The second day we spent in Busan involved a lot of travel around the southern part of Korea. We first began by meeting Seoksoon, her daughter, Yeongmo, and both of Meghann’s birth parents in the hotel lobby at noon. We had agreed to eat an “American Pizza and Pasta” style lunch for something different than all of the traditional Korean food we had eaten the day before. Lydia recommended we eat at Blacksmith, a restaurant that we had enjoyed during our first trip to Busan in May.
I don’t think this was the type of restaurant that Meghann’s birth parents were familiar with eating at, which lead to some hilarious situations. When we first walked in, Meghann’s birth father walked over to the counter, and jokingly asked if he could buy one of the tools on the wall behind the host stand (they were decorative tools.) After we got seated, the first thing Meghann’s birth father said when looking at the menu was “Why does everything look like Korean pancake?!” We had had a Korean pancake the day before, although it was something very different. He laughed and thought it was hilarious. After looking through the menu, we ordered a few plates of pasta and a couple pizzas. They first brought out bread, one brown piece that Meghann’s birth father held up and said in English, “potato!”
The food itself was very good – not exactly like traditional American pizza but still delicious. Everyone at the table was enjoying the pizza and pasta, except Meghann’s birth mother did not seem to care for either. She had kind of a disgusted look on her face, and when we asked if she liked it, without even translating she quickly shook her head “No!” Before lunch concluded, Yeongmo gave us some gifts he had gotten for us the night before, which included a pair of Korean decorative dolls, and a nice glass set for Meghann’s parents.
After lunch concluded, we all headed to the orphanage where Meghann was briefly held prior to being brought to America. Meghann and I brought a big bag of gifts for the children we brought from the US, and Meghann’s siblings with us ordered a large box of Korean hamburgers and drinks for the children as well. The head of the orphanage, Director Kim (whom Meghann’s korean name was named after) came to sit down with us and talk. Meghann’s mother and the director had some discussion about the facility, which resulted in her deciding to come back to volunteer at the facility to help the children. After that we played with the children for a bit, took some pictures, and departed for our next destination.
After leaving the orphanage, we departed for Daegu, the city to the north in which Meghann’s birth father, and sisters Eungyoung, Jinsoon, Songja all live. On the way there, we stopped at a rest stop, which is very different than the kind you will find in the US. They have a lot of stores, convenience stores, and are generally very busy. They also seem to be in very scenic locations, at least the couple that I’ve been to. During the car ride, I had remembered from our first trip that Meghann’s birth mother had decided to live in Busan, in case Meghann ever returned to find her. She had also mentioned that as well when we first met her. I decided to ask her if she would move away from Yeongdo now that she had found Meghann. When Lydia translated the message, I watched her sit up and her eyes lit up and she smiled, as if the thought hadn’t occurred to her yet that this was now a possibility. She said that yes, now that she had found her that she could move. There was definitely happiness and relief in her voice, and it felt like her getting that relief would have made the entire trip in itself.
Our first stop in Daegu was Songja’s house, where we sat and talked for a bit and had a few appetizers. We then headed to dinner, this time with Meghann’s birth father in the car. Meghann asked him a difficult question – did he feel that Meghann’s birth mother did the right thing in giving her up for adoption? He paused to think about it. He finally said that times were very difficult then, and that while it was a very hard decision to make, it was what was best for Meghann and best for Meghann’s birth mother. She also asked him how he felt finding out that he had a daughter (we earlier found out from Meghann’s brother that he had only known about Meghann for a month – they never told him as they didn’t want to risk him getting hurt from his heart condition). He said that his life felt like a movie and it was so hard to believe it, but he was very happy.
