The post I’m going to write now is rather personal…and I don’t even really know where to start. It’s something that has had such a tremendous impact on my life—It gave me much pain and blessings, and has changed the course of my life.
Let’s start out with: I used to have a younger sister. Or more accurately, a cousin. She is the daughter of my father’s only brother, but she came to live with our family for 11 years because of her parents’ divorce. We grew, played, and fought together, and were so close that I entirely forgot that she was not my sister by blood. In fact, we called each other “sisters” naturally, and introduced ourselves to others as sisters as well.
Then one day, it all began to change.
I guess if I were more mature and wiser, I would have seen it coming. As kids we had no trouble innocently calling each other as sisters, but there came a time when my cousin began realizing that she wasn’t really part of our family. And that her real parents, all the way in Korea, had “abandoned” her. Thus, she started treating me differently. She almost…started treating me like…a distant non-family member.
As an older sister, I should have understood and empathized with her. But I was still too immature to accept that things would be different. And when I found out that she no longer called me her “sister” but her “cousin” to her friends behind my back, I felt like she took a dagger and stabbed me on the back.
And thus, the seedling of hatred was planted in my heart. From then on, I took everything she did and said in a negative light, further twisting my bitterness into a deep, gravitational loathing. This wasn’t just a simple dislike—it was something that slowly grew into a thorny ivy so evil and intense that I was tormented with distorted and poisonous thoughts all day long.
This went on for more than 2 years. It got to the point that we barely spoke a word to one another, despite sharing the same room and bed. The tense conflict between us was silently eating me up—literally. I developed my eating disorder because my sister started dieting and I couldn’t bear the thought of her becoming “prettier and thinner” than me, so we engaged in an unofficial dieting war.
Then, she left.
I probably played a role in it, but she begged to return to her father in Korea, and my parents had no choice but to let her go. So she left, just like that, without our relationship ever being healed.
By that time, I’d already sunk into the grips of a full-fledged eating disorder, and guilt and remorse over our relationship only drove me down into a spiral of self-hatred and self-mutilation. At the same time, I wondered why the hell God had let my cousin join our family, only to cause such pain in both of our lives.
But throughout the course of my struggles, I’ve come to realize one fact: Nothing is in vain. Even though it did not feel like that at the time, God’s work and love were always present throughout the whole ordeal. There was a purpose behind my cousin joining our family. There was a purpose behind our conflict. There was a purpose behind my eating disorder. And in the progress of them all, I learned and grew so much.
Before I set out on this trip back to Korea, I begged God to let me end this 8-year-long conflict between my cousin and me. I had wanted to meet her the last time I was in Korea in 2009, but she made an excuse not to meet me. This time, she tried to make an excuse again, but somehow my relatives teamed up to organize a family reunion that forced her to have no choice but to attend.
And so we finally met. It was awkward at first. I was all ready to talk it out and forgive and forget, but she is by nature an extremely reserved person and didn’t show the same enthusiasm I did in seeing her. I felt a bit hurt and had to fight back tears, but I kept on praying for God to open her heart to me.
Well, that night…a miracle happened. Somehow I just could not sleep that night. When everyone had fallen asleep, I was still wide awake. And all of a sudden, my cousin woke up, and asked if we could step out of the hotel room to talk privately.
Long story short: She finally opened up. In a flood of tears, she released all her hurts and wounds to me. I hugged her, and explained the misunderstandings we’ve had between us. And then I apologized, and thanked her…because ultimately, she had blessed me and my family, in more ways than one.
And just like that, our 8-year-long conflict came to an end. Through prayers and an open communication, the problem was resolved in a single night. The hurts and wounds may still linger for awhile, but the overall sensation I feel from this experience in liberating peace and joy. Finally. Finally, I feel free from this burden that had lodged a big thorn inside me, and I am just so, so deliciously happy!
I understand if you had skipped the above sharing—it is pretty personal and long. I’ve debated whether to share it, but ultimately decided to do it because this matter is so significant to me, and I thought it might benefit anyone who might have gone through a similar relationship of resentment and hatred. I stand by my convictions: Nothing is in vain. No matter who that person is, and what she or he did…she/he was put there for a reason. Give up your anger and hurt, and if you can, try to share an open communication, because most of the time, relationship conflicts come from stubborn misunderstandings. In the end, holding on to your bitterness is only self-torture and bondage.
Since that was a pretty intense prologue to this post, let me lighten up the content with some pictures. Clara, her parents (my aunt and uncle), Morgan and I drove 4 hours up to Seoul to meet up with my oldest aunt, her son, and my uncle (my dad’s younger brother, also my “sister’s” father).
We had dinner together at an Indian restaurant called Dal in Gangnam Finance Center. The food was good, but the lighting was horrible. I could barely see my relatives’ faces, and I am pretty pissed off by how the pictures turned out, so I don’t even feel like doing much explanations.
But here’s what we ordered (and more):
Naan. Lots and lots of naan. Some plain, some stuffed with onions, some slathered with garlic and butter.
Everyone loved the naan except my oldest aunt who is a traditionalist and thinks every meal should come with a bowl of rice (she did order some rice later, haha).
