were released to limited success. Subsequently the management decided to make their videos more sexual to get more notice. And it worked. Sort of. They confess that they have received more publicity and made the right call at the time but being famous for the group that makes provocative music videos isn’t the best accolade in the world. So fast forward 18 months later and they returned with a cleaner image and a track called Crying. This song sounds happy and uplifting, but is actually about some boy treating these girls badly in a breakup (Sounding familiar yet?) It’s got soft heartfelt vocals set across a solid dance track with plenty of piano as per many early 00s commercial Ibiza tracks. Alas, the song and the band seemed to have pretty have much tanked as they’ve already lost the female supporters because their videos were too dirty and now they’ve probably lost the blokes as well because their new videos aren’t dirty enough. This is a massive shame because this track is definitely one the the better offerings I’ve heard out here and caters very well for the western palate. These girls have just fallen foul of some questionable marketing tactics.

Sounds like:

David Guetta, Alice Deejay, DJ Sammy

7)  Twice – Cheer up

Twice are a huge group, in every sense of the word. There’s 9 of them for a start and they have a colossal following despite their relative infancy as a group. Koreans (and music producers) like to measure success of a song based on Youtube hits and Cheer Up was the fastest ever K-pop song to reach 50 million views; move over Psy. Despite being released only 8 months ago, it is already in the top 20 most viewed K-pop songs of all time at 108 million views. Hot on the heels of “Some boy treating me badly in a breakup”, we have female K-pop trend number 2 “I really like this boy but I’m too shy to ask him out”. Aside from Youtube hits, a good barometer for the popular of a K-pop song is how they perform on one of the many weekly network music shows as this great blog details. In the absence of any official billboard chart, these two metrics define how successful bands are in relation to each other. Like Navillera(9), This song won Inkagayo three times on the bounce and ‘Music Bank’ (a similar music show) an incredible 5 times. It might well go on to be the most successful K-pop song of 2016.

Sounds like:

Little Mix, Ariana Grande

6) EXO – Lotto

The first all-dudes band in the Top 10 is perennial K-pop heavyweights EXO. These guys are huge out here, anything they release will be popular and anything they endorse will sell like hot cakes (having probably endorsed hot cakes on many occasions). They don’t get much bigger and you can see in the quality of the video for the hit Lotto that management are happy to throw down a big budget on it as they will see it rewarded in spades. The song itself has got a sexy hook, cash registers going kerching and that ‘popping’ electro beat (which I have no idea of the official term). It can standup well against any other track from more established acts in the alternative hip hop genre. Furthermore, the group actually belies the entire Korean economy ethos, take something from the States, spend a few years learning how to do the basics before releasing a very competitive product into the market.

Sounds like:

LMFAO, Far East Movement, the Neptunes, Usher, Will.I.Am

5)  Black Pink – Whistle

This 4-piece girl group are becoming hugely popular and it isn’t hard to see why. They are sexy but not in a ‘giving away the farm’ style like Stellar and come across as strong and independent. Their songs are also quite unlike anything from a K-pop perspective and as such are massively palatable for western tastes. In fact, of all K-pop music we have introduced to visiting friends from the UK, Black Pink has largely been the favourite. Whistle has clearly been influenced by hip hop (with oodles of pop as well). The track consists of mainly rap vocals set over a deep bass beat and of course, a whistle (a catchy one at that). Its a great track and you will find yourself whistling the dirty whistle bit either out loud or in your head for days.

Sounds like:

Nicky Minaj, Gwen Stefani, Iggy Azalea

4)  Black Pink – Boombiyah

The girls first release, Boombiyah, had instant success winning Inkigayo just 14 days after debuting, a record for a girl group. They have actually released four excellent tracks on the bounce (this track,  ‘Whistle (5)‘, ‘Playing with fire’ and ‘Stay’). Boombiyah is an uptempo dance/hip-hop track, full of energy and attitude. Despite a few cringeworthy lyrics “Been a bad girl I know I am, And I’m so hot I need a fan” there are again some much better Korean cultural references, specifically  when they shout “Oppa” (meaning babe/baby/bae/my fella(!) in Korean). Its good, very good and its one of the few K-pop tracks which have found its way onto other playlists on my devices.

