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WRITING FOR CONNECTION AND RELEASE

As an adoptee who was born mixed Korean, the irony of our deportation to other countries – because our look did not fit in with the Korean society – is that we did not fit in with our new adopted countries either. I dove in and embraced everything my family offered me: My new home, Cheerios, Keds, Orioles, Elvis, Big Wheels and Sesame Street! But, even from my earliest memories, I remember feeling aware that I did not look like those in my play circle. 

Outside of my family and playdates, the only unlimited influence over me were books. One of the first books I identified with shared illustrations of Native American youngsters with similar hair and skin colors. That was the first time anyone came close to resembling me so I believed I must be one of them. 

When first introducing myself to the Korean Adoptee communities as an adult, I became feverish about wanting to meet as many others like me as possible.  Anthologies helped me gorge on fellow adoptees’ stories to crack open and identify some of the heavy emotions I’d carried with me and also to connect with people who relate to those feelings.  Several anthologies of adoptees or those from biological mothers brought me to tears as they shared thoughts from deep in their hearts. 

The many Mixed Korean contributors!

The first time I entered a conference session filled with mixed Korean faces, I felt my last nerve relax as I felt present in the tribe of people who truly understand me without uttering one word. The Korean adoptee and the mixed Korean communities embrace their own tightly and the connections reassure me. As soon as I heard about a Mixed Korean anthology, I immediately submitted the first words that came rushing forth. 

Bucketlist item: To have my my writing in a book!

My initial excitement grew from the idea that my writing would be published alongside my peers on pages in a physical book! I could not wait to feel the weight of Mixed Korean: Our Stories in my hands.  I had not yet even considered how it might impact the readers’ lives the way other anthologies became turning points in mine. The editors’ began preparing us for book readings! I signed up for an early Los Angeles reading and felt so nervous that I completely skipped my introduction and just read my passage.  

Mixed Korean: Our Stories at halfkorean.com annual dinner

I worried about the sharp emotions from my pages and how they’d be received. Turns out, as soon as I’d sent the words to the editors, the negative emotions went with them. So, now, when I read them on the page I still recall the moments that caused me discomfort, but the negative emotions no longer clung to me. Writing helped release me.

Mixed Korean: Our Stories reading in San Francisco

 

I brought the anthology to another reading with fellow Korean Adoptee authors in Los Angeles and later we did another Mixed Korean reading in San Francisco at a university! I’m so humbled with each new audience and the many stories that they, in turn, share with me. It warms my heart feeling each new connection and knowing that this anthology weaved our stories together. 

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Korean Adoptee Authors at Beyond Baroque

Currently there are a few readings scheduled around the country and stay tuned, because the anthology is currently being translated into Korean!  

If you order a copy of the Mixed Korean anthology, it benefits 325Kamra – a team of DNA angels who are working to reunite families!

What about you?
Have you ever contributed to an anthology? About what topic?
Or have you written a memoir?
Are you mixed race?
Do you know your ethnic origins?
Do you have any emotions you’re tired of carrying around?
Does it help to write about it?
Do you journal – daily, weekly, monthly or when you feel like it?

#journal #mixedkorean #anthology #Adoptee #KoreanAdoptee #MyHistoryIsAMystery #notafflink #nonprofit #DNA #SeoulSearch #MakesMeWander

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WHY NOW? WHAT SPARKED MY SEARCH INTO MY PAST?

I keep asking myself: Why now? What made me decide to finally go to my birth country of Korea for the first time at the age of 48 (last year)? 

We wore our hanboks to Gyeongbokgung on the last day of our visit! Felt amazing (and gets you in free!)!

It felt like the perfect storm of Impulse (My 2017 Year of Yes and vowing to experience everything), Vulnerability (My 2018 Year of giving in to feel everything), and absolutely my Mindful Midlife (My 2019 Year of trying not to regret anything). While it looked like a sudden whim, my decision built slowly. Along the way, roadblocks sent me down deadends, speedbumps slowed me down, but I’m stubborn and love a good mystery – I needed to see this journey to the end. Surprises rewarded me along the way.

 

OK, this is a Korean pothole not a rabbit hole, but I loved the pattern!

  • DNA SENT ME DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE: When I finally did my DNA to see where my other non-Korean half originated from, I became fascinated by all of my cousin connections!  I read their faces, over-reacting when I noticed any similarities. I’m not really interested in meeting most of the hundreds of cousins, but it amazes me to now see the generations of people that I’m linked to. I’m curious to learn how my ancestors travelled around the globe to wind up where I magically came about in Korea.
    Roadblock: There aren’t that many Asians (from the US and especially not Korea) in all 3 of the big DNA companies: FamilytreeDNA, Ancestry, and 23 and me. The companies are just now trickling into Korea and Korean Asians have their large national ancestry ledger and don’t feel that they need DNA to tell them about their relatives.
    Speedbump: It’s hard to navigate your genealogy as an adoptee because the minute you surprise someone with your existence, they clam up.
    Suggestion: If you’re trying to find relatives, test with all 3 companies and download your raw data into other larger databases.  Many people test 1 time because they are only curious about ethnicity so you could miss large chunks of your genealogy that could be listed in a different database. Leave DNA in the area you’re from. In Korea, the database connects the police departments if there are any matches. Also, enlist professionals – or, as I call them, DNA Angels.
    Surprise: When the Angels got involved, they shot a laser that parted the seas of cousins to find people so fast it made my head spin.

