Right before I left Korea Slashy 오빠 told me about 인연. He told me that it was fate that we met 10 years ago; that we became friends. Then when I went back to the United States and back to my life he figured he’d never see me again. But then I came back to Korea. . . the circumstances were surprising–who would’ve thought I’d come back and who would’ve thought we’d get in touch? But I did. And we were able to be friends, to really connect with one another. That’s what is 인연; fate.
I hear it mentioned in Korean movies all the time. Fate. Destiny. 운명.
Even though I try not to think about it too often (and I don’t), I still miss Korea so much it makes me feel physical pain. No matter how hard I try to avoid it, to not think about it, it always comes up in one way or another.
And the thing is, I’ve adjusted back to being here. (It took 4 months.) Totally. Fully. It hit me a few weeks ago when I was snowboarding in Maine just how different my life is here. Lately Korea seems like a distant memory, so different from my life here I almost could swear it never happened unless I didn’t have facebook and these friends reminding me it did.
People will ask me what I miss about it. I know when they ask they’re trying to understand. Or they’re thinking I can take the feelings/ emotions or elements of what I experienced there and try and recreate it here.
What I miss about it is not the food. Not the clothes or shopping. Not the subway; not the things that tourists miss about Korea.
What I miss is my friends. I miss them so much it hurts. And what I miss is Korea.
서울 생활. Pace of life. Just Korea, really. Even if all my friends moved here it wouldn’t be the same; it wouldn’t be Korea. It’s like when someone asks you what you miss about a person and you think you just really miss the person; all of that person not just one part or one thing they do but rather the whole person.
I tried to figure out why; why I feel such deep connections with people there that I just don’t feel here.
When people become friends in moments of crisis the friendships tend to be much stronger and deeper than friendships not made in moments of crisis, which is probably why friendships with co-workers often peter off; all you really ever had was work. In Korea I was almost always in crisis. And the friends I made and the friends I had there often were as well. So it makes sense that our friendships grew to such depth.
Often, in Korea, you meet someone (adoptees that is) the day they met their birth family. Or the day before. Or the day after. Emotions are racing. Anticipation is high. Nerves are at wits end. Birth family reunion is intense; there’s no way to prepare for it. People are away from their support networks, out of sorts, essentially in crisis mode not at all acting the way they normally would. So you bond. You are there for each other in ways you wouldn’t be if you were in your comfort zone.
And with the other friends I met there, many of them participated in my birth family search or I met 10 years ago right after September 11th when I was there from NYC. Again, a very intense time with very intense issues involved. The connections we made were naturally quite deep, depths that don’t happen from a networking organization, work situation, or just mutual friends.
A foreigner friend of mine in Korea wrote recently on her blog that living in Korea is easy. And for foreigners it is, or it can be. When White people open their mouths in Korea and speak a word of Korean Korean people get excited, thrilled that they know a word of their language. (They even have tv shows about this.) But when us adoptees try and speak a few words or phrases Korean people balk because to them we are supposed to know the language fluently. We put huge pressure on ourselves to learn Korean, pressures that make it harder than learning any other foreign language. (Like in order to communicate with birth family.) And birth family search comes in one form or another whether you plan for it or not. Life is not easy in Korea for adoptees.
A friend mentioned the “sad desperation” she feels there. I think of it as “loud loneliness.” Life moves so fast (much faster than any American city, but probably like other Asian cities) you get caught up in always feeling a need to do something. To be somewhere. With someone. It could be a city thing because the closest I’ve ever felt it outside of Korea was when I lived in NYC. But still, not quite for same. For adoptees, living in Seoul (or Korea) is just intense. Visiting is totally different. Which could be another reason why I feel so close to these adoptee friends I met in Seoul; we chose to come back. To live there. And that choice creates a bond that separates you from others. Almost like enlightenment. But that might be another post for another time. . .
A few weeks ago I had dinner with 주희, a Korean friend of mine. We started talking about 인연 and she explained to me that Korean people believe that when you become friends with someone you are connected with them on a psychological level. They believe that you will meet again.
This concept of friendship is different from the way I’ve been brought up to think about it; different from the American concept of friendship. I told one of Jamie’s friends about this and he said Chinese has the same concept and the name is also similar. A lot of times this happens; some of these traditions and customs that seems Korean are more than that; they’re just Asian.
But back to 인연.
This concept gives me comfort in thinking that one day I will again see my friends in Seoul. When I left they asked me when I was coming back. I said another 8 years. (I’ve been to Korea 4x and the gap between the 2nd and 3rd visit was 8 years.) I miss these friends in Seoul in such a deep way that thinking I will see them again is a comfort. For now.