Sounds like:

Nicky Minaj, Gwen Stefani, Iggy Azalea

3) Shinee – 1 of 1

Here we come to the only other male group on this female dominated list. Shinee (pronounced ‘shiny’, not ‘shin-ee’) are a huge group in Korea having been around since 2008 releasing some of the better K-pop songs over the last decade (‘Lucifer’, ‘Everybody’, ‘Ring Ding Dong’). Known for changing their image to current trend, their latest song 1 of 1 sees a massive throwback to the 90s. Think of a ‘Color me Badd’ meets ‘New Kids on the Block’ type styling. As a kid growing up in this age of music, I instantly loved this song, its drum machine beat, synth and strings, jazz guitar solo and piano. The video is full of stone washed jeans, denim jackets, technicolour shirts and their superb choreographed dancing ability. All in all – Superb, or “Rad” as i used to say back in ’92

Sounds like:

New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, Take That

2) Red Velvet – Russian Roulette

Red Velvet are somewhat of an enigma to me. By the standard metrics of music show wins and views per music video, Red velvet underperform. However, they endorse a lot of products, they belong to the most prestigious management company (SM Town) and have featured on the biggest K-drama of 2016 (Descendants of the Sun), so they must be doing something right. Russian Roulette was the track that finally broke their fallow run at music shows and man was it worth the wait. For the record, I love this song, I love the video and now I love them. It is K-pop catchiness in the extreme. It has an electro undertone, plenty of synth and a hint of vocoder action (famous in that Cher track) but in particular it has what many K-pop tacks don’t have – consistency. It is smooth and fluent throughout, unlike a lot of other tracks which can be wildly disjointed for no apparent reason. I must also add that it has the best music video out of all tracks listed in this blog. It therefore has all the ticks in the right boxes to be an excellent pop song in its own right, regardless of country of origin. Russian Roulette will now always be my gateway track when introducing friends and family into K-pop to ease them in.

Sounds like:

Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Gwen Stefani

1) Twice – TT

Twice, who true to their name are on this list twice, returned with an even more superior song to their previous release. TT, named after the tear-shedding emoticon (yep you’ve guessed it, it’s trend number 2, “I really like this boy but i’m too shy to ask him out”), absolutely smashed the success metrics. It swept across the music shows devastating everything in its wake, denying solid hits from Black Pink, I.O.I and BTS. Even more impressive is that it managed to get in at number 7 on the largely USA dominated YouTube Chart for debut acts of the week, clear evidence that it can fight toe to toe with US pop music. However, given all that instant success.. . I didn’t really care for this at first listen. I didn’t think there was sufficient oomph in the chorus like you get with “Russian Roulette” or “Boombiyah” and the hook doesn’t really grab you either. So why have I placed this number one? It is Twice’s perceived weaknesses which actually turn out to be their greatest strength. The girls have soft vocals which won’t give you the power required for big Adele type choruses or Blackpink badass rap interludes. In TT, the minimalistic production setting, tiptoeing between pop, electro and dance is a perfect match for them to show off their quirky charm (its name after a teary emoticon for god sake! Quirkiness overload).  The song quickly became wildly addictive and for me it is the best example of K-pop in 2016. I have to say, I listen to it an awful lot and you know what, I think it is good for me. Listening to too much Radiohead and Joy Division can’t be too healthy for your soul and TT provides the perfect juxtaposition.

Sounds Like:

Little Mix, Ariana Grande, Hot Chip, The Avalanches, Metronomy

Korean BBQ

Top 10 Korean Foods To Try

Over the last five months we at Beauty & Seoul have sampled many aspects of South Korean cuisine; the good, the bad and the ugly. Even for the worlds biggest foodie, South Korean food can be a bit of a minefield. When faced with a new cuisine and the menu is throwing up confusing options, I often just ask the waiter/chef what they would recommend and it normally serves me well. In South Korea this can be gastronomic russian roulette (raw crab anyone?) so i feel that you do need some pointers for where to start. These recommendations reflect our favourite South Koreans foods which should appeal to the Western palate. Please let us know what you think in the comments. In no particular order we start with…