We were able to meet Molly Holt – daughter of Harry Holt who started my adoption agency.

  • INFORMATION OVERLOAD: My neutral attitude towards putting much effort into finding ancestors centered around the number of decades that have passed since I left Korea – not to mention the required language I’d need to communicate what little story I knew. I felt no reason to NOT believe the story in my file and assumed that the record keeping would be poor if files even still existed.
    Roadblock: As an infant found abandoned in the street by a police officer, this enabled me to be logged in the Korean Ancestry Registry – though with a family name given to me by the police. However, no note indicated whether my birth year was accurate, or where I came from.
    Speedbump: Different information existed at the US vs. the Korean Holt International offices.  In some areas, they filled in the blanks from the other file. I learned I’d lived with a foster family and started out as the youngest in the family (before I became the oldest in the family I grew up in). In other areas, the files contradicted each other.
    Suggestion: Ask for all of your files and get translators involved if necessary. Request immigration files through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). I saw pictures I’d never seen and read snippets about my preferences and my day as an infant that shed light on my current behavior and preferences. My inner child wept with gratitude after learning that I’d been so carefully cared for by a foster mother. It also wept at the hint that my history could be woven with that of another adoptee listed in my file.
    Surprise: Turns out one of my files mentioned which orphanage I came through which suddenly changed my birth city to Busan. My file also hid the name of the person who turned me into the agency. A woman. 

We learned to make kimchee from a master! I now love fresh and fermented kimchee!

  • MINDFUL MIDLIFE: At the age of 48, I felt an urgency inside sternly warning me that my life would feel wasted if I never visited my home country. Considering all I have and everything I’ve done, perhaps that sounds harsh and even a little selfish. I started to feel as though I lived to meet this society’s markers, but that my life didn’t feel like my own if I didn’t chase after my roots and learn about Korea.
    Roadblock: Korea’s complex culture – they’re just starting to put down the large stigma associated with adoption. The dark veils of secrecy in our adoption files – to help us move quickly into new lives – still hides much of our histories. Conversations are still awkward, and explanations still hazy. It’s unsettling to me when people apologize.
    Speedbump: The relationships that yielded mixed Korean adoptees is vast and still ongoing. It felt shocking to learn the whole history when only searching for my first 8 months. Overall, I’m at peace with the past because I can’t change it. We all harbor  messes somewhere in our families.
    Suggestion: Go when the time feels right. I wasn’t confident beyond every doubt, but failed to convince myself that I should not go. I recognize it’d have been a much different, more superficial and touristy trip had I visited when I was younger or a different crowd, even full-Koreans (who travelled a different historic path towards adoption). I feel like I would most likely have deflected, not absorbed, the impact of my trip back.
    Surprise: Though almost a half-century old, I found my inner child somewhere along the journey in Korea.  I’m now conscious of her existence and learning to care for her.

 

Beautiful Bomunsa temple at the top of a steep hill in Incheon.

In my opinion, adoptees looking for their history hope to answer questions, feel their roots, find their center and perhaps shed light on their purpose.  Of course, family members may be a part of this discovery, but for me, that would be secondary to learning my story. I would love to make connections, to see behaviors and facial expressions, but not in a sense to replace the family I have. This is just my experience, every adoptee’s journey and story is unique and their own to share.

So why now? It’s been a year and I’m finally unravelling and untying the threads of information that connect me to my home country. More than anything, I want to get it out and make sense of it. Though I’ve fully touched my Korean history and feel myself rooted in that country, I still haven’t married my Korean and white sides here in America. When I do Korean things, it still feels like a field trip for me: Spend a day in the life of a Korean woman!

The famous 💩 Emoji cookies and the cafe where you drink out of mini toilets! We stuck with the delicious cookies!

Since October is #Blogtober, and I love me a strong deadline, I’m using this as a means to try to push the rest of the story out! I look forward to sharing more of the surprises and stories with you! It may be slightly messier than usual just to get it out. I appreciate you staying with me through this exercise!

What about you?
Have you researched your genealogy?
Did your family come here from another country?
Have you visited your birth country?
Are you adopted?
Have any additional questions? Ask in the comments!

#Blogtober #Day1 #Adoption #Adoptee #KoreanAdoptee #KAD #MixedKorean #MyHistoryIsAMystery #ancestry #heritage #DNA #family #relatives #writeyourtruth #SeoulSearch #memoir #personaljourney #OMagInsiders #makesmewander

MY FIRST TRIP TO MY BIRTH COUNTRY WAS MORE THAN I EVER IMAGINED

RED EYE TO SEOUL

Red Eye to Korea: I left on 8/29 and arrived on 8/31?!

