Travels with our Daughter
Posted Tue, Aug 24, 2010

As our Korean taxi driver rocketed through the streets of Gwangju I marveled while our 23 year old daughter, Gillian, gave directions to her home in Korean.

For the past 8 months Gillian has been teaching English in Gwangju South Korea, where she has assured me that she is the only Jew in Gwangju. It boggled my mind, wasn’t it just yesterday that my little girl was riding atop her Daddy’s shoulders happily squealing her joy and flashing that beautiful childlike smile? When did she learn Korean? And certainly it could only have been a short while back that I was helping her with her Bat Mitzvah lessons and chauffeuring her and her friends from one party to another. When did she turn into a woman?

Obviously fathers simply want to hang on to their little girls longer than nature would otherwise permit.  This became clear to me and my wife this summer as we travelled with our daughter through South Korea and parts of China. While the beautiful curls and radiant smile was still present, gone was the childlike reticence replaced by a mature sense of self and a beguiling personality. As any parent will attest, once a parent always a parent, so imagine our confusion when in Korea it was our daughter taking care of us for the first time. It took some getting use to.

Gillian’s apartment is the size of a large postage stamp, a utility kitchen, a bathroom with a shower hose over the toilet of all places and a bed. She calls it home and seems to thrive there. In her work she is responsible for teaching English to over 140 Korean elementary children. That would mean making lesson plans, engaging in parent/teacher interviews, marking tests and disciplining children. Yes this was the same young woman whom I recall would sleep in till 2pm, party all night (not that the party piece is dormant in Korea) with little worries other than ensuring her cell phone was charged.

I was floored when we went to a nearby restaurant where reading from the Korean menu Gillian ordered FOR US, and whatever it was, it was delicious. I reveled in sharing time one evening with her group of teacher friends at a “German” pub run by a Korean brew master who brews a passable wheat beer.

And Gillian with obvious great pride guided us in our travels to Busan, at the southern tip of this unique country right on the Yellow Sea. “We are staying at a love motel”, Gillian tells us with a twinkle in her eye. I was of course skeptical; a “love motel”? Seems that Koreans, many of whom stay with their parents until they leave the family home, rent these rooms at low cost sometimes for a few hours where they watch movies on large screen TVs amongst other uses. It saved us a lot of money and it is an option I would pass on to others travelling this part of the world.

Gillian also helped us piece together the different culture and world that is Korea. What we might consider inappropriate in western culture may be far different in Korea. For example I was somewhat taken aback when one of Gillian’s Korean friend’s commented on the fact that I could lose some of my midriff. Really, well Koreans are a very up front people. It seems they say basically what is on their mind in a non-disparaging way. Simply something you have to get use to. Explicit signage is another cultural difference. Gillian explains that Korea has become known for signs that caution you about everything from not vomiting in public to asking that you not have sex in public bathrooms.

On to Beijing where Gillian had no facility with the language but her months in this part of the world gave her experience that we did not have. She was at ease in a place where she couldn’t use language to communicate but found other simpler ways to get messages across. She reminded us to have the name of our Beijing hotel written out in Chinese in order to make it easier for cab drivers.  She helped decipher the different monetary systems between China and Korea and most of all she made us feel comfortable in her own sense of comfort.

My wife Karyn and I learned a great deal on our trip to this part of the world. We learned to use “squatters” and to bring toilet paper whenever we traveled out of our hotel; we learned to eat foods not part of our western tastes (silkworms anyone?); we became accustomed to using umbrellas more for the sun than the rain; but most of all we learned that our little girl has turned into a mature young woman comfortable in her own skin and that travelling with our daughter was simply great fun.

One of Canada's leading experts on antisemitism and human rights, Bernie M. Farber is the National Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC).

Mr. Farber has spent more than 20 years with CJC, battling hatred and racism and strengthening relationships with police services, government and other ethnic and faith communities across the country.

The recipient of countless awards, Mr. Farber is an associate member of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, and was recently selected by the Ontario government to serve as a member of the Hate Crimes Community Working Group. He also serves with the city of Vaughan Mayor's Task Force on Community Safety and Security and the York Regional Police Community Crime Prevention Advisory Council.

Mr. Farber is a published author and has contributed numerous articles on the Jewish political scene, human rights issues, the Holocaust, hate crime and white supremacy to newspapers and periodicals including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star, and many others.


Eric Vernon was born in Toronto in 1953. He was educated at the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo and Ohio State University, in history and political science.

For over twenty years, Mr. Vernon has been the principal lobbyist in Ottawa of the Canadian Jewish Congress, the lead advocacy organization for Canada's Jewish communities and UJA Federations.

In 1987, he established the Ottawa Advocacy Office of Canadian Jewish Congress and is currently the Director of Government Relations for CJC. In these capacities he has written numerous briefs, op-eds, position papers and correspondence on national legislation, public policy, and international issues affecting Canada and its Jewish community, including antisemitism, Israel and Holocaust commemoration.

Mr. Vernon has performed a wide range of advocacy duties with federal Members of Parliament and Senators, senior public servants, government agencies, members of the diplomatic corps and representatives of other non-governmental organizations. In conjunction with these duties he has staffed several Congress committees, represented CJC at inter-faith tables, organized conferences and been involved in legislative and social policy development for CJC on a variety of domestic and international issues.