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.

KBO Baseball game LG Twins

Ways in which Korea has changed me

We have now come to the end of our 4 month stint here in Korea and have learned so much about the country and also about myself. Korea has changed me in so many ways but here are a few key ones:

I have learned to share my food

share-foodFor those that know me well, this is huge. A lot of friends know that on my second date with Steve, we were having dinner and he leaned across the table and took a big scoop of my hummus because he didn’t like his starter and wanted some of mine. I was beyond outraged. ‘If you wanted the hummus, you should have ordered the hummus’, I snapped at him before hitting his hand away; debating whether or not I wanted to see this food stealer ever again. However, in Korea, food is for sharing. You don’t order a dish each, you order lots of dishes, place them in the middle and share. Everyone picks at the dishes themselves with their chopsticks. So this was a massive learning curve for me but I’m actually now all about the food sharing because it means never having any food envy; yet another pet peeve of mine.

I no longer want a tan 

img_3107I used to be a sun-worshipper. I used to brag about how I never needed suncream. But in Korea people hide from the sun. We carry sun-berellas. We slap on the highest SPF we can find on a daily basis, and then some. Having researched a lot about the best skincare products, routines and tips, I quickly discovered just how bad the sun is for your skin. I still don’t like the ‘whiter than white’ look that a lot of the girls sport here. But I definitely take better care of my skin in terms of sun protection and never leave the house without an SPF on, even if it’s winter.

I spend longer on my skincare routine 

img_4355I used to always think that a skincare routine was cleanse, tone and moisturise. Sometimes I would be fancy and put on a serum. I never went to bed without washing my face, no matter how tired I was or how many proseccos I may have had. I thought I was pretty darn good with my skincare; until I moved to Korea. Most people have heard about the Korean 10 step skincare routine and whilst this does not necessarily mean you have to use 10 products every day twice a day, you will find that the average Korean woman does in fact use about 10-12 skincare products on their face daily. As formulations are very light, women like to layer lots of products like essences, lotions, serums and ampoules and pat them in so that they seep in more effectively. And it must work because everywhere I look here, people have great glowing skin. So I jumped on the bandwagon and devised my own skincare ritual using a multitude of products and I have never looked back since.

I am more conscious about what I wear

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Koreans are extremely fashionable. I’ve never seen so many women that look so effortlessly put together. When I first arrived, I used to gawk at all the lovely ensembles and outfits that I would see. Korean women manage to balance girly, cute and sophisticated all at the same time and I am now a complete K-style convert. Back home, I would put on my sweats, scrape back my hair and walk down the street to pick up a coffee. Not here. You wouldn’t be caught dead doing that here. It is part of Korean culture to always strive to be your best, whether it be looks, skin, job etc, and being here has definitely brought that to the surface.

I love a fancy toilet

img_0523I was so amused with Korean toilets when I first moved here and loved playing with all the buttons until one day I pressed one that shot a jet stream of water up my bum and was scarred ever since. However, after having being told that actually a bidet is a lot more hygienic I decided to give the fancy toilets another whirl. And let me tell you, I am now a convert. Steve and I joke that we need to get one installed in our toilet when we get back to London. But trust me, once you get used to that heated toilet seat and warm spray you will never want to go back!

I’m a sucker for the cute and the wonderfully weird stuff

Everyone knows that Asians love the cute stuff. Everyone also knows that there are some things that are just darn right weird in Asia as well. I have now come to love both. I want to collect as many soft toys from claw machines as possible. I spend hours looking at cute stationery and stickers. I’m a sucker for the latest beauty product so long as it comes in some ridiculously kitsch packaging. Oh and don’t EVEN get me started on Korean Snapchat filters.

I’m a self-proclaimed K Pop Fan 

NCT 127
NCT 127 performing at the Gala Dinner

Psy is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Kpop. There are sooooo many better tunes than the infamous Gangnam Style. The Kpop industry in Korea is like a giant X factor. Large companies will scout for the best talent, train them up and present them in a group as an ‘idol’. Groups have a lot of members in them; mainly because they can all be replaced should one fail – this is business after all. They come up with ridiculously catchy tunes with ridiculously random lyrics. Oh and don’t be surprised to hear 5 or 6 separate music genres in one track. It can go from Bieber to Aaliyah to Guns’n’Roses to Nicky Minaj and back to Bieber all in one track. It is all wildly addictive.

‘Han’ 

Han is a Korean concept that is apparently attributed to the fact that Korea has had more than their fair share of invasions and consequently was left feeling oppressed and resentful. Modern day though, a feeling of ‘han’ is described as a ‘feeling of unresolved resentment’. You will see it being shown subtly in every day life; this inability of letting things go and forget, the feeling that someone has wronged you – it’s a common theme in K Dramas. Often Steve will say to me ‘you’re so Korean’ and when we learned about this concept of ‘han’, Steve said ‘ah, that explains so much about you!’ Whether it be a guy that barged me out the way and then yelled at me for being in his way – you can guarantee I will still be raging about it the following week. One time, the restaurant downstairs in our building gave me one dumpling in my soup when usually there are three. When I asked her about it she just snapped something at me and turned away. I will now refuse to go there, even though it’s cheap, tasty and 1 minute away. Petty? Yes. Bothered? No.

And finally some things that I will just never get used to…

Gym Etiquette 

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I already ranted about the lack of gym etiquette in my blog Life in Seoul Part II. And a month later it still grates me. The weights are all scattered on the floor and the ones that are on the stand are in the wrong order. I once waited 20 minutes to use a machine because the guy on there took 3 business calls. And for the life of me, I still do not understand why no one runs on the running machines. Yes I could just let it go, but you know, ‘han’ and all….

Double Eyelid Surgery

img_23371 in 3 women in Seoul have had double eyelid surgery which is, for those that don’t know, adding a crease in to ones eyelid so it looks more like how a Western eye looks. I wrote a blog about my feelings on this previously. Another popular surgery is having your eyes widened so that they appear more round, instead of almond. I would rather focus on my skincare and make up and enhance what God gave me rather than change it completely.

