Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Once an Island (poem)


I. Postulations of self-fulfilling prophecies of hide-and-seek disorders

once an island, always an island? some old spinster baking bread and. growing tomatoes in her shack in the mountains:

lost in her own dialect.

only the spiders and cobwebs crawl and hang over her death--

what darkness and hermitage haunt you, woman.

you have constructed
this house. each and. every. detail:

each stone in each wall.
each lock on each door.
every barb.
every beware.

you bark.
like a dog. trained: to kill.

you chase. even the most persistent. resilient. valiant. away.

you. are. untouchable.
and you wear it like a crown.

your dying is your living: limb by limb. follicle. by. follicle.

* * *

II. Bonfires of labels and diagnoses

but you can be convinced: woman. of the otherwise; the Overworld:

where there is no fear of the meat that grows on the triumph-- fat with juices;
and where the roses never wilt.

where the fragile and the delicate can be weak yet beautiful.
where a man: will only-- tell you the truth.

no more drifting, my weeping islet--
your tides will have a country--

let's hook, your-- wandering island.


reel You. In.

Universe (poem)


There once was a girl who was as lovely and
as pure as the universe. before
the curiosity of man dipped its hands
into her starry abyss.

All her mystery and wonder
penetrated by his satellites.
his probes.
his insatiable need to know.

now. her darkness and her light
pour out like an endless night

for all the world to stick out their tongues
and lap her up-- they say she tastes
like oil and. dirt.

while they say
there is such a thing as

for those who think
we have a better half. of those who still believe
in something as ridiculous as perfection.

so she stabs. her eyes.

the universe no longer wants to
see. because she
no longer.
she has been touched too much.

and so she falls. out of the sky.
burning. blazing.

and in her final thoughts she wonders. she hopes
that the world will mistake her
for that
ever-elusive. glorious



Thursday, September 25, 2008

Redemption (poem)


the Husseins. and Hitlers.
are famous-- direct. unplugged: the twisted ridiculous.

they are the names we possess, we lambaste
to perpetuate and inherit
the furious:

herds of the unheard: i find ambition
in pandemonium.

and regression. i am an obsession.

employed. rapid

as startling as Hiroshima. the throngs I
have just offended. the mobs with which I have contended
to suppress (undo, dissemble)

my controversy.

they were sons of someone.

ideally, love could decipher the world.
if only we could derive her structure

replicate her culture.
clone her anatomy: archaic and cryptic.

in search of such an
anthropologist: this archaeology
surmounts the Einsteins and prodigies

She is the fossil that the tomb unrolled:

I would fall to her

I would live in her cavern.

Hussein, Hitler. in your sickness-- depart.

let us massacre ourselves--

no more.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


There are no words to surmise adequately the experience of loss and betrayal.

Hurt. Anger. Despair.
Anguish. Grief.


Words never capture fully the depths of the emotional experience, whether it be excruciating pain or utter joy.

Emotional pain is unmatched by physical pain. Emotional pain eludes remedy. One can try to drink it away, drug it away, beat it away, ignore it away, but to do so is only to deceive oneself. Emotional pain does not respond to these suppressant mechanisms.

To suppress something is just that. Doing such does not cure the pain. It does not get to the root of the pain. It does not dissect the pathology and hence discover how to undo it. It only hides it, cloaks it in a veil of deception.

Emotional pain can only be cured by facing it. Processing it. Pouring it out.

Doing so requires one to submit oneself to seemingly contradictory states of both courage and vulnerability. Strength and weakness.

The only way is neither over or around, but through it.

I have known betrayal. I have known loss. In its various forms.

For so long, I lived a hardened life, determined never to let myself be broken.

What I did not realize is that in living such a way, I was robbing myself from the one thing that would make life worth it...


And to know love, one must allow oneself to know brokenness. Emptiness. Heartache.

By trying to prevent myself from ever breaking, I was preventing myself from truly living. From truly loving and knowing love.

