Saturday was my halmoni’s 80th birthday party. There were somewhere between 40 and 50 people there–all family! It was held on the top floor of the Gyeonggi Small Business Center in Suwon–so strange to be there, because I spent three nights there last August as part of the OKF tour. The Center is only a 10-minute drive from my uncle’s apartment in Suji, so it’s weird to think that I was in such close proximity to my family last summer and I didn’t even know it.
It was overwhelming (but in a good way) to be in a room filled with my birth family. I’d only met about 1/2 of them prior to Saturday, so there were a lot of introductions at the party. Everyone welcomed me with open arms. It’s a really bizarre experience to meet your family when you’re a grown adult raised in a completely different culture, speaking a foreign language. I have a few relatives who speak English well, and I rely on them to help translate when I speak with relatives whose English is more limited. Of course, ideally, I will soon be able to know enough Korean to hold a simple conversation on my own.
This picture is just a sampling of the cousins–there’s something, like, 20 of us. I can’t keep track! Most of the people I met I know vaguely how they’re related to me, but I know few people’s names. Anyway, Halmoni was happy to receive my present to her: a framed photo from the day we met in January. She even forgave me for writing the informal (rather than honorific) version of “Happy Birthday” by mistake in Korean.
I met a lot of relatives from Gangwan-do (the province east of Gyeonggi, where Seoul is located). They all invited me to visit them this summer. At this point, I’ve met all of my mother’s siblings, except one of my aunts who was too sick to make the party. I hope to be able to make the most of the time I have left with them this summer . . . .