The lack of understanding of road rules

unknownWhen you cross the road in Korea and wait for the green man, PLEASE wait a few seconds longer. There will always be 3-4 cars or buses that speed through long after the green light has gone. Additionally, zebra crossings mean nothing here. Cars will speed up to them and beep you out the way; we’ve had to dodge out the way numerous times – ON A PEDESTRIAN CROSSING. Steve will politely wait or step back (like any smart person would do) whereas I will stand there and start yelling at them to look up the road rules (which of course is completely pointless because he hasn’t the faintest idea what I am saying to him). I read an article that said that this complete lack of appreciation of road rules may be due to the Korean mentality of ‘must do everything quicker’; the idea that following the war, no man wants to be left behind so everyone is in a hurry. It is an interesting idea, but a crap reason nonetheless.

Pushing 

Never get in the way of a Korean person trying to get somewhere. I guess this is related to the point above. Queueing barely exists and no one holds doors for each other (seriously, I think we British are the only people who still do this). At first, I was impressed on the tube when people queued outside the doors but as soon as those doors open it’s a free for all and people will just barge on to the tube. Koreans always seem to be in a hurry and they will not give a damn if they have to shove you out the way… (And then give you a disgusted look because you were in their way).

Raw Crab 

ganjanggejang_cutImage from Maangchi’s website – maangchi.com

I will always try anything once. And until recently, there was absolutely no food that I could say I categorically hated. Sure, there were foods that I wasn’t particularly keen on like offal, but I didn’t hate it to the point where I would refuse to eat it. Until I tried raw crab. MY GOD, it was the most disgusting thing ever. It was like stale, fishy sea water; E.coli in a mouthful (it is actually safe to eat but you get my drift). The waiter came to our table with a plate of fried rice in one hand and a live crab in the other. Unceremoniously, he chopped up the crab and dumped its contents on to the rice. I felt awful because someone had actually bought it for us and it is considered a delicacy here but I just couldn’t bring myself to have a second spoonful of it. (And I was drunk at the time so that’s saying something.)

The Almighty Soju Hangover 

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I have had my fair share of horrific hangovers. Skipping dinner, shots, mixing drinks; been there. But none have been quite so bad as the soju hangover. As it only costs a quid and gets you (and keeps you) at a steady level of the happiest level of tipsiness it always starts out well and lulls you in a false sense of security. Fast forward to the next morning and you will not be able to lift your head from your pillow. It’s a wine hangover times a hundred. It’s worse than a migraine. It is simply awful. I cannot eat anything, I cannot get up, I just have to sleep it off the entire next day. But has it stopped us from drinking it every weekend?

Nope.

 

Korean Skincare 10 step routine

The Korean 10-Step Skincare Routine

When people think about Korean Skincare, they may think of the infamous 10 step routine that became popular a few years back. People tried it out, raved about it and swore it could cure all of your skin mishaps if you were just patient enough to give it a go. Beauty magazines, bloggers and skincare specialists praised Korean products and the lengthy routine, establishing Korea as the innovation beauty hub of the world. Like many others though, I just sat and scoffed at the idea and questioned internally who on earth had time and money for that shizz?

My skincare regime back in the UK usually just consisted of face wipes; lots and lots of face wipes. They were quick and easy so they were my skin saviour. I would come home after a hard days work and the thought of washing my face just seemed TOO.DARN.MUCH. They were also a life saver when I would stumble home at 2am after too many proseccos. I slept soundly in the smug knowledge that I wasn’t one of those dirty girls that didn’t wash their face before bed. I was good, I cleansed, I used a face wipe for goodness sake.

But looking back my skin felt dry; my skin tone uneven. I used to love the feeling of using a stringent alcohol based toner thinking that if I could feel the burn then it must be tightening up my pores. The thought of oil cleansers repulsed me. And if I had a spot, well, that was what concealer was for. It was make up over skincare for me; that’s what makes you look half decent, right?

Wrong. It wasn’t until I moved to Korea that my whole perception of skincare changed. It is safe to say that Korean women are skincare obsessed; they spend more per year on beauty products than any other nation. In Korea, the motto is ‘skincare first, make up second’. Time well spent is time treating your skin, not hiding it with copious amounts of make up. Because if you have glowing healthy skin, then you actually don’t really need much make up to enhance your features.

Slowly my three step routine become a 5 step routine, and my 5 step routine graduated to a 10 step routine. I don’t use ten products every morning and evening, but I have a cabinet full of products in my arsenal to choose from depending on what my skin condition is that particular day. That is what the ‘Korean 10 step routine’ is for me – knowing your skin and treating it accordingly to its daily needs. After double cleansing (oil based cleanser + gel or foam cleanser), the products should be added in order of lightest consistency to thickest. This is to help maximise absorption of all the products, for example, toner before serum, before moisturiser.

1. Oil Based Cleanser

The first step is an oil based cleanser. I won’t go in to too much detail about this because I wrote a full blog on the importance of using an oil based cleanser to remove all your make up and why it is important. Some people double cleanse both morning and evening as well because even overnight you can build up excess sebum, dust and bacteria on your face so it can’t hurt to double cleanse twice a day!

My favourite oil based cleansers are Banila Co Clean it Zero (balm), Troiareauke Oil Cut Cleanser (this one actually contains no oil so a good one for those with oily skin who are a bit hesitant using oil cleansers), Heimish All Clean Balm and Klairs Gentle Black Deep Cleansing Oil.

2. Water-based/Foaming Cleanser

As part of the double cleanse method, you must always go in for another wash with a foaming or water-based cleanser. Whilst the oil based cleanser will get rid of any make up, suncream and excess sebum, the water-based cleanser removes any water-based substances like bacteria and dust. It will also help remove any leftover residue from the oil based cleanser and leave your face feeling nice and clean. As mentioned before, you don’t need to do all 10 steps everyday but this one is crucial and one I personally do morning and evening without fail.