We soon arrived for dinner, which was at a nice traditional Korean restaurant. While we were there, Meghann’s mother was wearing colorful socks like Meghann, which they ended up trading. At first Meghann thought they were smelly, but it turned out they were just mine being under the table near her since we were on the floor. The food was all very good, and like usual they kept feeding us and we all kept pouring each other shots of soju. Outside, we said goodbye to Jinsoon’s children, as it was the last time we saw them. The daughter was nervous giving me a hug since she had never hugged a foreigner, which was pretty funny.
After dinner, Meghann and I, along with Lydia, Jinsoon, and Meghann’s birth mother all went to the massage parlor for a massage owned by Jinsoon. It was a very nice facility and seemed not like someone from the US would expect an Asian massage parlor to be. Given that it was getting late and we had another stop plus a long drive home, we opted to just get feet massages instead of full body massages for the sake of time. We changed into special loose massage outfits, and they did a wash and a very firm foot massage. We were all lying on mats in the same room, and the workers joked that they were nervous because Jinsoon was in the room with all of us. Another funny thing that happened was that Jinsoon’s competitive side came out with Meghann while we were there. When we first walked in, the other business co-owner said that Meghann and Jinsoon looked similar. Jinsoon immediately came back with “but I’m prettier!” Then she kept asking Meghann questions like “were you popular in school?” and before Meghann could respond, she said, “I was more popular”. It was pretty hilarious and we were cracking up as she asked all of these questions to Meghann. Definitely even funnier to me, because I see Meghann’s competitive side all the time and the similarities were very obvious.
From the massage parlor, we went to our last stop of the night, which was Meghann’s birth father’s house. When we entered, his little white dog came running out very excited to see people and was very friendly. They showed us how he knew the sit command. After we all sat down, they pulled out some photo albums and everyone laughed as they showed some very old photos, even ones of Meghann’s birth father as a teenager. After we were finished, we took one last picture with everyone together, and said our goodbye to Jinsoon and Songja as it was the last time we’d see them this trip. We then embarked on the two-hour drive back to Busan to get some sleep. Despite being tired and getting home late, Meghann and I stayed up until almost 2AM reflecting on the experiences we’ve had.
With Wednesday’s late night, we decided to push back Thursday’s start to 1PM. Meghann and I slept in as late as we could, and then went for a walk along the beach to get some coffee at Starbucks, and some chocolate to help combat headaches from the lack of sugar we usually get in our American diets. We spent a big part of this day with just Meghann’s birth mother and Lydia.
From the hotel lobby, we headed to Shinsegae, an enormous indoor shopping mall in Busan (and I believe the largest in Asia) to eat lunch. We each got something different at the food court, and sat to talk and eat. Meghann’s birth mother told Meghann to eat all of her food, which she actually did. Meghann in turn told her to eat all of her food too, which she took very seriously and showed Meghann her empty bowl when she was finished. From lunch, we went to a department store to look around. We went by a wall of kim (dried seaweed) which I had liked a few nights before, so Meghann’s birth mother insisted on getting me a giant package of it. She also got us some water flasks to drink. One other funny note – we walked by some Welch’s Grape Juice, so I had Lydia explain to Meghann’s birth mother that it was my last name. She said she would buy that from now on so she could think of us.
After the shopping mall we had some time before Meghann’s sister Seoksoon was expecting us to arrive at their house, so Meghann’s birth mother suggested we go to the small town where she used to live called Yangsan. It was a small town and almost felt like rural Midwest in the US, until we got to the ocean. Close to the ocean there was a small yellow house, where Meghann’s birth mother lived when she was younger, working as a woman diver catching fish and other ocean creatures for food. When we arrived ocean side, there was a lot of small vendors with all kinds of seafood – squid, different kind of fish, lobsters. We pulled over next to a pier and walked out to the ocean, where looked at some fishing ships raised out of the water being cleaned, and Meghann’s birth mother showed us the location she used to dive.
