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9.19.2010

guest post: roundtrip


I'm on vacation! Taking a much-needed break. But don't worry. While I'm away, I've enlisted some great guest bloggers to keep things going around here. Here's Joy Osmanski writing about a recent trip to Korea.

When I went to Korea, I felt like a Clydesdale.

The Clydesdale is a draft horse originating, predictably, in Clydesdale, Scotland. Okay, it's the Budweiser horse. Huge. Clomping. Snorting horse heads. They pull things.

I stepped into the belly of the Korean Air 747, and stopped blinking. The flight attendants, hair smoothed into low coils, sea foam scarves winging from perfect knots, lips in tiny, pacific smiles... my brain ached. I'd been awarded a gratis trip to the motherland sponsored by the Korean government and a Korean adoptee organization. The last time I'd been in a Korean Air plane, I was seven months old and alarmingly chubby. The flight took 17 hours and I was awarded the nickname "Monsoon." Apparently, I cried. A lot. I was delivered to a mother who knew me only from a photo, from the paperwork, and the dutiful reports written up by the adoption agency.

Decades later, after pegging my jeans, suffering through spiral perms, listening to Pearl Jam on constant loop, wading through college in Midwestern cornfields, getting my MRS degree in Boston, getting my MFA in San Diego, getting divorced in Los Angeles, and always explaining my Polish last name, I sat, holding my breath, on a flight bound for my country of origin. The country to which I felt only the thinnest thread of connection.

Interesting note #1: Women in Seoul wear heels. Everywhere. Probably to bed. They also wear bows. Little ones, pert ones, floppy ones. In their hair, on their blouses, perched on their skirts.

Interesting note #2: I haven't worn a bow since 6th grade.

I traveled to Korea in July, in the middle of monsoon season. The air moved thickly and resisted an easy breath. Each day of the tour, I joined 99 Korean adoptees from around the world and we explored temples, tea rooms, gargantuan malls. I donned a white dobok and yelled into the humidity during a tae kwon do demonstration. I took a cab to Kang Nam and saw Audis and BMWs. I bought trinkets in Insadong and got happily lost in Namdaemun. I stuffed my face with dukbokki and stood in the archway of Hongik University, head hanging back, trying to inhale.

And everywhere, clipping along, Korean women. There's a particular femininity in Seoul. The women seem light, almost transparent. They move through space but cause no wake. They're slender, bending slightly, holding their shoulders carefully. There's an economy to their movement, a restraint. I imagine they undress deliberately, and that their clothing floats around them, a closet of gently bobbing garments.

Of course, this is one small keyhole. My voyeurism stems from what I find most alien. The many other women who bustled around me, the ones in sneakers, ratty sandals, shapeless dresses, polyester slacks... I'm sure they exist, but it's not what I remember.

A poorly written romance novel would have demanded that I gaze into the faces of these women, desperately searching for signs of recognition. But as a Korean American who grew up gazing into the blue eyes of my father and the white faces of my teachers and the yawning maw of often blonde advertising, I found myself watching these women with a detached fascination. I took clinical notes in my journal and clomped around the streets of Seoul, trying not to whinny.

I came home from Korea with a suitcase full of dirty clothes and carefully wrapped cultural souvenirs. I came home with hundreds of photos and a feeling of being rushed. I went to Korea as a tourist and came home as... an emotional expatriate? I feel proud of where I come from, but also a slight distress. I'd like to understand and embody Korea, but a lot of me rebels. I wear heels only when necessary and often don't cross my legs when I sit. I've been known to belch loudly and holler swear words at other drivers. I'm an actor in an industry of not blending in and I will speak my mind to my elders.

So, I sip slowly, through a straw, what I know of Korea. I try to accept that mine may be a sometimes reluctant thirst.

When I do a little research, I find that in addition to their enormous size and weight just shy of a ton, Clydesdales are actually noted for their grace and versatility. Their movement is described as "energetic" and "ground covering." It's a rueful discovery, since I was convinced these giant horses were the perfect analogy for my clumsy presence in Seoul. But maybe, more apt, is my own misconception of a creature who actually exists comfortably in its size, who displays, quite naturally, the beauty of its origin.

Joy Osmanski is an actor living in Los Angeles and dreaming of her next trip to Korea. She's married to actor Corey Brill and has an astonishing step-daughter named Chloe. www.joyosmanski.wordpress.com