My favourite water-based foaming cleansers are the Innisfree Jeju Volcanic Pore Cleansing Foam, Heimish White Clay Foam and Benton Honest Cleansing Foam. In the mornings, I will use the Cosrx Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser. I am also a recent convert of cleansing sticks like the Belif True Tincture Chamomile Cleansing Stick and su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick. Please see this blog on my review of Korean cleansing sticks. 

3. Exfoliators

Korean skincare 10 step routine exfoliate klairs skinfood Neogen

The third ‘step’ is using an exfoliator to get rid of dead skin cells that may have accumulated on your skin. Exfoliating helps regulate your skin cell cycle leaving your skin feeling healthy and glowing. It also helps minimise the appearance of pores and really helps get out all the gunk that gets trapped in them. Exfoliators usually come in ‘scrub’ types with black sugar being a popular ingredient in Korean exfoliators. More recently, chemical exfoliators are becoming increasingly popular, many of which come in pre-soaked pads that you simply swipe over your face. Depending on your skin type, you should aim to exfoliate once or twice a week. As I have problems with milia and excess sebum, I exfoliate 2-3 times per week.

My favourite exfoliators are the Skinfood Black Sugar Wash off Mask, Cosrx Salicylic Acid Exfoliator , Klairs Gentle Black Sugar Face Polish and Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine (offers both a chemical and technical exfoliation).

4. Sheet Mask

‘A sheet mask a day’ was a craze in Korea that I had heard about but wondered if anyone actually did it. At a skincare event I was invited to the dermatologist asked us if anyone did actually do this and I was amazed that 5 people put their hand up! Sheet masks have long been all the rage in Korea and have in the last few years hit the Western market as well. Its like a spa facial in a pack – it will leave your skin feeling super nourished. Plus its great to use before an event as it will give you that infamous Korean glow immediately after use. They are also a must when on a long haul flight (even if you do look scary).  I usually use a sheet mask once or twice a week and pick one according to my skins needs – if my skin is dry a hydrating mask, or a brightening mask if it just feels a bit dull.

My favourite sheet masks are the Cosrx Snail Mask, Too Cool for School Egg Sheet Masks, Mizon sheet masks, Troiareuke GPS Mask and Innisfree It’s Real Squeeze Sheet Masks.

5. Toners

Korean skincare 10 step routine toners klairs belif troiareuke cosrx son&park

At the skincare event I just spoke about, the dermatologist presenting asked us to guess her age. We estimated about late 30’s. We were off by about 12 years. Her secret? TONER! She said that she uses toner 5 times a day. And whilst I do think that is overboard, toner is an important step in your skincare routine. Not only does toner help close your pore after cleansing, it also preps your skin for everything else that you are about to put on it; it’s like a base. Without it, your products like serums and essences will not seep in to your skin as effectively. Always pat in your toner – put a few drops in your hands and pat in or gently swipe over your skin with a cotton pad but be gentle so the product seeps in more effectively. Sometimes I will use two toners if I have the time – a gentle toner to close my pores and restore my natural skin pH level, followed by a specific toner like an AHA/BHA toner if I am experiencing a breakout, or moisturising toner if my skin is feeling a bit dry.

My favourite toners are the Son & Park Beauty Water (gentle, exfoliating), Troiareuke Skin Complex Toner with Ampoule (moisturising, brightening), Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner (sensitive, pH Balancing), Belif Witch Hazel Herbal Extract toner (good for dry skin) and Cosrx AHA/BHA Toner (good for breakouts).

6. Essence

People always think that adding too many products on your skin can’t be good for it as it will just create one thick oily layer but Koreans are masters at producing light formulations making layering super easy. Many Korean women consider essence to be the most important step in their skincare routine. Essences treat a particular issue and are concentrated formulations that help treat your skin at a cellular level. They usually have a watery, lightweight consistency. I have several essences that I will rotate according to my skins needs although on the whole, essences help brighten your skin and promote healthy cell turnover. Again, it’s best to use your hands to pat this product in – pat pat pat. That’s the Korean way.

My favourite essences are the Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence, Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence and the Belif Hungarian Water Essence.

Korean skincare 10 step routine essence missha cosrx belif

7. Serum/Ampoule

Korean Skincare 10 step routine essence Klairs Missha

Serums are like super-charged essences. They usually come in smaller containers (are usually a bit more expensive) and like essences target a certain skincare problem. They will sometimes have a slightly thicker consistency, or gel-like in consistency. They seep deeper in to your skin than any other skincare product and are a great anti-ageing addition to your skincare routine. Usually I’ll just use an essence but if something is particularly wrong with my skin then I’ll use a serum or ampoule as well.

My favourite serums/ampoules are the Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Activator Ampoule, Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum and Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop.

8. Eye cream

Korean skincare 10 step routine eye cream missha thank you farmer

Being honest, this is one step that I almost always miss. This is purely because I suffer from milia around my eyes do I don’t really like loading up cream around that area. I also have very sensitive eyes so whenever I seem to use an eye cream they get all itchy *sob*. The skin around your eyes is different from the rest of your face and therefore needs its own skin care. It is also the first area to show signs of ageing so treating it is a must. I am still on my quest to finding the perfect eye cream although I do enjoy the Missha Time Revolution Eye Cream and Thank You Farmer Miracle Age Repair Eye Cream.

9. Moisturiser / Sleeping pack

It’s pretty obvious what this step does. Moisturising is important, even if your skin is oily. Korean brands have come up with very lightweight gel moisturisers that are great for those with oily and combination skin types as they seep in quickly but provide enough hydration to keep your skin healthy. Moisturisers help seal in all that good stuff that you’ve just put on your face.

My favourite moisturisers are the Innisfree Green Tea Balancing Cream, Too Cool for School Egg Mellow Cream, Troiareuke AGT Hydro Essence (can also be used as a sleeping pack), Thank You Farmer True Water Light Gel Cream and Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb.

