It caught me off-guard: “Cheollabuk Child Protection Agency”.

I was in Jeonju, the largest city in Cheollabuk-do, the province I was born in. I had been wandering kinda aimlessly, probably looking for somewhere to lunch.

“Cheollabuk Child Protection Agency”. A big, yellow sign. Could I have one been a child there?

I quickly shook it off. What are the odds? All I know is that I was born in this province. I could’ve been born anywhere in Jeonju — if I were born in the city at all.

It happened again wandering the Nambu Market. I happened upon this spot on my first day in Jeonju. It’s a long, narrow row along the Jeonju River with merchants on either side selling spices, fish, fruits, vegetables. Some have their merchandise spread out on tables. Some have it sprawled on the floor, separated from the street by a sheet.

Most of the sellers are older women. Some were chopping fish or sorting grains. Some were sitting, hoping a passerby would purchase their fruit instead of the fruit from the stall next door. Some were even sleeping in makeshift beds.

Perhaps it was because seeing the yellow sign earlier had put this in my head, but my mind jumped straight to, “Maybe my mother was a Nambu merchant.” As a child, whenever I would get mad at my adoptive parents, I would daydream about my “real” parents, always imagining them as a prince and princess.

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As I grew older, I thought about it less. Or at least I thought about it in a less romanticized way. I know I am who I am today because of my loving, adoptive parents. My “real” parents. I can see that I get my artistic “eye” from my modern-dancing father and my need for concise, linear thinking from my librarian mother (which, combined, just about sums up my photographic style).

Visiting my country of birth, my province of birth, thinking about the “what ifs” was probably inevitable. Where you’re born and where you’re from is important. But it’s only one part of you. The other part is where you go from there.

Words and Photos: Elliot Vernon