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.


Mei-Ling said...

Whoa, this is deep.

As I write this, I have just under 2 hours until I turn off the computer, head to Heping for dinner with Baba and Mama for the last time, and then head back to Xingnan (their 2nd home) to pack up and head off.

[although you yourself are a foreigner, you are expected by the natives to be a native]

This happened to me many times.

Sales clerk: blah blah blah in Mandarin
Me: I don't understand.
Sales clerk: How do you not understand?!
Me: I came abroad.
Sales clerk: blah blah
Me: I'm Canadian. I don't know what you're saying to me.
Sales clerk: Oh!

[I must learn to contend that what I receive will only ever really be equal to what I am able to give.]

Yeah, I realized that a while ago. It just flashed in my mind as I finally understood why I wasn't able to have a "normal" relationship with them and why it seemed nothing was progressing.

[But in a situation like this, you can’t get to the truth with facial expressions and hand gestures.]


Also, regarding the language barrier thing and having people say "Well then go take classes."

Newsflash here, people: Classroom language is NOTHING like real-world language.

Mei-Ling said...

One other thing I forgot to mention is something that was written by a Vietnamese blogger - it's been a long time since I've read the entry, not sure if it was Kev Minh or sume:

"It's not that I want to remember. It's that I can't forget."

Mila said...

Mei-Ling...I can only imagine the tempest of emotion & thought you're experiencing right now...thinking of you and here for you...

sherinala said...

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

This is one of the main reasons why I believe that I have such difficulty learning korean. I learned spanish no problem, and can still construct sentences, and even have a basic (basic) conversation with someone!

Korean - I can pick out one or two words and then try to guess what they are saying... so I agree with you girlie -

the emotional baggage can definitely hinder our progress of learning Korean!

I love your friend's quotes - they are very poignant!

kyungmee said...

having met my family now in korea and now in the netherlands...I can tell you even though it;s only been a couple days..I feel closer to my brother in the netherlands..simply because we can talk to each other in the same language! I still feel very disconnected with my family in korea...and they are unwilling to talk about many things so it makes it even more difficult for me. There are still questions and it has not been a all happy reunion..but I still hold on to that hope..so don't give up but be realistic like you are! All relationships are different like all past. I really want to learn korean..but I wonder even if I did...would our relationship really change much! I think it is how they are and who they are too. I could be wrong. Again, that is for me...and for you like many have different beginnings will have different endings too:)
Also, I want to note that I had ask them different ways we could communicate but they tell me it is not easy for them...but yet they have cell phones and family with computers and emails that I write to but they never return it..it can be fustrating...but I keep trying. Maybe, in some way, it way encourage them to do the same!

Ellie said...

Hi, I saw your youtube video. I hoped the visit went well. I'm sure it's a unforgettable moment in your life. good luck with everything. I am glad you are sharing your story!

Harmony said...

Korean is the hardest language in the world to learn - as a first language. And it's among the hardest for English speakers to learn.

although you yourself are a foreigner, you are expected by the natives to be a native

I know from experience that this is very true. It's perfectly ok for me to speak halting Korean with an accent and to miss an honorific here or there... but if my husband does? Shameful! Not because he grew up in a family where they spoke Korean, but because he looks Korean.

There are some really great things about Korean culture, but this isn't one of them.

Mila said...

Harmony, I wanted to thank you for recommending those links to Korean movies & drama...we watched the movie "A Man Who was Superman" and an episode of "Air City"--even though I probably only picked up on a handful of words, I can see that in the long run the more exposure I get the better my chances...so, thanks!

Mia_h_n said...

Kyungmee - your comment really made me think. I know it's probably obvious to many, but for some reason it hadn't even occured to me before now.

I may find family and ask them all the questions but I might not get a response...

So thank you for commenting.

Unknown said...

Do you think they would ever learn English?

Mila said...

[Do you think they would ever learn English?]

Rachel, most likely, the answer to your question would be No.

It's a possibility, but not a strong one. Most of the time the expectation is on the adoptee to learn the biological parents' language.