‘Sleeping Beauty’ is a big category here in Korea. Instead of using a night cream or regular moisturiser, why not use those 7 hours of z’s by treating your skin to a deeply hydrating treatment? Enter – sleeping masks (also referred to as ‘packs’). These were a game changer for me and a lot of other people – you will wake up the next morning with glowing and hydrated skin.

My favourite sleeping masks are the Cosrx Ultimate Moisturising Honey Overnight Sleeping Mask, Too Cool for School Pumpkin Sleeping Pack and Laneige Water Sleeping Mask.

10. Suncream

Korean Skincare Suncream Sunscreen missha thank you farmer too cool for schoolI never really gave sun protection much thought, which to be fair, was pretty easy to do when you live in a country like England. However, including a SPF in to your daily skincare routine is a must; even if it’s not sunny! Korea has produced some wonderfully fresh scented, light weight formulas for suncream which I adore. Many have multi-use functions like combining to act as a primer, essence or mist. Using a SPF everyday has helped even out my skin tone and no doubt will help reduce the number of wrinkles I will get later in life! I used to be all about that tanned life but moving to Korea, I am definitely more conscious about using SPF on my face now on a daily basis.

My favourite suncreams are the Too Cool for School Sun Primer, Thank You Farmer Sun Project Shimmer Essence and Missha Sun Milk range.

A final note on the Korean 10 step skincare routine …

I now look forward to coming home, unwinding and commencing my evening skincare ritual. Yes I may now spend 15 minutes a day cleaning my skin instead of 3 minutes, but what’s 15 minutes of your day? The results are worth it. Your routine doesn’t need to be this lengthy process whereby you must use all products twice a day; it’s mostly about knowing your skin and treating it accordingly with the necessary products at your disposal. Trust me, your skin will thank you for it!

A little trip to Tokyo

Tokyo is only a 2 hour flight away from Seoul so we thought it would be the perfect little getaway trip for us. I used to live in Tokyo when I was younger and went to school there but I hadn’t been back in over 15 years so I was super excited. Unfortunately, Tokyo is very expensive and seeing as we are both not earning anything at the moment, we had to restrict ourselves to a 3 night stay.

We flew Jeju air, a Korean budget airline, which was very good and way more affordable than JAL or Korean Air. We stayed at a tiny AirBnb flat but it was fine for a short stay because we were barely in it; more importantly it was right in the thick of it in Shinjuku so the location was great. But it was tiny; it made our apartment in Seoul feel like a palace!

Best Ramen in Tokyo and the Golden Gai

Arriving at Narita we took the bus to Shinjuku (an eye watering 3,200 yen each, welcome to Japan!) and went straight to Ichiran Ramen near Shinjuku Station East exit. I LOVE ramen so this was the first thing I wanted to eat on arrival in Tokyo and wow, we were not disappointed! From the coin slot ordering machine, to the individual booths, to the little bow the waiter gave as he served us our noodles; we had well and truly arrived in Japan! Although it can be quite confusing ordering there are instructions in English on the machine, it’s very cheap and its the best ramen I have ever had – better than the one I had in Momofuku in New York. We then headed to Shibuya to pick up our Studio Ghibli tickets for the next day and then had a drink at the Golden Gai in Shinjuku – this alleyway is lined with quirky little bars that are no bigger than a room. We then retired to our tiny apartment for an early night.

Spirited Away in the Studio Ghibli Museum

The following day we were up early and headed to Mitaka to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum. Steve and I are huge fans of Studio Ghibli (eh hem… GEEKS eh hem) so this was well and truly the highlight of our trip. Tickets usually sell out way in advance but we were lucky to get some with Go Voyagin. For those that don’t know, Studio Ghibli is like the Disney of Asia but their films are simply amazing. Some of them can be weird, some don’t have happy endings, but watching them you can’t help but appreciate the artistic detail that goes in to them. Spirited Away remains one of our all time favourite films and if you haven’t watched it, you are missing out!

The Studio Ghibli Museum did not disappoint. We saw a feature film that has never been released, saw a real size Totoro and rode the cat bus. At one point Steve turned to me and asked what I thought of it all and I just exclaimed like a little girl ‘IT’S SO MAGICAL!’

Afterwards, we headed to Asakusa to visit the famous Sensoji-temple which was beautiful but crowded. We got some of my favourite senbei (seasoned rice crackers) and got our fortune told. I got the best fortune; Steve got the mediocre one haha!

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We then went to Akihabara which is an area known for its electronics, manga shops and game arcades. Instead, we decided to go to a rabbit cafe.

One of the things that people said we had to do whilst in Tokyo was the Robot Restaurant. We had no idea what to expect and I still can’t really describe what we saw. So I’ll just let you have a look at the photos instead. #onlyinjapan

Sushi in Tsukiji Fish Market

The following day we went for a sushi breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market which was A.MA.ZING. We went to a restaurant called Zenmai Sushi which had a little queue out front but we were seated promptly right at the counter in front of the sushi chefs. We ordered two platters of sushi and sashimi plus a side of tempura which was so tasty. Steve was in his absolute element!

The afternoon was spent roaming around Omotesando and looking around the shops. I had my hair done (dyed for the first time – eek!) at the famous Salon Number 76 Naru. We had a gyoza lunch in Shinjuku and then had a nice time walking around Meiji shrine at dusk.

In the evening we met up with my parents’ old friends from Tokyo who used to teach at the school I went to. It was so great catching up with them and they were so kind and bought us dinner (and a few bottles of wine, oh how we’ve missed wine!!). We also took the opportunity to visit my old neighbourhood and my old house which transpires, is now a kindergarten!


The last day was spent doing some last minute shopping before we took the bus back to Narita and flew back to Seoul. All in all it was a great little getaway and we can’t wait to get back to Tokyo in the future; such an awesome city!

Case Closed – quick update on my birth family search

I received an email from my adoption agency with an update on my birth family search; or lack thereof. They don’t believe that the person they sent the telegram to is my birth mother as they have not received any reply, one way or the other, since August. In such cases, they deem the case as ‘closed’. The file is put away, they don’t send a follow up and everyone moves on.

