Thursday, August 14, 2014

en famille

With no father to relate to and no mother to hug anymore, I have very little family left. Normally, when I think about who's left, my thoughts turn to my brothers. Tonight, though, I was reminded that I have more family than just my two brothers. I went out with Third Ajeossi and Third Ajumma, as well as with an unfamiliar woman who told us she was Mom's cousin and who asked us to call her "Imo," the same designation I use for Mom's big sister, who lives in Texas along with the rest of the Komerican side of my family.

We all had dinner at a very nice riverside restaurant in the Gwangnaru neighborhood called Ga-on, which served high-quality, traditional Korean food. We ordered the jeong-shik (a little bit of everything), and the food just kept coming and coming. There was wang-mandu (king-sized meat dumplings), dotorimuk-muchim (spicy acorn-jelly salad), saengseon-jeon and hobak-jeon (egg-batter fish and zucchini), suyuk (boiled beef, which we ate with green onions and perilla leaves), gomtang-kalguksu (white-broth beef soup with knife-cut noodles) and ugeoji-guk (a yukgaejang-style spicy red-broth soup with vegetables and beef).

Talk tended too often toward my fatness (this is the price you pay for being fat in Korea), especially since Sean is now so thin (Sean and I used to look so similar that people often mistook us for each other). Poor Jeff, who isn't family and who doesn't speak a lick of Korean, may have been a bit marginalized from the flow of the conversation; I felt guilty about that, but did my best to interpret when I could.

I had thought we would be meeting with more of the family, but in a way I'm glad it was only just us folks. This is the branch of the family I like best, anyway (Sean tells me that Third Ajumma has always been his favorite ajumma), and conversation was relaxed and good-humored. Third Ajeossi told me that his younger brother, the youngest of the four brothers, is back in Japan with his wife and son; the son (another of my cousins) is working at a Japanese company. That branch of the family has a bit of a black-sheep-ish taint about it: it's the only branch that's explicitly Buddhist (both Second and Third Ajeossis are Christian), and it's the only branch that both speaks fluent Japanese and is completely conversant with Japanese culture. In any event, that branch of the family couldn't make it for obvious reasons. I never found out why the two older brothers and their families couldn't come; at a guess, the dinner date was just too sudden, and everyone already had a crowded schedule. Can't say that I missed the other relatives.

That said, it was good to be reminded of the relatives who care for us three American boys. Imo gave us an emotional speech about how she had grown up with Mom, and how she had met us all years ago, when we were much younger, and how she had watched us grow up from afar. She gave me and Sean a pair of white envelopes filled with money—her gesture of care. I apologized for not having brought anything to her, but she waved my apology away. I didn't dare open the envelope until I got back to my place in Karak-dong; when I did, I saw that Imo had placed $500 inside. She had spent $1000 on the two of us. In my current situation, $500 will disappear quickly down my gaping debt hole, but it's still a huge help.

So that was tonight's dinner and small family gathering.


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