Thursday, May 31, 2012

R.I.P. 할아버지

My maternal grandfather passed away on Sunday at the age of 91 (he was 89 by American age reckoning).

After a very long life with five children and twelve grandchildren, he went quickly and without losing much of his sharp mind. What a life he's lived. And what a gracious gentleman he was, to the very end. He didn't suffer very much and he didn't cause others too much suffering with his passing.
The funeral process in Korea is very different from what I'm accustomed to from America. It's much longer and involves a lot more people. I was a little bit surprised by the amount of time we spent, as a family, in the funeral home.

I flew from LA to Korea on Friday (leaving on Thursday from LA and landing in Korea on Friday evening) and then spent Saturday in a jet-lagged daze. Because Monday was a public holiday in Korea (Buddha's birthday), I had planned to go down to Jeonju (my hometown) on Sunday and come back up to Ilsan on Monday, so that I could go into the office on Tuesday.

On Sunday morning, I woke up really early (thanks, jet-lag, thanks) and was surprised when my mother rang me up around 7:30 in the morning. My grandfather had passed away at 6:53.

The only cousin that I have that's older than me met me in Seoul so we could go down to Jeonju together. I threw some things in a bag, packed up all my electronics, and rushed over. We got to Jeonju in the afternoon and went straight to the funeral home, to my surprise.

What surprised me even further was that we, the family, were supposed to stay in the funeral home for three days. It's like sitting shiva for Jews, that's the closest equivalent I can think of. I've never been to a wake in the States, I've only ever attended funerals, so perhaps wakes are similar.

People come to the funeral home as they have time to pay their final respects. Younger members of the family (my generation, the grandchildren) greet guests at the front, where there's a handy desk with a guestbook, parking validation stamp, and locked box for envelopes of money (Koreans give money at weddings and funerals).

The guests generally came in, signed the guestbook, dropped off their envelopes of money, removed their shoes, and entered into the room where a large photograph of my grandfather sat among flowers. Some people performed deep bows (getting down on hands and knees), some people bowed their heads, some people took one of the white flowers and put them on the table in front of my grandfather's photograph, some people prayed; there were a variety of ways to pay respect.

There was always at least one male family member in the room, as after a guest pays their respects, one of the family members must be there to greet them, shake hands, accept condolences, and so forth. The family member then asked the guest to stay for a meal, and the guest moved into the next (large) room, which was set up like a restaurant.

Guests ate, some of them drank, my oldest uncle's proteges (he's a music professor) and some of the younger cousins acted as waiters, and we all shared stories about my grandfather. It's nice to say goodbye in that way, but it's also exhausting, to be honest.

The grandsons stayed at the funeral home all night long for two nights, because some guests arrived very late and it's bad form for no one to be there. The poor boys didn't get much sleep for two days-- though those of us that went home didn't get much sleep, either.

The funeral home, which is on the campus of a university hospital, is equipped for Korean funerals. There are black clothes for rent, including traditional Korean clothing, there are armbands for male family members (different stripes according to their relation to the deceased), there are candles (two were kept burning at all times), incense and incense holders for Buddhists, a safe in the back room (for the money), a shower, towels, a kitchen, kitchen staff that cooks and prepares all the food, and so on and so forth.

It's a huge production, to get a Korean funeral done. There's a saying that the people who take care of the funeral fall ill, and I now understand why they say it. For three or four days, there is no sleeping, sporadic meals, and then the constant grief.

Sunday passed in a whirl of guests, many of them acquainted with my parents and shocked at the fact that I'm fully grown. We didn't get home (I went to my oldest uncle's house, where my grandfather lived) until past midnight, everyone exhausted and looking awful.

Monday was a frightening day because it was the day that the funeral home prepares the body, during which family members are expected to participate. Turns out, participation is confined to spectating, other than when three of the guys had to help move my grandfather into his coffin and then all the males of the family carried the coffin out.
It's surreal to watch someone that you've loved all your life being cleaned and dressed in the clothing of funeral rites. It's even more surreal that he looked so much like my beloved grandfather but he wasn't moving, wasn't breathing, wasn't speaking, wasn't doing any of the things that I'd come to expect from him.

