Routes = Roots

by Grace Ko in , ,


For one of my favorite classes in graduate school, I was asked to complete a genogram - a pictorial diagram of one's family relationships. To put it simply, it's a souped-up version of a family tree, depicting patterns in education, immigration, medical/psychiatric history, emotional relationships. It was one of the most challenging assignments but it forced me to dig deep to learn about my family's past and about myself. 

On a cold day last month, my mom, Y and I were gathered around our dining table. We began conversing about my family, my relatives and this sparked Y's impromptu drawing of a genogram while my mom shared with me and my husband things about my family. Listening to stories about my family, I knew in that moment this moment would be one I would cherish. It simultaneously lifted my spirits while making parts of my heart ache in unexpected ways. 

People say, you don't know where you're going until you know where you've been. One of the perks of living here in Korea is being able to connect and reconnect with my "roots", getting to spend time with relatives and family members I haven't seen in a number of years. Shortly after our afternoon of genogramming, Y and I did just that; we traveled the "routes" of Korea, connecting with our "roots". 

(It was an epic trip so get ready for an epic post of pictures.)

 Ready to go! 

Ready to go! 

We started the epic journey across the peninsula of Korea traveling a little over an hour to Gongju to visit Y's grandfather. Though it was a short visit, it was all the more meaningful to start our trip off like this because it was the first time I met him. He was just as jolly as Y had told me and it filled my heart with love when Y's grandfather was so happy to meet me, his granddaughter-in-law. We then drove down to Daejeon with Y's grandfather and Y's aunts and uncle. We had lunch there.

A precious moment: the restaurant was on the second floor and there was unfortunately no elevator. Climbing two flights of stairs was a lot for grandpa so Y carried him on his back and brought him up to the restaurant. 

After lunch, we visited the Daejeon National Cemetery. It was a solemn visit, a chance to pay tribute to those who sacrifice for this country. 

 With grandpa at the National Cemetery

With grandpa at the National Cemetery

From Daejeon, we drove to Okcheon. In Okcheon, Y's uncle showed us around and brought us to famous poet, Jeong Ji Yong's (정지용) Literature Gallery and to the former home of President Park's mother, Yuk Young Soo (육영수).

 정지용's famous poem, 향수

정지용's famous poem, 향수

 육영수's residence

육영수's residence

We went from Okcheon to Yeongdong. On our way there, we stopped by a restaurant to have dinner. In front of the restaurant, there were these majestic ice forms. We indulged in one of the best bibimbaps I've ever tasted. 

photo 2 (60).jpg

Our day in Yeongdong was jam-packed. We visited Wine Korea; apparently, Yeongdong is known for their grapes, hence their wine as well. 

photo (42).jpg

We then drove to a small village called No Geun Ri / No Gun Ri (노근리), a location that holds the tragic history of the No Geun Ri Massacre. During the Korean War, U.S. military killed innocent Korean civilians who had been told by U.S. troops to flee their nearby villages. After one man's 50-year relentless quest and pursuit of the truth of the No Geun Ri Massacre to be revealed, it was uncovered, investigated and acknowledged by those outside of Korea. The No Geun Ri Peace Park now stands near the location of the massacre and it serves to remind us all of the importance of human rights. 

History isn't what we learn in history class; inside history is story, stories, stories of individuals, stories of families.  

No Geun Ri made me think about Korea's roots, where Korea was, where it has been - the pain, suffering, loss. 

 No Geun Ri Memorial

No Geun Ri Memorial

Our last stop in Yeongdong was 월류봉, a beautiful scenic point, where the mountains meet water. After the heaviness of No Geun Ri, this location breathed life and hope into me and charged me with refreshment in my soul. During this trip, we visited so many places but I will never forget the feeling I had when I stepped out of the car, grabbed the rail and took in the sight of the magnificent mountains, the sound of the rippling waters, the smell of the crisp winter air. 

From Yeongdong, we drove down to Gwangju to my parents' place. On our way there, we made a mandatory pit stop and recharged with fuel for the car and fuel for us. 

 Korean rest stops know the way to our hearts: corn dog and ddukbokki 

Korean rest stops know the way to our hearts: corn dog and ddukbokki 

After a delicious home-cooked meal made with love by my mom and a good night's rest, from Gwangju, Y, my parents, my cousin and I made our way to Tongyeong to visit my dad's side of the family. Before Tongyeong, we stopped by Suncheon. We hiked up a mountain and basked in the glory of nature, the birds in the air, the green of the trees. Suncheon made me excited to discover more beauty in Korea and anticipate the warmer months. It inspired Y to write a poem, in Korean at that: 

겨울 순천만 갯벌 

샷샷 갈대 흔들리는 속삼임... 귀를 간지러 피네 

웅웅 바람에 흔들리는 참나무의 우는 소리... 파도 같아 

끼억 끼억 흑두루미 저산 넘어 메아리 퍼진다 

솔방울 솔잎 향기를 느끼며 숨 갑분이 차며 올라가는 산길.. 다리건너 2.3km 

용산 전망대에서 본 경치 남해가 꼬불어진 강을 반긴다... 흐린 구름과 바다가 수평선에서 만나 흐려지고 

이 아름다운 낙원 오래 오래 보존 대길 기도하는 마음

 Jumping for joy because we made it to the top! 

Jumping for joy because we made it to the top! 

After our hike, we treated ourselves to some fabulous food. It may be one of the best meals I've had, probably tasting even better after the strenuous walk. 

 It's apparently in to wear plaid and throw up peace signs.

It's apparently in to wear plaid and throw up peace signs.

With full bellies and tired legs, we packed into my dad's car and were on our way to Tongyeong. It was my second time there but first with the husband and his enthusiasm to go there and meet my relatives added another layer of excitement for me. We had an unforgettable dinner of oysters: steamed oysters, raw oysters, fried oysters, oyster salad, oyster rice... you get the gist. (Reminds me of Forrest Gump: "Shrimp salad, poached shrimp, fried shrimp, shrimp cocktail...) We had the mandatory 충무김밥. And our time was filled with chats. There's something I love about being in Tongyeong and watching my dad interact with his aunts and uncles. I love listening to their stories and trying to decipher what they're saying through their thick dialects. It makes me think about how my dad was once a child and his childhood memories, hopes, dreams and wishes. 

photo 3 (50).jpg

The next day, we explored Tongyeong. We visited an arts and trade museum and a museum honoring author Park Kyung-ni, we rode a cable car up a mountain and we walked the painted hills of Dong Pi-Rang. 

 Don't be fooled by my smile; it belies my fear of heights. 

Don't be fooled by my smile; it belies my fear of heights. 

 Best angel picture of them all

Best angel picture of them all

We then ended back in Seoul with my parents and celebrated Lunar New Year with relatives. 

 My inspirations: my grandma and my mom

My inspirations: my grandma and my mom

The epic trip took a toll on our bodies and Y and I ended up getting terribly sick. (We then unfortunately and unintentionally passed it on to my parents.) But the trip will go down as a good one still.