Baseball insanity

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When my friend’s niece told me she’d taken 3 days off to show us around Seoul, I was a little worried we might not be able to spend our precious time in Seoul in the way that I wanted to.  My very sensible husband is familiar with my control freak tendencies.  He reminded me how long it takes to navigate Seoul when you’re not familiar with it.  Go with the flow, he encouraged me.  You’ll probably end up seeing more and having more fun if you just hand over control and let her guide you around.

On Thursday when Jamie suggested that we might like to go to a baseball game on Friday night, I wondered if that was really the best way to spend one of our precious evenings.  Then I remembered my husband’s words.   And I told Jamie we’d love to go.  After all, how often do we get invited to a Korean baseball game?

Friday evening we made our way to the stadium via subway with Jamie as our trusty guide.   Her friend Aiden had already bought us tickets and was at the ball park saving us seats.  The subway near the stadium was packed with people headed for the game.  Walking toward the stadium, Jamie told us that Korean baseball is different than in America.  There’s kimbap instead of hot dogs, dried squid instead of popcorn, and soju along with the standard beer and pop.

We grabbed some kimbap on the way in.   Jamie also insisted on buying us all thunder sticks.  I knew my boys would love them, but didn’t think I really needed them, not being an especially rabid fan — (I’d never heard of Doosan til that day!).  But Jamie bought them anyway, so I thanked her and accepted them.

Once inside the stadium, the noise was deafening.  Music, drums, thunder sticks, yelling, cheering…and the game had barely begun.  After a few minutes my ears resigned themselves to the noise level and I realized why the thunder sticks were needed.  A full 90% of the fans were actively cheering– hollering, beating their thunder sticks together, and generally creating a ruckus– at any given moment.   When I set down my thunder sticks to eat my kimbap, I almost felt like a bad sport.

There were bunches of different cheers and songs, each with a different drumming pattern.  (Check out the pix below of the worn drums).These people were here to CHEER.  The atmosphere was incredibly fun, incredibly unified.   It was just a big ol’ party, that’s all there is to it.

The game ended up going 11 innings, with Doosan winning in the end.  We skipped out in the 10th inning because the younger boys were incredibly tired.   But I am so glad that we said yes to the baseball game.  It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.   I am so grateful to Jamie and Aiden for letting us tag along!  Thanks, you two!!!!!  <3   We had such an awesome time!

Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

Thursday’s whirlwind

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Thursday’s tourist activities began after breakfast when we met our friend Jamie in the lobby of our hotel and from there proceeded to the nearest subway stop which is in the basement of the hotel. Our first destination was Kyongbok Palace, a palace originally built in 1398.

We happened to come on a day when a costumed reenactment was taking place. There was music and marching and throngs of people taking pictures, including many groups of school children. We were amazed to see kindergarten kids carrying cell phones and expensive cameras, apparently the norm for Korean school kids.

The tour was interesting, though people tended to group in the shade on this humid 80 degree day. Funny how in dry Idaho, I tend to forget the effect of humidity on an onterwise moderate-sounding temperature. In Korea everyone seems to walk around with a sheen to their face.

After Kyongbok Palace Jamie took us (first walking, then riding a bus) to a small restaurant which translated into English is called Snow Tree House. It is in a small multi-story house that serves absolutely lovely Korean food. We had kimchi soup, vegetable pancakes, cabbage and radish kimchi, and as the main course, a beef dish that seemed somewhat like very tender grilled hamburgers, beautifully seasoned with sweet and spicy sauce. The beef was served with rice cakes, also grilled. We used our chopsticks to tear the beef into bite sized bits, me with much laughing and dropping– I am not all that great with chopsticks.

After the wonderful lunch (about $35 for the 5 of us in case anyone is interested), we headed for Insadong, a road of artsy little shops where we found all sorts of interesting little things to bring home. The younger boys were most delighted with wooden rubber band guns that cost only $2. (They are at this moment bouncing around the hotel room having a rubber band gun war, while I periodically caution them that the guns will be confiscated if mom gets shot.) Jamie was a delightful shopping companion, chatting with the shopkeepers, and exclaiming over and pointing out various cute things.

At one point we were called over to a shop entrance by a couple of young men. They gave us an animated demonstration of a candy formed by stretching out honey while quickly dipping it into powdered sugar so that the strands of honey were coated and very thin sweet threads of candy were formed. The guys were a riot, counting out the multiplication of strands each time they folded the candy in half, and finished their demonstration by giving us each a sample.

Further down the road, there was a man with a loudspeaker standing on the back of a moving flatbed truck, selling bags of oranges as he went. Another man rode by on a bike that was loaded down with huge bouquets of flowers. The road was filled with people, but cars periodically made their cautious way down the center, tapping on horns and waiting for people to step far enough away from bumpers so that the cars could move forward a few more feet.

