Monday, November 30, 2009

a Memory or 3

Dried skate at the Busan Fish Market

A Variety of sea cuisine at Busan Fish Market

Rows of helmets at the DMZ in Korea, before entering the Third Tunnel.

Baby Boom of Mixed Children Tests South Korea

Monday, November 23, 2009

눈뜨고코베인 - 싸이키댄스 (mv)

This Korean band is too much fun...

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I have not really written much yet about my second trip to Korea back in September.

I realize that I have been somewhat strangely silent about it.

* * *

In summary, I am glad I did it.

In all honesty, I would not do it again.

* * *

By this I primarily mean that I would not travel to Korea again without my husband, and I would not do things in the same way that I did the second trip.

It was just so much all at once without any of my normal supports.

I don’t know how other adoptees have done it. I feel like a weakling in comparison. I feel as though I am a different breed—one that would not necessarily survive according to the theory of “survival of the fittest,” if it did not allow for exceptions.

I am definitely an exception.

* * *

During the second trip to Korea, I learned some hard truths about each of my biological parents, and consequently, I had to face some not so pleasant truths about myself.

Yet, there were those moments that made me beam. When I got to meet my Uncle—my Korean mother’s younger brother—and his children for the first time, I could not stop smiling. My heart swelled with hope and joy. As we all gathered on the floor around the table for dinner, I felt as though I had found a home once lost but finally retrieved.

But as always, at least for me, it is a strange pendulum of gratitude and grief on which I swing. Each moment filled with joy seems not to pass without an equal amount of angst.

As I sat at the table observing this strange and dreamlike moment, my heart filled with comfort, while I equally felt an aching nostalgia for a life and a people I had never known. I felt envious of them. I felt pained that I would never know what might have been.

* * *

Rather, I must simply embrace what grace I now have to strive for something new and hopeful, albeit broken and uneven.

To quote Carl Sandburg, “One knows what one has lost, but not what one might gain.”

Certain things have diminished beyond recovery. Some things cannot help but remain irrevocably lost.

We cannot gain what never existed.

Yet I can gain those who have emerged, only that I may reach to grasp them and never again let the distance grow—so dark, so wide.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Were wounds so old, ever so raw…

* * *

It would seem that one never quite recovers from that first loss.

We must endure a severance of that which was never intended to be severed.

So, almost as though we believe there is no other way, we spend the remainder of our lives dropping pieces of ourselves as we choose to leave or to be left—convinced that there is no hope of ever being whole again.

* * *

I see it over and over again among adoptees—a pattern of being left and leaving. It is as though we cannot but repeat that which was done to us.

We cannot live life without wounding ourselves and wounding those who surround us—time and time again.

It is as though the abandonment has become a part of our blood, our flesh so that it begins to trickle out into everything and everyone we touch.

* * *

Nothing seems able to satiate the persistent emptiness and loneliness, the ravenous depth of insecurity and uncertainty that tells me the world will always choose to leave me behind.

* * *

Body convulsing and mouth quivering, the words were choking in my throat.

Please, don’t ever leave me.

And how does one ever convince someone like me that he or she will not leave?

It is not his or her fault nor within his or her control that I am consumed by such a fear. And yet, how can a human being ever make such a promise without telling some form of a grey lie, wrapped in a thin veil of good intentions.

I know you’ll say that you will never leave me. And you would be the first to ever utter such a commitment, such a vow.

To this day, you have kept your word.

This makes me cry. This will always make me cry.

But these are the kind of tears that taste sweet, and those without which I hope I will never have to live.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I have waited for this all my life.

Yet already, I grow weary.

It is not that I am wishing for something else. I do not regret the room of simultaneous horror and joy that I have found.

But I realize that this process imitates the nature of a marathon; I need to pace myself accordingly.

* * *

I feel guilty for feeling the way that I do—for feeling the need to take a break, for feeling the need to retreat.

And yet, just as the body needs time to recover from extensive physical exertion, so the mind and heart need times of rest and recuperation from periods of intense and prolonged emotional exertion.

The past ten months have indeed been a marathon of emotional toil and labor. And that’s in addition to the preceding seven years of emotional perplexity and strife as I searched for those whom I have now found.

Again, it is not that I am despairing or lamenting.

It is not that I am second-guessing.

It is simply that I am completely exhausted and enervated.

I want to be full of excitement and thrill. I want to be bubbly and happy, and somewhere underneath this haze, I believe I am.

