From July 31st until August 5th, the 2007 International Korean Adoptee Associations Gathering was held in Seoul. My humble one-week-of-vacation per year was spent attending it. It was a week well spent.
Without flooding you with a tide of information, a whole bunch of Korean adoptees have been continuously leaving Korea in the thousands for the past few decades. A lot of them are growing up to around my age right now, and deciding to return to learn about their history. The result has been the formation of large adoptee-networks across the world, a unique multi-cultural demographic with its own identity. The IKAA Gathering this year was the first of its type, a gathering organised by adoptees inviting others to return, celebrate and ponder what it means to be adopted.
Tim Holm, the president of IKAA and the organising committee started planning the event way back in 2005. The result was very impressive. Sponsored by large Korean companies, banks and the government, the gathering brought together more than 550 adoptees who live in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, Korea, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the USA and the UK. There were 700 attendees in total, as many older adoptees brought partners and children along. This photo is from the opening ceremony.
The food was always excellent. This was my first plate from the buffet lunch, which became standard fare throughout the week. I generally spent the week eating lots, drinking lots and talking to lots of people as well as meeting old friends.
And this is what makes adoptee meet-ups all such surreal yet fascinating experiences. On the left of the photo are Matthias and Maria who I used to live with in Seoul last year, before I came to Busan. On the right is Stephen, who I met in Seoul in 2005 while on a government sponsored cultural program. Although we're all born in Korea, Matthias is from Sweden, Maria from Denmark, me from Australia and Steve from the US. It was really nice to see them again.
In comparison to the US, which has over 100,000 Korean adoptees, Australia has relatively few. So it was nice to see some other Aussies in the crowd. There were a total of 6 at the gathering, of which only 3 others found their way to the photo shoot. I was actually standing by myself for a while before Pia, Gennai and Seon waltzed up.
And, Aussies being Aussies, we got along like a house on fire. On the bus we were talking about Australian stuff.
Running alongside the social events were daily workshops and the first ever International Symposium on Adoption Studies. These were all held at Dongguk University nearby. I was on the panel for a workshop about living in Korea, where I added my humble insights on living in Busan. There are a few hundred adoptees living in Korea, but only 3 that I know of who live down south. The workshop went really well and people laughed at my humour, thankfully.
The Chontae Order of Buddhism invited us to their temple for dinner. It was an impressive building with some nice artworks around the place. Their traditional temple sits on the sixth floor rooftop.
I wish I had a better photo of this lady. She was our guide for the event and was always very calm, composed and charismatic. This was despite the hundreds of adoptees crowding around her, photographing everything and speaking in a handful of different languages.
Here's the temple at the top. I like visiting them, but am still unsure of what to do after about 30 minutes of looking at the intricate patterns everywhere.
The altar had some golden statues, to which we were asked to do a special bow three times. It was interesting but I hurt my knees.
And then they gave us lots of good food, including lots of Korean dishes. I wouldn't have minded a vegetarian meal, but evidently these were not vegetarian buddhists.
Not that I have any particular opinion one way or the other.
After dinner was a performance. First these cute little kids did a 'harvest-offering' dance for us. The tiny little one at the back, who was probably about 5 years old, didn't quite have the synchrony spot-on which made it all the more entertaining to watch.
Then we were serenaded by a choir.
After which we watched these ladies do a chrysanthemum-themed dance. The white lady in the middle was the lead dancer and she fell over in the middle of it. Not a small fall either, she virtually face-planted after a quick spin. I was more impressed with how quickly she jumped up and continued with a smile, than I was with the rest of the dance.
Later on in the week we had an Adoptee World Cup, where teams representing their respective countries competed for the trophy. A lot of teams trained really hard for it, but at the end of the day, the last two teams standing were the two American teams. That was a surprise to many. I volunteered as a linesperson for seven of the matches.
The adoptees who now live in Korea formed a team for the coincidentally named GOA'L organisation. Real Samgyupsal was our name, which comes from 'Re-al', as in Real Madrid and samygyeopsal, which is Korean pork barbecue.
Here are the Danish cheer squad, who periodically chanted their slogan "Go Denmark Go. You - are - the - best". I'm sure I could have come up with something much more catchy, but no one asked me.
And here's poor old Stefano from the GOA'L team after making it to the semi-finals. He's one of two Italian adoptees I've met in Korea.
Mayda Miller is a rockstar adoptee from Minnesota. She played a concert for us with her band after the tournament. I'm a techno freak myself, but it was really good original music.
Most of us stayed at the Sofitel near Dongguk University, which was a very nice place. Because it was my only full week off for the year I decided to try room service for the first time. While it was a little flashier than my usual kimbap breakfast, it was equally as overpriced. Also, I found it a slightly intrusive yet bemusing experience to have a complete stranger wheel a tray into my room while in pyjamas. I guess I'm territorial by nature.
And who needs room service when there's such great catering downstairs? Being an ex-cook myself, I can only imagine the logistical nightmares involved in catering for 700 people with completely different preferences. They did a really good job.
We hit the neighbourhood bars early in the week. It's always a funny thing when 200 Korean-looking people in a bar hang out and speak everything but Korean.
Well that was about half the week. Part II coming soon!