I was not any stronger by allowing myself to be unbroken. In fact, I was weaker.

I have learned over the years from the lives and character of others, that it is only the broken who must learn to find true strength. It is only those who have experienced despair and loss who truly learn to rejoice.

It is the vulnerable who learn not to give way to callousness and cynicism. The weak who find strength. The fearful who find courage. The broken who find wholeness.

I think of those who are hurting, whose hearts have been broken, and I hope that in their affliction they will find the kind of hope that only those who suffer have the opportunity to grasp. The hope that never dies, but finds more life. The hope that begets more hope.

As Mother Theresa once said, "I have found the paradox in life that when you love until it hurts, there is no hurt, only more love."

To those who have known love and its pains, I hope that we will all continue to love even when it hurts. More love will not solve all the world's problems.

Yet, in my experience there is no better poultice for pain than love.

(Note: this is to the one without whom I could not have survived childhood & adolescence...all of my love...)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jupiter (poem)


i enter into peril.

the heinous heat. of.
the neglected clot

pressurizes beneath my skin. the reciprocity
is all about

and the eyeball of gratification.


is a traumatized solitude and the drama
of the fat girl

takes precedence.
she finds her way. in
perfectionism and ritual abuse:


and private havens. the speaker is sick and

i put my foot down.
i am a seismic wave.

an oscillation away from my genocide
inside his Jupiter of realms.

where my forehead splits.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Money Tongue (poem)

man makes no sense.

meat for meat
is an asian, slapping teeth upon
jealous stones.

the other elitist congress adjourns in Hollywood
due to the collapse of stones

all the great white hopes
and fall.

(certainly, money has a tongue) and the asian bites it
glues it
to a stick. and now, she has the mother power
of paper speech. poverty speaks

just as clearly.
its ears sag and bleed.

the paper knows what not to say,
such is the synthetic beauty of
rhetoric and the aroma of green (as opposed to the stink
of green) black edges in your pockets

the saving breath? if our dreams consist of
copper and corian alabaster kitchenettes. my man
is a bag of titanium clubs and garages of
roadsters and female pets.

but he promises: baby, you are my only chic. that, Mother,
is my aversion to the registry and
the pitter-patter. i reassure: you are perfect.

(you are delicate) so Mother,
you are superlative.

because the asian is not so gorgeous.
and the asian is not so tall.

The Kind of Blood (poem)


what kind of blood are you

by the looks of you i'd say Korean
by the acts of you i'd say American

what kind of blood are you

the kind that hates, that dies,
that boils over

the kind that bleeds
and stains.

this tube belongs to Joan of Arc
this one--to Hitler
this one, Malcolm X and Ghandi
is in here

and here, to the old woman
scraping by on social security and her dead
husband's coin collection--no one knows that she is still.

problem is, i
keep getting them mixed up
so that i am not certain, cannot tell
whose blood is whose

i know that some kind of DNA testing will fix all that
but wait, tell me again, what exactly are we looking for. again.

the kind of blood. remember. the kind of blood.
the good blood.
the bad.

what do we do with the blood that

freeze it.
and put it.

in the archives.


they will seek the cells-- that prove invincible
within oppression,
tyranny is culminating purpose.

through the seals and walls,
the archives echo.


the men and women
trapped and suffocating

as they seek
to know



Friday, September 12, 2008

a Name

Jeon, Seon Soon.

That is the name recorded on file.

Almost exactly six years ago, on September 16, 2002, I received a single paragraph via email from a social worker in Korea.

That block of black writing revealed more to me about the circumstances surrounding my adoption than I had ever known in all my life.

The several months preceding the reception of that infamous email, a cascade of unusually coincidental happenings and paths serendipitously crossing led to my decision to initiate a search.

On the surface, it began as a search for my birth mother. Below the surface, it continues to stretch far more deeply than I had ever imagined.

Its end is nearly indiscernable.