But right now, I see an image of myself in my mind that has the look of a woman with her head and shoulders slumped over, heels dragging, legs quivering, and eyes heavy.

* * *

I need to write a letter back to my Omma.

I need to fight to keep in contact with my Appa.

I do not want to lose the connection that has been so delicately and carefully forged. And yet, I seem barely able to find the strength to lift my mind and to take hold of my heart long enough to build the words and fortify the emotions necessary to continue.

I know that eventually I will.

Ultimately, I want this to last.

* * *

For now, I just need to take a deep breath, close my eyes, and find the rest for which my mind and heart are aching.

Friday, November 6, 2009

more than a Photo

At first glance, this would seem a mundane, perhaps even somewhat peculiar photo--nothing particularly interesting other than an image of packages of diapers gathered on a floor of grey tiles.

But then, someone might tell you that these diapers were purchased for unwed mothers in Korea who have decided to raise their children.

And if you were someone like me, the photo might then become so much more than a photo.

It would become a story.

It would become so much more than a sense of mundane peculiarity.

It would begin to push at your eyes. It might lodge itself in your throat and open up your chest.

It would almost transform itself into a sharp edge to cut deeply into the most raw and vulnerable parts of who you are.

It would twist and writhe in your mind with unspeakable thoughts until it took on a voice of its own calling out all that you would rather forget but know you cannot and should not forget...

All the stories of those who must make a choice that no human should ever have to face...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I am a woman who is divided.

Not because I want to be divided. It’s just hard to be whole when there are pieces beyond my reach, beyond my control.

My hope is that with time, those that have flown apart will one day be able to come together.

In the mean time, I feel like one who is living two completely separate lives. I feel like one who is two separate people.

I want to assimilate the two. I want to incorporate the two. I want it all to be one. But it is never that simple.

I still feel as though my life is filled with secrets. And feeling as though one’s life is full of secrets can lead to a life that feels quite lonely and isolated.

Secrets make one feel unknown and alienated. No matter how many people may think they know you, you still feel like a shadow. An impostor. Invisible, obscured.

Like a sun eclipsed by an eternal night sky.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


You know how sadness feels. It is both a dull and intense pain.

* * *

It begins as a muffled twinge in your heart and head. Slowly, as it intensifies, it begins to seep into your chest and throughout your limbs until it overtakes your entire being.

* * *

It has an unbearable weight to it that is almost suffocating.

It obscures you.

It is a dark, heavy residue, a thick and crushing fog.

It sticks to you. It presses down on you.

Until, you can take it no longer. Until, your body and mind begin to tremble.

Until, the tears break forth and cascade downward, falling into a kind of miserable freedom.

The release. The breaking. The exodus.

* * *

The deep sadness extends itself and collects upon the ground.

It has found its way out.

* * *

While leaving me behind.

Thursday, October 8, 2009



My Korean mother gave me the name Cha Mi Ra. My Korean father chose the name Cha A Reum. The agency recorded my name as Yoon Mi Ra.

So when people ask me to share my given Korean name, it is complicated.

It is always complicated.


Is complicated.

In the world of adoption.


I have always referred to the name Yoon Mi Ra.

Obviously it is incorporated into the web address for my blog.

It is the name on which I have relied for thirty-four years.

I would write it on scrap sheets of paper over and over—while searching for my origins—hoping that clues would emerge from all my scribbling.

It is the name fastened to my infant torso, almost reminiscent of a mug shot, in the photos posted to my files at the time of intake.

It is the name I uttered through my sleeping tears, thinking it would serve to lead me to the answers for which I longed.

In some ways, it did just that.

In other ways, my affections for this name are now divided and conflicted.


It is neither the name that my Korean mother nor my Korean father bestowed upon me.

And yet somehow, it is still me.

* * *

My Korean mother tells me that she does not know how the name Yoon Mi Ra came to be.

She tells me that Yoon is in fact my deceased maternal grandmother’s surname, but that she does not know how the agency would have come to such knowledge or how the agency would have decided to give me this surname.

She states that she gave me the name Cha Mi Ra.

I make a note to myself that most likely some pieces are perhaps being willfully omitted or subconsciously denied or have simply been lost forever neither willfully nor subconsciously but simply consequently.


My Korean father never had the chance to see me or meet me. My Korean mother disappeared a month before I was born.

