My godson, Owen Daniel was born on August 23rd, just as I was stepping off the plane into South Korea. I held him for the first time when he was about six hours old, as soon as I arrived at the hospital on the Yongson US Army Base.
99.9% of the reason I came to South Korea
Cultural standards for eye contact vary across the world. In the United States, we are quite forward with our mannerisms according to other cultures. In many countries I have visited including Spain, Dominican republic, Greece, and others, intense eye contact can signify other emotions that can offend or cause unwanted problems. I think the exception for this is when you are looking into the eyes of a newborn baby or a small child. When I hold my godson and look into his eyes, he looks right back at me and seemingly into my soul. There are no cultural barriers, there are no differences, just two beings and a whole lot of love.
Yesterday I went adventuring to the Changdeokgung Palace and Gyeongbokgung Palace. I walked through the palaces constructed in 1405 and 1395, and felt the history of each dynasty that lived through those walls. I drank cold plum tea sweetened with honey, from the modern cafe that has been recently built in the courtyard of Changdeokgung Palace. I analyzed the intricate designs that colored the outside of the royal buildings and I imagined the king being carried around within the walls of the palaces- the king was seen as an extension of the heavens, so he never walked directly on the ground (Jiwoo Song, 2013).
Annie outside of Changdeokgung Palace
Later, as I toured the Secret Garden behind the palace, I learned of all the stories of the king who built the castle. In front of his library were three doors- one large part in the middle and two small doors on the side. The middle door was for the King, and the side doors were for his servants. But above the door is a Korean inscription that describes the relationship between a fish and water because the king understood that his relationship with his servants was similar- a fish cannot live but a few moments without water, and likewise the king could not live without his servants.*
Secret Garden in Changdeokgung Palace.
Also in the Secret Garden of Changdeokgung Palace were a few beautiful ponds, but one in particular that stuck in my mind. This pond was built to symbolize the relationship between the universe and the earth. The water represented all that is the universe, all-welcoming and all-encompassing. The little patch of land in the center of the pond represents the earth.*
My favorite pond in the Secret Garden behind Changdeokgung Palace.
I wandered with the tour through the Secret Garden for hours, lost in the sounds of the acacias and flowing streams. When I finished the tour I was exhausted, but had somehow rediscovered a sense of optimism for the world we live in. Understanding history and connecting it with the present has a way of doing that- reconfiguring the mind to see the light and life of this planet. That’s another reason I love to travel, it allows me to literally and figuratively touch history.
Annie being a happy girl sitting in Changdeokgung Palace.
When I finished with my historical ramblings, I hopped on the subway (that’s putting it lightly, more like “got lost six or seven times on the subway”) and eventually arrived back at the home of my friends, and the house of my baby godson. After showering to get the yucky subway off my clothing and body, I picked up that little ball of future, light, connection, hope, serenity, and I looked into those eyes that shined with the new life of an eight day-old. It was at that moment that the experience of my day came full circle. I was content to be standing with that baby in my arms and the soles of my feet pressed firmly into the ground, ready to remain a constant in this child’s life. I was ready to relay the experiences of my life to him in the most open and affirming way possible- to allow him to explore this world without fear, but with a critical eye. I hope to be a friend and to show him that he is also mine. But the most important thing I hope to tell him is that the way those eyes view the world in intricately connected with the way he will make an impact on it. I will continue to remind him (as I have already written it in his first book) that I hope for him to see the beauty in this world so he will emphasize that and help it to grow.
This tree is 1,100 years old and is protected as a national monument in South Korea. It is inside the Changdeokgung palace.
I will tell him with my eyes until I can tell him with my words, that he is the light and the beauty in this world and I can’t wait to see the footprints he makes on this earth.
*Facts from my tour guide at Changdeokgung Palace, I have not confirmed in my own research.