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.


Jeff and Madeline said...

As you know we found M's birth family and I am in a situation that I guess knew could happen, but presumed it would not. We met them, they are content with that. We are in the "what happens now" phase--the problem is that means two different things (one to them and one to us). I had hoped by finding them so early that M could forge lifelong relationships, which she desperatly wants; however, they are not in that place.
It is a one way street right now and I have to say that it is really hard. Explaining to her they whys of it is impossible, especially since we do maintain other relationships overseas (she knows it can be done).
Where do we go from here?
For now I am keeping contact via mail in the hopes that they will come to the table on a regular basis. It is such a fine line--1)overbearing or annoying to them, 2) showing interest and keeping the lines open.
So there it is for now.
In a way M is sheltered from the efforts, but in another she is full on feeling what is happening (and not).

Just wanted to share. Thanks for listening.

kyungmee said...

I don't know..I can relate to all of it..since I seem to be in a situation that covers it all. With some reunion with language,age and cultural barriers and some with some cultural and time variable..not language. Well, I feel like I can relate to more than one type of reuinon since I have 5 of them in my life and out! But I have to say, you made me laugh as I read theend of your post. By no means is my korean cooking good..well, to non koreans yes. But sometimes I go through the same emotions and head trips..LOL! And I thought I was alone in that one:)

Mia_h_n said...

Having read the previous post I'm beginning to wonder if I'm just different or if it's simply that I'm a product of a culture and world more far from America than I thought.

I'm not implying what the right/wrong way to raise an adoptee is - primarily because I don't feel sure you can cookie cut it.
The difference in my upbringing and what I can gather from the majority of most of your's seems to be the - thing. It seems very important to all of you to be Asian-American. Me, I'm just Danish. A Dane who's adopted but simply Danish none the less.

In Denmark we don't have camps and Korea-towns and fan dancing or language classes - DK's probably too small for that - so to do all that or not has never been an issue.

My parents have always weight a sense of self the most. I guess you can say that American parents who are doing all the culture things are doing the same, but to me it sounds like something that woud instill the exact confusing many of you describe.
My parents have always been very open about my adoption and answered any and all questions I might have. A lot has been questions they couldn't answer but then we have talked about that.
They have never tried to Koreanize (if that's even a word!) me and my sister. We were Danes living in Denmark who happened to be adopted.

This might sounds like missing out to some of you but it has made me happy in Denmark. I've never felt torn or out of place or like I didn't belong.
I've never felt bad because I can't make Korean food (love to eat it though - but loving food in general I'm not sure that's saying much :)) or know the language and I've never imagined that when I went to Korea it would be like coming home or feel inheritantly familiar or anything like that.
It's the place where I was born and it's part of my history and culture, but compared to the Danish part of my life I'm content with knowing about the culture and liking the food and hopefully know the alphabet.
I don't need to become a Korean-Dane and I don't understand why anyone would expect me to. I lived there for 6 months I can't even remember (not to say they didn't matter) and in Denmark for 30 years. It seems like this expectation is only there when it's a move between two very different cultures. If someone was adopted from Canada to the US (forgive me if those two are in fact very different) at the age of 6 months I don't know how much of an issue the Canadian heritage would be? Even though it ought to be the same if you don't want to discriminate.

By saying all this I don't mean to say that I'm sort of shunning my start in life - US adoptees often think so which in turn normally makes me not share my point of view.
To me, I just recognize it for what it is, the start. And I love Korea as a travel destination, love the food, love Seoul but the rest of my life is in Denmark.

As for the family side of things there are more deeply hidden memories and emotions and bonds which makes that issue much more complicated, but I can feel that way towards the people without feeling sad about not knowing the ins and outs of e.g. the culture.

Mei-Ling said...

Mia_h_n: I am glad for you and I wish some of us didn't feel so torn. Those of us who do not feel as though they are missing anything, as though they feel "it is what it is", as generic as that statement is, it's their truth and I envy that neutrality.

Mila said... feel so at peace and whole with your identity. Thank you for sharing what you did. :)

I do remember feeling that way when I was younger. But, for me personally, I don't know that I would necessarily want to return to where I was at that time...but please understand, that's just me personally.

