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.

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