Its depths shutter and teem with undiscovered life and terror.

Here's how the story goes...

A friend of mine had called me up one day and asked me if I would like to have dinner with her. Sure thing, I responded.

So, we're sitting there at Chili's restaurant chowing down.

Before I know it my heart is pounding in my ears, and everything has slowed to a dull murmur.

"...So, I've got the number. I talked to the agency, but Duk said you have to call. To find anything else out, you've got to call..."

Her words twist and turn in my ears and burrow their way to my heart where I feel a pang of deep emotion beginning to writhe.

What? What in the world? I'm thinking to myself.

I feel like I'm in a dream.

Melinda had a neighbor in her apartment complex who went by the name Bob. He had recently moved from Korea to America with his wife and two sons. Melinda had shared my adoption story with him one day. Bob responded to the story by giving her a contact number to a rep at Holt International, suggesting that they might be able to help.

So, Melinda gave them a ring. She gave them the same shpeel...my friend...adopted from Korea...1975...David Livingstone Program...

Oh, yes, the rep, says, David Livingstone Program, that's now Dillon International. Here's the phone number. Give them a call. Maybe they can help your friend.

Needless to say, this was not at all what I had been expecting when Melinda invited me to dinner that night back in 2002. I had not even been aware that she had been doing any of this fancy investigative work.

I wasn't angry. I was just shocked. Quite honestly, I had never even really entertained the notion that searching for my birth mother was even possible.

And now, Melinda was sitting across a table from me, holding a phone number in her hands that could potentially open a door that I had never known even existed until that very moment.

So, I called.

Hands shaking, heart racing, face burning, I called.

I had no idea what I was getting into.
I had no clue the Pandora's box I was cracking open.

So a month or two after making the call, I see an email in my Inbox from my contact in Korea.

This is what it said:

According to the record, your birth mother's name, Jeon, Seon Soon (we are not sure whether or not her name is right), she had 2 brothers and 2 sisters (we just know their names) she graduated night time middle school. Your birth father had 1 brother and 1 sister, graduated high school and a retail merchant at the market in town. Both were neighborhood, had dated since 3rd grade in high school. And they lived together without marriage. However, their both parents were strongly opposed to their relationship. Your mother considered and decided to separate from your father as she thought your father was not a promising man. At the time, your mother was 21 years old, your father 23.

I could not believe the information burning through the screen on my computer.

To know nothing for the first twenty seven years of my life. And then pow! All of a sudden, I have a name. A name for this elusive woman who carried me for nine months. Whose voice I heard. Whose fears and distresses I felt. A name. For her.

I didn't care that they were not 100% positive that this was the right name. I told myself, it has got to be the right name. Of course, why wouldn't it be the right name?

I felt elated. The possibilities began to bloom one by one in my mind's eye.

Yet simultaneously as my heart was soaring to new heights, it came crashing down to new depths.

The email also said:

I regret to tell you that your birth mother did not leave her I.D. number with our agency...I am sorry that we do not have your birth parents' I.D. number. I hope your birth mother will contact us someday.

This is why they are not certain that the name they have on file is her actual name. The I.D. number in Korea is comparable to the social security number in America. Similarly, a legal document must accompany the name to verify that a person's name is her actual name. The agency in Korea has no record of any such document or number for my birth mother or my birth father.

I have been told before that along with the losses, I must remember to acknowledge the victories. Another balancing act.

It is true, though. I am very fortunate to have in my possession the background history that I do. And truly, knowing what I now know, this information is priceless. I cling to it as though it is air. I breathe it in again and again, that it may become a part of me. As though she had told it to me herself.

Maybe it is dangerous to think this way. To pretend or to imagine in this way.

But it is all that I can do, at times, to stay sane. To have hope. To not be overcome by the sorrow and angst that threaten to swallow me.

And besides, I've ripped the lid off of Pandora's box. There is surely no retrieving it now.