On the way back to the car, Meghann’s birth mother asked me if I wanted to eat some seafood and have some soju. Little did I know, answering yes was about to lead me to one of my most adventurous parts of the entire trip. Close to where the car was parked, we walked into a small tent, which in passing I had thought was maybe a processing area for the freshly caught food. In entering, I first saw some baskets of many different fish, still alive. Shellfish, octopus, some I couldn’t even identify. I then saw a raised floor with small tables, space heaters, and dishes, and knew this was about to get a lot more interesting.
Now, I’m not the squeamish type at all – in fact I’m quite the opposite. I love trying new things, new experiences, and I’m really open to at least trying anything. I was first gestured over to the baskets, where they asked what I wanted to eat. I actually got a little bit squeamish, and rather than picking anything out, I asked for Meghann’s birth mother to choose (she had the expertise in this area, after all) and Meghann, Lydia and I went to sit down at a table.
The next thing I know, they bring out a plate of chopped seafood, divided into four different types. The first thing I noticed? Two of the four types were still alive, moving around on the plate. On the far left were still-moving tentacles of some kind (“common octopus” was the translation), the two in the middle were some sort of shellfish, and on the right-hand side was some other sort of shellfish. I tried to go first by pulling one of the tentacles off the plate, but it immediately grabbed the plate with its suction and I had a hard time getting it off with chopsticks, so Lydia grabbed one to show me how to do it. She put the tentacle in a salty sauce of some kind, and then chewed it as soon as it went in her mouth. On my turn, I accidentally dropped the tentacle into my lap, but quickly retrieved it. I put it into my mouth, and quickly chewed away. The taste was actually much better than I expected – it was cold obviously, and had a texture that I couldn’t compare with anything I’ve had before. It was actually somewhat tasty though, and if I lived somewhere were it was common food I would definitely eat it more often. Meghann’s birth mother poured me soju after I ate my first bite, which I grabbed and drank enthusiastically. I tried the three other types of raw seafood on the plate, and ended up enjoying each one. Upon eating subsequent tentacles, I could feel a few of them suction to my tongue/teeth/cheeks very firmly and I would have to chew and move them with my tongue to dislodge them. Definitely not like anything I’d ever had before, and a very exciting experience. Meghann did not try any of the seafood, but Lydia held one up for a picture with her, and dropped it near her as she squealed and scrambled away.
After the seafood experience, we got in the car to rest as we drove to Seoksoon’s apartment. A number of her family members were there as well. As this was the last night that Meghann and I would be there, the mood was definitely more somber than the other two. We talked and joked around, but without quite the same enthusiasm as before. Seoksoon had a very nice full body massage chair, which we took turns trying. We then decided on where to go for dinner the last night, and with Meghann in mind they decided on the very Korean “Outback Steakhouse”.
We arrived at dinner, and to much of the table’s pleasant surprise they actually had soju. We ordered pasta and steaks, as well as some fruit drinks and soju. The food was all very good, pretty much the same as you’d expect to get it in the US. One of the funny cultural differences it that in the US people say “you’re welcome” a lot more commonly than they do in Korea. As it’s one of the few words that Meghann and I knew, we used it quite a lot. For some reason they thought this was hilarious, especially the first time I said it. So at dinner whenever someone would say “gamsahmneedah” (thank you), they would enthusiastically respond “Chimaneo!” (you’re welcome) and all laugh.
Leaving from dinner, we had to say goodbye to Yeongmo, Meghann’s brother. He was very nice and it was sad to say goodbye. He gave us hugs, and we climbed in the car with Seoksoon and her husband, who gave us a ride back to the hotel. They asked if we had any last questions during the drive home, but we both struggled to get a good translation for any questions that we had. At one point Seoksoon gave us a goofy look and held up a translation on her phone, which stated “English translations are weird”. It pretty well summed up the way we were feeling as well. Once we arrived at the hotel, they gave us hugs and we headed up to the room. Being very tired neither of us lasted long and we fell into a deep sleep.
Only two days left – we said our goodbyes this morning. I’ll wrap up the rest of the story in a final posting this weekend!