Korean BBQ 고기구이

This is probably the most obvious entry on the list. If you have been to only one Korean restaurant either in Korea or outside of Korea, the chances are it was a BBQ. The average Korean’s diet seems incredibley similar to that of a T-Rex i.e meat, meat, meat and maybe some veg that got in the way when trying to eat meat. For this purpose a BBQ is a carnivore’s heaven. You simply sit down around a circular table with a gaping hole in the middle and an industrial suction fan hanging from the ceiling, order the meat you want to grill (various cuts of beef or pork, some marinaded some not) and what alcohol you want to wash it down with. After this you let the theatre commence.  The waiter/pyrotechnician will bring a bucket of flaming hot coals from outside of the restaurant and plonk it straight in front of you and another waiter will bring you the tray of selected meat, salts and sauces. You will also get about a hundred side dishes, called Banchan, which come in varying degrees of tastiness.dsc_0815

After that, you are on your own. The first rule of Korean BBQ club is there are no rules. You grill the meat as per how you like it, slice it as thinly as you want, hell you can chuck on all of the side dishes onto the grill to see how they taste BBQ’d (BBQ’d Kimchi tastes better in my humble opinion as the intense flavour mellows out). The standard way of eating this is to pick off the meat off the grill with your chopsticks, dip it in the sesame oil, the salt and the chilli paste before placing it in a lettuce or perilla leaf (a leaf with a slight aniseed flavour). You then add whatever additional bits and bobs you want in from those extra dishes in your table before wrapping it up before doing the eating equivalent of “down it in one”. Yes, it all goes in the mouth, no time for second bites here. Celebratory Shot of Soju encouraged. The real popularity of the BBQ is rooted in the Korean culture of sharing food and also socialising  (well, drinking). Everybody is chopsticks in picking at the various pieces, filling up their soju glasses, playing drinking games and plenty of raucous laughter. Family, friends or work colleagues it is a firm favourite.

Where?

Pretty much everywhere, look for people starting fires in buckets on the pavement then follow them. My favourites are;

Piggy Bank (돼지저금통) Exit 8 of Hongkik University station, immediately take a right, and walk until first roundabout, turn left, walk to second roundabout and you will see it on the first corner to the right. An institution, has been featured many times on TV, is still great value and just has that classic BBQ vibe.

Queen Pig (여왕 돼지) Exit 2 of Konkuk University first left and left again and halfway down this road. To be honest i like it because it is really cheap (25k won for 2 people inc soju and beer) and was local to us. There are MANY cheap and great BBQ venues around this location known as Kondae.

Maple Tree House (단풍나무집) Exit 2 of Itaweon station, first left and then left again. This one is more premium (60k Won for 2) but the surroundings are very stylish and you can even have a glass of red wine, unheard of at any other Korean BBQ!

Korean Fried Chicken 양념 치킨

Korean Fried Chicken (the other KFC) is one of the most plentiful, tasty and best value foods you can find. In its plainest form coming in just two styles; Spicy or not spicy (which is still pretty damn spicy) and possibly the additional option of bones in or out. The secret to the success is the chicken is fried twice to render out the fat from the skin and then dipped in a beautiful sweet and sticky chilli sauce. The result is the crispiest batter you will ever eat, followed by a hit of the lovely sweet chilli. The trend, called Chimaek (a combination of the Korean words for Chicken & Beer) is more than just a take away food, it is also a pretty solid metaphor for the booming Korean economy over the last 30 years. Like commerce heavyweights Samsung and Hyundai, Korea took a foreign concept, quickly got up to speed with it before suddenly being better at it then most of the world.

Just a pity they didn’t do this with their beer though 😦

Korean Fired Chicken
Image taken from Maanghi.com

Where?

There are a lot of chicken chain restaurants in Seoul but Kyochon (교촌치킨) and
BBQ Chicken (비비큐치킨) are my favourites – copy and paste the hangul spelling into google maps to find the nearest one. There are a LOT of great small individual restaurants scattered around Seoul (especially around any university) but i’ve always been either in a rush or a bit tipsy to know precisely the names I’m sorry :-O

Mandu 만두

These dumplings are very similar to Gyoza or Pierogi and are insanely addictive. Every “restaurant” (some are literally a hole in the wall) will have their own recipe but they on average they contain a mix of minced pork, tofu, spring onions, garlic, ginger and glass noodles. They usually come either steamed or deep fried (yummmm) and also can include shrimp or kimchi. Which is the best? Answer is they all are, just go for the combination platter and savour them all. You can usually spot these restaurants from a mile away, simply look for the jets of seam pouring from the facade. We’ve loved them and they have saved us on many occasions, they are very cheap and incredibly filling.

