The best time is now

The best time is now, summer! Summer in Chicago is very great. It’s basically a bundle of joy in a million ways from concerts to rooftops to beaches to festivals and on and on.

So many people out. Dogs everywhere too. I say hello and pet some. I say hello to some dog owners too. Sometimes people look at me with bewilderment when I do. Others seem relieved to meet a friendly stranger and respond warmly with an exhale. And this is very good.

This is what the world needs. The simple stuff. Or is it? Wouldn’t we be doing more of it if it was? Kindness, patience, honesty. Sensitivity. Little or big gestures that leave the world a little brighter. Letting people finish crossing the street instead of honking at them while they hurry across. Acknowledgement. Saying hello. The dogs do it!

Dogs are the best teachers. My Dolly Lama taught me so much. They live pretty simply. They rest, play, eat and make new friends unabashedly. They’re devoted to the present moment. It’s awesome how free they are. They greet pretty much everyone openly and they listen to unspoken energy guiding them. And they’re pretty direct in telling us (guilt-free) when they want some space.

Who’s in for circulating all this? Kindness, patience, honesty. It’s all around. Our eyes and hearts have to be open to it. Sometimes we are too busy complaining to notice. Or too distracted. Distracted by stories in the news that make us fearful of each other instead of unified. Distracted by stress and counting down the moments until the weekend. Distracted in our homes filled with the general desire of restoration from all the stuff that depletes us.

Can we stop this madness?

It’s no surprise that I bewilder some by the ways I live that are a little different, whether it be by saying hello to strangers or other ways. Many of you want to live this way too (and you can!).

Fortunately, I’ve gotten used to people looking at me with bewilderment. Growing up in a small town in Missouri. Going back to Korea as a young American in 2006 and 2009. Going back in 2018 after almost a decade of space. Other experiences in between. Life’s experiences are all teachers. The most uncomfortable and difficult experiences have been the greatest ones.

Here’s one. I’ve been told I was wrong for being me. I think we all have been told this in some way. Korean. Missourian. Woman. Too Asian, not Asian enough. Seen but unseen. Too much this, not enough that. Too bold, too quiet. Varying opinions, demands, judgements and expectations from the world. So much noise. I listened to it all! And I became ashamed of me.

Screw all of that.

Shame can be quiet and isolating. Why we allow the noise of the world to influence us is a baffling mystery and yet makes complete sense. At some point we’ve all let external sources and forces (and other people) define us through benchmarks like grades, titles, labels. So much noise.

We are who we choose to be.

There’s always gonna be someone who doesn’t like you and what you do. Sometimes this is warranted. Sometimes not. Oh well either way, really. There’s always gonna be someone who tells you can’t do something, even when you know you can. Ever have a boss/friend/family member/anyone tell you can’t do something? I have. Every boss I've ever had actually. And I used to believe them.

“If you are willing to look at another person’s behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time cease to react at all.” ―Yogi Bhajan

This is your life. Block out the noise of opinions and judgements so these don’t hold you back. Been there, done that, don’t recommend it. Be free. Free from the noise of other people defining you and your life.

Let people be bewildered! Let everyone be however they choose to be. Keep being you — even when it’s hard to do (it will be at times). Bewilder yourself.

You can live a life that defies the norm. You need not explain or justify to anyone. You need no approval or permission except your own.

This is why I’ve decided to leave the city I’ve called home for over five years during the very best time of the year. I’m heading to Asia in less than a month. I’m going to Thailand and Korea and I’m going to discover the paths and details along the way.

Exhale.

This is a bittersweet adventure. Going somewhere like India or China feels easier. My time spent in Korea is mostly difficult memories for me. Many I don't remember. As such, I want to call this whole adventure off about two ten times a day until I remember I have a lot of space to make new good memories in Korea. My 2018 visit was about declaring to this country that I am who I am and I accept and love all parts of me. I have some great memories from this trip (photos below). Oh how I used to wish for ‘the normal life’ — a life that didn’t involve this sort of life-disrupting self-discovery travel. Sometimes I still wish for this now, then I remember “normal” is overrated and is just a word. I embrace and celebrate unique. Life is more peaceful this way. It’s more fun too.