One year ago tonight, I was on a plane to Korea for my first visit to my birth country in as many years as I’d been alive thanks to Me & Korea and their Hapa Mosaic Tour It’s taken me a year to find words to share my experience in writing because the journey was so much MORE than I expected.

While I immediately squeezed out two pieces for the Korean Quarterly and for the Me & Korea 2018 newsletter, I felt that was talking to a captive audience. But when trying to explain my trip to anyone else, I felt like I was swimming, fighting to keep my head above water, trying to keep sight of the shore but not knowing which side to cling to as the waves of information and memories kept coming.

This trip changed me, I can feel it. Now, I have so much more than I did before.

Sunlit Sisters Center

We traveled to Pyeongtaek to visit the Sunlit Sisters Center, a social club for halmonies (grandmothers) who had been comfort women.

MORE HISTORY
While growing up, a small sliver of me held onto the fantasy that I’d return to South Korea only to find I was a long-lost princess.  Walking through the streets of South Korea with a group representing a living chapter of many countries’ histories felt even better than any Princess fantasy. Right now, I’m fortunate enough that the full span of that history is present as I am able to meet Korean Adoptees (KADs) sent away during the first-wave of adoptions right after the Korean War to those towards the end of this story – as Korean intercontinental adoptions slow down.

Camptown

This was the border of the camptown in Bupyeong. Now a grassy park.

MORE SCARS
Our realities reveal huge discrepancies between what we were born into and what we grew up with – no matter which country we were adopted to. I’m still bothered by the heart ache over what little support exists, even now, for single Korean pregnant women. I want to bang my head over the irony of the national registry that everyone must be on yet that won’t record children if there is no father – unless they were found abandoned in the streets which means they’ll be assigned to one. I’m haunted by the fact that while I was in the USA consumed by the color and excessiveness of wanting my MTV, my birth country was still drowning in a bleak ravenous poverty.

The Statue of Peace - Seoul

This statue speaks volumes and has a 24-hour guard to protect her.

MORE TURMOIL
Turns out as a Hapa (mixed Korean) adoptee I’m a part of multiple layers of a controversy interweaving many countries’ histories – that most refuse to acknowledge. Since the Korean War, there have been Comfort Women in camptowns, the commercial areas adjacent to US military bases in Korea.  These women are government-sanctioned workers there for the enjoyment of the soldiers (to put it as mildly as possible). The media tries to paint a picture that there are only a few left and that the 122 won a lawsuit winning a case against the government, and approximately 57 won small financial restitution so we should all be happy and move on.

This history did not end when the Korean war ended. When I was born in the 70’s, there were still approximately 20,000 women serving 60,000 soldiers (Kingston/Japanese Times).  Another article estimated that it was closer to 46,000 women in 1969 who earned $70 million dollars (Jeffrey/United Methodist Women). Women wound up there for many reasons: those illegally trafficked, those trying to feed their families, perhaps trying to do their part to get more of the US money to help Korea crawl its way out of poverty, or perhaps repaying their own debts. However, the country didn’t consider the by-product of this idea – the mixed Korean babies in a culture strictly valuing pure bloodlines.

Vintage Camptown in Bupyeong

It was fascinating to see that in the past almost 50 decades, not a lot had changed in this area.

MORE COMPASSION
In my heart, I have to forgive the past and, as Oprah would say, give up the hope that it could have been any different. Bottom line, I know I am fortunate to have been the result of one brief encounter that created me. My birth mother kept me for 2 months then I was treated with care as I quickly transitioned from Korea to America. I arrived to a family who welcomed me and loved me. Nobody else can tell an adoptee how lucky they should feel. But I can tell you how it gives my life an incredible feeling of purpose to know that despite the odds that were stacked against me, I’m here.

I also cannot comprehend how it felt or assume how I would have behaved while living through the war, being separated from my family as a teen to fight a battle in a foreign country, or living in a country so poor that giving up a child to feed the others seemed like a reasonable decision. I cannot comprehend the societal pressure that causes someone in the family to turn over their mixed baby to restore stability to their place in society. I grew up in a country with different origins, history and culture than Korea where I almost cannot imagine life any other way and it’s not my place to judge others.

Investigating my roots

L to R: Me, the employee of the Nam kwang orphanage with my 48-year old files on the table in front of him, our translator.

MORE DETAILS
During the months leading up to the trip and while on the trip, I learned more details about my past. I learned that I was from Busan, not Seoul. I learned that I was turned in by a woman – my translators feel this was most likely a relative.  I’d always believed I was abandoned in the streets and found by the policeman as my mass-produced adoption papers stated. I learned that my birthday is correct or super close to what I thought it was. I learned that I grew up as the youngest child in a foster family for a few months. Though there was no way to remember any part of this, I felt like my inner child felt redeemed now that I clung to these tidbits.