Where?

The one and only Bukchon Sonmandu (Dumplings) 북촌 손만두. The flagship stall is off the main Insadong road (Anguk University, Exit 6). It’s down an alley opposite Insadong Gil-9, adjacent to the Ssamzie-gil Market, watch out for the plume of steam. These are hands down my favourite and run by a lovely bunch of ajummas! Keep an eye out for the branding and you will start to see the other branches all over Seoul.

Jjimdak 안동찜닭

OK so we are firmly into the territory of foodstuffs you are unlikely to have heard of. First of these is a very tasty dish called Jjimdak, a braised chicken, potato and noodle dish stew with passing similarity to a Malaysian style curry. Ordering this dish is pretty simple. 1) how many servings required? 2) any add ons such as noodles or mozzarella? 3) Chicken with Bone in or out? and finally 4) Spice level 1,2 or 3?. Just a note on the last one, we opted for spice level 1 and it nearly blew our heads off. God knows what level 3 would be like, i can assume it is served with a fire hydrant. As with most korean cuisine, its served in one pot in the middle on a gas stove and you all patiently watch it cook before digging into the communal pot.

Jjimdak

Where?

Yeolbong Jjimdak (열봉찜닭) Gangnam Station Exit 11. Out of the subway, walk down the main Gangnam road, take the first right, then the first left, then the first right.

Seolleongtang 설렁탕

Korean penicillin. The dish to eat if you have a cold or a more self inflicted illness such as the hangover, Seolleongtang gets you back on your feet again. The dish comprises of a milky, ox-bone broth with tender slices of brisket and sliced spring onion. It arrives at the table bubbling hot and one sip warms you right to your very bones as you feel its healing powers get to work. As a Brit, closing my eyes and tasting the tender brisket evokes memories of a Sunday roast beef with gravy. So there you have it, miracle healing sunday roast in a soup. What is not to love about that?

sellongtang
Image taken from http://www.gimpofood.kr

Where?

Sinseon Seolleongtang (신선설농탕) is another wonderful chain. The Myeongdong Branch is open 24 hours, perfect for night owls, drunks, or jet laggers (i’ve been all three). Lovely silky broth and also the mandu and kimchi pancakes on the side are not too shabby either. The cost is only 7,000 won per serving too.

Myeongdong Branch

Hongdae Branch

Hotteok

The first thing which will draw you towards a Hotteok stand is the gorgeous smell. Like a freshly baked doughnut, the sugary, buttery aroma makes you willing to spend everything in your wallet just for a taste. Thankfully it’ll only set you back 80 pence. When you take the first bite, you not only get that classic doughnut taste but also the unexpected filling of cinnamon, peanut and melted brown sugar. This is hands down my favourite Korean sweet. I think the only slight drawback is Hotteok can get a little greasy from time to time, which is peculiar as in general Koreans have a great dislike for oily/greasy food. I guess the Hotteok is just so damn tasty, they are willing to look the other way just this once.

Where?

Everywhere on the street! Follow your nose. If you want further pointers, head to Insadong (Anguk University, Exit 6) and find Teolbone Hotteok, close to Ssamzie-gil Market, walk to roughly at this point on the map and look out for the maroon sign.

Good examples can also be found in Namdaemun Market, near Hoehyeon stationwhere you can also get vegetable or noodle filed versions.

Jajangmyeon 자장면 & Tangsuyuk 탕수육

Chinese food in Korea is… basically not Chinese food at all. I mean, i’m sure it was once upon a time but it has been so heavily adapted for Korean taste that it barely resembles Chinese food anymore, therefore I class these as Korean food. By far the most popular dishes are Jajangmyeon, which probably started out once upon a time as Stir fried pork in black bean sauce and Tangsuyuk which was once sweet sour pork cantonese style. The Jajangmyeon is simply noodles coated in a thick black bean sauce which contains diced pork, onion and root vegetables. It is actually custom in Korea for being the first dish you order when moving into a new home, until you eat the “Jaj” you haven’t really ‘moved in’.  The Tangsuyuk is strips of pork, deep fried in a light batter, absolutely drenched in a thick gluey sweet and sour sauce with lots of chopped vegetables. Amazingly, even through the dousing in sauce, the pork retains its lovely crispy batter. If you find yourself in a ‘Chinese’ restaurant in Korea and start to fret because none of your favourite Chinese meals are on the menu (they won’t be) you will do a lot worse then start off with these two platters. As ever with Korean dining, sharing is caring with these.

