Editor’s Letter: Celebrating Our Long-Anticipated Return to Asia
07.11.2023 - 15:37
Like so many travelers, my family spent the first couple of years of the pandemic dreaming of visiting a place that was very far away and had become very, very inaccessible to visitors. In our case, it was South Korea, where my wife was born. We'd last visited in 2015, when our daughter was learning to walk and our son, as I've often joked since, was with us but we didn't know it yet. We promised the family there that we'd be back within five years, but COVID-19 intervened.
As they got older, the kids were becoming increasingly interested in their Korean heritage, thanks in no small part to the online tae kwon do classes they began taking during lockdown, which then turned into IRL classes. In early 2022, as it became clear that South Korea was readying to reopen its borders, we booked our tickets, and we went last spring.
When we arrived in Seoul, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom, people were out in droves soaking up the balmy spring weather, and the city seemed even more dynamic than I'd remembered. The family had aged a lot—as had we—but they were in great spirits and so absolutely delighted by our children. We went with them to Gyeongbokgung Palace, one of the city's most famous cultural landmarks, where the kids wore hanboks we'd bought for them earlier in the trip, and then wandered along Myeongdong Street food alley, where I could not stop buying spicy snacks from vendors. The vacation also included a pilgrimage to Lotte World Adventure, the planet's largest indoor theme park, which our son professed to be the best day of his life; a day at Donuimun Museum Village, a time capsule transporting you to the Seoul of 50 years ago, which I wrote about in the September issue; and a side trip to the coastal city of Gyeongju, the capital of the ancient Silla kingdom. We returned home exhausted but also full of gratitude.
Last year, as South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and other Asian countries reopened their borders, a host of publications, including this one, heralded the “return to Asia.” But no one had really had a chance to visit at that point, so at the time, we also planned this issue to report on what it felt like to actually return to Asia. The stories we got include Danielle Demetriou's gentle meditation on nature, art, and Ainu tradition on the Japanese island of Hokkaido; Gary Shteyngart's own return to Korea, to the magical island of Jeju, with his wife (also Korean American) and son; and Alex Bhattacharji's visit to India with two prominent Indian American restaurateurs.
Alex's story, I should note, is both a return to India and a commentary on the nature of diaspora. This issue also features a number of stories not set in Asia, including R.O. Kwon's exploration of Asian art and food in