I love my biological parents. They’re supportive and funny and took care of the litter box when my sister and I failed to make good on our many promises. But I seem to have picked up many an adopted parent as well.
Here in Korea I have several sets of adopted parents. There’s Nancy and Mark Krietzer (great German name!) who loaned me a cell phone and talk soccer with me. Nancy looks like a model without trying, and Mark runs up and down the mountain about eight times every day. Annette and Richard Edlin, the Australian couple who take care of all the young’ns such as myself, have us over every Sunday evening for International Bible Study, dinner, and talking. And, of course, my mountain parents.
I met them last Monday when I went for a hike by myself. My goal that day on Geumjeongsan was twofold. First, I wanted to get some exercise in, and second, I wanted to find Seokbulsa Temple—Lonely Planet’s #1 thing to see in Busan and rumored to be quite the Indiana Jones-esque sight. Sometime around midday I decided to ask someone where the temple was. This led to a veritable posse of Korean hikers—all dressed in black pants, long sleeves, and gloves, of course—debating how to explain “go down this trail until you get to the square thing and then go down some more” to the 외국인 (me). Maps were drawn and misunderstood. Many a Korean word was thrown at the 외국인 and many hands were waved and pointed until finally one Korean couple said “캍이” (together) and gestured for me to follow them.
Especially when they think you need to go to the bathroom. Although I said, “No thanks, I don’t need to go,” she grabbed my hand and dragged me in anyway. Then she stuffed some toilet paper into my hands and showed me where the stall was. I went in quickly, knowing that if I didn’t assertively show my competence in this one area of life, she was likely to go over the finer points of urination and defecation without the benefit of euphemistic language.
|Ancient fortress wall. It ran along the ridge|
of the mountains on which I clambered.
|Rocks on which to clamber.|
Their initial suspicion that I was an idiot was gradually confirmed. Clearly the 외국인 needed serious looking after. First the wife offered me half of the apple she had packed for her and her husband. When I tried to protest at her generosity, she understood that I didn’t know what to do with said apple. So she mimed gnawing on her own (smaller) slice and—after consulting her slightly more English-savvy husband, told me, “apple.”
Ten minutes farther down the trail, we stopped again and she asked “water?” I showed her I had my own and even drank some so she could see that I know what water does. But she insisted on giving one a small cupcake (I call them moonpies, for some reason. They are chocolate and delicious) and a cup of something like very cold, refreshing tea. When I tried handing her cup back so she and her husband could drink, she poured me more tea forced it back into my hands, probably saying something like “hydrate.”
Before we moved on, she pointed to the sun and patted her cheeks and showed me her black pants. I think I heard the words sun lotion and some variation of “cover up, you nut, or you’ll look like a migrant worker.” I nodded and smiled and pointed at the sun, too.
|The South Gate. This is where I got yelled at for standing on the battlements. Over to the left of the picture is where I successfully apologized in Korean. The guy smiled and said "eeeeeh." Which sort of means, "It's cool, dawg."|
When we arrived at the temple, her husband waited at the trail while she tugged me around. She was dragging me every which way to see something new and, I could tell she so badly wanted to explain everything, but didn’t have the words. She pointed and said things but my uh-huhs were pretty unconvincing. I could see her frustration. I’ll have to go back because I couldn’t even tell you what the temple looks like, to be honest. The most vivid memory I have is of her gloved hand holding mine as she showed me how to climb steps.
When we left, the husband pushed his English skills to the breaking point and I used, quite literally, every single word of Korean I knew in an effort to communicate. I was able to say “I am studying Korean” and “I am a teacher at Kosin University” in my more successful attempts. He managed to let me know, “We are going to drive you in our car to the subway because we think you will probably get lost and die if you try to do so on your own.” My biological parents raised me well, so I did wonder if it was safe for me to get into the car with strangers because even the cutest, politest kidnappers are still kidnapping you. In the end, I figured it wasn’t worth the fight. Older Korean ladies are very pushy.
|Me and my mountain mom!|
In the end, they got me as far as the subway station. There we said our안녕히가세요’s and parted. I was able to get on the correct subway, transfer successfully, and find the bus home. Seven years from now, when my mountain parents are climbing up Mount Everest (for funsies), I like to think they’ll remember me as they sit in their pup tent on the frozen snow.
“Remember that hopeless little 외국인 we met on Geumjeongsan?”
“The one who looked like a migrant worker?”
“네. Do you suppose she ever made it back to Kosin?”
“Hmmm. Doubtful. Not without us. Pass the kimchi, please!”