I was a little disappointed at first but satisfied with that outcome and the effort that I had put in, until I was telling a fellow adoptee my story. She recommended me this charity that helps adoptees with little information find out more. Essentially, they do this through private investigation. A volunteer policeman helps reunite adoptees with their birth families by cutting through the bureaucracy and red tape that many adoptees face on their searches. Yes guys, I’m hiring a spy.

(Well, not quite. I wish)

The charity actually uses methods that I think are actually helpful in finding a person, you know, like physically going to the town my birth parents are from, going to the hospital I was born and asking around in person. Geumsan is not a big place and I have both of their full names, however, apparently my birth mothers name is fairly common. I met up with him a week ago and he managed my expectations by saying that my case is quite common; teenagers who relinquished their children were scared and often gave false details making tracking them awfully difficult. However, this charity has had a high success rate, especially among those adoptees who were abandoned and therefore, had little to no information to go on.

As I’m only here in Korea for another month I thought what the heck, I may as well give it this one last shot. My adoption agency is still refusing to give me copies of my file causing me great anxiety (Steve isn’t allowed to come with me) and so I’ve just not got any fight left in me anymore to demand for it. The charity said that if the search is unsuccessful they can take me to Daejeon and I can write an article for a local newspaper and hand out leaflets around the town but I think I’ve drawn the line at that; that’s something I’m not really comfortable doing.  Finally, I have made the decision that should December come and I haven’t been successful then I will go to Geumsan myself to experience the place where my birth parents grew up, the place where I was born; I will then make my peace with this journey, call it a day and move on.

Missha Tension Pact Review

Move over BB Cushions, there’s a new kid in K-Beauty town! This summer in Korea saw the entrance of the Tension Pact; a similar design to the BB cushion compact but instead of a soaked sponge, the tension pact has a thinly-woven mesh net that distributes the product more evenly on to the puff. Several brands have come out with their versions including Missha and Etude House – I decided to try Missha.

 

Missha came out with 4 types of tension pacts – cover, natural cover, tone-up and moisture. I opted for the cover as this is their bestseller and I got it in the shade No.23.

Packaging 

As previously mentioned, the packaging is exactly like a BB cushion and comes with a puff.  I particularly like this one because the clasp is in rose gold – YEAH.

When you open up the case, you will see the mesh net which underneath contains the product. When pressed down with the puff, the product seeps through between the net which is extremely satisfying.

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Application 

Application is VERY different to the typical BB cushion. Whilst with a BB cushion I will need to go in several times to get sufficient product on my puff, with the tension pact, only one firm dab is all I need to cover my whole face! The first time trying the tension pact I pressed down hard as I would my BB cushion and loads of product came out of the net and all over my hand – epic fail. Word of caution – dab lightly! A little goes a long way. As you can see in the photo, the product is more evenly distributed on the puff in comparison to a BB cushion.

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True to its name, this particular tension pact is very high coverage, I don’t even need to wear concealer with it. Despite the high coverage though it feels incredibly lightweight on the skin which is exactly what I want in a BB cream/foundation. It’s also incredibly long lasting; I wore this for about 10 hours and had little fading. Some have said that the cushion has a high matte finish but I find that using the product sparingly (only one dab blended across my face) that the product still retains that Korean dewy glow.

Scent 

I am horrible at describing scents. The only way I can describe this is that it has that quintessential ‘Korean make up’ scent; similar to the Etude House Precious Mineral Cushion (which I love). It is only faint but very fresh, light and slightly floral. See, I told you I’m horrible at describing scents.

Would I repurchase? 

This has become my go-to product at the moment and I’m already considering stocking up on it before I leave Korea! The cover version cost 17,800 WON which is roughly £12.00 which I personally think is a bargain for such a good quality product. I am definitely keen on trying out the natural cover version (which is even cheaper at 15,800 WON!) but all in all, this cover version is the perfect product to use for a long day at work or a night out – the staying power combined with the finish and low price point just makes this product insanely good value.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Life in Seoul Part III

The last month has absolutely flown by. Steve and I visited Jeonju, a lovely place about 3 hours by bus outside of Seoul. It is renowned for its hanok village where you can walk around in hanbok (traditional dress), try lots of yummy Korean food and get lost in alleyways filled with traditional houses. Most importantly it is the home of bibimbap so naturally, that was first on our hit list.

One of the highlights was visiting Yetchon Makgeolli – a traditional Makgeolli restaurant serving up authentic food. Makgeolli is a Korean fermented alcoholic rice drink and, as I would later find out, a drink that gives you horrific hangovers. Entering the restaurant was quite intimidating as it was full of men merrily drinking away. Little English was spoken; you simply order a teapot full of makgeolli and are served several dishes, none of which you have a say in. Our dishes were Kimchi Pancake, Pigs Trotters (jokbal), chicken soup, and marinated tofu. It was all delicious apart from the pigs trotters!

The tea pot full of makgeolli appeared to be never-ending and by the time we finished it, we were well on our way to Tipsy-ville. A group of ahjussis (older men) who had just returned from a cycling trip sat at the table next to us. They ordered a different set menu to us so we kept looking over at all the seafood dishes they were bringing out. Noticing us looking over, they dared Steve to give it a go. Clearly we were their form of entertainment for that evening; for the next hour it was a game of ‘HA! Let’s see what else the foreigner will eat!’ Little did they know that Steve pretty much gives anything a go, dislikes little and had already eaten his fair share of sannakji (live octopus) on our previous trip to Korea. Every time he ate something, they applauded and topped our copper cups up with more makgeolli. When they got up to leave, we said goodbye to our new friends and moments after they were gone, the waitress came over with a dish signalling that this was bought for us by the group of men. We were so touched!

