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.

Friday, August 21, 2009

thoughts from my husband

The following is an email that my husband sent to me after reading the link to Mei-Ling's post, "failure" ( I wanted to share his thoughts. Here is the email:

After you posted the link on your blog, I was thinking about international adoption...

I know it's a very complex issue and that there is no perfect solution. But I started thinking about the reasons why so many people, particularly in Korea, end up giving up their children. It's a matter of support, right? The women in many of these situations feel they will not have the resources to raise a child.

So let's make it personal. What if you and I were thinking about adopting from Korea? In a practical sense, we would have to raise a lot of money and plan on spending a lot of money in the future to support a child, right? But then money, in part, is what is keeping the mother from raising the child herself. I think of JH for example. Would it be better that we adopt her child, or that we give her the money to help raise her own child (provided that is what she wants to do)?

I guess what I am getting at is that it takes the same amount of resources to support a child that isn't your own as one that is. Yet I don't really hear any enthusiasm about programs to do this--a kind of adopt-a-parent rather than adopt a child. Help the parent to have the resources to raise the child themselves.

I know it's complicated. I know that adoption is about more than helping someone--it's about love and wanting a relationship with a child. There's something that would be much less emotionally gratifying about supporting a child from afar than raising a child that becomes your family.

But I guess I'm with you as far as thinking that if a child is able to stay with their parents, that is often the best situation. I just wonder if there isn't more that people could do to facilitate what is ultimately best for the child. It seems strange when you step back and think about the money that is changing hands--from the costs of running orphanages, the cost of adopting and travel, etc. And in the meantime the birth mother is sitting there alone, wishing that she could have had a way to raise her child herself.

Even when well-intentioned human beings hurt other people deeply. I hope some day we are able to come up with a better way that doesn't end up in so much pain and loss for people.

Love you!

the Wall

The following is a response I wrote commenting on another post by a fellow adoptee blogger--Mei-Ling--regarding the issue of the language loss/barrier. For the original post, click on the title of this post:

Mei-Ling, again, I can completely relate to you regarding your frustrations and turmoil over the language barrier. I think, in part, the language difficulties are aggravated by the emotional baggage that comes along with our particular situations. There is an added, albeit somewhat insidious & private, pressure for inter-country adoptees when it comes to learning the language. It’s more to us than simply learning a language–there is also so much emotional complexity wrapped up with it. It feels almost like a life & death situation…we’re not simply trying to learn our way through a foreign country. We’re trying to connect with our own flesh & blood…we’re longing to know from whom we came and why…we desperately ache to share in a depth of connection with the people who gave us life, and yet it constantly eludes us…

I think, perhaps, deep within, we understand that unless we can grasp the language, our relationships with our biological family members will remain stagnant and shallow. And obviously, people like you and me write a lot–so language is a primary way in which we emotionally connect with others.

Hence, stunted language abilities probably make us feel inordinately suffocated and stifled…I don’t mean to be presumptuous, however…but I know for me, the loss of language has grieved me more than I initially anticipated.

I broke down in tears the other day when I was trying to write letters to my Omma and Appa–feeling so frustrated that I cannot speak with them directly, that I have to rely on translators, that I can’t just pick up the phone and have a conversation with them like I can with my Mom & Dad.

There are no words that adequately describe how intense the loss feels. It seems so ludicrous and ironic that I can basically have a deeper, more meaningful conversation with a stranger than I can with my own flesh and blood. Emotionally that’s quite devastating–at least for me.

I do realize that different adoptees deal with the reunion process in their own ways. I have another friend who has reunited with her biological mother in Korea, and the language barrier has not had the same effect on her as it has me. Yet my friend still expresses a compassion and understanding regarding the language loss. I think it also helps that one of her sisters speaks enough English that they can have conversations…

Anyhow, sorry, this is a long “comment.” But I just really appreciate and relate to you. The language loss is proving to be one of the more profound losses for me personally, and one that I know will not be easily surmounted.

I hope that I will be able to live in Korea one day, because I know that’s the only way and hope I’ll ever have of gaining even a basic grasp of the language. But ultimately, and quite ironically, in this case, it is not easier said nor easier done…rather it is both harder said and harder done…

Thank you again for all that you share…


This is a link to a post written by another international adoptee, Mei-Ling, who has also reunited with her biological family. I wanted to share it, because I think she expresses very poignantly and elegantly the experience of loss of language and culture for those of us who have been adopted internationally. Well, at least, I am able to relate very well to what she wrote.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


My husband asks me, What are you feeling?

I reply with my usual, I don’t know.

He reminds me that I don’t know usually means I’m afraid to say what I’m feeling, because I don’t know why I’m feeling what I’m feeling.

Insecure, I say.

That is the only word I can dig up to summarize what I have been feeling for the past week.

I feel so insecure. But I don’t know why or about what.

He and I continue to talk, but to no avail. So he says, do you want to pray?

I say half-heartedly, That’s fine. You go first.