This news has been met with great support — and bewilderment. I have some amazing people cheering me on with simple yet powerful words, “I am here to support you, how can I best do that?” and “how are you doing and is there any place/restaurant on your Chicago bucket list I can take you?” A dear friend already talked about visiting me in Korea. We decided the best first step is getting a passport! And I feel nourished and uplifted. There’s also been, “so, what’s your plan?? Where are you going?? Are you getting paid for your work?? Tell me what you are doing exactly. What, you don’t know?! This is crazy! You got rid of all your stuff to go to Asia?? Why do you even need to go to Korea?” And I feel depleted and quiet.

My plan is simply this: I trust the flow of life. I trust where the world will guide me. I trust myself.

I literally began my life this way. I was up for an adventure as an infant, despite circumstances at my birth that were not entirely in my favor. I was very sick when I was born. And determined to live. I got on a plane before I was a year old, with a stranger, flew across the globe, not knowing what was exactly in store for me, open to what America would show me. Bewildering! I navigated, created my path and here I am. And I might have been scared but I trusted life would work out in my favor.

It has.

The best time is now to take another leap of faith across the globe.

I don’t know my way around Asia at all. I know two Korean words and two Thai words (thank you and food, not surprising to any!). I do not know where I will live/work/play. I don’t care. I love the unknown. Even when it is hard to do (now). I’m a little scared and life is currently pretty uncomfortable. So I breathe. I still trust life is working out in my favor.

These days, I am cherishing time with supportive friends and clients. I’ll continue to do coaching sessions via video/phone (we’ll have some time zone changes to make) and I am ready for the insight and perspective this adventure will give me to share. I’m cleaning out and procrastinating cleaning out. Researching and planning and not. Loving imperfection. Eating American foods (cheese in high quantities). Feeling grateful for this life I’ve had in Chicago and the people in it. Feeling all the tough stuff too. Then setting this stuff free. Being a human. Breathing, deeply. Meditating a lot. And leaving lots of space for magic.

I don’t know what the world will show me. There is freedom in this trust. There is peace in the surrender. I do know this is an enormous opportunity to grow and discover more about myself and the world. I will take the wisdom from any challenges and difficulties with me wherever I am.

The best time is now.

Focus on the flowers

This spring has been interesting in Chicago. Winter doesn’t seem quite ready to move on yet. It’s lingering a bit. We’ve had snow, sunny days, cold days and rainy days all this month.

There’s a silver lining to everything. The weather has given me some extra time to be quiet.

Do y’all give yourself some space to do this? To just be — b e — and let whatever comes up come up? Oh, I hope so. I give myself so much more of this now than I used to. It has become a priority to me. It is the peace bearer.

Time reserved for quiet is a valuable practice. I used to get stressed over the silliest things. The smallest things. I was more reactive and the stress would feel big. So big. Ever feel like you’re overwhelmed with everything!? I have. It wasn’t always super peaceful. Often times I felt trapped by it. If you’re going through this, I feel you. And hopefully it is comforting to know another way is possible.

I know it is easy to get wrapped up in the busy-ness of life and entirely skip over quieting down. We are conditioned to go, go go. More, more, more! Dangling carrots. Corporate ladders where sometimes we even get confused and believe a title defines our worth. Or that someone else does. To-do lists. Unread emails. Texting while driving. Texting while we are with people we love. Interrupting each other when talking. Stress in our workplaces, relationships, lives.

It’s no surprise so many are feeling the tension from this lifestyle. All of this can make relaxing terrifying. We might even say we’re too busy to relax.

Why do we rush our lives away though? I want to savor it. Why have we become a culture that doesn’t create time to relax more? To breathe? We’re not alive without it after all. To experience joy? And other emotions too — the ones many don’t want to talk about yet we all experience. Interesting, isn’t it? Are we missing the entire point of life as humans?

Reflecting on these questions propelled me to do some cleaning out this spring. I’ve been on a fast from Facebook for most of the month (hello addiction to technology awareness!) and I spent this extended winter cleaning out life, literally and figuratively. Along with many of you, I started off 2019 with Marie Kondo’s Netflix show asking myself, ‘does this spark joy?’ then I donated and sold 90 percent of everything I owned.

I let it go.

I have not a lot stuff now. I feel richer than ever.