That is, until we tried it. The dish is called Gejang and it is raw, fermented crab that is cracked open and its contents spread over seasoned rice. With all the confidence that only a kettle full of makgeolli can give you, we dug in. Well folks, it tastes as disgusting as it sounds. It is considered a delicacy here and we felt bad that they had paid for it and we barely touched it. Steve and I were wondering whether the group of ahjussis were secretly watching us from a window howling with laughter; chuffed with themselves that they finally found something  we just couldn’t stomach. Nonetheless, it was such a fun evening hanging out with these men who were old enough to be our grandfathers; a true Korean experience.

We returned to Seoul the following day and had one evening to recuperate before my best friends arrived from London. The day they arrived felt like Christmas morning and I couldn’t wait to show them around. Even better, they came loaded with luxurious goodies like Yorkshire Tea and deodorant. We had so much fun drinking (too much soju) and shopping (too many K beauty products) that the week totally flew by.

One day we spent by the Han river drinking soju in the sun which started off as an innocent little picnic. But soon two bottles of Soju turned in to four. And four bottles turned in to eight. And then we thought it would be fun to go for margaritas. It went downhill from there. Downhill all the way to noraebang (Korean karaoke).

Oh yeah and this happened…

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It was such a fun week having them over; I missed them loads as soon as they left. We managed to do a lot in the week they were here and did a LOT of K beauty shopping. I was really touched that they flew all this way for the week and hope they enjoyed it as much as we did!

I’ve also been volunteering at my orphanage which has been both upsetting  in parts and rewarding at the same time. I am a volunteer in the baby room which homes about 40 babies aged 3 weeks to 4 months old. In each cot, there is a sign that says the name, gender, weight and date of arrival of the baby. I feed the babies, hold them, change their nappies etc. Basically my role there is to provide them with comfort and love so that they can experience this early on in their lives. I know I shouldn’t have my favourites but there is one little girl that I’ve completely fallen in love with. I make sure I spend quality time with her each time I go in and she is just the sweetest, most smiley little girl ever. She is nearing 4 months old so will be placed in foster care soon and that thought breaks my heart. If I could bring her back with me to the UK I would in a heartbeat but unfortunately Korea has made it awfully difficult to adopt from overseas. That being said, it has not stopped me from asking! I am not permitted to take any photos in the orphanage out of respect and privacy of the babies but they are extremely well looked after and are mostly all in good health. It is tiring volunteering there (sheesh man, babies are hard work – props to all my friends that are mothers) but it feels so rewarding. I just try and hold as many babies as I can each time I go, praying that each one finds a happy home as I did.

Plastic Surgery Adverts in Seoul Metro Stations

Feeling fat and ugly in Korea?

I debated whether or not to write this blog but after South Korean plus-size model Vivian Kim recently spoke up and challenged the Korean beauty ideal I feel more women need to follow her example. ‘Defying Korean beauty norm’ in the Straits Times tells her story and I highly recommend a read.

I have immensely enjoyed my first 2 months here in Seoul but there has been one unexpected consequence of living here that I wasn’t prepared for. I fully prepared myself for the looks I would get when I explained I didn’t speak Korean. I knew I may get a few looks for being with a ‘white’ guy. I knew that looking around a sea of Asian faces may conjure up some feelings about my adoption. I had mentally prepared myself for all these things. But I wasn’t prepared for the hit to my self confidence that happens when you live in a country obsessed with achieving perfection.

It was one of the more recent, and more ugly discoveries of my motherland’s culture. I guess it isn’t until you live in a country that you can scratch beneath the surface and uncover things that perhaps you were blind to before. I know I am a healthy weight, I am not fat, but I am by no means a stick insect. I enjoy doing my weights at the gym, have always played sport and love a cheeseburger. I know my arms could be a little slimmer, my stomach a little flatter but I’m ok with that. There are certain sacrifices I am not willing to make (carbs being the main one). But here, in a society where the ideal weight is under 50kg and the ideal ‘beauty’ is being wafer thin, it does get you thinking.

It gets you thinking when you see all the plastic surgery advertisements on the subway, everyday. It gets you thinking when on the toilet cubicle doors there are posters saying ‘from fat face to beautiful face’. The worst one I read about in ‘Defying Korean beauty norm’ was ‘how long are you going to roll around like that?’ Yep, and we were outraged in the UK by the ‘are you bikini ready’ advertisement! I have watched a program about plastic surgery where they called the girl ‘witch face’ instead of her actual name. They showed how she went from ‘ugly’ to ‘beautiful’ by having her whole face re-shaped; praising the plastic surgeon on his work. She looked completely different when she emerged on stage and was greeted to a rapturous applause. But underneath, her eyes still looked sad.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against plastic surgery. If it helps you address something you are self conscious about or makes you happy then I think plastic surgery is a positive thing. So long as you do it for yourself. Where I am less of a fan of it is when it feels pressured; when society encourages it and when it is expected of you. And that is what I personally believe is the case here. Statistics say that about 1 in 3 women in Seoul have gone under the knife, mostly for double eye lid surgery. For many jobs, it is necessary to include a photograph attached to your CV; sometimes even measurements. I’ve been flat out asked if I have considered getting my nose done (I didn’t think anything was particularly wrong with my nose) or why I haven’t had double eyelid surgery. People aren’t being rude, that’s just the culture here – they are actually saying it in order to give you advice. A friend of mine was told that she would be more beautiful if she had a slimmer jawline (for the record, she’s stunning). I am always the person that gets stopped on the street for diet pills, juice diets etc. Walking down the street, I will get plastic surgery flyers shoved in my face. Because I must want to change the way I look, right? It’s understandable that with all these statistics, all these advertisements in your face everyday – it gets you thinking ‘what don’t I like about myself?’ And we shouldn’t be made to think like that. I know in the West, we blame the media a lot, those magazines and actresses in Hollywood for the low self esteem of young girls but trust me, it is way harder for the young girls growing up here.