Within minutes I am sobbing uncontrollably, and I begin to realize what the word insecure means to me.

* * *

We are in the fragile beginnings of a reunion process.

In some ways the word insecure is an understatement.

Initially, the word insecure refers to how unsure I currently feel about who I am and where I belong. It refers to how fragile and delicate this all feels.

But ultimately, it refers to this gnawing and implacable sense that I have placed myself in a position in which I could potentially lose everything.

I could end up with less than what I had with which to begin. I could end up losing those whom I love.

I could end up with nothing and no one.

* * *

Not only do I fear the possibility that my Omma and Appa could suddenly decide to renege and back out, but I also fear that I am endangering my relationship with my Mom and Dad.

I fear that this process is simply too painful and too hurtful for all four parents, and that consequently they will begin to pull away from me—that they will decide this is too much, and subsequently, snatch their hearts from me and flee.

I fear that I will lose all four parents—and be left with no one.

* * *

Some would attempt to comfort me by saying these fears are irrational and foolish.

That’s why I appreciate my husband. He does not know how to lie. He must tell the truth.

He tells me that although there are very real risks and fears involved, we can always hope. It is never wrong to hope, or to love.

* * *

I knew the risks involved in searching for my biological parents.

I had seven years to consider all the possible scenarios for a reunion.

I would be deceiving myself to say that the fears I experience are invalid. They’re quite real.

I would be deceiving myself to say that it is not possible that my Omma and Appa could one day decide that they would prefer to sever contact.

I would be in denial to tell myself that the introduction of my biological parents into my life has not created tension, awkwardness, and uncertainty in my relationships with my Mom and Dad.

We’re not dealing with fairy tales here. We’re dealing with real life involving real human beings—all with our own flaws, fears, and imperfections.

All I can do is hope and pray and fight to love all four of my parents with truth and honesty—in the same way that a mother can love all her children. She may develop a unique relationship with each child, yet her ability to love each just as much as the other is not compromised in doing so.

Why can the reverse not be true? That I could love each parent just as much as the other in the midst of inherent differences and dynamics? Why not? I have a different relationship with my Mom than I do with my Dad, but I love them just the same.

* * *

Yet I must surrender to the truth that I cannot control how people will respond and react to what is happening. I can only guide my own heart.

I cannot control whether my Omma or Appa will choose to remain in contact with me. I cannot control whether my Mom and Dad will open their hearts to my biological parents. I cannot control what each involved person will choose to do.

I can only choose what I will do.

I choose love.

And I only hope that such a choice, even with all the risks involved, will triumph in the end.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


A fellow Korean adoptee who has also met her biological family asked me recently, Do you feel any different…?

Although the question may seem a simple one and the answer obvious, it is actually an incredibly profound inquiry.

* * *

In short, I feel worlds different.

I am never going to be the same.

I traveled to Korea as a person I thought I knew. I have returned as someone new and unfamiliar. It is as though I am unknown now even to myself. I must make my own acquaintance.

I feel as though I have undergone this irrevocable and life-altering transformation. Yet no one else can tell. No one else can perceive it.

I found an unknown life and secret identity that have belonged to me yet eluded me all these years. Now as they try to find their place within me, I simultaneously fear and welcome their emergence.

* * *

I feel as though I am of two worlds.

How do I reconcile the differences? How do I merge the two?

In some ways, neither place feels like home. In other ways, both feel like home.

* * *

Perhaps it is as though one had been born blind, until one day you awoke and could see.

It is both beautiful and horrifying. You are overwhelmed. You almost do not know what to do with yourself. You have grown accustomed to perceiving, experiencing and interacting with the world in a certain way. And then suddenly, everything has changed.

* * *

Ultimately, I do not know how to put it into words. I feel as though my world has undergone seismic shifts and drastic transformation, but I do not know how to express it.

I stare at the photos of each biological parent; I cannot even begin to comprehend what has happened—what is happening.

These are the people who conceived me and gave me life—these people whom I have not seen until now, these people whom I have never known until now. They changed my life in profound and irreversible ways, and yet I have not known them or seen them until now.

* * *

I feel lost still.

I do not know what to do with myself.

I feel peace now that I do not have to wonder about the identities of my birth parents. I feel fortunate and relieved to finally know, to have some answers.

And yet I still feel unsettled and restless.

It is not that I expected this to cure anything or to suddenly make all things well.

I didn’t know what to expect quite honestly. I’m simply trying to figure it out along the way.

It is still amazing to me. It is still a dream come true. And yet, it is not a fairy tale. It is not a happily ever after.

It is a happy ending to a seven-year search in the sense that I am happy to find my biological mother and father.

But it is far from being the end. And with just as much happiness that has been stirred has come just as much emotional turmoil.

* * *

My Omma wrote a letter to me recently expressing still so much grief and longing.

She had to watch me leave, not knowing when she might see me again. She wrote that she felt as though she was losing me all over again.