Letting go was more challenging to do just two years ago. My beloved dog, Dolly Lama, was quite sick and it was difficult for me to let go of her. I was doing everything imaginable to prolong her life. She was my child, friend, sister, roommate and of course, my pet. Some didn’t understand this love and loss for me and told me, “it’s just a dog, get over it!” So I tried to “get over it.” Some were extra loving during this time. Loss impacts everyone differently and this impacted me intensely. The grief was sharp. Whew. My entire life changed without her. So I dug into it.

“The only way out is through.”

I befriended my grief. I sat with it. This was not an entirely fun experience! I discovered a lot about love and loss — throughout my life and with her. I felt grateful to experience a love so strong that it made the loss feel so huge. When profound loss is experienced early in our lives, especially of a parent, whether biological or not, that grief can sneak in later -- no matter how much time has passed -- with subsequent losses and gains throughout our lives. Maybe loss is extra sensitive for me. Everyone in the world can experience residual grief like this. Perhaps you have. I hope it’s been honored. By yourself, most importantly.

During this time, I was skipping around life, ignoring my intuition, living out The American Dream. I was working the 9-5, enjoying many aspects of it especially when connecting people and positivity was involved. I was also improving my workaholism and perfectionism every day, crushed by the fear and discontent I saw and heard from so many (including myself) no matter where I was working. I saw patterns. This is not a judgement. This is a real and honest observation of an epidemic and peculiar cultural norm I saw time and time again. This is why I was drawn to working in roles that spread some positivity in the workplace. I wanted to do my part in making where we spend eight to ten hours a day a pleasant place. I don’t believe we are here to be miserable all day so we can pay our bills and call it a life. I don’t expect perfection either (perfectionism is in retirement now), however I am here on Earth for a fulfilled life with meaningful impact, meaningful relationships and meaningful work. I believe you are too.

Letting go of little miss Dolly changed the entire game for me. I looked at my life and intuitively felt (yet again) I wasn’t living my life aligned with my purpose. The life I was living had much positive yet overall had this underlying discontent that often made me feel frazzled and frustrated. I realized if I didn’t make some big changes, I’d find myself at the end of my own life full of regret. I lost Dolly and it was a difficult time but I’ve gained so much. Where there is loss, there is gain too. And I miss her.

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So on the sunnier days we’ve had this spring (there’s been at least five!), I’ve savored them. Walking, kayaking, sitting quietly listening to nature and myself. Nature is such a good example of loss and gain. Seeds were planted in the dirt and now the flowers bloom. They burst with color. They do not stop growing even if the broken tree branch next to it doesn’t like its brightness. They continue to be bright and grow through the rain. I feel the same way.

May we focus on the flowers instead of the rain.


Finding joy in all weather, even bitter cold....

The spark of light in the dark

The spark of light in the dark

Starting off the new year in the Midwest means cold winter weather. Today is an exceptionally cold day.  Although I’ve grown up with winters in the Midwest my entire life, I’ve often complained about the cold temperatures.

I would complain about winter but continued to live in it, as if my complaints would actually change the weather or something. Despite all those complaints, the weather remained! How dare it? Didn’t it hear my agony? My plea for warmer weather! Well, here’s the thing. The only thing I can change about the weather — and Mother Nature and life — is myself. And my responses to the weather. So I started making a conscious effort to stop complaining about the weather, instead focusing on finding positive in it. Even in its very darkest, coldest moments.

It’s become easy to do but that has taken practice and I’ve had some wild and intense experiences for that practice. And I have moments when it’s more challenging than others. Let’s all be imperfect, let’s all be patient with ourselves. It takes a long time to commit to joy in a world conditioned by fear and negativity. But at the end of the day, complaining doesn’t do anything to remove the cold weather but it does remove us from joy. Complaining keeps us living in the complaint.

If I don’t like winter, I could move somewhere warmer. I could do that. It’s in my power. It is my choice. Often times we’d rather just stay where we are, because complaining and staying where we are is more comfortable than the change required to get to the new place. Even though we complain about it. Even though we say we want it to be a different way, we often don’t actually do anything to make it a different way. We confuse ourselves, don’t we? We spin around in our thoughts.

I didn’t want to stay stuck in complaint because it wasn’t yielding positive results so I traded in complaints for joy. The joy of winter gives me opportunity to be introspective and cozy, with time for writing, watching movies and getting lost in good books. Does finding this joy in winter mean it isn’t cold and bitter? No. It does not take the cold and bitter away. It means I’ve found something positive right in the very cold and bitter.