DNA sample Seoul Police

The very first day we all left DNA samples in the Seoul Police station

MORE DISTANCE
At the same time, I’m even farther away from my history. Though DNA has overwhelmed me with hundreds of cousins and a thriving family tree, the majority are from my caucasian side. Though I’ve tested with 3 companies, these companies don’t have many people from Korea in their databases. The companies just aren’t commonly represented in Korea. Though, this is starting to change. There are some organizations like 325Kamra that give free tests to Korean Adoptees, nationals and to military GIs.

The women who could be our birthmothers, may not want their families to know that they had a child previous to their current relationship due to the culture that still exists in Korea.  They don’t want their children to reunite with them because their shame for what they did for work, or for giving up their children, is too large to bear. I’m telling the birth moms that your children do not care and simply want to connect with you. Our only string of hope was leaving DNA samples in the police station in Korea hoping that eventually family members will do the same.

A Day in the Life

It was amazing to see how the lives of busy mothers (our gracious host families) in Korea mirrored ours.

MORE LIKE ME
For years, part of my resistance towards traveling to Korea centered around a fear of rejection. I stand out and thought I would be shunned because I’m not full-Korean, I know nothing about being Korean and am an adoptee.  To my relief, there was not one time on the trip that I did not feel welcome. No side eyes, no indirect whispers, no bad feedback to my attempts to bow or greet people in Korean – nothing. I loved that we spent time with adults who lead similar lives. My KAD friend and I spent time with two Korean BFFs who loved to shop and to eat – perfect!  They took us under their wings with gusto and showed us around town walking many store blocks and shoving spoonfuls of food in our mouths.

2018 Mosaic Hapa Tour

So much comfort was found in being surrounded by other beautiful mixed Korean faces!

MORE CONNECTION
The ability to take this journey with other KADs was a gift.  We instantly connected over our mass exodus and desire for information though recognized the significant differences from our childhoods living here and the various routes making up the rest of our lives. I was grateful to have this community of sisters and brothers who understand and get parts of me without any explanation.

DMZ Border of Hope

The DMZ represents a painful separation of families and these ribbons send messages of hope to other family members and hope for reunification.

MORE PAIN
Other people’s energy tends to saturate me so sometimes their pain overwhelmed me. Sometimes I felt guilty that I couldn’t help carry their pain, and that I didn’t experience the same level of loss on any conscious level. We shared stories, we cried to each other, sometimes our crazy family dynamics manifested in wild unexpected ways. It’s a frightening and painful thing to experience that many people feeling so raw and torn open but a beautiful thing to witness at the same time.

Pearl S Buck's typewriter

We owe it to ourselves and to those who come behind us to uncover our pasts and share our truths!  (Pictured: Pearl S. Buck’s typewriter)

MORE PURPOSE
I feel as though I’ve been given this amazing fresh lump of clay to mold and shape into something amazing. So far, I feel the power of our KAD shared truths. The more we “older” KADs talk about our journeys to Korea, our birth searches – if we’ve done them, or even just what it feels like to not relate to our birth culture because we’ve been raised in another one – the more strength and guidance there is in our KAD community.  My new goal is to help others uncover their truth, find peace with what they find and discover their paths in life as well. I’m still shaping my vision for how to do this, but I’m excited and anxious about the possibilities!

Turns out I'm from Busan

Turns out, I come from Busan which is really funny if you know me and fish…

MORE GROUNDED
One KAD explained our transition so well – that we all left Korea by falling through the Narnia wardrobe into fantasy worlds where we grew up, but the minute we step back through the wardrobe returning to our birth country, we return to our inner child at whatever age we left. I’ve learned to sense my inner child and am learning how to care for her. I tended to just stay busy thinking that if I was still moving forward then I must be ok. I have spent my life always moving, adapting and settling into new normals whether self-enforced or by forces beyond myself. Building thick walls to compartmentalize my conflicts while operating in constant survival mode isn’t healthy and wears me out. I’m working on incorporating time to be still for writing or reflection.  My inner child now lives with me after we reunited in Korea.

MORE MYSTERY
For every step I drew closer to my past, an obstacle got thrown in my path. While I had an address in my file that the person who turned me in left as a “home residence,” who knows if the name or the address was correct.  When we drove to the address, the rubble of the neighborhood littered my path. Our early histories are being demolished with the urgent need to modernize Korea.

The trip introduced us to the colorful, bustling Korean culture, Korean and American history, and our individual histories. I look forward to recording the rest of my trip and really diving in to capture every event and every emotion along my journey.  My history is a mystery.

What about yours?!
What do you know about your history – whether you’re adopted or not.
Have you done DNA testing?
Did you have any surprises along the way?
Tell me more!