Jajangmyeon and Tangsuyuk

Where?

Andongjang (안동장), Exit 10 of Euljiro 3-ga Station on subway line 2. Walk straight until you find it on your left. One of the oldest Chinese restaurants in Seoul, if not the first. It really doesn’t look like much on the outside (or the inside for that matter) but the food is excellent, and very reasonably priced.

Paik’s Noodle. Another massive chain all over Seoul, just look for the guy’s creepy face in the red circle and go in. Its cheap, a bit greasy but immensely satisfying.

Budae Jjigae 부대찌개

This dish fascinates me because it shouldn’t work. It really shouldn’t work. It is a spicy Korean stew containing instant noodles, Spam, frankfurters, baked beans, grated mozzarella and macaroni. Huh Spam, err what? It reminds me of my student days when you would chuck whatever you had left in the cupboards just to piece together something resembling a meal. But you see, that is exactly the reason for Budae jjigae. It also fascinates me because it has a really great story behind it. Budae jjigae is more commonly referred to as ‘Army Base Stew’. After the Korean war, times were very tough for Koreans. The economy was in tatters, people were living in deep poverty and food was incredibly scarce. To fight malnutrition, Koreans would go to US army bases to beg, borrow or steal (well, i don’t believe Koreans would ever steal) supplies in order to survive. What supplies did the US army have in surplus? Instant noodles, Spam, frankfurters, baked beans, grated mozzarella and macaroni. They were all incorporated into their local Doenjang Jjigae (Spicy tofu stew) and the result is a delicious stew which is a total Frankenstein of a dish but it just worked. It worked then and it still works now – believe me.

budae jjigae budaejjigae jigae
Image taken from maangchi.com

Where?

Nolboo (놀부), Myeongdong 10-gil. Exit 8 of Myeongdong station, take the first left and keep on walking, past the massive starbucks and it is a few doors down from the famous Myeongdong Gyoja (also a great restaurant). Nolboo is also a chain and can be found over Seoul.


n.b searching on googlemaps will take you to a slightly different place so this pin above is where we found the restaurant.

Seafood Pajeon 해물파전

Pajeon is a pancake batter (jeon) mixed in with spring onions (pa). It does sound quite boring, and i’ll admit it is, however where this dish really comes alive is the addition of seafood. Some of the most luxurious seafood you can imagine (Scallops, Mussels, lobster, prawns) get lumped in with the pancake batter before being laid over the spring onions to fry off. Add some savoury dipping sauce (fish sauce with some apple vinegar and sesame seeds) and you have one very accomplished dish. Often eaten as a side at a Bulgogi or BBQ restaurant, or one of many other dishes, this pancake really gives the dutch counterpart a run for it’s money. Simple, yet remarkably decadent, seafood pajeon deserves to get more prestige on the Korean dinner table rather than put as a side dish.

Where?

Busan Galbi (Exit 2 of Itaweon station, first left and then left again) does a solid pajeon amongst some other excellent Korean staples.

Gimbap 김밥

According to many, Gimbap is the original Korean fast food, the Korean version of a Big Mac. Gimbap is steamed rice, laid across seaweed and filled with a choice of fillings before being rolled up, sliced and handed over to you. Gimbap is truly a food of the people, simple honest and incredibly tasty. The women (its usually women) who make the Gimbap are extraordinarily talented. Like finely tuned machines they knock out millimetre perfect slices each time at great speed. Popular fillings include tuna mayo, bulgogi, Spam or my favourite “cheesyu” (cheese if you haven’t guessed). Gimbap shops are often located around metro stops and you must try, as if you don’t like it, you’ve lost out on a mere £2.

Gimbap Kimbap

Where?

For this and so many other dishes, go to Gwangjang Market (광장시장). Exit 8 of Jongno 5-ga station. Whilst you are there, also get bindaetteok, mung bean pancake (tastes like a massive hash brown), which was also very unlucky not to make it on my top 10 list.