This approach is what I apply to every aspect of my life.

It is an approach that has been working very well after trying all of the other approaches. Approaches I hung out with often as a child, teen and adult such as avoidance, denial, anger and my longtime friend self-loathing. So, I’m sticking with it.

And I promise self-love is a better friend than self-loathing.

The other thing about joy. It doesn’t mean we deny the opposite side of the coin. I’ve had some bitterly cold experiences. Just like everyone on this planet. We all have. I honor that everyone’s experiences are different and unique. They are. But they’re also the same. Kinda the same, kinda different. Love, loss, gain, grief, contentment, shock, pleasure, sadness, joy, disappointment. These are universal terms. All over the world.

Some of mine have been globally unique and left complex scars. Scars from attempts of intertwining two countries and two families with no navigational map in a world that primarily celebrates having one. A world that didn’t leave a lot of space to safely be seen and heard about the complexities of two. A world that makes assumptions. Scars that often times bled internally, hidden from the entire world.

I’d like to see all of that change. I’m invested in my part in this change. I believe in creating safe spaces for all people to be seen and heard with compassion on their journeys. This starts with awareness. Awareness begins with discussing things even if it is uncomfortable to do. We will all understand each other better when we’re willing to listen and become more aware. And I believe we’ll subsequently become kinder to one another.

I spent many years trapped by the anguish of these scars. And somewhere on this road of life, I realized the entrapment of my scars didn’t change the truth. Not a bit. Kinda like how complaining about weather doesn’t actually change the weather. It’s still -50 degrees and that’s the cold bitter truth. We can make the best of it and find something joyful in it or we can be trapped by it.

Some time ago, I’m not sure when exactly, probably because it’s been such an ongoing journey, I decided to get really up close and personal with the truth and my scars. I decided to nurse them with restoration and gentleness. Even when voices in the world told me to not talk about these experiences. Many times I listened to those external voices who told me to not talk about my experiences or be honest — especially traumatic experiences — and to basically deny myself of myself. I suppose we have all subscribed to the whole notion of “well, if we just don’t talk about it…if we just deny it, then maybe it doesn’t really exist.” I certainly have. I listened to those voices who told me wild judgmental things about being an Asian woman in America — words that are utterly absurd to me now that I believed at the time. Then I stopped. I started honoring everything about me. And ignoring everything else. Intuition became louder. What was self-loathing melted into self-love when touched by compassion. What was trauma softened as I realized it could be transformed and made me able to understand others’ trauma. It is what has given me freedom to embrace who I am. With an openness, boldness and spunky joy that I make no apologies for. I encourage us all to live grounded in self-love and be as freaking happy as we choose to be. Dedication to being upset, annoyed, unhappy and so on is a real phenomenon in our culture and I’m striving to live differently than this. I’m an advocate for joy. “I’m sorry that you think I am too happy (how is this even a thing?)/honest/loving for you, I’ll immediately stop loving myself so that you are more comfortable” are words I do not live by. I spent far too long feeling wrong for being me and people pleasing, drenched in self-loathing. People pleasing is the fast track to failure…too much conforming, too little authenticity, too many people who all want different things. Now I am self-love’s loudest ambassador. And this is a freedom anyone can have.

Interestingly, this all reminds of me when you go outside and it’s -50 degrees out and at first you think, “Oh!!! This is so terrible. It is so cold and this hurts too much. So cold. So bitter. I can’t do this. Everything is terrible and I hate everything.” But. Then you stay out there in it and acclimate and by the time you go back inside you think, “That wasn’t so bad! Well, okay, it was really bad. It really is cold out there. But then it got better because I just kept walking through it. One step at a time. And now I’m back inside and I’ve gotten through it. The pain of it has passed. I have conquered it.”

Life has a way of giving us what we need to overcome anything if we have the courage to step in and keep walking through the cold and bitter. Brave the winds. The strength to endure is already in you. It is there if you allow it to come out. Let your strength shine. You might surprise yourself.

Everything, like the weather, changes. Our joy changes. Our pain changes too. And there is always joy to be found in the darkest, coldest places.

This I know for certain.

