Guilty By Association

September 21, 2018

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During my first trip to Korea in February, I met my cousins and we had a pretty nice meal at a great restaurant called Hanam Pig. Since I was back in Korea, I figured I would let them know that I was in town. They enthusiastically responded that we should get together. They said that their husbands wanted to meet me and other uncles and aunts would want to be there as well. The last time we had met, they seemed like a very well-adjusted, normal, and healthy group of people. This was further confirmed when I got a message a couple days later that they wanted to talk to me about something delicate. I guessed in advance that what they wanted was for Han Mu to not be there at the dinner. I won the grand prize for being 100% correct. They said that Han Mu was causing some problems and I responded that I knew all too well what that was like. I said that not having him there was not only no problem at all, but I preferred it that way. So the cousins were relieved to hear that and they proceeded to make the arrangements.

 

I was staying in the Jamsil area near Gangnam and they all live in Seongnam. So they tried to pick a location in the middle. I anticipated there would be about 12 people for the dinner, including me. I got directions to the restaurant, which would be a Chinese restaurant near Costco. The timing of the dinner was pretty terrible because the All Blacks were playing the Springboks on Saturday, and dinner was at 6:00 and the game started at 4:30. I decided what I would do is watch the game from my laptop at a nearby Starbucks and then walk over to dinner when the game was over. It would be tight, but I figured the plan was doable.

 

I manage to combine a train and a taxi and get to the Starbucks in enough time to settle in with a giant mug of coffee to watch the anthems. Unfortunately I also proceeded to watch the All Blacks play like shit. Do you know how hard it is to not swear profusely in a Starbucks? I knew that the game was jinxed because I wasn't wearing a jersey. I'm messaging the Sane One on the tablet while I am watching the game on the computer. As my tension levels were rising because the All Blacks weren't playing well, I was also growing increasingly nervous about the dinner. I soon realize that the game isn't looking too good and it is 5:55. I make the difficult and terrible decision to stop watching the game and go look for this restaurant.

 

I pack up everything and walk across the street to where the restaurant should be. On the map it says it is directly behind the Costco, but directly behind the Costco is a BMW dealership. I am thinking the restaurant must be right next door to it. However, right next door to the BMW dealership is a Volkswagen dealership. So now I'm starting to get confused. I am using Google maps, but in Korea, Naver is much more popular. I switch over to Naver and put in the address of the restaurant, and it says the exact same thing. It claims I am standing right in front of the restaurant. The last time I checked, there were never any Chinese restaurants in a showroom of a car dealership, but hey, it's Korea, so I don't want to make any assumptions. Since the car dealerships are all closed, and the restuarant claims that it is open, I guess that my Western imperialist assumptions are actually true this time. I do see some stairs for some businesses downstairs, and so by process of elimination, I determine that is where the restaurant must be. 

 

 

 

Now I'm not very experienced in restaurant planning, but I think I know enough after having been a patron of thousands of restaurants to be aware of what might be a good dining establishment location. As I descend the stairs, all I can see are auto parts stores and garages. These types of locations do not bode well for excellent culinary experiences. I'm walking around the odd location which reminds me of a futuristic Blade Runner/Star Wars mashup of what the grimy underworld of a city looks like. I see a 7-11 (yup, they got those there) and I ask the cashier via Papago translate on my tablet where this damn restaurant is. She of course doesn't know, but she enlists these two guys who are just sitting at the counter minding their own business and slurping noodles for help. One of them takes pity on me and decides to help out. He calls one of my cousins from the email that I have up telling me where to go. It is quickly determined that the cousin doesn't really know where this place is either, because she had never been there before. Oh, and she's running late, traffic sucks. I COULD HAVE BEEN WATCHING THE ALL BLACKS FINISH LOSING THEIR GAME! GODAMMIT!!!!!! I try to hide my annoyance and push my throbbing vein in my forehead back into my skull and follow the new drafted Korea Visitation Tour Guide as he tries to manage this underground industrial labyrinth to find this damn restaurant. 

This guy is a freaking rock star, and he guides me all the way to the restaurant and then goes one step further. I am guessing he told the hostess, "This fucking moron doesn't know where he is going but apparently he is supposed to be here for a large dinner party." The hostess nods in agreement that yes, I am a moron and that yes, they have a reservation for a large dinner party and then motions that I should follow her. Tour Guide of the year calls my cousin again to tell her that I am where I am supposed to be and in one piece. I rush out to thank him profusely and buy him as many beers as he desires, but he is now nowhere to be found. I run down the hallway, but it's like he never existed at all. I walk back to the restaurant, and I suddenly realize that there is literally no one else in the restaurant. This would be a great place for a Yakuza/Triad alliance meeting, because there will definitely not be any witnesses. The hostess ushers me back into the private room, closes the door, and leaves me sitting there wondering what the hell kind of experience this will be.

 

Fifteen minutes later, in walks the three cousins that I met previously, with the oldest cousin's husband and 11 year old daughter. The second cousin brought along her infant son. That's it. There are no other husbands, uncles, or aunts. I ask where everyone else is, and they say that all of them had commitments that they regretfully had to attend to instead of this dinner on a Saturday night. And that is when it hit me. The others didn't want to be at this dinner. I was the son of Han Mu. They had as little desire to see me as I would desire to see Han Mu. There is a palpable tension in the room, as they clearly have realized that I have realized why the numbers are so few. They gamely try to make the best of it. One of them asks if it is ok if she orders for me, and since there are no pictures on the menu and no words in English whatsoever, I think this is a terrific idea. I had planned on taking pictures of this dinner to celebrate that normalcy is possible in the Oh clan, but it just seemed like it would just emphasize the shit show that this evening had become. People have told me that there is no way that I am going to become Han Mu, but to the rest of his family, the fact that I am his genetic offspring was enough to scare them away from even meeting me. I know it isn't their fault, I don't blame them, but I had a feeling of rejection that was based on nothing that I had done at all. I even came bearing presents, learning my lesson from the last time! I just ended up having more presents than there were people to give them to. So I guess I won the present battle in Round 2 as well, since they only gave me a book that one of the cousins had designed the cover for. It's about Korean Evangelism and the spread of Christianity. They said if I had trouble falling asleep, this would remedy that problem instantly. I wholeheartedly agreed that it far surpasses Ambien in leading to deep and desired slumber.

 

You know when you are on a date with someone and you realize that you will never see them again? Dinner totally had that vibe to it. Both sides are making up reasons why we can't have dessert or a cup of whatever the fuck Koreans drink after dinner. We couldn't have scattered any faster if we were roaches suddenly surprised by the turning on of the kitchen light. I realize that I will probably never see these people ever again. I will just become an interesting footnote in their families' history of crazy Han Mu's American son that came back to visit. The commonality between them and me is Han Mu, a person that neither side is really that thrilled to spend any time with. I suddenly realize what it was like to be from the wrong side of the tracks and to have absolutely no say in that perception whatsoever. The feeling is confirmed when during the good byes, it is hand shakes all around and then off to our vastly different lives. I'm glad I had the chance to meet them and I'm glad that not all Ohs are terrible people. I just wish that the uncles and aunts had a chance to realize that I am the proud son of Rod and Sandi Fisher and not Han Mu's kid asking for stoopid and unreasonable favours or here to disrupt their lives in a bad way. The blood that flows through my veins is unequivocably American and my reluctant and mostly unwilling journey of exploring my biological heritage has come to a resounding end with the quiet whisper of one final familial rejection. All of that was more than made up for when I landed in Dallas and my wife rushed up to me with joy in her eyes and we hugged and I knew with utter finality that family is what we design, not the genetic contributions and similarities of other beings. 

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