As much as I struggle, I do not mean to say that I am not choosing this. I realize that this is the path I am choosing for myself. That everyone is different in what they need and seek. And I think that's what I tried to allude to at the end of this post:

"Not because anyone was forcing it upon me, but because something within me could not stop pushing ahead...a mixed harmony that can only be made when both laughing and crying join together in a joyous kind of misery."

I realize fully that I am making my own choices, and I am choosing to take this path. I am choosing to expose myself to these elements, and I am choosing to cultivate this kind of simultaneous angst and joy.

I also think a part of the conflict I feel is a result of the current, although covert and unintentional, tension with my American parents. This results in me feeling torn and conflicted, my loyalties feeling divided, when in fact they are just feels that way, and makes it a bit more difficult to deal with things as a whole...

It was not really until the past year or two that I began to struggle so much with these issues, and then obviously, once I found out about my biological parents and now trying to build a relationship with them, I find myself in conflict.

Overall, though, so much good is coming from this experience. I tend to blog about the more painful or difficult aspect of things simply because it helps me to process things...

It is all still so fresh and raw for me, and trying to find a place with which I am comfortable is going to take time...

But I appreciate what you shared...

Mila said...

Kyungmee...I'm glad you can relate a bit :) My husband thinks my Korean cooking is good, but I am almost positive that others Koreans would not think as highly as he, wink...but all I can do is try :)

Mila said...

Wendy, what a difficult and complex situation...

Such uncertainty.

You can only do what you can do...and certainly, it seems as though you are doing your best to do your part...that's all that each of us can do.

Thinking of you and M...

Mia_h_n said...

I think that one of the reasons for me for following these adoptee's blogs is that I like feeling prepared. As much as I know I can't I like to feel like I'm trying, and learning about your stories shows me some of the different ways to react and feel and handle situations.

Because even though I do feel relatively clear about most of it, I know that meeting bio. family would change me.
How could it not..?

So am I ready to have my world rocked....

Mei-Ling said...

Mia_h_n, I think the secondary question would be: are you ready to recognize the co-existence of two worlds?

Jeff and Madeline said...

Thank you Melissa. As Mei-Ling pointed out, it is the co-existence of two worlds--when those two worlds have very different responses to differences among people it is hard to come to terms--as an adult I find it difficult, it is doubly so for telling M.

Anonymous said...

Psalm 139:13-16

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16 your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

He loves you, Melissa and He knews the plans for your life. You are right where He wanted you to be.

Jeff and Madeline said...

This may not be my place to say since it is your blog Melissa, but for anon--quoting bible text is not only dismissive, but missing the point.

Mei-Ling said...

"You are right where He wanted you to be."

Why didn't he "want" her to be with her Korean parents, anon?

kyungmee said...

I love hearing how everyone had grown up so differently! But one thing I was thinking after reading all the comments, I think that growing up in the States has to be very different than growing up elsewhere. Here, it is made up of so many diverse cultures. You do not have one defining Danish as an example. Eveywhere you turn, you have Irish resteraunts in one corner, Italian village in another, to Russian Markets, etc..In this way, the focus here is usually put on race and cultures whether you want to or not. Maybe, perhaps, because of how it plays out in our society that influences how we are raised and how internally adoptees feels even more segerated and disconneted. some adoptees have families that raise their children with good sense ofself but I think our enviroment can still play a big role on how 'we' see ourselves..maybe not so deep for some and others more torn. Speaking for myself ofcourse and how I have gone through many of these feeling myself and of knowing others that shared their stories.Again, you don't have to be adopted to feel these differences in the states but it can be that much more if you add this component. Finally, like other non-adoptees that have returned to their'homelands' and back feel torn with their identies..example..puerto ricans..when an adoptee goes 'home' to korea and return they also may feel new emotions that define how they look at themselves and have to work through understanding the difference they may have with new found family and relatives from their native country.

kyugmee said...

okay..this might be kind of off topic but relates to identy and culture in the US and the photographer in the photos is also korean! check out NIKKI S LEE PROJECTS.

