27 September 2014

Korean Kin, Part 1

“We’re kin,” my Tennessee family said when there was the hint of confusion. Kin. I wanted that kinship in Korea.

Naively, I believed I would find Korean kin in one trip. I believed my birth family would be waiting for me to search. I believed I mattered to someone there.

If they were searching and had contacted Holt Korea, I would have found out … right? The Holt Korea office had nothing to show me. No records of my foster mother, no record of the officer who found me, no paperwork beyond what I have seen.

I became my best detective. I traced my six-month-old tracks to the police station. The original building was gone with a shiny new one in its place.

The woman at the police station tried her best to look through all the files in her database, but no files existed for 1968. So instead, she swabbed my mouth to record my DNA in the Korean database.

I desperately placed posters of myself at town halls and retirement homes in the area. I asked the chestnut vendors if they knew anyone who had lost a baby long ago.

I imagined my pregnant mother busy and buying chestnuts for Chuseok in the fall of 1967. She could have known these vendors and walked by them everyday. I could hope.

I took a self-care break in a local stationery shop. I love pens and paper and wanted to purchase some things for my daughter and myself. While talking to the shopkeeper, he said he had lived in the neighborhood for years, and in the year of my birth, he had been a school boy. He drew a map to a wall that was the original neighborhood.

I was on a mission now to see this old wall and its distinct light blue tiled square. I wandered the streets, searching for that one wall … a link to the past where I could visualize and dream of my first days.

The neighborhood seemed to harken back to the era. Traditional medicine and herbal remedies offered interesting smells.

My feet were killing me, but my soul was still aching to see the old wall. Finally, the old barbed wire and merchant doors came into view. Had my mother knocked on these doors? Had she looked at the barbed wire with worry?

Finally, I spotted the blue tile.

I dream in Korean now. I dream of these old streets of vendors and warehouses. I dream of a pregnant woman going about her business and imagine the in utero sounds I might have heard as she purchased herbal remedies.

That one day in the neighborhood disappointed me but also gave me a sense of who I am … a Korean.

06 September 2014

How words like “lucky” and “grateful” hurt me.

My last night in Korea, I was on a high with my new Korean adoptee friends (KADs). The pain of the last week fell away as we laughed and sang at a karaoke bar.

Yet, this morning, the reality of returning home hit me hard.

First, I absent-mindedly left handmade paper I had bought from a famous Korean calligrapher behind at a counter. While it seems silly to most, I cried when I realized I would not get it back (as it was left outside security). I also shared my distress with my fellow KADs. A few who were leaving after me used their precious preflight time to retrace my steps and found it. I was already on the plane, but they said they would mail it to me.

They touched me and healed that silly sore.

The second blow of my flight back was a family that sat within eyeshot. Their daughter was just over one year, and they were traveling with the grandparents. The mother looked as mothers do … tired yet strong.

The beauty of watching this Korean family interact just brought up the longing. The longing to have that connection with my foster mother … the longing to be embraced by my Korean family … the longing for roots.

As the grandmother strapped the little one on her back with an airplane blanket, I flashed back to a time when I may have spent my time strapped to someone’s back.

I tried to distract myself with the magazine … then this.

“A meeting resulting in pain.” I know too well the false expectations of fortunes and horoscopes, but then, I had this encounter.

This encounter came after a time when I thought I had come to terms with my loss. But I haven’t.

I am raw and aching. I know I should feel fortunate, lucky and grateful that I had this experience in Korea. But those words just boil me down to generalities and adoption stereotypes. It is time to change the language and stop using words that make me feel diminutive and my search trivial.

02 September 2014

Please … just don’t ask.

The last leg of my Korean journey is coming to a close. The emotions are more than I could ever express in words, but I’ll give it a try …

frustration …

excitement …

confusion …

anticipation …

disappointment …

anger …

regret …

loss …

sorrow …

grief …

resignation …


These are my initial feelings in the moment, but I anticipate more feelings once my feet touch US soil. I am processing. I ask friends and family to be tender with me.

Please do not ask me about the search. If you want to know about my trip, ask me about the food, the toilets, the people, my run-in with a young woman who believed Baby Boxes were a good thing and G.O.A.’L.

The one feeling I am very happy to express is my extreme gratitude to Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link (G.O.A.’L.). After years of being told I should be grateful, I do not freely extend that feeling of gratitude to anyone or any organization. But in this instance, G.O.A.’L. has more than supported me through all these emotions.

Thank you, G.O.A.’L.