#koreanadoptee #kad #Korea #Seoul #Busan #Bupyeong #Pyeongtaek #ComfortWomen #KoreanWar #history #Adoption #Adoptee #Camptowns #DNA #Geneology #BirthSearch #MixedKorean #Hapa #MosaicTour #MyHistoryIsAMystery #SeoulSearch #MakesMeWander

HOW TO PREPARE FOR A TRIP TRAVELING FULL-CIRCLE

How does one prepare for a full-circle trip when one doesn’t know how much baggage there will be?

I’ve been fortunate enough to be granted the gift of a trip specifically catered to the mixed-Korean – often known as “Hapa” – adoptees (KADs) interested in returning to our birth-country to cement our existence in this foreign country. We’ll spend an amazing 10 days traveling through South Korea with the Hapa Mosaic Tour sponsored by Me & Korea. What a gift to learn first-hand about the culture and our shared and unique histories with other KADs.

As a single mom of two kids, I would never be able to afford this trip, nor have the time to research my past and coordinate everything for such a meaningful trip on my own so I’m incredibly grateful to Me & Korea for sponsoring this mind-bogglingly awesome opportunity. When I first put my desire out into the universe to take this trip last Fall, I never could have imagined that it’d be this soon. I’m a big believer in making our dreams known – it’s the first step to achieving them!

Me & Korea also hosts a full-Korean Mosaic Tour!

After a deposit to commit to this trip-of-a-lifetime, the one expense I needed to take care of – air transportation to Seoul. I figured, for my first trip to my birth country, I must go Korean Air! I love that the flight I booked allows travelers 2 bags so that I may bring a suitcase for my things and an extra for gifts (since they don’t tip in Korea, instead, they give gifts of appreciation) and souvenirs. My sturdy travel companion Lug bag will hold everything I need for my 13 hour direct flights and for the smaller trips where we go overnight to other parts of Korea.

During the flights I’ll spend plenty of time reviewing mental checklists and timelines while hoping that I packed everything I need. Meanwhile I don’t know if I can accurately anticipate the emotional baggage waiting to be unpacked.

CURRENCY ADAPTERS & CONNECTIVITY
Growing up I always felt a nervous vibration under my skin from the combination of being adopted, changing schools often and being an introvert. Too young to call upon words to express such complex emotions, and with no other shared or personal experiences to compare them to, I honestly didn’t believe anyone completely understood me. I just lived despite the feelings not really wrangling the skills to travel through them. Previously, I explained these emotions comparing them to Gwyneth Paltrow’s character living in a parallel existence in the film Sliding Doors knowing that I started life on one path and now existed on a very different one. However, unlike her character, my search focuses not on what I missed, rather figuring out what led up to me switching rails.

In this past year, as I’ve started to connect with other adoptees, and specifically hapa adoptees, that vibration seems so much less noticeable to the point that I don’t even recall exactly how it felt for the previous 40 plus years of my life. I don’t feel like it went away, more like I found other people whose vibrations matched mine. Social media proved its worth to me by taking my sparse landscape of KADs and filling it with 200,000+ others from those in the very first plane of adoptees departing from Korea to the most recent ones. Still, I’m sure that this trip will bring me face-to-face with stories in my head that I’ve dreamed up and those that I could never visualize.

From the USA office of my adoption agency

MAPS & TRAVEL DOCUMENTS
Requesting my adoption paperwork from the Korean and US offices of my adoption agency from almost 5 decades ago felt futile. Surprisingly, it only took them 2 weeks to travel back 47 years to pinpoint and send me photos of my American adoption files. Surprisingly, I moved the pinpoint for the start of my Seoul search 200 miles south as I realized that my birthplace originated closer to Busan – a southern beach town in Korea.

I devoured the information as though I’d discovered a treasure map with hidden paths, mysterious clues and a possible buried treasure. Through tears, I read notes detailing ingrained behaviors, spoken words and eating habits as an infant. It warmed my heart to read the words that someone cared enough to write. I’d never known that I’d stayed with a foster mom with older “siblings!” Before now, I imagined a very sterile vision of my first few months assuming I’d been one of many in a rows of cribs in an orphanage. For the first time, my past reached out to comfort me.

LOST IN TRANSLATION (THOUGH TRANSMITTING LOUD AND CLEAR)
I take everything I read and see in my files with a grain of salt. I don’t read or speak the Korean language. I’ve heard many accounts of adoptees finding a thin lining of distraction in their files – though clarification may be offered when visiting the Korean office of their adoption agency. During peak transnational adoption years, some detail fell away as adoptions were “streamlined” to help get more babies adopted. According to one chart, between the time I was born in 1970 to the time I flew to America in 1971, the number of babies Korea sent away grew from 37 babies/week to 52 babies/week with a peak of 170 babies/week being reached in the mid 1980s before it started to slow down.

To this day, the feelings surrounding these statistics shroud some Koreans in a delicate veil, detailed with bureaucratic formalities and mild mea culpas. I never expected the Korean Consulate General to attend a mixed-Korean event in Los Angeles to issue a formal apology to mixed Koreans and adoptees for sending us away, admitting their errors, offering the improvements and extending their warm, formal invitation to come visit Korea. Personally, I can tell by reading the English-written parts of my file (though I have translators working on a full Korean translation) that perhaps the agency fast-tracked me through the system quickly to parents where one was a doctor so I could receive excellent care for the extensive health issues I had as an infant. For this, I’m grateful.