Mia_h_n said...

Mei-Ling - perhaps we put different meaning in the phrase and if that's the case bear with me, but I fully acknowledge the world of difference between Denmark and Korea. I'm just not sure I see that as a problem per se. I expect there to be difficulties because me and my Korean relatives come from these two different worlds, but internally for me there would be no need for it to cause problems. I don't feel pressure to be, feel or act Korean just because they might want me to.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like I don't have any insecurities and would love it if they loved me despite our differencies. I'm just not expecting that, partly due to all I've been learning from all the people who's done this before me. I didn't expect it before but hearing from all of you puts new perspective on things.

I can't help but smile to myself as I write this. I can almost see you react to this like I would if it was somebody else. A head shake and a "Boy, is she in for a rude awakening!"..I know it sounds naive and too easy and probably self-righteous (and those who know me better knows I'm none of that) but strangely that's how I feel - and feelings can't always be reasoned. I hope you get the meaning even if "reason" can't be used in that context.

What does worry me about a possible reunion are hidden feelings about my parents and being adopted. I'm a controlfreak and not knowing what lurks beneath the surface - MY! surface - drives me crazy and can scare me out of my mind frankly...
But would it be better to jump in of my own volition rather than to sit on the edge scared of falling in...I don't know, I'm rambling.

Melissa, I hope I haven't hijacked your blog with all this? I'll stop it now :)

Mei-Ling said...

Mia_h_n: The thing is... I'm not sure how anyone can prepare for reunion and then go through it... without having it somehow affect their own foundation and making them question things.

After all, adoption alters one's existence.

Of course, this is where an adoptive parent would say "But you are who you are. You exist in the here and now."

Well, yes, physically. And to some extent, emotionally as well.

But what they often forget is my history. The family I left behind. My siblings. My mother and father who have never forgotten me. It is so easy to disregard them simply because they are an ocean away on the opposite side of the globe and that there is no "obvious" affect on my physical or mental state in day-to-day live.

My existence did not begin here. It began back in the summer of 1987 in Taipei Taiwan. To disregard that as saying that I am simply "existing in Canada" is to disregard my birth and biological lineage.

Jeff and Madeline said...


I have been follpwing two of your blogs, read and post with you on adopttalk, etc. so I feel I can say this without you taking offense.

"Of course, this is where an adoptive parent would say "But you are who you are. You exist in the here and now.'"

Please don't lump us all in one catagory...I would not do that to you and I hope you can see that there are those of us who are trying to make change one AP at a time and who do not subscribe to this mentality.

Mei-Ling said...

Wendy: Yeah, I shouldn't have been so quick to generalize. I know there are some really awesome adoptive parent allies out there... sorry. *facepalm*

Mia_h_n said...

Mei-Ling: I'm not sure if you by your last paragraph are saying, that you hear me disregard my birth and/or biological lineage.
If so I can only repeat myself and say that's not the case. To me. If that's not how it's coming across..I don't know...

And if it's the impression that came across in regards to my parents, it's also not the case. To me.
When we went to Korea in '07 they were the ones who wanted me to search for an hopefully meet with my biological family. Me, I wasn't ready.

Jeff and Madeline said...

Thanks Mei-Ling. No worries!

Mei-Ling said...

Mia_h_n: Hmm, I think this paragraph is where I got the impression from:

"it's not like I don't have any insecurities and would love it if they loved me despite our differencies. I'm just not expecting that, partly due to all I've been learning from all the people who's done this before me."

*scratching her head*

Not having expectations and not feeling anything about it... different things.

During my 3-month trip to Taiwan, I didn't cry, not once. I felt sad at times, but it was blanketed by the feeling of ease of being back. I felt the sting of watching my mother and sister's relationship, but it didn't bother me as much because I was now able to spend time with my mother.

In fact, it didn't hit me until the very last day.

I'm not saying that everyone will suddenly become a mess at the end of reunion - we all react differently - but I think you might surprise yourself if you ever do decide to go with reunion - if that's ever a possibility for you.