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.