Why leaving Korea was easy this time

You may recall from a previous blog that during my first visit to Korea I loved it so much that Steve thought it was strange that I didn’t get emotional at all throughout our three week stay. It wasn’t until the bus back to Incheon Airport that I wept uncontrollably as it suddenly dawned on me that I was leaving a country which I only just began to learn more about. I doubted whether I would ever get the chance to fully experience Korea for longer than a holiday and to me, it seemed incredibly unfair. That was when the seed was planted; the idea of moving here for as long as we could afford so that I could experience Korea for all its worth.

One thing I wanted to do during my time here was visit Geumsan, the town where my birth parents were born and grew up. I had mentioned this to Steve and my parents several times but as we were approaching our departure date, I suddenly bottled it. It seemed too overwhelming. However, 5 days before we were due to leave my dad said over Skype ‘What happened to Geumsan? If you don’t do it, you will regret it’.  And I knew deep down he was right.

Two days later we headed off for a day trip to Geumsan which takes about 2 and a half hours by bus from Seoul. The morning didn’t start well. I was already quite anxious but then I was reprimanded by an old man on the tube for the heinous act of ‘crossing my legs’. He was giving me all sorts of grief saying I was being selfish and inconsiderate to other passengers. Little nuances like this make it very easy to dislike Korea at times. We got off at the next station and I burst in to tears. Little did that man know that I really didn’t need his lecture today. For a second, I thought to myself ‘but thanks for reminding me that I don’t belong here; for making it so easy to leave this damn country’. With Steve’s help I soon recomposed myself and we headed for the bus station.

As we approached Geumsan my heart began beating a little faster; my eyes absorbing everything in detail. We definitely weren’t in Seoul anymore. The town was very small, there was absolutely no English and a lot of stray animals roaming around. Steve was getting a lot of looks as well being the only foreigner, people must have been thinking ‘why the hell would this guy want to come here!?’. We took a walk around the town which took around 20 minutes then had a coffee. The whole time I was looking at people trying to determine if I look like them. ‘Are you my birth family?’, ‘Do you know a Mee Hwa Kim?’ I wanted to ask. I peered in the coffee shops and the local restaurant wondering if my birth parents ever went there for a date. Did they sit here where I’m sat?

In all honesty, Geumsan had absolutely nothing to recommend itself; it’s known for producing ginseng and not much else. But it was incredibly humbling seeing it; the place where it ‘all began’ so to speak.

I know from my birth file that my birth mother, upon finding out she was pregnant ran away from home and took a bus to Daejeon to stay with her brother so this is something I wanted to do as well, to retrace her steps. Here I was, sat on a bus going the same route she took but with Steve’s loving arm wrapped firmly around me. She didn’t have that. It wasn’t until I was on that bus that it suddenly hit me and my heart sank thinking about how scared and alone she must have felt, how incredibly strong she must have been for a girl of 17 years old and how proud I felt of her.

Steve was watching me closely the morning we took the bus to Incheon Airport fearing another repeat of the cry-fest of 2014. After four months here, I have experienced the good and the bad. There were things that made me angry and thankful that I wasn’t raised here and conversely things that made my heart swell with pride.  I laughed, I cried, I loved, I ate, I traveled.  I do not regret one thing about my time here. My main goal for coming to Korea was first and foremost to experience my homeland and try and then, to track down my birth family. And whilst the latter was unsuccessful I can look back on my time here with content.

Korea will forever hold a special place in my heart but it will never feel like home. And whilst coming to Korea has been extraordinarily therapeutic for me, it has, unexpectedly, made me more appreciative of everything I have. I have incredible parents who always pushed me to do the right thing. Forever putting my needs before theirs, I would not have had the courage to do this trip without them. I have an amazing husband who wiped away my tears when I was sad, calmed me down when I was frustrated and spoke reason when I was anxious. More importantly he was the one to say it’s ok when I felt overwhelmed; I wouldn’t want anyone else by my side but him. My parents-in-law always asked me what the latest on my search was and always supported our decision to do this; two people I miss like my own parents. My doting brother-in-law empathised with me whole-heartedly and he is someone I admire in so many ways. I have great friends who messaged me words of encouragement and even messages of support from those friends I had lost touch with over the years. There’s also my nearest and dearest who took the long journey out here to experience just a small slice of our life out here which meant the world to me. And somewhere out there I have my birth mother who I am forever grateful to for making the right decision for both of us and enabling me to feel so much love throughout my life.

So as I said my goodbyes to Korea and went on that bus, I looked out the window and grinned. I am the luckiest girl in the world.