The Gay Son ¶ Day 5: Edinburgh to London

Time is a blur when you travel.

Last I wrote, we finished our first half-day of Korean trio travels. With Windsor and Eton under our belts, onward we went on Day 2 to bathy Bath and stoney Stonehenge, albeit with wetter weather. Unfortunately for me, driving escort duties were ill-paired with a raging hangover after partying until sunrise with my roommate — who coincidentally was in London for work — and our attractive French and Polish company.

It was right at that moment that I missed — no, reveled being abroad. A Thursday night at suited-up Dirty Martini at St. Paul’s turned into a wildly energetic row through a basement piano bar (whose name and location both escape me) and later Freedom Bar, where post-pole dancing we’d all finally part ways.

That was it. The unpredictable. The openness to adventure. The life abroad.

And so on Day 2 I was a shell of myself, and my parents took heed. As they toured the Roman Baths, I slept like a vagabond in the car parked on the -3 level of the SouthGate Shopping Centre. After Stonehenge, I asked my dad to take the wheel, only to take it back 5 minutes later after he — not being accustomed to leftside driving from a rightside driver’s seat — nearly got us killed at one of those pesky and ubiquitous English roundabouts. This was my least favorite day of the trip, and I ended it doing work and passing out briskly back at our hotel.

Thirteen hours of slumber later, Day 3 found us in surprisingly dry London. My parents took a “flight” on the iconic London Eye while I caught up over lunch with good friend Taz at Strada on the South Bank. From there, my parents — after a noodle soup lunch at Japanese chain Wagamama — started a long walking tour: first across the Waterloo Bridge to the LSE, where I spent my junior year abroad, then through Covent Garden to Trafalgar Square, where we spent an hour at the National Gallery. Then onward through Leicester Square and Chinatown to a pub before traversing Piccadilly Circus and The Mall to arrive at stately Buckingham Palace. After this, a walk through Green Park to catch the 38 bus to Holborn tube where we’d join best buddy Yune for a dinner of Korean dishes at Asadal.

I then sent my parents to the hotel in an Uber, and continued the night with Yune and his friends at the pub he and I frequented in our university days — Shakespeare’s Head. My roommate John joined us, and he and I headed to South London for a gay houseparty with pals Kevin and Sean. The night (early morning) ended at XXL in Vauxhall, one of those clubs where men take their shirts off and there is such a thing as a “dark room” where all forms of vice occur. My second, though thankfully non-consecutive, sleepless night.

The start of Day 4 commenced early at Heathrow for BA 1438 to Edinburgh. I booked two separate hotels in the Scottish capital, the luxurious Waldorf Astoria for my parents and the less impressive Sheraton Grand for myself. At the end of the day my mother took the Waldorf on her own to get away from her snore-heavy husband, while my father and I took up an upgrade to a castle-view suite at the Sheraton. (It was clear the two needed a night apart anyhow.)

In Edinburgh, after a three-hour nap, I showed my parents the city’s castle and Old Town. I have always found this place enchanting and visually captivating, perhaps because it was one of my first trips escaping London as a college student, with Yune as my guide. And who can refuse a little tartan influence?

Today, Day 5, we toured Her Majesty’s Yacht Brittania, a sight I had not yet seen and one my parents thoroughly enjoyed (in part due to the comprehensive audio guide translated to Korean). After enjoying tea and scones in the yacht’s Royal Deck Tea Room, we returned to Edinburgh city for a lunch of satay, soup, and savory curries — the first time, incredulously, my parents have ever sampled Thai cuisine.

And now? After checking out of our respective hotel rooms, we are now aboard a Virgin Trains East Coast bound for London Kings Cross, marking the final leg of our six-day journey as father-mother-son. Tomorrow morning I’ll drop off my parents in the arrivals hall of Terminal 3 before flying back myself to San Francisco via LAX.

What experiences await you

While on a trip with your folks for as long as this.

I’ve played many roles over the past six days. Son, escort, tour guide, driver, translator, reservationist, cash dispenser, conflict manager, peacekeeper, optimist… My parents are a fascinating, if tiresome, duo. Dad left Mom back in the summer of 2012 for brighter futures in his home country of South Korea, only to return to her two weeks later “because I didn’t like it.”

Turns out, according to relatives, it’s they who didn’t like him, largely because my dad was being, well, my dad. Bossy, insistent, argumentative, know-it-all — these are the words that unfortunately mark my father once you’ve moved beyond the social, convivial surface. My mom is, for the most part, the polar opposite: kind, patient, calm, gracious. How the two have stayed together for nearly 45 years is a lesson in deep, perhaps masochistic resolve.

Nevertheless, these are my parents, and without them and their influences — good and bad — I would not be who I am today. And that is why this trip feels right, even redemptive. I can say, with neither hubris nor humility, that I have done a tremendously good deed as their son.

Their gay son, that is.

As parents who, after initial denials of my homosexuality, have come to accept me for who I am, and have welcomed into their family my partner and friends. In London, in search of a bar, my mother pointed to Ku in Chinatown and gently asked, “How about this one?” “That’s a gay bar,” I chuckled. “Oh? That’s OK!” she responded enthusiastically. My father chimed in as well. “I don’t care, son,” he said. “I don’t care.”

That counts for something.

Tomorrow it all ends, I return to California, and my parents continue on for 10 more days through France, Switzerland, and Italy. Life for me will resume its normalcy with work, play, and the monthly visit to see my folks in San Jose.

More to come for them, and more to come from me.

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