Because of his long life and his relatively easy passing, we had all managed to contain our tears. Many of my family members cried as we watched my grandfather being prepared for cremation and burial. It was the last time that any of us were ever going to see his face again.

On Tuesday, after I'd pumped myself full of Red Bull, we went to the funeral home for the last time, very early in the morning. We had a final service there before the coffin was transported to the cremation site, a depressing building full of surly workers and exhausted mourners.

The cremation took an hour and a half, a very short amount of time to reduce an entire person into an urn of ashes.

We took the urn and drove to the mountain where my great-grandparents are buried. My grandfather was buried beside his wife. They share one plaque.
The weather was sunny with soft breezes. Roses, my grandfather's favorite flower, were blooming all along the path up to his grave. It felt like his way of telling us that he was at peace and that it was okay to let go. He would have loved those roses, the weather, the fact that so many members of the family were together.

I hope he's with my grandmother. They haven't seen each other in seven years.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Home (?)

I'm in LA!

Did I mention this? I doubt it-- looking back, my last post took place when I was still in Latvia, all kinds of delirious from lack of sleep.

I'm still delirious, but for other reasons.

The question mark in the title of the post is not because I'm not at my parents' house (I am), but because I no longer know if LA is home for me. It feels like comfort, because this is where my immediate family is, and where my long-time friends reside. But ... Korea feels like home, too.

The photo above is my sister and myself. I believe that I'm five and she's four in this picture- look how little she is! This is apparently San Francisco. I don't remember this trip, but I think I remember those shoes. Pretty sure I used to love them.
A couple friends, my sister, and I went to Disneyland on Sunday. I haven't taken a photo of the main entrance in years. Here it is. That's the train depot, which is where one can board the train that tours the entire park. And, of course, Mickey's head, created with plants.
It started as a beautiful day, since we went into the park around 4:00, but it quickly turned quite chilly (okay, chilly for a wimp. People from Minnesota would laugh at me). There was apparently a full solar eclipse, but though we strained to see it, all we saw was a normal-looking sunset. Stupid eclipse, being all unnoticeable with regular human eyes.

I need to get back into the rhythm of blogging, but it's a tough thing. I'm physically in LA, but I'm still working, and my work is based in Korea, which means I'm working at very odd hours, like now, being midnight here in LA but only 4:00 in the afternoon in Korea. So confusing.

A random quote that I ran across today (this post is all over the place):

"I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you can appreciate them when they're right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together." 

- Marilyn Monroe

What a sad, delusional thing to say. She was in such denial, wasn't she? What made me sad when I saw this quote was that my initial, gut reaction was empathy. Which means I'm in denial, doesn't it? I'm a little angst-ridden and easily irritable lately, and while I know why, I'm seemingly powerless to change things. I can't change my thoughts or my heart. I can try, but it's futile.

I think it's best to let things play out, when possible, no matter what the situation (unless it's breaking the law or causing someone harm, of course), but for the first time in recent memory, I don't want to wait. I want to run away, a reaction that I haven't had in a while.

Such are my snarled thoughts lately. It's tough.

It's Monday night in LA, and I leave for Korea on Thursday around noon. I will have been in California for six days by the time I get on the plane, which is sad- my time is almost up!

I'm ready to move on, at least for the moment. London is sounding really good lately...


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sunset in Latvia

This was around 9:30 on our last shooting day in Latvia. I have Stockholm's and am missing being on location right now...


Thursday, May 10, 2012


I'm in a ton of backgrounds in photos of Jackie Chan from the past couple weeks. Generally looking sour.

Back in Korea, finally! It's been a long month of travel, confusion, airports, early call times, and too many foreign languages, but I am back!

I don't know how long I'm back for, as I really need to go to LA for at least a few days, but I'll settle for being back in Korea for the next little while.

I'm tired but happy about the way things have progressed. I guess I'm content? There's a little bit of personal drama, but nothing that's going to make me completely miserable, so I'll take it.

Between the lack of sleep over the past month and the jet-lag, I'm a little befuddled lately. I'll get back to blogging once I'm able to stay put and get some sleep.