Eleven Years of Misunderstanding

UPDATE: My friend’s friend has checked the address and there is an apartment building in the current location. Apparently Yu Yu Jin’s house had been demolished many years ago and it was replaced by this new building. Nobody knew where she and her family moved to. I’m sad.

*) Picture taken in front of Umegaoka dorm on Yu Jin’s last day in Tokyo – March 2004

When I was in Tokyo I befriended a Korean girl named Yu Yu Jin. She was one of three Koreans who were in the same exchange program with me. Lucky for us, we were neighbors in our dorm, so it was easy to get to know more about each other. Each of us had turbulent times living in a foreign country and having to adapt with people with different backgrounds from us. In those bitter days and lonesome hours, I remember sitting on some steps with her and talked about nothing. We just shared our lives and leaned heavily on each other during those tough times. We loved to talk while sitting on steps, either in the dorm or in campus because our labs happened to be in the same building.

Yu Jin only stayed for six months, while I stayed for one year. When she left, I felt so sad that I decided to visit her in the early Summer of 2004. I worked long hours in a part-time job for several months, before I had enough money to plan my first solo-traveling as a backpacker. The journey to go out of, then return to, Japan while maintaining student visa was not easy. First, I had to obtain permission to leave lab in a certain time frame from my professor. Second, I had to go to Japan immigration office to get the re-entry permit. Third, I had to apply for visa at the Korean Embassy. I dreaded the visa application process, because beforehand I got my visa application rejected by the U. S. Embassy, even though 1) I was planning to go with the church group for a choir festival so I had valid invitation from the church over there, 2) I had paid USD 100 for applying (it was non-refundable). Long story short, I got the visa and flew to Seoul and started exploring South Korea from the north to the south.

After I got there I contacted Yu Jin right away. I stayed for 2 days in Seoul (in the north) before I left for Daegu (in the middle), her hometown. I stayed with her family (parents and maternal grandparents) for three days. There I became fond of kimchi because Yu Jin’s grandma wouldn’t let me leave the dining table unless I finished my kimchi. I ate lots and lots of kimchi in three days. Yu Jin took me to a cinema where we watched “Troy” (starring Brad Pitt), and we stayed up late talking about a lot of things. I also took a daytrip to Busan (in the south) to visit Haeundae Beach. Her grandma made sure I brought kimchi in my lunch box. Gosh I fell in love with that beach. Having born in Bandung with its valley and surrounding mountains, I had always loved going near the water, and Haeundae Beach was just perfect. I was thrilled to come back to Busan six years after that, and this time with a husband and a daughter. After Daegu I left for Seoul and stayed a couple more nights before flying back to Tokyo.

I didn’t hear much from Yu Jin after that trip. I was very occupied with my research that I seldom emailed her. To my surprise she wrote me a postcard one year later when she visited Kuala Lumpur. The postcard was sent to my parents’ house and I didn’t have it until much later because I had moved out to another town. I tried to email her to no success. The email address didn’t exist anymore. I tried to send postcards but they had never been returned. I kept the memory of our friendship in the back of my mind, with some hopes that someday our paths would cross again.

Recently I joined a taekwondo dojo and befriended many Korean ladies. I became close with one black-belt senior who’s at the same age with me. She’s going for a home visit next week and this morning, while we were peeling the radish and salting the cabbage for kimchi, she asked me if I wanted something specific from Korea. I suddenly remembered Yu Jin. It would be nice if Li Na could help me finding my long-lost friend, I thought. I went home in a rush, dug into my treasure chest of letters and other memoirs, and found Yu Jin’s postcard from eleven years ago. I took it to Li Na and together we examined her name written in Korean and her address. Li Na searched Naver and Instagram and found almost one thousand Yu Yu Jins living in Korea now. I didn’t remember her birthdate, so it didn’t ease our search effort.

For the address, Yu Jin wrote the name of her hometown (Daegu), the district, the area, and ended it with vague characters. When we googled it, I kept typing IaIn-14 because that’s what I thought I read for the last eleven years. Li Na stared at the postcard, hummed, and said, “I think it’s 1917-14, instead of IaIn-14.” I frowned, how could it be? I had been staring at the card for too many times that I lost count, and I kept seeing IaIn. Li Na then took a pen and showed me how she wrote the Korean characters. My oh my, my mind was blown. The simplification of the strokes she made had proved to me how easy it was to write IaIn, when she initially intended to write 1917. I was so ecstatic. We used Google map and found the address along with the street view. I cried a bit tears of joy, because I had had misunderstanding and it was corrected after a very long time. The building was quite different than in 2004, so Li Na made phone calls to her friends in Korea to help check if a Yu Yu Jin still lives there. One of her friends would call the Daegu city municipal office, or something, to confirm by tomorrow.

The result would come in the upcoming days. I’m nervous and so full of anticipation. I can’t believe that I have so many help now to find a dear old friend. This community I just joined has given me Li Na and her friends to fix the misunderstanding I’ve had for eleven years. Wow!

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