I didn’t get to spend very much time with my nephew, Joo-yeong. His mother, my eldest sister Kyung-mi, had to work during the week in Daegu.
Joo-yeong and I had difficulty communicating. My niece Ji-yeong was too little to understand the language barrier, but I could see Joo-yeong’s frustration in trying to speak to me.
During our first lunch together in Seoul, he used the translation app on his phone to ask me, “Do you like coffee?”
I didn’t know how to say, “I’m not a big coffee drinker, unless it has lots of cream and sugar in it. I mostly drink tea.”
So I just nodded my head and said, “Ne” (yes).
He smiled, and from that point on, my family members were happily giving me Korean instant coffee to drink. “You like coffee!” They would exclaim as they handed me each cup.
Joo-yeong and I spoke very little to each other. He would ask my sisters questions and sometimes Kyung-hee would translate for me.
We drove from Seoul to Andong (my birthplace) on Day 2 of my trip. My grandmother and brother were waiting at the house they live in together with my birthmother.
As we approached the West Andong sign, I got an inexplicable lump in my throat. The entrance looked like any familiar city gate– except with hangul characters (and less lanes than ones in Dallas/Fort Worth).
Joo-yeong pulled out his phone and typed furiously into the touchpad.
He looked up… poked me on the shoulder, and proudly said, “You home.”
I burst into tears, realizing that the aforementioned lump in my throat, was an overwhelming feeling of disbelief that I wouldn’t be visiting my birthplace for the first time on my own, as I had often imagined. I was surrounded by family, however unfamiliar they may be, and they were welcoming me home.
I threw my arms around Joo-yeong and hugged him. He was visibly perplexed by my outburst and behavior. I held him tightly, because I knew that what I was feeling would get lost in his translation app.