Korea In Our Hearts

Back in the days where Spencer was crying his way through Taekwondo classes, one of the assistant instructors said something to him that stuck with him. In the midst of getting him to calm down, and breathe slowly, the assistant said, "You don't need to cry when you leave Mama, because Mama is always in your heart. You carry her wherever you go." After class, when I told Spencer that I was proud of him for doing the whole class without crying, he relayed that story to me. After my initial thought of "How did a college kid get so wise?!" I moved on to thinking about how perfect that phrase is for how we feel about Korea.

While only one of us in this family is Korean, I think we all feel that we have Korea in our hearts. I'm pretty sure most of you reading this feel the same way.

I'm not sure when it happened... but Korean culture has become a part of our "normal" here. At first, it was intentional inclusions of Korean food, Korean language, and Korean customs.

Now, the lines have blurred. And the inclusion is starting to become unintentional.

While I still cook "traditional" Korean meals once or twice a week, I've noticed that my whole approach to cooking in general has a Korean influence at times. Gochujang ends up mixed in with more American fare. Kimchi gets served with almost anything if it's in the house. Scrambled eggs often have seasoned seaweed on top, and sesame oil in the pan. The list goes on. The other day someone asked me how often I cook Korean meals. I had to clarify if they meant "traditional" Korean entrees or food with Korean ingredients. And even then it took me a few moments.

We also mix in a lot more Korean vocabulary. We've always had the random greeting or phrase here or there. But recently, I find Spencer asking more and more often for "the Korean word." The other day, I exclaimed "Chincha?!" instead of my usual "Really?!" I almost fell over when he responded "Neh! Chincha!" Spencer asks if he should count to ten in English, or Korean. He cheers "Manse!" for me on my runs instead of "Hooray!" However, "Konglish" very much baffles him. We had a ten minute discussion the other day about how it was acceptable for "coffee" to be "koh-pee" in Korea... and I found myself floundering when he asked why they didn't have a more "Korean" word for it.

We bow a lot more. While we keep the 90 degree bows to the dojang, I catch us doing the head bow when meeting someone new way more often. Before this, it was less frequent... as in NEVER.

I look around our home and see Korean art on the walls. I no longer remember what used to hang in those spots. I have a list of art that I want to acquire on our next trip. I'm pondering how to incorporate more of it in Spencer's room.

This weekend is Chuseok. And I find that we are anticipating it with as much excitement (maybe more?!) than we do Thanksgiving. Spencer has declared many times that he will eat jap chae and songpyeon. Lots and lots of both. He and I made kimchi the other day in preparation... and the whole time he discussed what we should serve it with, while sneaking tastes. He declared it the best he's ever had... and while I'm sure it's not the most authentic kimchi out there, I almost burst into tears with the relief that comes from feeling like you are at least getting some of this stuff right.

It makes me smile... and feel warm and fuzzy inside when I think about how much richer our lives have become with the influence of Korean culture. (And so much tastier!) We seem to be at a critical learning period as a family... and the topic seems to be Korea. There are days that Spencer and I are happily cocooned in Korean culture through Taekwondo, our meals, k-dramas... and it feels perfect and right. The happy sighs from Spencer confirm that it's a good place for him to be as well.*

I have some heavy posts that I've been wrangling with. We've been dealing with some intense feelings from Spencer on his history, some hard questions on adoption, and some magic at the dojang. All of it comes back to the fact that this journey has changed all of us, and that Korea, and it's culture is playing a larger part in our lives than ever before.

I haven't written many emotional posts publicly here. But I think they are coming. I've grappled with what to share for the world to see, and decided that some of this might help others. (That said, I withhold the right to change my mind and pull them down.) In the next few weeks, you'll probably see more on this from me. Apologies in advance as I try to work my way through it all in my less-than-eloquent blogging style. And in case you are wondering why I didn't just post about it already... this is a way to keep me responsible. If I say I'm going to do it here, then maybe it will actually get done. Right?!


* I excluded Doug in this statement because someone has to pay the bills, so unfortunately he is working while Spencer and I are watching an hour of Korean television and sneaking choco pies. {wink}