As I poorly described earlier, Han is the Korean sense of pain, suffering, injustice, etc. that is borderline untranslatable. It is so incredibly appropriate that Han is also the first name of my biological father. I think the effect that Han Mu has on people is somewhat indescribable as well. Or so I had thought. I was riding in a bus to Paju and I was in the back talking to some very lovely fellow adoptees about why I wasn't exactly thrilled with the outcome of my reunion with birth families and how poorly the events of the lunch on Sunday unfolded. I remember thinking to myself that there was a good and bad perspective on this situation. The good news is that there is a zero percent chance that the people I am telling this story to will ever meet Han Mu, and the bad thing is that these people will never meet Han Mu, because then they might think I'm exaggerating for entertainment value. Unbeknownst to me, the fickle hand of fate decided, "You know what? Let's fuck with Derek's head momentarily."
Paju is located 17.2 miles north of Seoul (or in bus ride terms, all fucking afternoon) very near the border to North Korea. It is where the old camptowns were. Korean women were forced to "service" Japanese soldiers during the occupation. When the Korean War broke out, Korean women voluntarily serviced US troops out of financial desperation. Paju is the location of the new Omma Poom Park. Last Tuesday, 11 September, there was a session with Korean Adoption Services (KAS) and a panel of birth families talking about adoption. After a terrific lunch provided by a very kind and gracious lady that owns a Chinese restaurant in downtown Paju, we headed to the hotel where the session would take place. I was looking forward to hearing what KAS would have to say regarding some of their policies and I was preparing myself for some pretty sad stories by birth families.
There have been several times in my life where I have been recognized by strangers and so it is not all that unusual for someone to approach me and ask me if I am who they think I am. Most of the time, I am not who they think I am. Besides Chan Ho Park, I seem to resemble former classmates, Michael Chang, someone's dry cleaner, and when my name tag is on, Bruce Lee. Occasionally they actually think I am really myself. One cool instance of that was in a line at the airport on the way to Boston. But that's a story for another time. I really didn't expect to have any similar moment like that happen in Korea, as there is very little reason for Koreans to even know that I exist. So I guess I was a little taken aback when a lady walks up to me and asks me if I'm Derek Fisher. I reply in the affirmative, and the next sentence out of her mouth is one that you just can't make up. She says, "Your father is here." I wanted to respond that wasn't possible, as my father was probably fleecing unsuspecting retirees out of their pocket money on some golf course in Central Florida at that moment. Ok, given the time difference, he was probably sleeping, but you get my point, Accuracy Police. That statement was just impossible. She turns around and points at....fucking Han Mu. Han Mu is at the adoption session in Paju. Let me repeat that, for dramatic effect. Han Mu is at the hotel where the Q&A session with birth families is being conducted This fucking schmo can't navigate around'; Gangnam but somehow managed to Vasco de Gama his way up to the border 29.3 miles away from his stomping grounds of Seongnam. With enough soju, I bet we could have successfully dared him to thread the minefield needle at the DMZ and then a lot of my problems would spectacularly disappear. Ahhhh, the rueful discoveries of hindsight. At the moment, I was literally speechless and gobsmacked that this was occurring. I had not told him I would be there. But there he is, in all of his polyester tracksuit glory. He had spurned my FC Barcelona jacket present because it didn't suit "his style." Apparently, his style was reminiscent of Olivia Newton John videos interpreted by the Peoples Liberation Army Tank Maintenance Brigade. He is sitting at the table for birth families. The other people there are somewhat nicely dressed, and I'm suited up out of necessity as my role as Communications Director for 325Kamra. Oscar de la Spin Class looks about as out of place as I would at a monster truck rally. The thought occurred to me that while style is a very subjective concept, we could add appropriate attire strategy to the long list of things that Han Mu needs to improve upon.
In order to interact with Han Mu, I have found that I need copious quantities of preparation, cigarettes, and alcohol. I was granted none of those things. Sauntering up to me and the lady is Han Mu. He waves and tries to give me a hug. I'm having visions of Sting in the Police video "Every Breath You Take" in my head and am just simply at a loss for words. Hugging is literally one of the last activities I want to do with Han Mu at that moment or probably ever again. I literally recoil away from his touch and now the kind lady is experiencing one of the more awkward situations she's been in her life. I imagine she was probably thinking of a graceful way to exit this scenario. "Oh, look! A dragonfly! I'll be right back!" is what I would have done if I were her, but she just kinda stands there looking somewhat embarrassed and confused. Han Mu is grinning like a guy expecting to receive a check for $100,000 USD. I'm looking as happy as a Tea Party Conservative at a Mensa exam. Using her outstanding powers of deduction and reading the look of absolute displeasure on my face, she askes me "You didn't know he would be here?" to which I reply "How did he get here?" He somehow scrounged up a ride with the birth family group, which by the way is called Dandelion, kind of a cool name and concept for this group, don't you think? Later on, I would appreciate the imagery of dandelion spores being blown to all corners of the world. I remember thinking at that moment how appropriate Dandelion was because Han Mu is also like a weed, in that when you try and remove him, he persists and surfaces in unwanted areas. Like fucking adoption events in Paju.
I promptly turn around and look for the nearest crystal meth dealer to help me get through this surreal experience. After about four cigarettes in a row later, I enter the main room and see that he is back seated with the birth family group. I am seated two tables over. I have informed some people that Han Mu is here. Strangely enough, not one of them said "Cool!" The most common reaction was "Oh my god. Are you ok?" One of the people later said that they could see the instant transformation in me from a confident adult back to a scared six year old boy when I saw him. I don't think it was that extreme, I was just thrown off because like I said, I really do need lots of time and mental preparation to deal with Han Mu. The thought then hit me, "Holy crap, did he weasel himself on to the birth family panel and was he gpomg to speak about his experience?" One of the great things about the adoptee community is that when something like this happens, everyone has your back. Nobody told me "Hey, what's the big deal?" People offered that I could go somewhere else, but I had responsibilities to 325Kamra, so fuck him, I wasn't going to shirk away from those. I wasn't crashing the event, Arson Boy was the one who wasn't supposed to be there. Anyway, I shared my concern that he would get on the stage with the panel, and several people went to go make sure that wouldn't be the case. The last thing I wanted was for him to get up there and then point out that I was in the audience and have some bullshit staged reunion that would take away from the heartbreaking stories that should be shared.
Halfway through the session, Han Mu gets up and disappears. People are asking me where he is. I respond with "hopefully playing chicken with a train." None of us know if he's coming back. Ten minutes turns into half an hour which turns into an hour and then all of the sessions are over. Later on I would discover that he didn't exactly make any new friends with the birth family group, as they all thought ambushing me at the conference was a really douchy thing to do. He also apparently told them all that he asked me for money, which means that social tact is another item on the list. Who the fuck shares that kind of humiliating information with strangers? It's a face losing experience to ask for money from family and be rejected. But Han Mu has no shame. The blue tracksuit he was wearing is proof of that. Thinking back to the events of last week, I am most grateful and appreciative of the support and encouragement that I received from the people with me. Some of them I had just met that day or the day before. Yet they were all in solidarity in making sure that Han Mu would not get on that stage. It did feel a little bit redemptive to me that others could see what kind of person he is instead of just taking my word for it. Sometimes I do tend to exaggerate here for entertainment value. I am not being hyperbolic in any sense when I say that I will do everything in my power to be the opposite of Han Mu. I do not know what my biological mother is like, but I hope on everything that exists in this world that she is a better person and that I got my character and personality traits from her and not from him. I do enjoy pants, so hopefully that is indeed what happened.