I have gone hunting for it a million times. Eventually, I find myself walking in circles, right back to where I began, gazing into her box.

Trust me. I am aware that I must temper what I imagine and feel with what is veritable and realistic.

But every once in a while I cannot help but stare into that email and imagine what it might be like and feel like to sit across from my birth mother, chowing down on some bulgogi and rice together, listening to her tell me in her own words all that she has ever thought and all that she has ever done.

I know that these are children's games.

And I am an adult.

While I know that I must learn to move on and live on, I also know that the human capacity to imagine, at times, is what offers us the unique power to overcome that which hinders us and ultimately, the ability to move on and live on even in the face of deep sorrow and loss.

The astounding and phenomenal human being, Helen Keller, said it best: Doubt and mistrust are the mere panic of a timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer and the large mind transcend.

Although I am not worthy to compare myself to Helen Keller, I can at least hope to seize life, along with its hardships and triumphs, as did she through passionate perseverance and unyielding creativity.

That way, hopefully, whether I ever find my birth mother, I can at least look back on life and know that I lived it with all the strength and hope that I could muster.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Off the Cliff

Today is a hard day.

I think blogging about my adoption experience is stirring up more emotion than I had initially anticipated, simply because writing about my adoption experience, of course, forces me to give thought to my adoption experience, which in turn, stirs up emotion that I often keep tucked away.

That’s usually how I work. I plunge every molecule of my being into something without really giving thought to the emotional repercussions. Then, once I’m drenched and pulsing, the emotions hit, and I’m thinking, what was I thinking? I think there’s a name for that…Hm, uh, I think maybe, er, we call that impulsivity?

In some ways, I am incredibly calculated.

In other ways, I jump off cliffs and figure that I’ll devise some way to break my fall in the midst of falling. Not so smart.

I like to excuse myself by saying, “Hey, my life isn’t boring. It’s an adventure.” (In the mean time, my husband’s eternal wealth is increasing exorbitantly, particularly in the assets of patience and mercy...).

And I tend to turn to humor and sarcasm when I get uncomfortable with what I am feeling and how vulnerable what I am feeling is making me feel…a bowl of vicious cycles, anyone?

In all truthfulness, my heart is breaking. I feel weak. I feel harangued by intense emotion. Tears gather at the sound of two words…

Birth. Mother.

She has so much power over me.

And yet I have never known her.

I have no idea what she looks like other than fantastical conjectures when I am looking in a mirror.

I squeeze my eyes shut and concentrate. I try to conjure up some image of what she might look like today, if I were to meet her.

But I can see nothing but black and empty space.

I think about the possibility that she could be on the other side of the world, this very moment, strolling down a sidewalk or having tea with a friend.

She could be happily married with a family of her own. Who most likely know nothing about me.

(Dirty little secret).

Or she could be dead.

The trick is that I have not a clue about her whereabouts or her state of being. And the reality of it all is that I may never know.

And that’s what makes today a hard day.

These are the kinds of thoughts with which I wrestle. The types of unknowns for which I seek resolution and yet for which resolution is nearly impossible, and certainly beyond my control.

These are the kinds of questions and uncertainties with which adoptees must learn to live and accept.

It is a powerless place to be.

Not that we are powerless. But there are certain matters over which no amount of power does a thing.

Yet, every once in a while, somehow peace comes to visit me. She sits down beside me and reminds me that I am not alone.

That there is always hope.

I just have to move my eyes and see it all around me.*

* I fear bringing shame to my fellow adoptees because of my weakness. I fear fueling misperception and misunderstandings due to my weakness.

Yet, at the same time, I am compelled to remain true and sincere. People-pleasing never gets me anywhere but miserable, trapped, and stifled.

I guess I just want to clarify that these are simply my experiences and my ramblings, nothing more and nothing less. A.K.A., be careful not to over-generalize my expressions to apply to all adoptees. I’m sure you know this already. But I just need to clarify, a disclaimer, if you will.

