This past October, I had the chance to travel to Korea with my family. We arrived on a Wednesday night. The timeline starts on Friday, which is when the actual adventuring began.
DAY 1: Loss. Longing. Distance. Togetherness.
I’d never bowed down at a memorial before. It was kind of surreal because in that moment, my grandfather’s grave had become the meeting point of different ages, eras, and generations within our family.
My nephews ran around the tombstones as if the cemetery was their stomping ground. My family and I set down the blanket and helped prepare the ceremony. Grandma laid out all the food, poured a glass of Soju, lit a cigarette and set it down on the tombstone for the wind to smoke.
Han is what she is speaking without words.
DAY 2: “So this is family.”
We took the weekend to drive through almost the entire country.
No more car rides and historical exhibitions.
My nephews are full of sporadic energy.
My newlywed cousin and his wife, Fuka, are so in love.
I felt bad because I didn’t want to take away from the little time I knew I had with these people. Most of the friends I’ve spoken to seem to meet their extended families often. But as for me, I see my relatives once every few years. Can you imagine what it feels like to land in a hazy familiar place and be surrounded by hazy familiar people who seem to just love you for just showing up in your current shape and form?
“I’m your biggest fan. I’ve watched all your YouTube videos.”
“Give me your autograph now! So I can sell it for tons of money later.”
“She’s gonna be famous!”
“Do we have a star in the house?”
Fam just believed in me — without criticism and without question.
I knew nothing of what their day-to-day looked like. I knew nothing about their last heartbreak, or let alone their last meal. But none of it mattered. We didn’t have to ask. We just celebrated and in those moments, the love buzzed and the laughs ran deep, as much as the kalbi and soju would allow.
I don’t really know my roots, but they get a little deeper as I get a little older.
DAY 3: Hello, goodbye.
Homegirl kept tripping on her hanbok.
This wedding felt like a commercial event. A fashion show, a glamorized business exchange, something far from intimate with all the photographers blocking the view of what was actually happening down the bridal walkway. Apparently a lot of weddings here are really meant for families to show off who they brought and what they’re about. But it still ended up being very emotional. People who had been missing from our lives for years came through. And, I guess, the most ironic thing? My grandfather’s memorial ceremony was our reunion and this wedding was where we had to part ways. BUSAN was next.
The buffet style food was bangin’ though.
DAY 4: Haeundae + being brave.
One night, one day. Busan has some of the best, most tender bulgogi I’ve ever had in my life. This is a port city, so I suggest anyone who comes to get on that seafood flow.
Around 9:30 p.m. we got back to the hotel and I had to get back on my grind. I was on a time crunch to finish choreographing for my class in SEOUL the day after. I started working on this particular piece, “Brave,” literally a few days earlier at the gate inside JFK.
The hotel gym closed half an hour later, so I walked around the building to look for a place with mirrors. I ended up in the lobby. People and employees stopped to watch and were pretty weirded out. But unlike NYC, you don’t openly exhibit whatever you want in Korea without getting a lot of judgmental looks. If you’re focused enough, might as well just look crazy.
I got to spend the sunrise and a hotel breakfast with my parents. Eggs were fire. I couldn’t sightsee with them because I still wasn’t done with the piece. Glad to say though, I arrived safely in Seoul later that night and had an awesome time teaching and sharing good vibes.
I decided I’d bring my parents back one day off the money I make from dance. We’re gonna get our time back. We’re gonna get more french toast and eggs.
DAY 5: Good fruit.
I got all ready to head to Seoul Tanz Station for a ballet class but had a meltdown in the car because journeying through Korea so far had been an emotional trip. Before I got here, I knew in my bones that I wasn’t here on a vacation. I remember leaving my house in the States and feeling this bizarre way that I was moving. Not out of my house, not out of the country, but just out of this season. Everything within me was getting ready to move on. This trip was the beginning of a new season.
That said, I didn’t make it to ballet that day. But I got to ride along the Han River, trekked up to Namsan Tower, and let myself ride this wave. I think I cried in the car that day because I arrived at where I had been without knowing. Korea was a gasp of fresh air and I didn’t know that it was time to come up and breathe.
I’m not a fish.
CONTINUED IN PT. 2