Getting to this Present Moment of 2019

Happy new year. We’re halfway through the first month of the new year. It is winter in Chicago and that brings forth the inward energy for me. The energy that is reflective and quiet.

As I focus on 2019 and what it is, I simultaneously reflect on everything that has led to this. And what 2018 was. 2018 was a year. A year I am still exhaling from.

It started off by me jumping on a plane to Asia on December 31st at midnight after spending time in my hometown, St. Louis. The adventure took me to Taipei, Seoul, Suwon, Chiang Mai and Shanghai. And a couple of undefined places in Korea and Thailand where I was literally asking myself, “Where am I?!” These were moments free of internet service to tell me where I was. A year ago I hopped on a van in Chiang Mai very early in the morning, fell asleep, and woke up on a windy dirt road leading to a farm somewhere in Thailand with no electricity. I then stopped asking myself where I was and thought, “ahhh, it doesn’t matter where I am. Here is where I am. I am here.”

This adventurous start of 2018 was very intentional. I had been wanting to go back to Korea for years.

Despite this desire, over the years I found lots of ways to keep myself from it too, most notably my workaholic tendencies (also known as my old friend avoidance), employers who wouldn’t let me take enough time off for this trip (sometimes the worst bosses are really the best lessons) and my sweet little dog, Dolly Lama. And the comfortability of my every day life that included all of the routines I had subscribed to, whether willingly or unwillingly (usually a mix of both). Routine weeks. Routine weekends. The life of waking up, going to work, being frazzled during the day, being tired at night. Checking work emails all night. Checking work emails all the time. Repeating through Friday. Going to yoga. And brunch. Questioning if I was doing this whole life thing right. Daydreaming about travel to Asia and beyond. Daydreaming about all the things I wanted to do in life. Realizing I don’t do them. My American life. Doing normal American things. With not a lot of space for Asia, on the other side of the planet, to be in my life.

Space was needed to be made.

The two primary things that kept me planted in the US were work and my senior aged dog. That all changed in 2017. This was both a challenge and a relief. I spent much of 2017 caring for my little Dolly as her health declined. I was engulfed in grief. So engulfed. Grief and I have become good, close, committed friends. The process of losing a pet that was by my side for over ten years had a profound way of making me look at my own life. This changed the entire game. As this was all unfolding in 2017, I instinctively knew it was clearing the path for me to soar back to Korea.

When you don’t take the path for you, it will take you.

My last visit was in 2009. It was my second visit with my birth family. Some of those memories are clear, others are blurry. And I trust what I don’t remember is for good heart-protective reasons. Since that visit in 2009, I had much time to let the reality of this experience sink in. And lots happened in life over these nine years. I moved from my small hometown to a larger, more diverse city (Washington, DC) then back to the Midwest to Chicago. I wanted to take myself back to my roots so I jumped at this opportunity to start off 2018 by returning. The opportunity to be able to take time to go back brought me a deep relief.

Presently I am flooded with memories of last January as I skipped around Asia, with most of my time there spent in Suwon, Seoul and Chiang Mai. It was a whirlwind. I got sick five times in four cities in three weeks. Well, of course I did! I accepted it. I knew I had to go all out. And I knew anything inside of me that felt sick was ready to be free, and no longer inside my body and heart.

One year later, as my phone’s album reminded me of where I was a year ago (admiring the glow of the lights in Thailand), I am present to where I am. Present to what brought me to where I am right now and to what comes next. Photos represent some moments from one year ago that have been a foundation for what comes next.

I’m not in Asia to ring in the new year this year. I’ll be there again soon. I have a peace in knowing it doesn’t matter where I am because I am here. See you soon, Korea.

The Season of Gratitude

Thanksgiving season in America.

I love gratitude. This time of the year is a bit strange for me. The weather becomes dark and cold and the sun hides out. This is traditionally and culturally a time of celebration and family and food. We see movies and greeting cards and magazine spreads and shopping advertisements with this idealized notion of what holidays are ‘supposed’ to be and that seemingly creates a lot of pressure that is often incongruent from reality.