When he finally learned of her whereabouts, it was too late. I was gone, and she had moved on with her life.

In the bitter years to come, he decided to call the daughter, whom he had lost, by the name Cha A Reum—hoping one day that fate would allow their paths to meet.

[Areum means “beautiful” in the Korean language.]


Now, they both call me “Ma-leesa.”

So, really, to be troubled over my Korean name is to trouble myself over a name and a fate that has come to pass…

And to trouble myself over an identity that seemingly never finds rest…

But I always seem to be drawn to trouble.


I am all of these names, then. I suppose. Just as much as they represent the different lives I have lived and the different parts of who I am.

Just as I am of more than one people and one land. And just as much as I wrestle with each people and each land to neither restrain me nor reject me.

I am a Cha as much as I am a Chatham as much as I am a Jeon. And a Yoon and a Reynolds and a Fightmaster. And a Konomos.

Don’t get me wrong—a name is powerful. I am not denying the significance and weight that a name can carry—or the genetics and heredity, or the pressures and expectations that come along with it.

But I am saying that a name need not define the sum of who I am.

Rather I can define the name. I can choose who I will become and how who I choose to be will define the name, or names, given to me.

I may have a temper, but I can choose how I will manage and use that temper. I may be deeply emotional and fiercely passionate, but I can choose whether I will use these qualities to either benefit or hurt the world around me.

Maybe it is the chicken or the egg dilemma.

Or maybe it’s the chicken and egg solution.

It’s both, perhaps.

Or maybe, neither.


Pseudo-lofty words from a not-so-lofty person. So take them just as they are—pennies and drops of water in a world already overwrought with debt and flood.

The perfect substrate for hope and courage and ultimate triumph over strife.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


So, I just returned from Korea last night.

As I posted on my Twitter account, I am both exhausted and exhilarated.

I will return to blogging about it all as soon as I feel as though I have had ample time to recover.

I will at least say this for now: the trip although incredibly emotionally wrenching was absolutely worth it.

I got to meet family that I did not meet during our last trip. I also gained more knowledge and insight regarding the situation--although painful yet meaningful.

Lots of stories and adventures of which to tell...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

a Sister Twist

Quick update here:

I got a phone call tonight at about 8:20 PM. It was the social worker at Eastern in Korea. She had just finished a phone conversation with my Omma (my Korean mother).

She wanted me to know something.

* * *

Looks like I'll be meeting my two biological half-sisters this trip.

How I wonder what in the world they are thinking and how they are feeling.

I hope they don't despise me.

I hope we get along.

* * *

I hope this twist doesn't end up sour.

I would of course prefer sugar and spice and everything nice.

But I suppose with enough exposure, one can acquire a taste for just about anything.

Let's hope my sisters are open and willing to "acquire."

[smile, wink...weep...]

Sunday, September 6, 2009

a Twist

Uh so, er, yes, I am actually going to be boarding an airplane next Sunday.

And not just any airplane. I'll be boarding an airplane on its way to Korea.


Wait, didn't you just get back from Korea?

Yep. Sure did.

* * *

It's a crazy story, which I won't get into it right now.

But it is suffice to say that an opportunity was presented--well, really, handed to me just two Thursday's ago. It was one that I would have been a fool to turn down.

So, here we go again. I am returning to Korea intensely sooner than I had ever anticipated. I'm just as shocked and surprised as you are.

I'll be there for two weeks. And this trip is going to be quite different from the first one back in June and July.

In June and July I traveled to Korea with my husband at my side, holding my hand every step of the way. We traveled with the safety net of a tour group--all activities, accommodations, staff provided.

I know there are plenty of you out there who have made such a trek before and are probably shrugging your shoulders, thinking, yeah, so what's the big deal?

And I admire each one of you. Always have.

You see, I'm a sissy--and I am a little freaked out about making this trip without my normal safeties in place. I know. Ultimately, I am a grown woman, and all will be fine.

* * *

It's just that this is all happening so much faster and so much sooner than I expected. And to be honest, I haven't even finished processing the first trip we made to Korea in June and July to meet my biological parents for the first time.

And now I'm about to do it again.

I'm not complaining or whining--

It's a bit like my husband said, It's like you're watching a movie, and you think it's about to wrap things up. Then suddenly, something unexpected happens, and the plot gets ripped wide open.

Not that this is anything like a movie. And not that this story will ever "wrap things up."