Although there are commonalities and similarities among adoptees, each adoptee experiences his or her own individual reactions, emotions, thoughts, perceptions regarding adoption. I just don’t want what I think and feel to be used “against” my fellow adoptees.

Although there may be some who can relate to my experiences, there are many who do not. And I think that’s an important detail that we all need to acknowledge as adoptees and as those who are close to or trying to understand the experiences of adoptees.

There is no formula or equation that one can apply to this adoption dilemma. Some would even be offended that I refer to it as a dilemma. But to me, it is a dilemma, in the true sense of the word. It is a complicated social experience that eludes clear, precise solutions and simple, linear explanations. No symmetrical lines or shapes apply to these issues of social architecture and experience. The issue of adoption is most certainly a shape-shifter, to use sci-fi geek-speak (smile, wink—there I go again, trying to throw in some humor, even when it’s bad humor, when I start feeling uncomfortable…).

Anyhow, I’m always feeling the need to attach disclaimers. It’s my insecurity, I suppose, that I might step on toes. Maybe one day I’ll get passed it…(Help me JR to be less apologetic…).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Beyond the Box

Identity is a complex issue.

Duh. Stating the obvious.


I say this, though, because, honestly, I forget the obvious sometimes. And when I forget that identity formation is complex, I get frustrated with myself and with everyone around me. I want to scream at myself, and I want to plead with others, "Why don't you understand this?! Why is this so hard?!" And then I proceed to rip every hair from every pore in my body. Okay, not really, but you get the idea.

Conversely, though, when I remind myself of the so-called obvious fact that identity formation is not a linear development, but rather a very convoluted path, I am once again able to grasp sanity.

For some, it is true that identity has never really been a complicated matter. For others, however, it has been and can continue to be a painful process.

What am I trying to say here?

Basically, I want to be more than just an adoptee. I am more than simply an adoptee. I want to define myself and my life beyond being an adoptee.

But, alas, like many adoption issues, this is a challenging task; no matter how I might try to minimize its influences, my experiences as an adoptee always rise to the top and want to rule over me. Not that this is a negative thing. I, personally, just don't want it to be the only thing.

It's not that I don't want to acknowledge that being adopted influences who I am in ways that are poignant and often beyond my control. Don't get me wrong, I am fully aware, often too aware, of the irrevocable fact that, indeed, being adopted is a gi-normous (that's not a word...), pink-elephant-in-the-middle-of-the-living room part of who I am. Again, this is one of those not-so-obvious obvious truths.

So, yes, I absolutely acknowledge that my experience in life as an adoptee, and specifically a Korean-adoptee, no doubt is and will always be a part of my identity.

But what I don't want to do is to allow being an adoptee to overcome and reign over my whole identity. I don't want it to "steal the stage." Rather, I want it to be a single part within the plexus of my identity. I want to take that pink elephant out of the living room and let it back out into the wild where it belongs, not cooped up in some stuffy house with shag carpet and plastic-coated furniture.

I want it to be an element that is healthfully assimilated within the entirety of my identity. Simply stated, I don't want being an adoptee to define who I am as a person. I want to define who I am going to be as a person--that is, in the ways that are within my influence.

Does this make sense?

We're all more than a single quality defining our identity. I'm Korean and American. I'm a sister, daughter, wife, friend, and the list goes on.

Just like my friend is African and American. She's a student, an executive assistant, a daughter, an aunt, a sister. She's also hilarious. And the girl has got some serious skill when it comes to dancing. She's deeply passionate. She has fantabulous (again, not a word) people skills. A movie producer would have a heyday with her family story. Truly, to be cliche, because cliches just say it best sometimes, we are more than the sum of our parts.

(Identity formation presents its challenges for just about anyone. However, since I am addressing the issue of adoption at the moment, that is what I am going to discuss. But I also want to recognize that identity formation is a complex process for so many people...Hence, we are never alone in our struggles, yes?).

