On Wednesday morning, Nancy, her friends Lisette and Chris, and I rode the KTX bullet train to Pusan for the 12th annual Pusan International Film Festival. We were going to catch the festival's last few days, including the closing film. PIFF had kind of lost its steam and I was only impressed by one of the films I saw, a Chinese production of a Mongolian story called Tuya's Wedding. It is an interesting film about a shepherd and her difficult family circumstances. I believe its U.S. premier is soon and I highly recommend it. The closing film was Evangelion 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, an animated feature from Japan. I was hoping for something along the lines of Spirited Away or Akira but it was boring and the graphics plain so we left the screening in search of dinner.
I have had some of my most useful language practices with Korean taxi drivers. They're usually bored and nosy so they ask all sorts of questions. The only down side is that they're quite complimentary so you can leave a cab ride with a rather inflated sense of your abilities. But sometimes you end up with a driver that is a great entertainer. That night we got one very funny driver who also took us to a fantastic seafood restaurant by the water. "Soon Min's House" serves up Pusan style grilling which means lots of shellfish. Pusan, Korea's second largest city, is the country's largest port city and seafood is a staple.
Nancy, Chris and Lisette left for Seoul on Saturday and I stayed on to visit with my Korean mom. She has lived in Pusan since we moved there from Seoul after my birth father died when I was six months old. She's originally from Pusan and while I was born in Seoul, since almost all of my childhood memories of Korea are from Pusan, I consider it my go-hyang, or hometown.
My visit with my Korean mom had actually started on Wednesday when she had all of us over for lunch after our arrival from Seoul. She met us at the train station and the two of us took one cab while Nancy, Lisette and Chris took another. On the way to her house, she asked how I was and if I had been eating well. I try to visit Korea every few years and on my last trip in 2005, we had only one day together due to her work schedule so it really felt like I hadn't seen her since 2002. We were both quiet and I thought she was also reflecting on the importance of these visits. She placed a hand on my knee and had a serious look on her face. I prepared to hear words of wisdom. She looked into my eyes and said..."You HAVE to get married!"
In Korea, if you're a woman and haven't married by your mid twenties, you are considered a spinster. While that antiquated notion is dying out somewhat, it still lives in the older generation. Getting their children married is a major cause of stress for parents and they let you know it. The fact that I am not married is the greatest anxiety in my Korean mom's life and to top it off, I had returned with no job and no place to live. To her, I was a nightmare and all week long, I heard how I was running out of time since I wasn't getting any younger. Usually when we talk on the phone, she tells me how she prays every day that I'll meet a nice man and marry, to which I always answer she needs to pray harder. More often than not, we laugh it off and I find it comforting that we share the same sense of humor. But this trip, she was dead serious and gave me the following five year plan:
2008 through 2009: Meet a nice man and get married
2010: Buy a house
2011 through 2012: Give birth to the first of my two children
In fact, she said that if I haven't at least gotten married and bought a house in five years, I shouldn't bother coming back to visit. Obviously, she's kidding. Right?
It's hard to imagine that it's been a little over 12 years since my Korean mom and I reunited. Before our reunion, it had been 12 years since I left for America. In these last 12 years, we have both worked hard on this relationship. But during visits, I sometimes felt like we were still back to when I was eight years old. (This was not helped by my elementary Korean language skills.) Our communication had a distant quality. And as annoyed as I was at being constantly berated with marriage talk, this visit was a turning point. A part of me was happy since it felt like we had bridged the gap that's kept our relationship so formal. We were no longer holding back for fear of hurting each other. We were no longer holding back thinking we had no right to meddle. Now we are comfortable with our role in the other's life.
When I wasn't listening to instructions on how to execute my new five year plan, I was very busy being fed. My daily activities consisted of waking up and eating; going to the bath house and eating upon my return; resting; taking a cab ride to the beach and eating; resting; going shopping and eating; coming home and eating and resting; eating before going to bed. Literally, the only exercise I got was walking to the bath house that was 10 yards away.
After feeling like there was no possible way I could eat more (or rest more), my Korean mom and I went to the train station and said good-bye. I left with two bags of food.
Photos can be found here.