The K-pop industry doesn’t help either. Now, I’m not being racist as in ‘they all look the same’ but they do all actually look the same. Because here in Korea there is only one beauty ideal and all girls strive for it. In the West, we have beautiful blondes, brunettes, redheads. Some have oval face shapes, some heart-shaped; some are voluptuous and some are skinny – but there is a range. Here, there is only one beauty ideal – big round eyes, not almond. Pale white skin, not tanned. Skinny, with no definition. Slim face with a v-line jaw. Ok they may have different hair colours. But they have all had the same eye surgery, all had the same jawline surgery, and all are the same size. And so impressionable teenage girls look at these famous idols, then look at themselves and think, ‘what can I change to look like that?’

Growing up, I hated the fact I looked Asian because I never fit in. I was teased for my almond eyes and ironically, later on in my teens I was teased for being ‘too thin’ as well. My biggest gripe growing up as an adoptee was not that I was abandoned, but by the fact that I looked Asian, because I didn’t feel Asian and it made me stand out from my family and friends. At 14 years old, I read about double eyelid / eye widening surgery and asked my mum about it. And that broke her heart. Because she wanted me to love the way I look and appreciate my almond eyes. And since then, I have.

Coming to Korea I was comforted by the fact that I would be in a land where, for the first time in my life, I would fit in physically. But I don’t. I do not weigh 50kg; I like my hamburgers and fries too much. I play sport, I run and I cycle so I have big thighs. I have not had my eyes widened or had double eye-lid surgery because I’ve grown to appreciate that my eyes are a different shape. I’ve not had my jawline or cheekbones shaved down because plastic surgery isn’t that common in my home back in the UK and I quite like my cheekbones. I do not have pale skin because I enjoy being out in the sun. I thought I would find solace in looking the same as those around me, but I don’t. Instead it just gets me thinking ‘What would I look like if I had always lived here? Would I have gone under the knife too? What would I have wanted to change?’

And so it comes back down to the nature versus nurture debate. Because I guess even nurture plays a role in the way you physically look; it’s not all down to genes. More importantly, it was nurture that made me accept the way I look, not nature, not here in my motherland. I thought I would find comfort in a place where I should theoretically ‘fit in’. But I don’t find that comfort here, I find it back at home. Because when I compare that confidence my parents instilled in me to love myself, to the pressure society places on young girls here; nurture wins.

KBeauty: The Battle of the Cleansing Sticks

Battle of the Cleansing Sticks

As you may have seen in my previous post about the Korean Double Cleanse method, cleansing sticks are increasingly becoming very popular here. After the success of the Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick which people go gaga over, many other brands have taken to their innovation labs and come up with similar products. Cleansing sticks are essentially a face wash in a stick. You simply wet your face, give the stick a few swipes over your skin and lather it up. The rise of Korean cleansing products has meant that in order to differentiate themselves, brands have sought to find new formulations and I personally think this one is a winner. The sticks, for me, are an absolute must when travelling. In this blog I’ll talk about my first impressions with the Neogen Green Tea Cleansing Stick, the Belif True Tincture Cleansing Stick – Chamomile and the infamous Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick.

The Neogen Real Fresh Green Tea Cleansing Stick 

The first cleansing stick that I purchased and tried out was the Neogen Green Tea Cleansing Stick. I love Neogen products, in particular their wine gauze peeling pads and their foam cleansers so I had super high hopes for this one. Their products are usually affordable, clinical and do the job. I purchased mine at Olive Young where it was on sale for 11,000 won ($11) – even better. The Neogen cleansing stick claims to be hypoallergenic and suitable for sensitive skin. It contains a lot of essential oils like olive oil, camellia oil and coconut oil (although the latter can trigger breakouts in some people so be careful). It also contains green tea seed oil and green tea leaves which you can see dispersed throughout the stick, is loaded with 99% of natural ingredients and claims to leave skin feeling clean, clear and hydrated. Sounds wonderful, right?

Wrong. Whilst I did not dislike this cleansing stick completely, it did the job and foamed up nicely, I hated the smell of it. It smells literally like a bar of Dove soap; perhaps stronger. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that smell but I just don’t want it on my face. That is just a personal preference though; I just like my skincare products smelling fresh. After usage, it also left my skin feeling a bit tight making me question how hydrating it really is. Also, after a few uses the green tea specks were hardly in there. That being said, it’s the most affordable one I have tried and works fine as your average face wash; it just wasn’t anything to write home about.

The Belif True Tincture Cleansing Stick – Chamomile 

After the disappointment of the Neogen cleansing stick my quest continued and a few days later I found myself at the Belif counter in Lotte Department Store, Myeongdong. I love Belif products; the packaging and brand identity is right up my street. Similar to Kiehls, it has that ‘apothecary’ feel which makes me believe that everything they sell must be great for my skin. The Belif True Tincture Cleansing Stick was 28,000 won ($28) and is suitable for all skin types. It contains chamomile extracts and natural chamomile flower petals that gentle lather up and cleanse your skin. It claims to provide a solution to dullness, uneven texture, redness and dryness. Like the Neogen Green Tea Cleansing Stick, it also has a neutral/slightly lower pH.

The moment I opened the Belif cleansing stick, the first thing I did was smell it and it.was.wonderful. It was fresh, slightly herbal and citrus/lemon-like. The stick was easy to lather up and the foam felt more creamier and softer than the Neogen Cleansing Stick. After patting my face dry, my skin felt fresh, clean and not tight at all. What more can I say? First impression of this stick was very positive and it now has a place in my daily skincare regime.

The Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick 

It felt wrong to do a cleansing stick review without trying the Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick. Almost without knowing, I had subconsciously tried the others first, believing I was saving the best until last. The Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick, or the MRCS as the cool kids call it, has cult like status around the K-Beauty lovin’ world. It’s weird but in Korea it’s actually not one of the so-called ‘holy grail’ products; it seems to be way more popular overseas in countries like China and the USA. For a while the MRCS was difficult to find; it was constantly out of stock, forcing people to buy back ups upon back ups of the stuff. It was so elusive that it was not actually displayed in Su:m37 shops here; you had to ask the shop assistant who would whip one out from under the counter. I cannot deny that I fell in to the trap of the buying frenzy that this cleansing stick induces. I purchased one online but as I was too impatient to wait until it was delivered, I purchased another one in the Su:m37 shop in Garusogil when I saw that it was actually out on display for once!  It too, retails for 28,000 won ($28).