It's simply to say that this is turning out to be quite the twist in an already unpredictable adventure.

Friday, August 28, 2009

dissonance in my kimchi

The article that I linked recently seems to have opened a part of my mind in a way that made me squirm—but in a good way, I think.

* * *


There are several adoptees I have encountered who have arrived at conclusions that agree with one another regarding their personal reunions with their biological families.

There seems to be a concession that they will never have the relationship with their biological parents for which they might have hoped.

They attribute this realization in part to the cultural and language barriers and also in part simply due to personality differences and more poignantly due to the lost years for which nothing can compensate.

Even without the language and cultural barriers, the post-reunion journey is often less than an ideal process.

It’s not simple or easy to try to build a relationship with one’s biological parents after a lifetime of absence. You can’t pick up where you left off, because most often you never began. And if there did happen to be a beginning, it ended abruptly and with great distress.

On the other hand, there are also a few adoptees I have encountered who seem to be doing very well in their reunions. They are not as distraught over the language and cultural barriers. They seem to be adjusting incredibly well, considering the circumstances. They are content despite the absence of a shared language. They appear to be forging lasting and healthy relationships with their biological families.

* * *

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that, not surprisingly, I feel conflicted.

Quite honestly, in my mind, I have always imagined that, with time, my relationships with my Omma and Appa would naturally improve and grow as we learned to cope with the language and cultural barriers.

It is not that I imagined that such a process would be without obstacles, but rather that we would nonetheless continue to make progress, even if slowly and excruciatingly.

Honestly, the thought never dawned on me—that is, under the presumption that we would continue to agree that we wanted to remain in a relationship—that our relationship would not then continue to grow and mature until ultimately we would break through barriers and overcome differences to finally reach a deeper, more sustainable relationship.

Of course, I have always imagined that such a process would take years and years, possibly even decades.

But I had not really thought that we would hit a point at which we could get no further—that is, again, as long as all of us were continuing to forth effort, as long as we did not give up.

And now, of course, I begin to wonder and ponder, what if we do hit a stalemate? What if we get to a point where we are unable to get any further?

I suppose I’ve just assumed that as long as I keep doing my part and as long as they keep doing their part, we’ll eventually get “there.”

Of course, I could grow weary and exhausted and decide I do not want to do it anymore. They could change their minds and decide they want a stalemate. But, at least for my part, I do not imagine myself making that kind of decision…not after searching and waiting for seven years.

* * *

On the other hand, I do relate very much to what Hopgood and other adoptees have expressed as far as the seemingly permanent sense of displacement.

I tried making jap-chae and kimchi kim bap and o-ee (cucumber) kim bap the other day, and I literally began crying during the process.

I know, seems pretty pathetic and overly dramatic.

As usual, I don’t even really know how to put into words what I was feeling.

I just know that I felt such a pressure and such a burden while at the same time feeling compelled and determined.

I simultaneously did and did not want to be learning how to make Korean food.

I wanted to rebel and throw down the seaweed and noodles and all the chopped vegetables and scream I hate this! I hate Korea! Why should I have to learn these things?! Why is this so hard?!

Yet in the same moment and in the same way, I could not stop myself. I felt compelled, driven. I wanted to finish it. I wanted to get it done. I wanted to make it work.

Not because anyone was forcing it upon me, but because something within me could not stop pushing ahead.

So I kept chopping and I kept rolling, eyes blurry with tears, lips shaky with uncertain smiles—amidst a mixed harmony that can only be made when both laughing and crying join together in a joyous kind of misery.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Two main themes that seem to be contributing to my anxiety:

I. The Why

Why did my birth mother relinquish me?

Was it that she did not want to take care of me? Or is it that she felt she could not take care of me?

If she could not take care of me, why did she feel that she could not take care of me?

Did she think she was not fit to be a mother?

Did she lack the resources? Were her circumstances at the time such that she viewed herself as incapable of caring for me sufficiently?

Could it be that the Korean culture applied certain ways of thinking that made her feel prohibited from keeping me and raising me herself?

All the above.

And they are all intertwined. Like dominoes pulled by a string.

II. The How

The language and cultural losses are profound, and are in large part, what make this reunion and post-reunion process so painful and overwhelming.

If you have ever traveled to a country with a different language and a different culture, you can relate to both the wonder and terror of being somewhere completely foreign to you.

Now to what you may not be able to relate is being in a completely foreign country among foreign people—and although you yourself are a foreigner, you are expected by the natives to be a native.