She said she went to the doctor, because she thought she was having heart problems. The doctor said she was fine.

But I understand as much as I am able.

Her heart is still broken. And it is not the kind of broken that any doctor can treat. It is the kind of broken that never finds sufficient remedy or cure.

It is the kind of broken that may mend but will never fully heal.

Yet somehow, I would rather feel that I am broken than harden my heart and never know pain.

To quote a Juliana Hatfield song, A heart that hurts is a heart that works.

I know it’s cliché and a bit melodramatic, but I can at least take comfort, now, in knowing that my melodramatic proclivities as well as my affinity for the sentimental originate not from some random abyss but rather have their origin in the people I now know as Omma and Appa.

Friday, August 7, 2009


A lot is on my mind and heart right now. I feel heavy.

I watched this program that featured two stories—one from the perspective of a Korean adoptee who was adopted in the 1960’s and one from the perspective of Korean birth parents who had relinquished their daughter in the 1980’s.

Of course, watching the program inevitably made me think of my own story, and in some ways, forced me to think about certain aspects of my journey that I tend to minimize or completely ignore.

* * *

As some of you may know, the search for my biological parents lasted seven years.

Now, when one takes into consideration that the current statistic states that only 2.7% of Korean adoptees who search for their biological families actually find them, I’m one of the “lucky” ones.

At least, I found whom I was seeking, right?

But what some of you may not know is why the search took seven years.

It’s something that I don’t like to think about. I’d rather just accept it as the way things happened.

But, in some ways, not thinking about it is a luxury in which I can indulge, because I eventually got the results for which I was looking.

Had things gone differently, perhaps I would be asking more questions.

In some ways, however, I did ask those questions all along the way, and that may be in part why I was able to finally break through to the other side.

* * *

When I first initiated the search, all I knew about the circumstances that surrounded my adoption was that I had been “found abandoned.”

According to that single sheet of paper, the recorded information stated that my biological mother had given birth to me in a clinic in Seoul. It then stated that the doctor had found me that same day and later referred me to the David Livingstone Adoption Program.

End of story.

All my life this is what I knew. This is all I thought I could ever know.

* * *

But after initiating the search through my adoption agencies, I began to discover that all I had ever known was not the whole truth.

I began to learn that I had to persist and push and ask questions. I had to dig and press and pry. I had to learn not take “no” or “sorry, there is nothing more we can do” for an answer.

I had to keep sniffing and clawing up every tree I could find.

Every once in a while, I’d stir up the perching flock enough that a bird or two would finally squawk. Or a squirrel here or there would venture down and crack an acorn or two open for me.

Needless to say, it was a daunting process.

* * *

My initial inquiry led to about a paragraph of information that was sent to me in an email. (

When I received this information, I was nothing less than shocked.

What I didn’t understand was that if the doctor had found me abandoned and had been the one to refer me to the agency, how then was the agency able to confer such detailed information upon me.

Information such as number of siblings and ages. Information such as her level of education and employment. Information about how my she and my biological father had met, how long they had dated, and that they had even lived together without being married.

Did my birth mother leave a note with me as she secretly disappeared from the clinic?

When I finally did inquire as to how the agency had come upon this information? It was explained to me that back during the time of my adoption, the language the agency used often referred to abandonment when it was actually relinquishment that had taken place.

Wait? What?

All of sudden, everything changed.

So, wait, my birth mother hadn’t snuck away in the night and left me there in the clinic? Then, what did happen?

I’m still trying to figure that out.

* * *

But this is how the search went. Over seven years, I kept digging and would eventually stumble upon little bits of information that would change everything.

For example, I was told initially that the agency had names and ages for my biological mother’s siblings. When I inquired about the siblings’ names and whether they could release those names to me, that statement was retracted, and I was told that the social worker had made a mistake and that they did not have their names.

I still don’t know what the truth is.

* * *

As I continued to press them for more information by asking detailed questions, little pieces of information would surface. The agency knew in what town my birth parents had lived in. The agency knew the duration of time that my birth parents had lived together--4 months. Again, how did they know all of this, and why did I have to press so hard to get this information?

I also later discovered that the agency had recorded old addresses for my biological mother.

This troubles me even still when I think about it…All these years, they had old addresses, and they never bothered to share this information with me, or even let me know that they had such information in their possession.

The laws. All the laws.

I don’t like to think about these details. I feel as though I’m being ungrateful or negative to bring attention to these obstacles I encountered.

But as I said earlier, I’m one of the 2.7%.

My path was not nearly as difficult as those of others, as that of the Korean adoptee featured in the program I recently watched.

* * *

All that we are asking to know is the truth. The truth that will fill in the missing pieces of who we are.

But so often the truth is taken from us and buried where we cannot reach it.

It should not be this way for us or for anyone.

The truth will continue to elude those who seek it until those who feel compelled to hide it realize that the truth does need their protection.

Rather than lock away the truth, release it--that those whose lives are so affected by it may decide for themselves what they will do.