What do you get 40 kids who are stuck in an orphanage, most likely not adoptable and so used to people coming and going dropping off things to make their giver’s heart feel better?  I remember being at the orphanage when boxes of fruit and goodies would be delivered.  The requisite girl and boy would come into the office to pay their respects, say their ‘thank you’, and quickly get shooed out of the room never to see the contents of those boxes again.  I don’t want to be just another face, but I will be.  After phone calls were made to my friend for suggestions, I ignored her wistful voice and thought I had it sorted.  I got my kids into it as well.  But after realizing that an entire suitcase could be relegated to purchasing things that are really of no value to the kids, I have resigned myself to going to Korea sans gifts and doing what my friend suggested all along….and George too.  The suggestion?  Eat a meal with them.  My friend is not  a stranger to the whole deal, not an anonymous do-gooder.  Her husband is my orphanage “brother” and they go every year to visit and reunite with others who have aged out.  I know it sounds so incredibly simple, a bunch of pizzas.  I couldn’t be convinced that was all I could do.  I should know better.  What kid needs some useless shit that will get lost or thrown out eventually when you share a room with five or six other kids and you have a designated space of about a drawer?  Guilt washed over me knowing that my suitcases will be filled with toys and presents for my kids and for dear friends and family.  Guilt motivated me to think about making the financial sacrifice and using up precious space in bags too heavy already to carry.  I should know better.  Time is far more special, more memorable.  It is time that has kept me connected to my old Home and it is time I want to spend with my brothers and sisters who aged out.  So my gift to OHK is a day spent together.  After all, we are family.

Still, I am a gift giver. I love giving gifts.  Thinking about the packing, the list has begun – the plane entertainment, the electronics and the clothes.  But it’s been the presents, the gifts from my heart, that matter the most.  That has been a year long project.  Aside from the fact that it is really really hard to get anything “made in the USA”, you can pretty much get anything you want in Korea now.  My first time back to Korea, in the 1990s, there was still a black market. I went there, three flights down among the shopping markets, in search of vanilla to bake cookies for the kids.  No luck.  But I saw cans of coffee and other English labeled goodies with expiration dates well past.  I don’t think such a market exists anymore.  They have been replaced by Home Depot style warehouses with aisles and aisles of American goods.  I have managed to find USA made products and enlisted some talented artist friends to make some personalized gifts as well.  They are all beautiful and I really hope I did well.

I have made a list of presents to bring home for family and friends Stateside enlisting Korean mommy friends to help me with how to say them in Korean so I get the right thing. On the flipside, they find it humorous the things I want to bring home.  They are a bit perplexed by my sheer delight in little household products that I think are “so Korean.”  I know I am not alone in going crazy for that kind of stuff, the cute mispelled English stationary, socks for furniture legs, ornaments for the cell phone, hair bobs, jade, anything that looks like it belonged in the Joseon dynasty.  It almost seems like to be Korean is to fall the for the cute stuff.  The cheese factor seems to dissipate en route squarely landing me into the place where I think every one of my friends must have it.  So, my list is carefully crafted and I will due my best to not forget anyone.

The final list is for me.  I have been to Korea enough times now not to fall for the trendy stuff.  I have been gawking at Korean dramas for years now and see things that catch my eye and wonder if I could have it. Every time I go to Korea, the inner me ages a little more. This time I am going as a mother. This time, my family is picking me up at the airport. So ordinary and yet…

My list:
– name stamp (dojang) for the boys
– traditional twin bands that married women of nobility wore
– my hojuk (family registry)
– fun, must have fun!

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