There are Korean adoptees who think this about their birth families: “f*ck them, they abandoned me. If they want to meet me they can come find me.” I wish I felt this way. Some Korean adoptees reject their birth culture entirely. Some choose not to raise their children with any iota of Korean culture, instead choosing to raise them as white or Chinese, etc. (“We are a Chinese family–you are Chinese.”) I wish I could be this way. But it’s just not in me.
I hate Korea right now. I think the country is f*cked up. I wish I could have rejected it before it rejected me. Again. I don’t want anything to do with it anymore. I don’t want to learn Korean or watch Korean movies or dramas. I don’t want to talk about it or learn traditions or culture. I don’t want anything to do with it. (Except my friends. I love my friends there.)
Be careful, Korea, by rejecting and sending away 250,000 of your own babies you could be creating an army of hate against you.
I sit here listening to Lauryn Hill (Ex-factor–girl you get the pain so spot on) and feeling like that scene from the Godfather – “Just when I think I’m out they pull me back in.”
I just got off the phone with oppa in Korea who I’ve known for almost 15 years. I felt a need to tell him about recent news with my birth family search. Like other friends of mine in Korea he’d been deep in the trenches with me when I’d been searching in 2009 and 2010. And I’d had a beautiful moment with his mother at his home during a visit where she empathized with me and ended up revealing to him family history he’d never heard.
It was a hot day. He and I were sitting on the couch and his mother was sitting on the floor of his family’s apartment. Red peppers were drying on the balcony among kimchi pots, and the sliding door was open. It smelled like warmth mixed with car exhaust, spicy peppers, sweat, and kimchi. Oppa was telling his mom about my birth family search, translating my frustrations and pain. She listened intently and then spent a long time speaking to him while I listened wordlessly.
After they finished he turned to me and told me that she understood what I was feeling because she had gone through the same thing. She had lost her mother. Something happened where she ended up taking care of her younger siblings, maybe 4 of them. It was hard and they were poor. I can’t remember the specifics of why, but maybe her mother had been involved with another man who took a mistress or her father died or something but her mother ended up leaving. It might have had something to do with the war or Japanese occupation? (I remember the man being rich and sort of leader of the town so he would not have let her be.) Her mother was ashamed so she left town and disappeared. My friend’s mom then tried to find her mother for 10 years. But the IDs they were given all changed after the Japanese occupation and she couldn’t find her. She just lost her. Like me. She understood the pain.
Oppa told me that was the first time his mother had told him this story. Because I shared my story she shared her story with her son. And on that trip she told me to think of her as my Korean mom. She repeatedly insisted I could come and visit her even without her son, which I never did. (It was hard getting to Masan from Seoul by myself–train to bus, unsure of which stop to get off at, etc.) And she didn’t speak a word of English. She spoke Chinese and Japanese but no English. So in order to communicate with her I would’ve had to have spoken Korean. I know that sounds ideal–great way for me to learn Korean, right? But the possibility scared me. The kindness for no reason scared me.
Back to present day. I have a relationship with oppa where I won’t hear from him for years and then he’ll contact me out of the blue and tell me he’s coming to Boston and needs me to pick him up tomorrow at 2am. He treats me like a true older brother, lots of tough love, pushing my buttons and giving me a hard time. But he also pushes me to think about Buddhism and the Korean way of doing things and the fact that I have ancestors and they are Korean and that I am Korean too, which has meant a lot of me over the years.
So during Chuseok, a few weeks ago, oppa contacted me out of the blue to wish me a Happy Chuseok, which in a sense opened up our chain of communication after we hadn’t talked in years. I told him to tell his mom I said hi and that I miss her cooking. (She’s an amazing cook.) He did. Then tonight I told him what happened with the policeman–latest news. I’d progressed from understanding and empathetic to angry, enraged at Korea. He agreed with me. He told me that my birth mother should at least be willing to meet me. He also pointed out though how Korean people, especially old people, don’t want to let others know their history and she’d probably get divorced if I surfaced. He agreed with me that society needs to change and that it will take a long time though for any change to happen. He agreed with me that there need to be more social services for unwed mothers.
His affirmations of my thoughts meant a lot. Every time a Korean person agrees with me about adoption, birth family search, my frustrations with the culture it means a lot. Why? It’s hard to explain but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that as adoptees we are raised in a culture that is so different from Korean society that oftentimes simple beliefs are in direct opposition to Korean thought/way of life. So to have a Korean person back you up and say your point of view is valid and correct, it means acceptance. It means belonging. And if it’s done by a friend it often means love.
Oppa sympathized with me about my birth family search and I said I felt bad I hadn’t been particularly nice to his mom when she’d always been so nice to me. (I was such a brat always wrapped up in my old drama around her.) The killer at the end was when he said: “Well you were nice to my mom and she already told you she will be your Korean mom.” Right there. The jab. I try to hate Korea and then that happens. Love. Acceptance. Reaching out. How can I hate Korea when my Korean friend of 15 years tells me his mom in Masan still thinks of me as a daughter? F*ck.
He then phones me (I love that it’s so easy to just pick up the phone in Korea and phone the U.S.) and during our conversation reiterates: “Why don’t you come to Korea with your kids and come and visit me and my wife and see my mom in my hometown. You don’t have to go anywhere else, just see us?”
I try to hate Korea. I do. But it just throws love back at me. And how can I hate that?