By the time we got done with our shopping, we were getting tired, but Jamie really wanted to take us on the cable car up Namsan Mountain. She said we would love it, and she was right. All except for the walk up to the base of the cable car. Super steep streets and 8 hours of sleep in about 40 hours time made me suddenly aware of my exhaustion. The boys were almost as tired as I was. But we walked and paused, walked and paused, and finally made it up to the cable car place. There I quickly found some cokes, hoping the caffeine boost would propel me through the rest of the day.

The cable car ride was delightful. There were only a few seats on the car, so most of us stood, holding bars or handles, subway style. Seoul in ‘panorama’ format was amazing. The contrast between the wooded mountain we were ascending, and the sleek city sprawled below us was striking. I don’t know exactly what I expected there to be at the top of the mountain– maybe just a lookout?– but in actuality there were shaded pavilions and walking paths and big open spaces where a performance had just concluded, and several buildings with many stores where you could buy all sorts of things.

There was even a revolving restaurant — very expensive– near the top of Namsan Tower, where many young men take their girlfriends to propose to them. I was tired enough that I was content to take some pictures at the overlook, and was imagining getting back to our hotel soon for a rest. But Jamie wasn’t ready to quit. “I have to show you one more thing– I really want you to see the locks!”

Locks? I was puzzled.

“Yes, so many locks,” she said. “I think you will like it.”

(To be continued)

Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

The honey-stretching showmen

in the hazy hours between Tuesday and Wednesday

We’re flying 34,000 feet over Anchorage, headed for Seoul, South Korea, and I’m wondering how this trip will be. I’m traveling with my two 11 year old Korean-born sons and my 14 year old bio son. I look at the dark heads all around us and realize this is literally the first time my Korean boys have been in the midst of so many Koreans since they were tiny babies, flying with me away from Korea.

In the lounge in San Francisco as we wait to board our plane, I sit in a wash of Korean language, wishing I’d reviewed my Korean more diligently. I have a few things down pat: ‘thank you’, ‘thank you very much’, hello, goodbye, ‘my name is…’ and ‘too expensive’. But most
other things have slipped from my head. Ten years ago, before my last trip to Korea, I studied diligently. This trip amid much other busyness, I opted to skip the cramming. But now amid the familiar but oh so foreign lilting Korean– every sentence seems to end in imnida’– I am wishing I knew more, wishing I could really ‘get’ the language. It flutters around me like butterflies. I manage to capture words here and there, but most of the meaning slips away, just beyond my grasp.

On the plane, a 60-ish Korean businessman in a silk suit bullies a flight attendant for a second blanket repeatedly, even though she tells him she has no extra– that in fact some passengers have none. After his third tirade, I come thisclose to just handing him mine, partly because I want him to hush and partly because I think maybe he’d be ashamed of himself. But I decided that his sense of entitlement was too mammoth. I’d be out a blanket and that would be all. A few minutes later a flight attendant walks by and drops a blanket on his lap without even pausing, irritation evident. He subsides.

I think of what I’ve read (and to a certain degree observed)—that in Korea men rule the roost, and some are none too kind about it. The unkindness and condescending attitude is the part of that equation that I have trouble with. I am glad to do things for my hubby, but I am even gladder that he is thankful for my help and doesn’t hesitate to do things for me. I heard that kind of relationship is getting more common with younger Koreans. But the man on the plane was downright rude– I hoped we wouldn’t meet many like him.

A few minutes later a younger Korean man strikes up a conversation in an aisle with a stranger and– sure enough– is a perfect gentleman. I am relieved. I realize that I am feeling very emotionally invested in the behavior of people around me, for the sake of my kids. I want this to be a wonderful experience them—a trip where along with the new and exotic they also observe kindness and beauty. I want the people they meet to be kind, encouraging, and unpitying. I want the boys to come home with memories of good people.

I feel like if they meet good people that they will end up with fewer doubts about the path that their lives took, about the reasons that may have led to them needing a new family in another country. I want their experience to back up what I’ve been telling them all along — that the adults in their lives at every step were doing their best.

But the belligerent man reminded me of a facet of Korea I hadn’t thought about for awhile. For many Korean adoptees, that patriarchal society is the very reason that they did need new families. Men took liberties and walked away from responsibilities. Of course that happens every day in every country. But Korean society is not like American society, where few people bat an eyelash at a single mom. In Korea your father is your identity. If you have no father you have no name. You cannot be enrolled in school. Future options are extremely limited, both for you and for the mother who may very much wish to raise you herself.

I hear that times are slowly changing. I hear that single moms are not as stigmatized as they were in the past, that in-Korea adoption is getting more common, and that fewer kids need to leave Korea to find families. But as I fly over this great ocean with my children, I still wonder what our experience will be. They are flying trustingly with me, excited for this adventure that I’ve offered to them. I hope and pray that it will be a good one.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9