Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Visiting Korea: It's not a "vacation"

People often refer to my two trips to Korea last year as "vacation."

Did you and your husband have fun on your vacation to Korea last year?

Wow, you must have had so much fun traveling to Korea on vacation last year?

Well, at least you got to go on vacation TWICE last year.

I don't think most people weep uncontrollably while on vacation. I don't think most people meet their biological mother and father for the first time in over three decades while on vacation.

I don't know that returning to the land from which you were cast out and seemingly irretrievably lost necessarily qualifies as a vacation. And I don't think that visiting the land where you were "orphaned" and left fatherless and motherless is necessarily the makings of a fun, restful, refreshing vacation.

Would you call a two week trip to visit your dying mother a vacation? Would you call a weekend trip to attend the funeral of a loved one a vacation? Would you refer to a trip to mediate between your divorced parents a vacation? Most people would not refer to such trips as "vacations."

To get technical, a vacation is defined as "an extended period of recreation" or "a respite or time of respite from something" (respite is defined as "a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant").

I think most would agree that the aforementioned circumstances would not qualify as recreation or as respite from something difficult or unpleasant, but rather quite the opposite.

What's my point?

I made two trips to Korea last year, one in June/July and one in September. People I know often seem to make the mistake of viewing these trips that I made as "vacation."

Although there were aspects of these two trips that involved some fun activities, emotionally these two trips hardly qualify as "vacation." In particular, the purpose of these trips was not recreation and respite. I didn't go to Korea for relaxation and rest or to galavant around the country.

I went to Korea to meet the mother who gave me away me only days after I was born and the father who never even saw me because my Korean mother disappeared on him and kept my relinquishment a secret from him until years later.

I went to Korea, a place where I died the same day that I was born, not to vacation, but to try to find answers that had eluded me all of my life. Korea is not a place of recreation and respite for me, but rather a place burdened with pain and loss, a place that stirs the deepest of heartache and a reservoir of ambivalence and sorrow.

So, please, don't make the mistake of correcting me when I say visiting Korea was not a vacation.

Visiting Korea, for me, is akin to visiting a broken home marred with dysfunction and a shared history of strife and loss, and yet simultaneously it inevitably draws me back by the bonds of a love and curiosity that both confound and comfort the restlessness within me that ultimately will never know peace.


Mei Ling said...

A lot of people, when talking to me, say about how much they feel a connection to Taiwan or China and it's a nice vacation place to visit and whatnot.

They feel a connection. But they don't have one, not directly.

Their child is the only one who actually does, and it's more than just "a vacation."

It's the place where us adoptees have been born - where we go back to search or perhaps reunite.

Mia_h_n said...

Three days before take-off I feel like I totally know what you mean. I think it's very different simply because we have different circumstances in our stories, but also very similar.

On one hand I can't wait to go back and learn and experience as much of this place I came from as possible. It draws me in and I'm facinated.
On the other hand I'm nervous and shaking and crying for Korea is also something so sad and tragic and frustrating. A family, love and life lost and a million questions that'll probably never be answered.

Korea will always be very bittersweet and NEVER "just2 a vacation.

Anonymous said...

I don't even know what to say. The fact that people say this just seems to show what a need there is for education about what adoptees go through. I can only shake my head at the ignorance.

A visit to your homeland that you were ripped from is clearly not a vacation.

Where the heck do people come up with this crazy stuff they say to adoptees?

Mila said...

Mei-Ling and Mia, I knew you ladies would get it.

And Anon, you said it, "The fact that people say this just seems to show what a need there is for education about what adoptees go through."

Yoli said...

I'm aghast that people who have the cojones to say this to you.

foreverisamoment said...

Thank you for this post. Eloquently describing the realities of reuniting with the family and land of your birth. This is an ocean of emotional wealth as I navigate what I expect my daughter, who was adopted as an infant a year ago, to feel.
People do not understand it's not all sunshine and rainbows when it comes to adoption "I never thought about it that way...."

sarahkim said...

This is my first time visiting your blog, and I just wanted to say I completely empathize with your feelings here. I've had to make multiple trips to Korea recently, a lot of them birth family-related, and my coworkers always comment about how wonderful it is that I get to make so many "vacations." And they don't understand at all why I'm exhausted when I come back and want a "real" vacation. It's tiring to have to explain everything, because there's so much education that needs to happen in just a simple conversation.

Mila said...

@ Sarah, you wrote: "It's tiring to have to explain everything, because there's so much education that needs to happen in just a simple conversation."

So, so true. I can completely relate. So often I find myself biting my tongue simply because I'm too tired and too exhausted to get into a big, long conversation to try to educate someone that is basically a half stranger, who doesn't really want to know in the first place...and other times, I find myself opening my big, fat mouth anyway & then asking myself later why in the world I did.