I am grateful that this tour allows me to retrace my steps!

MY FIRST KOREAN ITINERARY
Though I existed for 8 months before being adopted, the opening scene in my mental reel about my life began at 8 months old. In my mind, someone found, processed and adopted me out within a month. Receiving my Korean adoption files recalibrated that timeline. The paperwork shed light on the landmarks I traveled during my first journey through Korea.

When I had children of my own, I remember looking at them at 8 months old, acknowledging that someone in my past faced an excruciating decision that I couldn’t even bring myself to simmer in for a few minutes. Learning that this actually happened at 2 months old, my mind immediately tried to guess whether this age made it easier or harder. There is no good answer regarding timing or reasons. Second guessing does no good now. I’m grateful for my life, for my unique path and, now, the ability to revisit it.

BEST TIME TO VISIT
Why now? To be honest, the universe knew the right time. Before, I didn’t have the resources or knowledge to navigate such a distant culture and unknown language, nor did I have the money to do a tour that provides such guidance. I felt taking such a large trip would be selfish and, again, the cost prohibitive. I lacked direction! As an abandoned infant, I thought searches for information would be inconclusive.
I needed to get a better grasp of who I am so that my Self isn’t as fluid while on this journey. Every week since learning I’d join this trip presents moments where I’m hurtling towards boundaries that once I cross them, there’s no pulling back. My story and history have the potential of blowing up in the most exhilarating way and it’s important to know that while this does impact me, it (most likely – fingers crossed, knock on wood) shouldn’t change my foundation.

A full list of resources I found helpful coming soon!

TOUR GUIDES
Thanks to computers, I’m fortunate to have KAD mentors – the “Twinsters” film, working a fundraiser for KindredAdoption.org, AKA Dan’s youtube series, reading books, doing DNA tests to learn my other half, joining facebook KAD groups and attending AKA|IKAA events. After finding a welcome place and ongoing dialogues in these groups, I heard enough stories that caused me to ask “What if?”

Meeting adoptees older than me who successfully retraced their steps, I asked “Why not me? Why not now?” Though the process of applying and receiving notice I’d received the grant for this trip took place during a quick window of time, I’ve actually been preparing for this trip for 4 years.

So how does one prepare for this full-circle trip-of-a-lifetime when I still can’t wrap my head around it? After stops in Seoul, I’ll visit the region where it’s estimated I’m from, based on where police found me. Then we get a personal visit where I’ll visit the first location where I stayed before moving to Seoul, others may revisit their childhood home, or meet birth families if they found them. I’ll visit the Korean offices of my adoption agency to see if more information exists. We’ll participate in Korean culture visiting families and learning delicious Korean cultural skills. We’ll visit a Camptown home where many female employees of these camptowns now reside – honestly, these could be many of our birth mothers.

A gift from a friend and fellow #OMagInsider – I take it everywhere to keep copious notes!

Hopefully I’ll return with my children someday soon, but since it took me 48 years to get here to begin with, I want this trip to stand on its own and I want to remember all of the details. I’ll prepare with a fresh journal. I’ll take time every day, sometimes in particular moments and take in every sense – what I hear, smell, taste, see and feel. I’ll take tons of pictures and tons of notes and hope that others do too.

To follow along while I unravel the mystery that is my history, follow my social media!

To help support trips like this or to apply for next year’s trips visit me&korea

What about you:

  • Have you found surprises in your history?
  • Are you adopted?
  • Did you find biological family?
  • Any resources that helped you out?
  • Are you a domestic or international adoptee?
  • Did you adopt?

#2018HapaMosaicTour #meandkorea #325Kamra #KoreanAdoptee #seoulsearch #MindfulMidlife #myhistoryisamystery #halfbutwhole #researchingmystory #Korea #KAD #Hapa #liveyourtruth #sharedexperiences #anthology #connect #personaljourney #lovechicos #omaginsiders #Makesmewander

FALLING INTO STEP WITH KOREAN ADOPTEES

AKA | SF hosted a warm reception to greet everyone to the weekend!

My flight instinct kicked in the moment I entered the room filled with Korean faces. It’s nothing against them, and all about me, because I came from Korea too. However, I didn’t grow up in Korea, nor with Korean culture. My rational mind reminded me that, most likely, neither did they. We represent a handful of 200,000 Korean adoptees (KAD) adopted away from our birth country since the 1950s. From my perspective, adoption positively impacted my life and I’m grateful for the path I’m on. As a writer, or maybe as an adoptee, I felt I couldn’t fully reconcile my current story without a full grasp of my backstory. So after 47 years, I stepped into the room to start my journey to unravel my first 8 months.

Visit IKAA.org for info on the next event!

