Saturday, August 18, 2007

2007 IKAA Gathering Part 2

The next gathering is going to be in Vegas in January. Due to the intensive period at work during that time I doubt I'll be able to get time off. But that's not going to stop me trying. Ha.

This is the 3 storey high banner that was attached to the wall of the Sofitel throughout our stay. It looked really pretty, but I always wonder what they do with the material after such an event. I reckon it would be good to cut up and make into t-shirts for everybody.

Here are 5 of the 6 Australians in the lobby of the hotel. Another one, Stephanie, was with us at the beginning but had to leave early. I'm in my typical photo posture as usual.

I'd never actually been to a horse race before so I took the opportunity when it arose. On the last Sunday arrangements were made to head down to the racepark as a group, but most people were tired. Only 6 of us ended up making the trek down to the track but it was a good time.

I know very little about horse racing in general, other than that it's an excuse to flog a helpless animal towards a finish line. But that didn't stop me wagering a bet. I picked the best looking horse, which ended up losing. Then I picked the ugliest looking one and that lost as well. Evidently beauty or a lack thereof is not a factor in racing. After that I went back to the hotel.

Here we are in Club Air, a place that ended up getting so full of adoptees that the locals ended up leaving and we had it to ourselves. I took this photo early on in the night. I guess some people are just very happy to have their photo taken.

A view from the VIP area looking down on the dancefloor. Pretty much everyone you can see is a friend of a friend. The level of adoptee networking promoted by the various organizations has been very successful.

My fellow panelist Robyn, with Dae-won having a good time. I left the place pretty late, and they were still dancing it up.

The closing ceremony was held in the Shilla Hotel, probably the most classy venue in Seoul. We dressed up nicely and were pleasantly surprised by the err... classiness of the place.

We all took our seats and heard speeches. The vice-president of Samsung, Kwang Sup-Han, was eating with us and footed the bill. At our table we took a few guesses at the price and generally agreed that it would run into the high tens of thousands. It was a very impressive setup.

The service was amazing. Wine was unlimited and all the plates were warm at the right time. Most impressively, they had a workforce of about 50 waiters who would stream out quickly and quietly carrying all the dishes at the right time, so nobody was left waiting for their food. Here's one of the waiters that was looking after our table. They came out so quickly they looked like a swarm of bees.

This was the appetizer. It was a seafood salad with wine dressing, but the prawns were some special kind of super tasty prawn that I'd never eaten before. This came after soup and was followed by steak and dessert. Man it was good.

Pia, Steve, Gennai and me. I hadn't worn a tie in so long I'd forgotten how to make the knot.

Some of the old characters from Koroot, the lodging house I stayed in last year. I still can't believe it's been a year already. Then again it seems like ages since I left Australia.

More happy faces. I have no idea when I'll meet up with these people again. Probably at some gathering way in the distant future.

The microphone host for the night was Ahn Jung-hyun, a television personality on Korean TV. She's a managing director of a media firm and hosts a talk show that I watch sometimes. So this was my small brush with fame.

Here's a video of one of the entertainment acts for the night, traditional Korean drummers. There was also other Korean traditional music and a b-boy performance, all of which were top quality.

The entertainment was interactive too, with the audience invited to play small drums that were handed out to everyone. In this photo we're singing 'Arirang' together, a traditional Korean folk song. Photo: Courtesy of Her Royal Loveliness, Pia Claire Meehan.

For the final night in Seoul, we had a club booked out for a while. Club circle is one of the more prominent and upmarket watering holes available. This is their animated LED front door sign, a couple of stories tall.

The interior design was original and aesthetically pleasing. White couches lined the outside, with a lot of mingling areas and televisions everywhere. On the couches were monitors displaying slideshows from other events.

In the middle of Club Circle is the bar area which is a large circle, would you believe. But the coolest thing about it is that the whole outer rim, with tables and all, rotates slowly like a revolving restaurant. So if you sit there, you eventually get to see the whole place from the comfort of your couch.

Later that night Mayda came back and gave us another performance. She's a very friendly and down to earth person. I bought one of her CDs afterwards, but it got lost somewhere in the blurry haze that was the rest of the night.

The drinks were a little bit pricey, as could be expected. We all pitched in at our table and those three bottles of JW set us back a mere KW600,000. But it was the last night, after all. Go hard and go home, as we used to say back in Australia.

The dress code of the event was all white, to match with the decor of the interior. Halfway through the night one of my very good friends in Korea and an organiser of the gathering, Tae-yang, showed up. He was wearing one of the bedsheets from the hotel, wrapped up into a toga. Awesome.

In the photos above are some old friends I caught up with and some friends I have since made. All good people.
The night was a perfect way to wrap up the gathering and I ended up meandering back to my apartment with a glow and a belly full of imported spirits.

The next day I woke up, checked out and took the KTX train back to good ol' Busan. At Seoul station I found a diner selling this hangover soup, which I promptly ordered. It had some sort of brown jelly stuff in it and tasted alright. On the day I arrived back, I had to teach that afternoon and it went pretty well.

Well that was the gathering! If you're adopted and thinking of coming back to Korea, I would highly recommend it. A shout-out to all the people who have. And if you're not adopted and thinking of coming to Korea, I would recommend it anyway.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

2007 IKAA Gathering Part 1

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!