I’m an adopted Korean. There are an estimated 150,000 of us spread across the USA and another 50,000 or so in Europe, Canada or Australia. I am one of the many who grew up in Minnesota. But now, as I enter my 30s I am moving back to the country I was born in. I leave in 3 days. I’ll spend a few weeks in Europe and then at least a year, if not more in Seoul, South Korea. I’m really excited!
One of the major areas of concern, as always with traveling outside of my comfort zone here in Minneapolis is finding vegan-friendly food, clothing, products, etc. I don’t speak or read enough Korean yet to surf Korean websites with ease to find these places, but I am pretty sure that I can find some of these types of products. South Korea, though known for it’s grilled meat restaraurants and for eating dog does have some vegan-friendly restaurants and I know from my first trip back in 2005, they even sell vegan ice cream at some of their more specialty grocery stores. So if desperately craving, I know I’ll find something there. Maybe not as much as I do here at my favorite co-op in Minneapolis, but still…
I spent a year living in southern semi-rural China a few years ago and there were NO vegan options outside of rice and green veggies. And often, at least where I was located they added bits of meat to nearly all the dishes, even the tofu ones. I guess I assumed that with the potential for lactose-intolerance it would be rare to see so much dairy, but sure enough, most corner stores sold tons of dairy ice cream and other dairy desserts. I made it through that year, but being a vegan living where I did in China was difficult.
Now returning to my Korean roots and to a much larger city – Seoul I’m not so worried…but maybe just a little bit. Most people assume that it’ll be extremely difficult to live in Korea since their perception is that Korean food is just a lot of barbecued meat and tons of seafood, but I am going with the hope that with extra effort I can find the tasty and healthy vegan food, which really is just how most Koreans ate for centuries anyway. Lots of fresh vegetables, hardly any dairy if at all, tofu, etc. As South Korea became more westernized, more and more meat and fast-food chains were introduced to the culture.
Also, I am definitely going to explore the temple vegan food there, derived from the Buddhist way of life and maybe even learn more on how to cook it at at home. While eating out seems to be relatively inexpensive and convenient for most Seoulites, I’m going to try and learn how to cook some of the healthy veggie dishes of Korea.
On more than one occassion I’ve heard fellow Korean adoptees claim I cannot get a “real” experience in my birthcountry if I “cannot” eat meat or seafood. It’s the mentality that in order to get a “true” cultural experience, one has to sacrifice being a vegan. It’s this aspect of being a vegan that tends to be most difficult for me – dealing with everyone else’s reaction and judgements. Learning to cook Korean vegan food likely won’t be difficult at all – it truly is a country with amazing roots, vegetables, etc. Sure, sitting around dead smoking meat is a very social experience and a time when friends bond and enjoy each other’s company, but that does not mean I cannot have a “real” Korean experience in my birth country.
As both a vegan and a Korean adoptee, I have found that people want to tell me what my experience is. As a vegan I am told how limiting my diet is and as a Korean adoptee I am told how lucky I am to have not grown up in an orphanage, etc. I have heard these statements more than I can count now. I realize that in going back to Korea and embarking on this journey I will need to stay strong and remind myself daily that I DEFINE and choose how I go about this life as both a vegan and an adoptee…no matter where I live.