A clinic in Dongdaemun

There were two moments on this trip that I’ve wanted to formulate into a post. I needed some time to digest how I really felt about each experience and what I took away from each encounter. With only one day left in my birth mother’s home I think it’s fitting that I share these stories with you now and I believe each experience, although different actually parallel one another fairly well.

Here is the first part:

The day we travelled to Holt’s offices and looked through our Korean files I also spent that afternoon embarking on a separate personal journey. Prior to my trip to Korea, I received an email from Holt that said I could visit the area where I was born. They prefaced though that the area was “under construction” and the actual clinic where my mother gave birth was no longer standing. While I was hesitant to go see a construction site I decided after a day of thinking that I really should just check it out.

Off we went to Dondaemun in Seoul with our own driver and translator all set up by Holt. We soon discovered that it would be harder than we thought to find the physical site…Korea is transitioning to a Western mailing address system/ postal system. So addresses provided in documents from let’s say 1988 are not necessarily trackable via modern GPS systems. Nonetheless our translator instructed our driver to the neighborhood, then the street and then all the sudden we had it narrowed down to a block or two.

The area actually was not under construction. But it definitely wasn’t shiny and new like the other parts of Seoul we had already seen. In fact some streets nearby were clearly in the beginning stages of gentrification but this particular street/ block was stuck in between.

Our translator Bryan took to the streets running, like literally. John and I were surprised and somewhat entertained by Bryan’s honest determination. While my parents took photos of buildings and signs, Bryan ran into several businesses and asked where this address once stood, he asked strangers on the street if they remember a clinic in this neighborhood and if so where did it stand? He was running around the block like a crazed map obsessed clinic seeker. It was awesome.

Because while he went to go harass everyone he met, demanding quick and accurate answers to my questions, I had the opportunity to take it all in.

It was sad.

In fact, it really upset me.

I was quiet and observant and I think my parents were trying to gauge my feelings but I felt smothered and tried to break free.

I wanted to be alone and breath in the bus polluted air, to watch the old woman pull her overly stacked cart into the alley way, to listen to bells ring as locals walked in and out of the small shops nearby.

I wanted to be alone to imagine all the senses that could in any way be the same that my mother at some point felt in that exact place. I wanted to know if when she said goodbye to me, on that block, if she walked away on that same sidewalk sad like I was in that moment. Was she crying? Was she scared? Was she running? Was she hiding? Was she thinking about the day she would see me again?

Then Bryan comes running and says he found the address.

It’s a row of three bars, run down, sketchy looking to say the least, and definitely not up to health code requirements (in my opinion).

We took photos in front of the building, I wandered behind it and found a desolate and pathetic courtyard, and my husband and dad joked around how it was appropriate it was a bar now- to help lighten the mood. But it just made me more sad. Even though 28 years ago this building and neighborhood were completely different, I can’t imagine it being that great either. It upset me to think about some scared 23 year old woman having to give birth here. Mothers should be able to give life to their child in safe, healthy and loving environments. Whether it be a hospital or at home. She should feel secure and be surrounded by everyone in her life who is going to love that baby to the moon and back. Not alone, and sad, in Dongdaemun.


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