Dad, Meet Korea

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On October 16th, around 2 am, after the last guests had left from a party Joe and I threw at my apartment called October Shindizzle, I checked my email.  Top of the inbox was a surprise message from my dad, which read:

Hi Courtney;

How are you doing?

I am thinking about coming to South Korea to visit you. It would be about a 10 day trip and I would be in Busan for 8 days and 2 days travel time.

I have looked at flights and the dates Nov. 22nd to Dec. 1st are available now and those dates work for me.

Can you let me know asap if then is a good time for you.



My dad and I write and skype regularly, so it wasn’t unusual to hear from him, but he’d never mentioned thinking seriously about taking a trip out to visit, so the news was completely out of the blue–especially after an evening of whisky and gin.  I turned to Joe in shock and said, “My dad’s coming to Korea!”

After a few date changes so his visit would span two weekends, he booked the flight and I told my kindergarten kids they’d soon be meeting Courtney Teacher’s father.  I wrote his name on the board: C-u-r-t-i-s.  They giggled; none had heard this particular foreign name before.  We all started counting down the weeks.

My dad’s been working most hours of the day most days of the year since I was born and long before.  He sold real estate and managed marketing for a Saskatoon company called Plainsman Development.  When I was six he started his own business dealing Panasonic batteries, beef jerky, and pepperoni sticks to stores across Saskatchewan out of the back of an old black van. When I was nine he bought a grocery store in Waskesiu Lake, and ran it for ten years, living with my stepmom and my sister in a tiny two-bedroom suite attached to the side. (My brother and I worked there too, every summer, pricing cans, stocking produce, and scooping ice cream cones for the evening crowd.)  During the grocery store years, he and my stepmom also expanded their clothing store, The Sandbox, eventually opening a second branch in Saskatoon.  In the winter months, for the last 20-odd years, he’s spent most evenings on the phone or in the car, meeting with clients across the province for the Canadian Scholarship Trust Plan– a nation-wide program that enables families to save for their children’s post-secondary education.  He finally retired from CST this fall, though his time now is far from free: The Sandbox’s city store just keeps getting busier, and he deals with all the back-end business; a constant surge of orders, invoices, accounting, payroll, marketing, and inventory.  When I was a kid visiting in the summer, I always wished he’d take an afternoon off from the grocery store to relax at the beach, but there were deliveries coming in, and coolers to stock, and a line-up at the til.  He worked for himself, and put the hours in to succeed.

So I was pretty happy to see him arrive in Busan on a holiday.

Though I was teaching full-time during his visit, we had two weekends and each evening to hang out.  Joe and I showed him our favourite Busan neighbourhoods.  We walked along Oncheonjang Stream and drank cocktails with a view of the Diamond Bridge in Gwangalii.  We ate Pajeon at the fish market and sang at a Norebang in Seomyeon. He met my kids and my friends.  In the last months I’ve been a little down, ready to move on from a country that I’ve never felt a deep connection to, despite the opportunities and experience it has given me.  The homogeneous mindset of Korea’s people and culture has grown stifling; I walk among my life somewhat detached from it, my mind scratching at the future.

My dad took back for me a suitcase full of books and photos and the guitar I bought last summer, in a new Fender case he found here at the Bujeon Music Market, so it would arrive in Canada safely.  In an email after his return, he tells me his is proud of me, thanks me for letting him hang out with me, for sharing my life.  He says if he is he has to fly across the world to spend time with me then that’s okay.

Dad–Thank you for coming, I’ll see you in six months! 


(Please click on a photo below to see the collection in a full-size photo carousel–best way to view!)

View from the cable car up heading up Geumjeong Mountain with Dad and Joe IMG_5449 IMG_5450 IMG_5451 Dad and I on the mountain Long shadows Walk through Jagalchi Fish Market IMG_5460 Dad, Joe, and the Fish Market ajumma Joe giving Dad the lowdown on Korea's raw fish scene IMG_5463 Dad decided to get a wooden stamp for Abby, with her name engraved on it in Korean So we waited, along with a few other dudes IMG_5468 IMG_5469 Stamp man at work IMG_5472 Dad, observing IMG_5474 Dad's first pajeon!  The ajummas at this stall loved him. Fresh off the boats, keeping the squid on ice IMG_5478 IMG_5479 Scene at the port IMG_5481 IMG_5482 Fish Market ajummas. Toughest women in Korea. IMG_5484 Fishermen Conveyor belt for unloading crates of fish IMG_5488 Getting hodeok in Nampodong (warm, fried dough pocket stuffed with sugar, cinnamon, and nuts) IMG_5490 Dad's first sip of soju! And, his first plate of kimchi... And then, Dad bought them each a candy cane and fancy pens with hearts and stripes Dad, meet Albert.  I will cry my eyes out the day I say goodbye to this child. He's awesome. My worlds officially colliding: Dad with Chicago class.  How did I wind up here again? Oh, man they run circles around me some days... But I love them. As much as I am ready to move on, I do love them.  My dad did too. Time to give gifts to Berkeley class... Dad and Alex Olivia I think he got a kick out of being like Santa for the kids Dad and Charley!  This child makes my heart melt. Berkeley class, in full effect with Dad. Korean barbecue with Joe and Johnathan. Makeoli and Pajeon with the crew.  A classic Korean dinner. Happy girl! IMG_5525 And then it was time for a rainy stroll through Seomyeon...this is Dad with Paul Johnathan! Ina!  We're in he elevator, on the way to... You guessed it. Norebang! After about ten minutes, Dad turned to me and said, Yep. Well look who's singing... After much prodding, Johnathan convinced my Dad to join in for a Frank Sinatra number. Last and Dad.  Thanks for a wonderful visit!


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