Daily Life Korea

A birthday and farewells

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I love having a late summer birthday–when the days are still long but the air begins to smell like early autumn. When I was young, my birthday usually marked the start of a new school year. Last year, I spent it moving into my new place in New York City. This year, I ate so much delicious food and cake in Korea, surrounded by loved ones. My time in Korea was already coming to a close.

In time for my departure, my uncle suggested taking a road trip to Yeoju–a city famous for ceramics and for housing the tomb of nation’s beloved King Sejong. It’s also my grandparents’ hometown, my father’s childhood home, and the site of so many old family stories.

It was my first time there.

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Our trip to Yeoju began with an epic meal. My uncle raved about this fish hot pot restaurant, where the hot pot comes with all these delicious small complimentary side dishes.

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Red peppers drying out in the sun? It’s kimchi season!

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The pagoda near my father’s childhood home, now housed inside a public park.

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“다시 밟을 내 고향아 / 남한강아 잘 있느냐” “Motherland I will set my foot upon once again. How are you, Han River?”

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My uncle looking out at the Han River, remembering the days before the bridge, and crossing over the rough waters on a small boat. My father told me one of his most vivid childhood memories is of nearly drowning in the Han River and being saved by a soldier.

I remember my grandmother telling me that she walked all the way from Seoul to Yeoju when the Korean War broke out. She tried to drink from the Han River, but it was red. It took her a week to reach Yeoju, and she arrived all alone.

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A young couple talking under a shaded area by the tree, where my father’s childhood home used to be. My uncle says they had to walk down the mountain and through several other villages for hours to get to school each day.

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And finally, I wanted to share an exciting news! Ongdalsam hosted a photography exhibit, featuring a collection of photographs I took during my time there. My new and old friends, Jacqui, Sonja, Ji Sun, and Sooji traveled to Chungju over a very special weekend at Ongdalsam. It was wonderful to be able to share life in the mountains with them, and Sooji wrote a lovely post about her experience.

12 Comments

  • Reply
    meds
    September 29, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    what a lovely experience over these past months, Sewon! such memories can never be replaced. I’m glad your photographs got exhibited, you’ve got such a brilliant eye 🙂

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 30, 2013 at 11:55 am

      Thank you for the encouraging words, Meds! 🙂

  • Reply
    Veronica Fish
    September 30, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Nearly drowning! That’s certainly a memory you can’t forget.

    Your photos are stunning as always!

    It’s a great feeling to connect to old places, make them new again

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 30, 2013 at 11:56 am

      Apparently, quite a lot of people used to drown in this part of the river because the water level used to be much higher than it is now. I’m so intrigued by the intersection of geographical history and personal memory!

  • Reply
    Gabriela
    September 30, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Wow that is quite a story coming from your grandmother, father and uncle! It must be so exciting to visit such a memorable place, experiencing the nostalgia although it wasn’t you who really experience it.

    Beautiful photographs as always!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 30, 2013 at 11:57 am

      I had no idea it would be such a memorable road trip! Thank you, Gabriela. 🙂

  • Reply
    Nathaniel
    September 30, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    These are beautiful! What an incredible story to go with them as well!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      October 2, 2013 at 12:40 am

      Thank you, Nathaniel!

  • Reply
    north creatures
    September 30, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    i’ve loved reading those memories, it must have been a very special trip for you!
    also, congrats on the exhibit! your photos are so inspiring.

    i’ve also read sooji’s post, and ongdalsam sounds like something i wouldn’t miss. i admire their philosophy, the way everyone collaborates and there’s no hierarchy, the organic meals, the meditation exercises, the respect among everyone and of course its beautiful and quiet location.
    what is required to spend some time there? i’ve visited the website, but i know very little korean.

    have a beautiful week, sewon

    xx

  • Reply
    Sara
    October 5, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    this family stories warm my heart <3

  • Reply
    jannese
    October 8, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    These are beautiful, Sewon. I love the stories of your family, I lot of amazing and some sad memories. Thanks for sharing. Its finally fall here, its taken its sweet time to decide to come in. 🙂

  • Reply
    Ceri
    October 22, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    I could spend hours looking at your photos. They tell so many stories. And a belated Happy Birthday. 🙂

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