The point is that I don't want to live inside a box. It's cramped and hard to breath. And well, the world beyond the box is so rich and beautiful, so perplexing and astounding. The box only offers so much.

Now, of course, there are certain qualities and experiences that may influence our identity more prominently than others. No doubt, the experience of adoption has affected and, I believe, will continue to affect, my identity intensely.

For instance, often those who grow up with their birth parents look to their parents to define parts of who they are. They can connect certain things and feel confident that they are the way they are because of the genetic and hereditary influences of their parents.

For me, forming an identity has been quite a labyrinth of experience. At times, it has felt like walking in the dark, stumbling upon an object but having no way to immediately discern or identify the details of the object.

Children exposed to their biological parents can infer characteristics about themselves based on their observations of their parents and feel a sense of belonging. On the other hand, often for me, while I was growing up, I didn't know why I was the way I was or even if the way I was could be identified as positive.

For example, I am what some often refer to as, well, dramatic? And that's an understatement. My show of drama and emotion would put any Oscar nominee to shame. My American mom would often joke about how she was convinced that my birth mother must have been in show biz.

Now, as an adult, I can accept this difference about myself from my parents and pretty much anyone else I encounter and even joke about it.

However, for the longest time, being noticeably more emotional than anyone in my family or anyone that I befriended, always gave me a sense of alienation and separation and, consequently, a sense of emotional disconnection.

I felt awkward, like the odd ball, defective, weak, and that somehow the qualities of my temperament and personality were undesirable and that I should somehow change them. There is the chance that had I had my birth parents available to me, I may have been able to identify similar qualities and, subsequently, may have been able to feel a sense of endowment, reinforcement, and confidence about my temperament and personality instead of the uncertainty, insecurity, and disdain that I felt overall.

I can't look at my mom and say to myself, "Aw, I'm dramatic just like my mom." I have often viewed many of my traits with a negative light because they deviate so drastically from my American parents.

I want to clarify that this is no fault of theirs, of course. It's no one's fault that my adoptive parents and I are different. Even birth parents and their children can turn out completely different from one another. Genes are tricky artists, and one can never be certain of what they will decide to create. But I digress.

Ultimately, this is just one example of the complicated emotional and social process that an adoptee might encounter when attempting to form an identity. And it is only natural to compare oneself to his or her surroundings when answering the question, "Who am I?"

Of course, one of our primary and most crucial surroundings when we're growing up is our family. When an adoptee struggles to find qualities in other family members to which she can relate or connect, the process of identity formation may become a source of pain and confusion.

Again, their is no "blame" to assign, and honestly, prevention of such experiences isn't necessarily the goal or even realistically possible. Rather, understanding and being sensitive to such experiences ecountered by adoptees is the goal. If we can help them reach beyond the box, to help them embrace their experiences whether positive or negative, then perhaps they, we can find peace with an identity that is continually undergoing construction, transformation, and renewal.

So, really, that's all I hope for--an identity that will allow me to grow and mature beyond the boxes that try to close me in.

Beauty and the Beast, a universal & useful cliche

So, I decided to take the plunge. That is, the Korean language plunge. Yipes. The class begins this Saturday and runs through the middle of December. Every Saturday from 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM.

We all had dinner at Haeyoung's last night.

I pop outside, where Haeyoung is grilling ribs, Korean-style. I dramatically proclaim to her, "I think I'm going to do it. I'm going to take the Korean class."

She simply says, "You sure? Okay. What time I pick you up?" She has enrolled her seven-year old daughter in a Korean language class at the same Korean church. I'm thanking God that they happen to have an adult class.

I tell her that I'm scared, nervous. She laughs and smiles, "Don't be nervous! You don't need to be nervous! They speak English, so they can help you!"

I'm thinking to myself, Korean people scare me...I don't know the last time I was around so many Korean people.

