OKAY, I am a really crappy blogger. And I’m actually pretty bad at being accountable for my pro-procrastination tendencies. This morning, The BF said, “Why are you always getting on me about being consistent and following through? Have you done ANYTHING in Korea you said you were going to do?” OUCH.
So, for the record, YES, I’ve done SOME of the things I said I was gonna do. I ate exorbitant amounts of soon dooboo jjigae (soft tofu soup). I volunteer (semi) regularly at an orphanage. I am not spending more money than I earn (though I’m not really saving any money when I keep booking new vacations to various islands every break). I am no longer afraid of public transportation. But, yes, The BF is right – I’m not doing most of the stuff I said I was going to do, and his not-so-subtle reminder that I have problems being self-accountable has lit a recent fire under my over-sized ass.
This past month, I started planning stuff again – planning for the future and planning specifically for my OWN future and making conscious decisions about what is most important to me. This means that my choices don’t always make sense to 99% of the people I know – but I understand my own intentions and my own desires better than ever. Now, I just have to eradicate the firmly placed belief that I cannot afford to try anything new. The BF: “WTF? If you fail, you’ll just be as broke as you are right now. Better at least see if you can earn the life you want first.” I hate when people are right more often than I am (especially this really unconventional person).
This also means I (along with my two business classes) have been planning a full-day event for Korean orphans and I’ve been teaching my students how to solicit donations and funding. This is a novel concept in Korea – where bribery is called “favor” and relationships mean “guilt-funded.” My students were incredulous when I told them we would raise over 1 Million won (about $1000) for this event, but we are nearly halfway to our goal now. I feel the old GRRR start to growl, and remember how satisfying it is to plan an event that also has a social impact (see “Diversity Queen 2008”). In addition, I have begun planning my exit route from Korea, a place that has the potential to become a black hole of stagnation. It’s easy to get comfortable with the lifestyle here, but the longer I’m here, the more risk I have of losing sight of the things I ultimately want.
I also did a 5 day fast, started counting calories obsessively, reduced the number of cups of coffee I drink, and started taking yoga at this expensive studio across from my office. Taking an exercise class in a language you don’t understand is basically as hard as it sounds. Coupled with the fact that a lot of yoga should be done with closed eyes or looking toward the ground or ceiling, and you have your classic recipe for clumsy disaster. Last week, the instructor asked every girl in class if they wanted to be my friend and translate into English for me. A sixteen year old high schooler got the job:
16 Year Old HS Girl: “Um, teacher says, um, you should use contraction to lose your weight. She really is caring for you and wants to help you lose your weight. She wants you to find a nice husband before you are too old. She said to our entire class! So, she says, work hard to lose your weight. Practice yoga everyday.”
Meanwhile, I can understand “Now left, now right.” But I have no idea which left or right body part should be moving, or to where it should move. As an even greater bonus, I think I appalled one of my students by showing up during her yoga class. I’m pretty sure she was freaked out.
Today, I posted my birth plate in hopes of helping to locate my birth family. This has been a process of stop-starting, and I haven’t received much help from my agency here. Now, I just wait and see what happens. I am currently living in the city of my birth, and I am also comfortable finding nothing. Only time will tell if I am also comfortable finding something.
The last goal I had set for myself was to begin writing my law school memoir (and to make it funny). Since I am unimportant and irrelevant to most people in the world, getting it published is a non-issue. I want it written before I forget all the stuff that made law school hilarious…
So, I’m still here in Korea, working, living, searching… and procrastinating. Let’s hope next month, I’ll have more things checked off the “To Do in Korea” List!
Wow. I still can’t believe there are only 2 weeks left. In less than 14 days, I will be back in the Bay Area eating an It’s It Ice Cream Sandwich and probably sleeping a lot to recover from repeating an entire day.
It’s hard for me to summarize my experiences in Korea, but what I know is that this was never intended to be some sort of joyride vacation, as many people back home understand it to be. It also isn’t an objective language and culture program, where I sit impassively and soak in the experiences with nuanced and pragmatic observations, as most Koreans believe it to be. As a Korean-born, American-adopted person, this trip is fraught with layers of feelings, needs, desires, learnings, and a handful of expectations that most people will not relate to. This is not a vacation.
However, this trip also wasn’t an intense, visceral Motherland reunion either. While some adoptees do feel the intense connection and desire to “feel” Korea or to “become” Korean, I just needed to know (or reaffirm) that I am wholly comfortable in my own skin, that I can own my cultural identity as a Korean-born American, that I understand the impact of culture and race and adoption. No one will be able to fully grasp these concepts all of the way or all of the time, but I am able to see the impact on my own life with rationality and not project onto others feelings which belong only to me (something I was NOT able to do after my first trip to Korea).