Obviously, I didn’t just wander into San Francisco, happening to arrive at the annual IKAA* conference reception (this year hosted by the AKA|SF**). I’ll explain my “Why now?” later because the question peppered me regularly leading up to and throughout the weekend. I yearned to spend a weekend getting introduced to my Korean Adoptee clan. I hoped that a full weekend would encourage me to get past the surface amusement of familiar appearances to find deeper connections. I steeled myself to feel the emotion of adoptees’ various experiences, especially those brave enough to share less positive adoption stories.

During my first lap of the reception room, I fought to lower my guard. I thought the high concentration of people with shared history would comfort me as if we shared a silent language. Yet, it unsettled me knowing these KADs could feel my deepest self without having to show my most personal card, “I’m adopted.” That was usually the last card I’d play at a social gathering and I’d toss it playfully into conversation, watch it flutter, then fall out of the conversation.

My newest, fastest FUNtastic friends!

Somewhere during my second lap, the impact and protection of being surrounded by so many others sharing my history crumbled my guard. My heart swelled validating my disparities felt growing up, aligning me with my path and rewarding my timeline. I scanned the 200+ faces for the friendliest, which fortunately I found sitting down making it harder for her to turn to walk away. She took me in, made introductions and in no time it felt like she and I, and everyone else I met, were meant to cross paths.

The next day offered a full schedule of informative programs detailing different paths for KADs to take with their personal adoption story. Heartfelt testimonials from adoptees farther along their DNA searches or journeys home to Korea provided valuable information and perspective. Post-adoption support programs initiated conversations about the experiences unique to transnational adoptees, offering me a new level of comfort and some validation knowing we shared these internal conversations with fellow KADs. Many adoptees translated their internal conversations into beautiful, moving expressions of art.

The many sessions were so informative, it was tough to choose which ones to attend!

Between sessions, my mind wandered:

I wasn’t the oldest person here:
The significant number of 40-something year old first-time attendees pleasantly surprised me. The increasingly noticeable pull of the second half of my life now took an uphill turn as I started this new journey to peel back more personal layers.

KAD faces:
Before this weekend, I prided myself in my ability to recognize who “my people” were but there were so many variations of beautiful faces introduced to me that my heart split wide open wanting to study and greet them all, and collect them as long-lost keepsakes. I hope the intensity with which I admired our similarities and differences didn’t freak any other KADs out!

People’s stories:
Some adoptees have memories from Korea, others (like me) don’t. For some adoptees, the unsettling part of their journey did not end when placed with their adoptive homes. Both their strength to share their stories and their resilience to survive them were honored. Some adoptees shared stories of hope after clearing through their tangled backstory and shared reactions of the people now, unexpectedly or not, traveling this new trail with them.

The truth is out there:
What little history we know about ourselves from our adoption papers could be incomplete or fabricated. As I learn more about the Korean society and the poverty experienced after the war, adoption as a profitable business, and the status of single moms to this day in South Korea, it’s no surprise to learn that many mothers did not want to put their babies up for adoption but felt no other options – or someone forced their hand. This is not just optimistic me hoping for a fairy tale ending, (that is the long-lost Korean princess story echoing in my head). Now, as a mother myself, IF that were the case, I’d want to give that woman some closure. It all worked out well.

The beautiful variety of HAPA stories really spoke to my heart!

I fit in:
Being half-Korean brings with it it’s own special set of circumstances. Physically and culturally, we’ve straddled the line – not being Asian enough for our home country, and, in my case, not white enough for my adoptive country. Through DNA matches, I might encounter family with no prior knowledge of a Korean relative. The Conference offered specific discussions for us Hapa adoptees. We half-Koreans left feeling whole.

Cloudy forecast:
While conference resources help KADs find clear answers to their questions, the knowledge still unravels mixed emotions on both sides. We come from a country still sorting their comfort level with their justification about our adoption story. While originally aiming to solve a post-war problem, for some, the feeling of exporting so many babies was seasoned with a sprinkling of shame. Now a slight curiosity exists regarding welcoming those of us raised in America back to Korea to see how this unique perspective and global upbringing might impact our birth country. The KADs recently started returning to our homeland, curious to learn their history, eager to embrace their roots, yet always with the knowledge that on some level, this country rejected them.

In the end, I left with clearer perspective and with tools to guide me down a newly revealed path. I felt energized sitting with 236 Adoptees from 26 states, representing 6 countries. Fellow KAD, film-maker Deanne Borshay Liem explained the experience perfectly that together we “Celebrated our future by honoring our past.” It is not taboo to go into our past to retrieve what may be forgotten.

This gathering welcomed KADs from the first group of adoptees in the 1950s to now! So grateful to be part of this group!

My next steps involve doing research on my past through various channels to retrace my brief time in Seoul. Largely present in my peripheral view, a visit to Seoul beckons to me. The government and various other agencies, now realizing the importance of introducing adoptees to their homeland, offer trips partially or fully funded through grants. My attention aims towards the Hapa Mosaic Tour that introduces KADs to Korea with itineraries specific to the half-Korean experience.