I tell my husband, I'm afraid they're going to hate me.

I think I have an irrational complex.

Nonetheless, I am resolved. I'm going to do it.

This feels like such a big deal. This feels monumental to me. It feels to me as though I'm climbing atop this giant milestone and staking my flag in it--attempting to show myself that I can conquer these lifelong fears and insecurities. I will emerge triumphant. Confident. Collected. I will show myself that I can do this Korean thing...


Seriously, I feel incredibly intimidated. Almost to tears. If I am going to be honest, in that uncomfortable, vulnerable kind of way, I am dreading Saturday morning. I'm terrified. I feel like a five-year old kid sitting on the doctor's table, squinting my eyes, waiting for the needle to pierce my skin.

We all need to get our immunizations. We all need to be inoculated.

It's good for you, I tell myself. This is good for you.

There is a small part of me that hopes each little exposure to this elusive, ambiguous beast I know as "Korea" will, over time, inoculate me to the intense pain and hurt that I experience whenever even a thought of this creature rustles in my mind.

But this kind of pain is a funny thing. It's more of the chronic type. There are ways to cope with it and ease it. There are ways to live with it. But I don't know that it ever fully heals. There are good days and hard days. But it is always there.

And I suppose, this beast, is more the size of a bacterium. Hard to pin down. You catch sight of it only when you are willing to look closely. You can begin to understand it only when you are willing to pause and take the time to examine it. Yet, regardless of whether you choose to acknowledge its existence, its effects can be pervasive and even pandemic. It will wreak havoc on your life if you don't deal with it.

I do desire to be reconciled with this perceived advesary of mine. For so long I have tried to wrestle it to the ground, to chain it up in some cage, never to have it wander into my thoughts or life again.

But I am beginning to realize that this beast, Korea, will always be a part of me, no matter how much I try to fight it or suppress it.

Besides, not all bacteria are bad. In fact, there are many that we need, that are indeed, good for us. The symbiotic relationship is one that remains crucial to the maintenance and survival of our delicate and fragile ecosystem.

Of my delicate and fragile psychesystem.

I realize that this beast is more than just a beast. There is a beauty within the beast. I just have to give the beast a chance, get to know it. Just as much pain as the beast brings, just as much healing as the beauty brings.

It's not an easy thing taming the beast. And just when one catches a glimpse of its beauty, the beast re-emerges.

But I imagine that we all know that feeling of beauty and the beast, because, although it's something that we often encounter in others, it's when we encounter it in ourselves that we hopefully gain true understanding and compassion not simply for ourselves but furthermore for others.

Whether we like it or not, we all have our beauty and our beast.

Hopefully, on Saturday, while I'm fumbling Korean syllables, they'll play nicely with one another on the playground.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I'm thinking about taking a class at a Korean church to learn, well, to speak Korean. It's 12 weeks. Ninety bucks.

But I feel conflicted. Do I want to subject myself to such high expectation, pressure, and discomfort?

I just finished ranting and raving to my husband the other day how I want nothing to do with that country called Korea. A harsh thing to say, particularly, when one considers that I was born in Korea over thirty years ago as a "one hundred percent pure Korean baby," according to some piece of paper.

I'm thinking it would be a lot easier to make the decision if I looked like a Caucasian person. This is a strange thing to say, I know. But it's complicated. If I looked White then no one would expect me to already know the language. Such pressure and expectation would diminish, because the presumption that I should know more than I do propagated by "looking Korean" would be absent.

If I were Caucasian, Koreans would not scold me, "How come you no speak Korean?! What's wrong with you...you not like Kimchee!? You not real Korean! How can you not know your own language! You should have learn. Why you not know your country?"

If I were Caucasian, others would understand it as normal for me to walk into a room full of Korean people and feel out of place and awkward. If I were Caucasian, my sense of alienation and disconnect from all things Korean would make sense. But because I look Korean, not Caucasian, well, that changes everything...Koreans look at me and automatically expect that there are certain things I should know and enjoy, like kimchee, fermented bean paste, and how to make rice. Americans look at me and automatically expect that there are certain things that I should not know or enjoy, like the English language or driving a car.

