With my husband away on a trip to Japan, and my best Korean friends busy with midterms, entry exams and dating (they each know who they are), I had the whole weekend to myself and decided to make the most of it. It was time for me to spend some quality time with myself, in my favorite city on earth – Seoul! If you follow me on Instagram, you already know that I did indeed have an awesome weekend 🙂
On Saturday I headed to the Kyobo bookstore at Gwanghwamun to treat myself to some books. I recently started devouring contemporary Korean novels, so I needed to make sure I did not run out of books anytime soon. Then I grabbed a coffee and strolled down the narrow streets of Jongno, enjoying the stunning Korean fall weather. At lunchtime, I treated myself to a hot stone bibimbap and then headed to Insadong and Bukchon, where I was just soaking up the atmosphere and the sun while enjoying a few scoops of green tea ice cream. While I was sitting in a charming French style cafe in Bukchon, I had a great phone date with my bestie from home – the last thing I needed to just feel on top of the world. I then went home and spent my evening rewatching one of my all-time favorite Korean TV series.
On Sunday, I headed out even earlier to go to Hyehwa in the north-eastern part of Seoul. Hyehwa is mostly famous for its Daehangno area, which is the artistic center of Seoul, home to countless theaters, galleries, and craft shops. I started my day in the famous cafe Hangnim Dabang from 1956, which has also played a central role in several Korean TV series like “My love from the star”. I didn’t sit in the chair where Kim Soo Hyun was sitting in the show (it was reserved), but I did sit next to it, while I was sipping my coffee and reading my book. Then I headed uphill to the Naksan mountain park, which provides one of the most beautiful views of Seoul. I spent some time hiking along the old fortress wall before giving in to my growing hunger. I went back down and found a place that served siraegiguk, which is a vegetable soup made with radish leaves. It’s easily one of my favorite Korean dishes, and I eat it at least once a week.
After having had lunch I walked by a poster for the Korean musical “Airport Baby“. I read a review of this musical last year but never had a chance to watch it. The poster announced that the show had just re-premiered this week, so I hurried to the box office to find out if they had any available seats for the afternoon show. They did – at a 40% discount! YES! I bought my ticket and then went to the coffee shop next door to wait for the show to start.
My seat was in the first row, and it was a truly amazing experience. The show is about a young man, adopted from Korea to the US landing at Incheon airport, determined to find the mother who abandoned him 22 years ago. I won’t spoil the plot, but I cried for almost two hours along with the rest of the audience (bye bye, makeup). The main character was played by Choi Jae Rim, whose voice (and stunning looks) captivated the entire audience. It was a beautifully portrayed story about international adoption, which remains a controversial issue in Korea. It obviously resonated with me on a very personal level, since my husband is a Korean adoptee, but I’m sure that anyone would find it extremely moving.
I’ve included two of the main tracks from the musical here. The videos are from a performance from Korean TV – not the real musical. The two songs are called “Airport baby” and “No heaven for me” and are both performed by Choi Jae Rim. In the opening song, he sings about how he used to believe that all babies came from airports and that it wasn’t until he started school that he realized he wasn’t white like his family. He sings about his classmates teasing him for looking Asian and telling him that “his mother threw him away like a piece of trash”. He then asks some questions to his adoptive parents, but they don’t understand why he’s curious about where he comes from. They love him, so why does anything else matter? He then heads off to Korea to find his roots and his mother. As he sings: “I’m finally here, Korea, the country where I was born, my mother’s country… The country that sent me away.”
In “No heaven for me” he has found and finally met his birth mother, who has decided that she does not want to have anything to with him. She has painful reasons for this, but he does not know that and only feels rejected for the second time. He sings about the pain of finding what used to be his home, and how he has realized that he doesn’t belong there. There is nowhere for him to find peace.
As you can see it was a real tear-jerker, but luckily there were a few moments of comic relief provided by the drag queens at the gay bar in Itaewon, whom he accidentally befriends in his search for American food in Seoul. I also laughed at his spot-on portrayal of a Westerner struggling with Korean pronunciation while rolling his eyes at Koreans’ inability to distinguish between the letters “F” and “P”.
The weather has been amazing all weekend, and now it’s Sunday evening. I’m home again, in my PJs and about to binge-watch some Netflix. Oh, and I don’t have to teach tomorrow morning since it’s midterm week. I officially love my life!