For me, the biggest benefit to being in Korea was meeting and connecting with other people – whether it be the other adoptees in the program or the Koreans I have met – hearing their stories, making their stories part of my story. Like all experiences, no matter the duration, learning other people is my favorite part. (Yes, yes I remember having a 1:1 convo with every person from my law school section; I still hold that was a fabulous idea 😉 ) I think I learn most about myself when I see where my boundaries and intimacies lie with other people. I also have learned more about the people I already had in my life, about their commitment to our friendship/relationship, and about how long-distance communication really works.
So, what have I learned? In a nutshell: I learned how to use public transportation in a country where I speak and read almost zero. I learned that the kindness of strangers can be vast and surprising. I learned that Korea is not a mystical place or an emotional war-zone hidden with secret emotional triggers to wound me. I learned that being 21 is not a phase in life I enjoy repeating (Please, get me the f&*# out of this dormitory ASAP!) I learned I am not ready to do a birth-parent search, but will be soon. I learned that I must accept that my parents made mistakes in raising me as a child with a lost culture, but I am able to defend some of those choices in raising me – they cannot be pedastalized or demonized; I can help myself fill the gaps where they innocently or ignorantly failed to see that culture, and difference and diversity, matter. I learned I can’t give up on my career, as much as I would love to abandon it and start over (maybe my grandma was right – I should have just been a secretary?). I learned enough about Korean culture to understand I could never permanently belong here, though I’m going to challenge that lesson a bit more strenuously in the coming months. But, most importantly, I learned that I belong to myself. No matter where I go… or what I encounter… the best results will occur if I stay exactly who I am and have always been. This might not lead to a grandiose cultural transformation, but it makes me adaptable enough to know… I will be okay wherever I land.
Of course, what I know to be the ultimate truth is that it’s hard to assess an experience while you’re still in it. The real test of what I’ve learned will come in two weeks. But I’m pretty sure the It’s It Ice Cream Sandwich will help the make processing my experience so much easier =)
After a traumatic childhood of watching my mother run around on the playground with her whistle (she was the playground lady), I realized the other day that this shadow in the sidewalk walks JUST like my mother. Then, I realized, “That’s YOUR shadow, Ginger.” This walk is a stride with a be-bop prance and a sideways method of running which involves a little kick of the heels (often, this also leads to running into things and tripping a lot). When I attempt to change my walk, I just end up walking like my dad, with straight legs and a purposeful gait (often, this also leads to humming simultaneously and a refusal to ask for directions). If I do too much purposeful changing of my walking pattern, I just end up walking like Wagger-Grace, Border Collie Extraordinaire!, which is to say, I just lay down a lot after practicing walking.
In Korea, familial relations and blood-ties are of the utmost importance. I know, because we just learned approximately ee-beck (200) different names for aunts, uncles, cousins, male cousins, female cousins, male cousins younger, male cousins older, female cousins related through your uncle’s wife, father’s sister’s brother’s wife’s cousin’s daughter’s cousin who is younger than you. Maybe I exaggerate. But there were A LOT of new vocabulary that distinguish familial relations that I didn’t even think about. Meanwhile, though you should know the familial connection, I can just call everyone oh-ppa (older brother) and uhn-nee (older sister). Whew! Law School Peeps: Remember the Table of Consanguinity? Yeah, me neither. The chart our professor gave us is like that but on crack and by gender of the speaker.
Blood ties are important in Korea, so important, there are government offices with the sole responsibility of tracking familial relations (this may also be because many surnames are the same). Blood ties are important also because Koreans have historically prided themselves in being a pure nation, quite homogeneous actually, with only Koreans. Blood truly runs thicker than water here (Or as T-Dawg says “wudder.”) Korea has a proud heritage and a interwoven vocabulary to describe family in a way that is literally and figuratively foreign to a distractable American girl like me.
This week, I celebrated the 32nd Anniversary of my adoption-arrival day (SN: I’ve heard other adoptees call this day various great terms, including: “Adoption Day,” “Airplane Day,” “Gotcha Day,” “Second Birthday,” and “Arrival Day.”), when as a 4 month old infant, I was transplanted into a new family. I then immediately slept for 72 hours to avoid confronting the trauma of this circumstance. My parents however, spent 72 hours watching me sleep. A bond was formed with such instantaneous love and adoration that has only been reinforced by 32 years of conversations, boo-boos, meals, stories, laughter, arguments, and the addition of three other children (as everyone knows, my parents would only have perfect children if they had only one, but for whatever reason, they wanted those other kids too).
And after 32 years, I do not question the strength of my “blood ties” even if different blood runs through my veins. As a social worker, an adult child, and an adoptee, I stand firmly in the “nurture” camp. I think more credit goes to my environment and the affection of my family than the inherent biology of my genetic makeup in determining my disposition, character, and skills. I feel that the nurturance I received as child did more work to form me into the independent, self-righteous, often-confused, always restless passion junkie I have become. I believe that attachment can be transferred to new caregivers; I believe that children can thrive in supportive environments; and I do believe that love is the best place to start in creating any family.