However, though, I have long ago come to the realization that I am an un-Korean Korean. And I am an un-American American. It just depends on who's looking. I'm not Korean enough for Koreans or American enough for Americans. But in all honesty, if I had to claim one or the other, no doubt, I am more American than I'll ever be Korean.

Let me explain.

English is my first and only language. I have yet ever in my life to crave kimchee. I'd rather eat a steak or a slice of pizza. I know American history. My citizenship is American. My name is American. My family is American, and in fact White American. My sense of humor is American. The way I dress is American. The way I walk and carry myself is American. The way I talk is American. Everything about me is American. Why? Because, since the age of six months, I have been raised by and surrounded by Americans. I married an American.

I'm like a human baby who was raised by a pride of lions. (I'm attempting to be neutral, yet somehow I sense that whatever analogy I choose, I'll end up offending someone. Just don't try to read too much into it...). I resemble a human, but the way I live and behave is lion-ish. Did I choose to be raised by lions? Not exactly.

More explicitly, I resemble a Korean but the way I live and behave is American. Did I choose to be adopted out to an American family at the age of six months old? Not exactly.

Nonetheless, I am American. Not by choice, but by fate. And a good fate it has turned out to be. Yet, I no more chose to be American than a native Korean chose to be Korean.

Now, I do not deny that there are things about me that are particularly Asian. Well, really, there are only two general categories in which I would qualify as "Asian." Obviously, my physical characteristics identify me as Asian. Oil sleek black hair, almost just as black eyes, often euphemistically referred to as "almond-shaped." Petite. Flat-faced. Skin with yellow undertones.

The other is my choice of cuisine. I love Asian cuisine. But given a choice, I'd probably choose Thai or Chinese
(that is, the more Americanized versions, of course...) over Korean. But quite honestly, I've met plenty of Americans who like Asian food just as much, if not more, than I do. And if we're using food likes and dislikes as a measure of "Asianness" or "Koreanness," well, there is simply no arguing that I've encountered my share of Americans who are no doubt more "Korean" or more "Asian" than I'll ever be.

And, well, if you throw in the knowledge of the language, customs, history, and culture with the measure of "Asianness" or "Koreanness," well, then I most definitely fall desperately short on the scale of 1 to 10 on "Asianness" and "Koreanness." I'm not even going to estimate where I would be on the scale. Let's just say that John Wayne and I may have shared a similar rank.

Really, most of the time, it's not that I feel ashamed of my Asian qualities or my American qualities. More so, on one hand, I feel ashamed that I am not "Asian" enough and of course, on the other hand, I feel ashamed that I am not "American" enough.

And then, what does it mean that the majority of my closest friends happen to be Black or African American? Who knows...

Being just, well, me--should be enough, right?...Say all the psychoanalysts. And they'd be correct. But that's what they all say to all those out there in the similar situation of wearing multiple pairs of shoes, whatever those shoes may look and feel like. Being you, my friend, is enough. Just be you, dear.

But, as we all know, vacuums do not support life as we know it.

I think we all know to a certain degree what it's like to feel the tension pulling among the conflicting roles and identities assigned to us as we go through life, whether of differing racial or ethnic identities or differing social roles such as balancing being a husband, father, and son or a wife, mother, and daughter--talk about complicated, and the comparisons go on.

So, to take the class or to not take the class. That is the question. And in its implied version, to pursue my "Koreanness" or to not pursue my "Koreanness."

Most likely, I'll end up taking the class. I'll tell myself it's an opportunity for some "good research" and "cultural experience."

And in the meantime, perhaps I can pretend that I'm a White American trying to learn to speak Korean. Then, maybe I won't feel so un-Korean.