It came with a duo of sauces, one of them a sort of cilantro chutney, but nobody really touched it because the majority of Koreans hate cilantro (crazy, huh?).
We also had two kinds of curries:
One is a Lamb Gorhst, and the other Paneer Masala. I don’t know which is which; they’re both red and greasy and delicious. We also had Palak Paneer:
Is Palak Paneer a curry? Not sure. Either way it was fantastic. This dish has always been one of my favorite Indian dishes.
Of course, we also had to try the Tandoori Chicken Tikka:
It was okay, but nothing to cry about. Neither was this spicy shrimp soup:
It tasted, frankly, like toilet water with 4 miniscule pieces of shrimp and a dash of red pepper. Yuck. We all took a few sips then set it aside.
The next dish wasn’t as bad:
Onion Pakoras, or deep-fried onion fritters battered in a gram flour. The cumin was rather strong, but the exterior was fried into a perfect crisp.
We also had some potato samosas:
Fried dumplings stuffed with curried potato.
And my favorite of the night, Paneer Tikka:
God, I love paneer. Especially spiced up and done kabob-style like this!
I have to say, Indian food in Korea is freaking expensive, though. The bill was well over USD$300. Dang…My heart went out to my oldest aunt who paid the bill.
The next day, we went for a short trip around Seoul. Of course, no trip to Seoul is complete without a walk around Gyeongbok Palace, the royal palace situated amidst the busy modern city landscape of Seoul.
The palace was built in 1395 in the beginning of the Chosun Dynasty, and though it had suffered several damages (mostly from the Japanese), it has been rebuilt to showcase the former glory of the palace.
I’d visited this place before, but I didn’t mind visiting it again, especially since it was a “cool, exotic” thing for a foreigner like Morgan. How often do you get to browse around a 600 year old Oriental palace? Particularly on such a beautiful weather…
Okay, not that good a weather, but it actually made the scenery so much more beautiful because of the bit of fog which exuded a rather mystic quality to the environment. Just look at how beautiful this place is!
It’s like walking in a dream…
We also made Morgan dress up like a royal official…
And Clara bragged about how she has royal blood in her ancestry…
She kept saying how she’s “home at last”, strutting around proudly with her nose in the air. Or maybe she was just admiring the lovely ceilings and roofs:
But then, she also pointed at the royal throne and saying that’s her seat, right there:
…and that that was her dining table, right over there:
…and I suppose this would be her study room, except she wouldn’t be using this room much…
After the walk around the palace, we started getting hungry, so we went to Insadong for lunch. Insadong is a shopping district with lots of traditional artwork and antiques. There were demonstrations of ancient pastry making, too:
This guy made Ggultarae right in front of us, a dessert which is made from a base of honey and corn starch, and then pulled magically into really thin silk-like strands. Check this out:
And then it is torn into little strips, and a filling of either peanuts, almonds, or walnuts are added:
Then formed into little pillows like these: Freaking cool, isn’t it? I was amazed at his skills. Apparently, it used to be that only ancient kings got the luxury to enjoy such sweets, but thank god those days are over and a commoner like me can get a taste!
Another traditional candy is a much more simpler and common process:
Sugar and baking soda is heated over a flame…
And then formed into lollipops, like this:
Cute, huh? It’s easy enough to make at home, too. I didn’t buy any, but Morgan bought one and thought it was pretty good. I did, however, pick up some Pumpkin Yeot:
Yeot is basically a old-fashioned Korean taffy—chewy, sweet, whimsical. Mine came flavored with pumpkin. Sweet! So was this traditional custard bun:
For lunch, we had traditional Korean fare as well. We found a pretty traditional restaurant in the corner of the streets, one that had pretty cool old-style ceilings:
But really bad lighting. Sigh. Oh well. We started off with a round of Makgeolli, or Korean traditional fermented rice wine.
It was pretty disgusting to me, but then I never was one to appreciate the sour, stinging taste of alcohol. Instead, I just stuck to the familiar side dishes:
(clockwise from top left) Bean sprouts, marinated spinach, kimchi, and marinated dried squid.
For our main course, we shared a seafood pancake, or hamul pajeon in Korean (highly recommend this!):
And also a platter of Doenjang Gogi Ssambab, or Fermented bean paste and Pork Lettuce Wraps with Rice Balls:
If you like Korean bean paste and meat, then you’ll like this. Especially if you like eating with your hands.
For my main course, I had Dolsot Bibimbap:
This is probably the most well-known Korean dish. It’s basically a hot stone bowl of rice with a medley of ingredients and a raw egg yolk, mixed with Korean red pepper paste. Like this:
The best part is of course the crispy rice at the bottom. Always try to order your bibimbap in a stone bowl (dolsot)!
Okay, that was a monster of a post. Please don’t get bitter at me. As I said, nothing is in vain, and I’d like to think that spending a few extra minutes reading this super duper long post was not in vain, either.
By the time you read this, I’m probably flying across the ocean on Asiana Airlines, indulging on a movie marathon and hopefully, good food. The next time I post, I’ll be back home—home home, in Virginia, with my family again. See you soon on the other side of the world!
Question of the Day: Have you ever gotten into a major conflict with someone you love before? Do you think that some relationships are irreparable?