True to it’s name, the stick is made from fermented rose and has little bits of it spread throughout the stick. It smells gloriously of roses as well making it feel luxurious to use. It has a completely different feel and packaging to the Belif Cleansing Stick which appears more ‘functional’ and ‘good for your skin’. The MRCS is all about the pampering. Coupled with the knowledge that it is so elusive and coveted, you get an extra hit of giddiness when using it *smug face*.

The MRCS lathers up nicely as well, has a lovely scented, creamy foam and does not leave my skin feeling sucked of moisture. The only tiny gripe I have with it is that the stick is ever-so-slightly convex which makes it a little difficult to manoeuvre around my cheekbone and eye area; a problem I don’t have with the Belif one. But other than that, both are very, very similar.

…and so the winner is….

In the way of formulation, ease of use and quality the Belif Cleansing Stick and the MRCS are hard to separate. Both smell great, both are easy to use, both foam up well and both leave the skin feeling fresh and clean. They both retail for the same price here in Korea and they both contain the same amount of product; this comes as no surprise as both brands are in fact owned by the same company – LG. My favourite is purely based on my own personal preferences – the smell. And so, the winner is…. The Belif True Tincture Cleansing Stick! I was really impressed with this stick after the first time I used it. I think the MRCS has been so bigged up that when I finally got around to trying it, I just felt a teeny bit underwhelmed – I’m such a rebel. I much prefer a fresh scent over a floral one but as I said before, that is purely my own preference. I know there are a lot of rose lovers out there and coupled with the luxurious feel of the MRCS, this will be, (and clearly is) the firm favourite of many a skincare addict. I have no qualms in highly recommending both cleansing sticks, it purely comes down to whatever scent and packaging you prefer. But for me, the Belif True Tincture just about wins it!

Finding Mee Hwa Kim

The search for Mee Hwa Kim which began over 18 months ago has had more twists and turns than a Game of Thrones season finale. After finding out that there was no need for me to go through the Australian Government and that I had been taken on a wild goose chase, and after being denied copies of my adoption files… again…. I was starting to think that this search was simply just not worth it. After several Skype sessions with my parents who encouraged me to keep with it, I decided to drop in again at my adoption agency and was surprised as to what was unearthed.

I dropped by unannounced hoping to catch them off guard. I had heard from other adoptees that if you make an appointment beforehand, that gives them time to prepare; time to remove any papers with identifying information on your birth parents. That being said, when the lady agreed to show me my file, she went to her desk, removed a wad of papers and came back to join me with a file half the size of the one she took out of the filing cabinet. So much for that then.

I was talked through the usual stuff and shown all the papers that I already had. At the end I told her that back in 2014 I was given lots of detail around my birth parents, what they were like, what they were good at in school, the circumstances in which I was relinquished etc. She simply told me that none of this information was in my file and that this was all she had. Well, then someone is telling me porkies.

On the way out, I asked her what the latest was on my birth family search. I was not expecting to hear anything promising back, otherwise they would have contacted me already, right? I had not heard anything since August when I was informed that my birth search application had been forwarded to Korean Adoption Services (KAS); a government affiliated organisation that helps locate birth parents. She looked through some papers that looked like an email chain and said ‘ah yes! We have news  from KAS’. Well that’s bloody brilliant, why didn’t you start off with that then?!

Unfortunately for me, this lady didn’t speak great English but the information I did gain from her was that:

  • KAS had found two people with my birth parents names who they believed were my birth parents
  • KAS didn’t have any identifiable information on them

All the while she kept reiterating that ‘likely this search will reach dead end’ and ‘many people with name Mee Hwa Kim’. But when she casually mentioned that ‘Mee Hwa Kim had been contacted’, I tried to get her to explain more. Our conversation went something like this:

‘So you have found my birth mother and have contacted her then?’

‘No, will be very hard’.

‘Yes, but you just said you contacted her’.

‘No, too many Mee Hwa Kim’.

I wasn’t getting anywhere with this woman. So I just bit my tongue, politely excused myself, thanked her for her time, went to meet Steve and collapsed in floods of tears.

The following day Steve rang up KAS for me and made an appointment. Already they were more willing to help and spoke better English so I had high hopes of getting to the bottom of what the current status of my birth search was. On meeting with KAS it transpired that they had found a record of my birth parents but with no identifiable information. In order to do a location search (i.e. last known address), they need name and security ID number. They then passed this on to the police who, apparently, have more up-to-date records. The police didn’t find anything on my birth father but did find a security ID number for Mee Hwa Kim. They sent her a correspondence which they are not permitted to tell me what it says. I have heard from other adoptees that it is quite vague, something along the lines of ‘a foreigner from overseas is looking for you’. I asked what the next steps were. ‘All you can do now is wait.’

All the while KAS kept managing my expectations by saying that they cannot say for definite this is my birth mother. They just use all the information they know, like age, name etc and make a best educated guess as to whether it could be the right person. I’ve had a few days to take this all in. At first I was sceptical – how certain are they that this is the right person? What other information did they use or know that narrowed it down? Then I grew a little disappointed – the telegraph was sent back in August and nothing had been heard back since. Does she not want to meet me? Or has the telegram fallen upon someone else with the name Mee Hwa Kim? Then I became angry. If I hadn’t asked for an update would my adoption agency have told me? Why wasn’t I notified sooner seeing as though this happened two months ago?

But ultimately, deep down in my heart I believe that Mee Hwa Kim is out there somewhere mulling this telegram over. She won’t have shared this unexpected news with her family. It won’t be an easy decision for her to make; I appreciate that. If she is anything like me, she will be debating the pros and cons for a long time in her head before making a decision. If the verdict she reaches is that it’s too hard to reach out to me then so be it. At least I can be comforted by the fact that I have now done everything in my power to track her down. That is what I came to Korea to do. The rest now, is up to her.