Pema Chodron has a beautiful quote, “enlightenment is a direct experience with reality.” I long to see a day where we all embrace reality, not just the positive parts of life, with more authenticity. I’ll start. I adore joy and cheer and any opportunity to embrace them (including jovial displays of affection and expression usually involving dancing and hugs), but what is equally important to me is embracing the other side of that spectrum too. It is the grief and sadness that speaks too during the holiday season that is conditioned to be primarily focused on merriment. Grief and sadness brings up the orphan in me and the part of me that has experienced loss and subsequently but often simultaneously has also experienced gain. We’ve all had experiences that have caused great loss and great gain. This brings up the warrior in me too, the part of me that has experienced great triumph. It all speaks to me very quietly. Perhaps you feel grief and sadness during this time of the year too.

I honor these. I let them breathe. Despite living in a culture where we are conditioned to hide, suppress and/or refuse any emotions related to sorrow, pain, anger and grief, I give them full honor and space. This is humanness. We all have these emotions and I strive to see a world where we can be with these in healthy ways. This is where transformation lives. Being present with these is not always comfortable. It is often times bitter, dreary and with piercing winds, just as the weather. But what is so powerful is that giving this space for these experiences and emotions lets them be free. This freedom lets the light guide us and prevents the dark from defining us. It is the light that leads us, not the shadow.

This capacity to honor the space for the grief and sadness is the same capacity and energy for joy, cheer, love and gratitude. One cannot flourish without the other. Our capacity to feel love, joy, anger, sorrow is what makes us human. It is all connected.

I am grateful for all the experiences that have made my life to be what it is right here and right now. As an American. With so much freedom. This time of year especially, as the year comes to an end, I reflect on family and what that means to me. I reflect on the life I’ve created and had, as a Korean born American with my family in the middle of the United States. And how this American life has been all I’ve ever known since I was a baby until 12 years ago when I met my birth family across the globe knowing very little about Korea. Back then, I didn’t quite know what to do with this very foreign information and these foreign relationships. I am still learning. So, I get cozy with embracing the not knowing and the learning. I reflect on having two families, one in America and one in Korea, and how different these relationships are from each other. And their similarities despite being a world apart from each other. Different but the same. Same but different. How my family in America feels like home. How my family in Korea feels very foreign. And how sometimes each one feels both foreign and familiar. How that can all be exhausting. How home is really a place within my heart. How the definition of family is both very simple and confusing to me. How all families are imperfectly imperfect humans. How this is all great beauty, not a beast.

Having gratitude does not mean there is no grief or shadows. It’s not using ‘just think positive!’ as an avoidance tactic. It’s being really honest with the human experience and reality. ‘Tis the season of light only because of the dark. The sun is always about to shine again regardless of what happened in the dark. The darkness has a purpose too and we can honor that while being grateful for it. The darkness is what makes me so grateful for the light. I am grateful for freedom more and more every year as an adult and every time I soar outside of this country. I imagine more people would feel the same if they realized how fortunate we are in America. I am so grateful to have every moment and every experience and the purpose they have served to lead me right here. Each moment has brought me to this one. Everything is connected.

Returning

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grace

Yongin, South Korea, January 2018

This is a space for sharing about transformation, love, gratitude, grief, change and adventure through my perspective as a Korean born, Missouri raised adoptee in reunion.

Writing about my adoption journey has been a long time coming. I don’t know why I didn’t write sooner about this unique topic.

Ohhh but I do.

Years of untangling, the trauma, the gratitude, the aftermath, the emotions, the non-emotions, the denial, the glaring and blatant, the avoidance of commitment, the commitment, the healing. The full circle.

In January 2018, I returned to South Korea to reunite with my birth family for the first time since 2009.

This was my third visit to South Korea since my birth. Adopted as an infant, my first visit back to my birthplace (and exposure to Korean culture) was when I met my birth mother, father, sister, and brother in 2006. After this first reunion, I left Korea in 2006 in a confusing state of gratitude/grief unsure if I’d return. I subsequently began pursuing a move to Korea.

I moved to Washington, DC instead but I returned to Korea in 2009. I left the country in another confusing state of gratitude/grief again unsure if I’d return. A couple of years later, while living in DC, I had a deep visceral longing to travel back to Korea. It remained a goal over the years until January when I returned.

I left Korea this year and felt my old friends gratitude and grief nudge me on the long plane ride around the planet back home to the US. It was my same old reliable friends, but different. They were present and so was I.

12 years after my first trip to Korea, I am very, very good friends with my gratitude and grief.

And am planning my next visit.