That alone is not necessarily a bad thing. Especially when the natives are warm and helpful, loving and accepting. When they understand your situation.

But what if they do not understand your situation—or do not want to understand your situation—and upon discovering that you do not speak the language they speak, you do not eat the food they eat, and you do not think the way they think, they immediately hold you in contempt with great disdain? They heap judgment, shame, and condemnation upon you. Not because you do not belong there, but because, in their eyes, you do belong there.

In appearance, you look just like they look. Therefore, you should speak just like they speak, and think just like they think, and eat just like eat. Forget the fact that you were sent away as an infant or a child. Forget the fact that you grew up completely removed from anything that even remotely alluded to their culture.

Then what?

* * *

I’m not playing a violin here.

I’m not seeking pity.

I don’t want a career as a poster child.

Understanding. I am simply striving, maybe even campaigning, for understanding.

As I say repeatedly, this is a complex set of circumstances with multi-layered and multi-faceted experiences and emotions. It’s not as simple as, Hey, you—glad you got to go to Korea, now aren’t you glad to be able to move on with you life?

Going to Korea to meet my biological birth parents wasn’t a quick go-and-get-your-fix-and-then-return-all-better.

It’s only a few layers down or a few facets examined.

We’ve got a long way to go.

* * *

The wounds cannot begin to heal without a common language.

To quote a fellow blogger and transracial adoptee, Mei-Ling wrote in a post (not really mama), I must learn to contend that what I receive will only ever really be equal to what I am able to give.

As this pertains to language, it’s quite difficult to build a relationship with someone if you do not speak the same language.

If I can only give looks and hand gestures, that is the only depth—and that’s not very deep—to which our relationship can extend. Certainly, body language is said to comprise a large percentage of actual communication.

But in a situation like this, you can’t get to the truth with facial expressions and hand gestures. You can’t get the answers to questions of why and how.

* * *

In some ways, it would seem bliss to remain in this state of superficiality. Why should I want to delve more deeply and know what dark truths and raw emotions may linger beneath?

To be cliché, I can’t leave alone, alone.

That is simply not who I am. Some would call this weakness.

Some would say that I need to be more accepting and simply let it go and move on. You’ve had your precious reunion. You’ve met your biological mother and father. You know in general what happened. What the heck else do you need to know?

That’s like telling someone, look, you’ve been 90% cleared of cancer. You’re essentially in remission. Just go on and live your life. Don’t look back and don’t think about it. And hopefully, it won’t come back. Er, really?

Somehow, I think most would agree that such a course of inaction and passiveness won’t do in a situation like that.

Certainly to continue living one’s life to the fullest is not only advisable but healthy.

But to never go in for check-ups, to simply think that if you don’t think, you’ll be just fine is almost disturbingly laughable to most.

You have to monitor things. You have to be wise. You live. But you can’t just forget.

I can’t just forget.

That’s the thing.

And why should I feel as though I am supposed to forget? A puzzle is not complete without all the pieces. My life is not complete, I am not complete without all the pieces.

I am going to have to learn the Korean language if I ever want to have a real and mature relationship with my biological parents. That is simply the inescapable, albeit, frustrating and overwhelming truth.

* * *

You say, well, then, get cracking. Just learn the language. How hard can it be? Right? Sure.

Have you ever tried to learn a language at 34 years old—specifically, a language that uses a completely different alphabet and has a completely different structure and linguistic background, not to mention, it has traditionally been a somewhat reclusive and exclusive language because the people who use it are incredibly nationalistic and xenophobic?

Not to mention all the heavy emotional baggage and implications that this language holds for me.

It’s not like learning Spanish. Spanish uses the same alphabet as English, has a similar structure and linguistic background and most significantly, the future of my individual relationships with my biological mother, father and family does not depend on whether I perfect the Spanish language. There’s no pressure. (Ironically enough, I happen to know just enough Spanish to get by—too bad my Korean parents don’t know Spanish, eh?)

If I were comfortable with maintaining a cordial—although distant and superficial relationship—with my biological parents, the language and cultural walls wouldn’t be so distressing.

If I did not want to eventually ask the harder, deeper questions, learning the language would not hold so much consequence.

If I did not want to know who they are, where they have come from, and where they have been, then, sure, what would all this language mumbo-jumbo matter?

But that’s not my case.

That’s not my situation.