So, I am not willing to entirely discount the role of nature in forming my being; maybe my stubborn streak and over-analytic disposition comes from a like-situated biological mother. Perhaps my need to embellish funny stories or make other people feel comfortable comes from a father I will never meet. Or maybe, those qualities came from the two parents I already have… it would be impossible to discern.
I celebrate my adoption from a land far away and oft-imagined in my childhood. I celebrate a family that has loved me for 32 years, even though I at times feel like a misfit among them. I celebrate new connections and new breath and new memories of Korea…
By strangers (and sometimes friends) after discovering you’re a Korean Adoptee (FYI: this is generally a list of things NOT to say to a Korean-adoptee…I didn’t want anyone to be confused):
1. “Oh, do you know who your real parents are then?” Barring the rare occasion of a bad adoption/family, our adoptive parents ARE our real parents, just like the people who raised, nurtured, fed, clothed, cared for, and loved YOU are your REAL parents.
2. “Do you speak Korean?” Hm. We were mostly adopted when we were babies by parents who only speak English (or whatever language is spoken in the country where we grew up). So, no, we do not speak a foreign language just by virtue of our race.
3. “Are you from North or South Korea?” First, why does this matter? Will it dramatically change your perception of my adoption? Second, do you know what the Korean War is? Not many people have come in and out of North Korea for a while now.
4. “Oh! You must feel really lucky!” or alternatively, “How sad for you!” I do feel lucky, but not for the reasons you are probably exclaiming. I’m lucky because I have an amazing nuclear and extended family, and some really wonderful friends. For this reason, I’m not a sad person, although I still have feelings to process about my unique childhood. However, I’m pretty sure you think I’m lucky to be taken away from Korea because you envision it to be some third world country. It is not, and in some ways is even more modern than where YOU are from.
5. “Do you wish your birth parents had kept you?” or “Are you going to search for your real parents?” See #1, above. I think this is such an absurd and invasive question to ask. I think it’s hard for any person to imagine their life another way… Also, for adopted people, whether transracial, international, or domestic, a birth parent search is an emotional and often difficult process which requires a lot of thought. Asking this question with such casualness is disrespectful to the adoptee who must find the mental energy to ask it of themselves.
6. “Do you like Korean food?” Uhhh, not exactly sure what this has to do with being adopted, but, sure, I do. An even stranger question: “Do you like Chinese food?”
7. “Wow, it must’ve been really hard to find other Asians to date while you were growing up!” Yes, growing up in Arizona, there were very few Asians in my tiny hometown. It’s a good thing it’s no longer legally mandated for me to date within my race!
8. “Do Korean people eat dogs?” Usually, I get this question after JUST explaining how I was adopted as a baby and lived in the United States my ENTIRE life – just like you! A: I know no more than you do. (Of course, now I know that while uncommon in modern times, SOME Koreans do eat dog soup.)
9. “Are you a US Citizen?” No, I’ve been living here illegally for 30 years. Don’t tell anyone! In all seriousness: In recent news, there have been a handful of sad stories where adoptive parents innocently failed to complete the naturalization process for their children, whom never achieved legal citizenship. This is unfortunate and unfair for the individuals who are now facing deportation (usually because they have committed a crime or something to alert the government that they are not legal citizens). However, these stories are the vast exception to the rule. When a child is legally adopted, they are entitled to the same legal citizenship status as biological children. (LEGAL DISCLAIMER: This is NOT legal advice and should not be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. Please consult an attorney to evaluate your specific needs.)
10. “Will you adopt a baby too?” Will you? Some people feel very strongly about adoption for many reasons, which are generally extremely personal and require great amounts of thought. My status as an adoptee does not change this fact or process.
11. “Are they your REAL brothers and sister?” See #1, above. Also, let’s use SOME common sense. In my family, I have a 31 year old brother, a 20 year old sister, and a 16 year old brother. Three of us were adopted at 4 months old, while my 31 year old brother was 18 months old. So, I’m not a math genius, but don’t you think it might be a wee bit hard to have the same biological parents when I was living in Arizona for 15 years before my youngest brother was even CONCEIVED? By the way, none of us look even closely similar in size, shape, or color. SIGH.
To sum up: I am adopted. I am a person adopted from Korea, which means I was born in Korea but have lived in the United States since I was a tiny baby. When I tell you this information, it is not open license to ask completely ridiculous questions. Please use courtesy and common sense BEFORE asking your question, especially if you are a stranger. If you are not a stranger, then it’s probably okay to ask your questions, even if they are ridiculous; however, if you are a close friend, I reserve the right to harass you endlessly for asking an inane question and for making me ALAG.
Also, other adoptees are super friendly, good-natured people who will answer dumb questions because they think it will help you in the future. I’m not one of those nice adoptees. I believe that stupid questions deserve stupid answers. ^-^
So, ANY QUESTIONS???