This eye-opening and heart-filled weekend went too fast. I still need to carve out time to process my next steps. The Mosaic Tour application (due Jan. 15) suggests a to-do list of things in the meanwhile to obtain the maximum information before taking such a large physical journey into my past. I also want to continue to simmer over everything that I experienced over one weekend and get together through other KAD gatherings. I am grateful for the people I met, the experience, information and camaraderie. I feel as though I’ve fallen into step with my sisters and brothers. I must sit still and figure out the shift that occurred. …but it is good.

Though we met in San Francisco, I look forward to keeping up with my fellow Angeleno KADs!

*International Korean Adoptee Association
**Association of Korean Adoptees | San Francisco

Korean Adoptees May get a FREE DNA test through 325Kamra.org

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All photos (except photo booth) courtesy of my new friend and fellow Korean Adoptee, Allen Majors.  Thank you!!

#AKASF20 #IKAA #yearofsayingyes #kad #hapa #ShiftHappens #bepresent #bestill #KoreanAdoptee #SeoulSearching #omaginsiders #yearofquestions #myhistoryisamystery #makesmewander

What about you?!

  • Are you adopted?
  • Are you actively researching your past?
  • Have you been successful with your search?
  • Where did you start?
  • Any helpful resources?

PJ WILDERNESS – MY DESTINATION: SEOUL SEARCHING

The way I manage to end almost any “debate” with my ever-increasingly cynical and tall teen-age son is by reminding him that I’m the fairest Mom in the world and would never ask him to do something I hadn’t done before. (Yes, even the litter box).  So, in that same spirit, I’ll share my Destination brainstorming...

Committing Myself
I recently had the opportunity to take a temporary detour from my life, although with limited mobility.  I regularly indulged in many things I’d love do to if I had more time in the day.  Recognizing how fulfilling they were to me, now that I’m at the eve of returning to my life, I’m panicking about how to keep going: Reading, Writing (a book, if I was not afraid), Immobility (Meditation), and movement – walking or swimming.

Additionally, I’m entertaining a mindful midlife, without heightened crisis, and there are some things that no matter how hard I try to look past them, they stand in my way.  I need to have this still time to let them come forth, be heard, find resolution, then stand aside and allow me to really move past them.

Lastly, I’m looking to get in touch with my Korean culture of origin. If money was no object, I’d be on a plane immediately, but for now I’m building a reasonable plan. Hope I didn’t overbook myself for this journey!

SeoulTalking to Myself
WHO: Most will be solitary because I need to dig deep below my surface, my persona and myself.  However, I love support groups to a) help me realize I’m not crazy and b) to help hold me accountable.  I will definitely reach out to Korean adoptee networking groups or non-profits – including the agency I was adopted through. My kids will be along for some of the journey too so they can learn to be in touch with themselves by watching and learning.

WHAT:  To get more in touch with me, I want to keep writing – working on building up the blog so eventually I can write full-time both to keep me sane and earning a living would be amazing. I need to stay in touch with my creative side and perhaps use this journey as a story line somehow.  To get more in touch with my ethnicity, I’ll visit Cultural Centers, museums, restaurants, networking through the non-profit.

I already visited the Korean Cultural Center (Los Angeles)

I already visited the Korean Cultural Center (Los Angeles)

WHERE:  Here in Los Angeles to start.

WHEN:  I aim to visit Korean cultural centers/exhibits 3-4 times/year, but stay in touch with myself more regularly to make sure I’m on the path I want – rather than just blindly barreling towards an end goal.

At KCCLA, I learned the bedroom origins of a chest my parents bought me!

At KCCLA, I learned the bedroom origins of a chest my folks got me!

WHY:  What started me on a more active journey was reading: Seeds from a Silent Tree: An Anthology By Korean Adoptees.  It’s a collection of writing from adoptees that, for the first time, revealed my shared history with others.  I’m not searching for lost family, but a common history.  I’d love to help others by supporting non-profits geared to assist with searches and adoptions. I want to pay the opportunity forward to other adoptees. It’s important to me to learn about Korean life from Koreans, not just the American impression of Koreans. I have supportive Korean friends, but currently prefer anonymously learning as I go.

Korean porous pots used to make Soy Sauce and Kimchi. I will use them for decoration.

Korean porous pots used to make soy sauce and Kimchi. I will use them for decoration.

My son asked me, “Why now (that I’m old)?” I answered that any time is a great time to learn more about ourselves and our history. Also, I hope to pass along the tradition of being still to my children so they learn to check in with themselves to honor their path in life. Whether it’s a tool to assist them with fighting peer-pressure and bullies, or to help them find a career in an area they’re passionate about, sometimes they have to learn to be still and by themselves. We all do.

Korean Artist: Young-Il Ahn Umbrellas

Korean Artist: Young-Il Ahn
Umbrellas

What’s next in this journey along the PJ Wilderness?