April 2006

trans. "Chapter 1: Adoption"

Subtitle: 친가족 찾다
trans: "Birth Family Search"

One of the main themes for this blog, and I'm not one to be absolutely restricted by some notion of rules or order, was to talk a bit more about adoption. Not knowing either a start nor good beginning, I thought I'd share a bit of the correspondence in my most recent search for my birth mother.

The etymology of my search began in 1994, when my mother initially proposed the idea of visiting Korea on a motherland tour (the second of its kind at the time). Being young, fickle, and fairly blasé about the whole issue, I neither acquiesced nor made a firm decision about it either way. In the off-hand way that kids that age often handle serious topics, I said, "Surrre" (notice the elongated emphasis on the "errr" sound and slight inflection downward). Thus it began.

Here, I'm going to quickly synopsize the events. I wrote a letter prior to the Motherland Tour, which was translated and then sent via the adoption agency to the address of where my birthmother was living. Apparently her husband intercepted the letter, read it, and became outraged. Right off the bat we have mistake #1, it is bad practice to send correspondence blindly, especially in a country where adoption is seen as a HUGE ding against ones' reputation. Thus attempt number one failed. Five years later, when I was living in Korea at this time, attempt two was made. It was also doomed to failure as the adoption agency was neither thrilled to put much effort into it. I was walled by "We were unable to locate your mother's new address." With much persistence, and two years later, just as I was leaving Korea, attempt three was made. The director of the agency took more than 3 months to finally locate who she thought was my uncle (my mother's older brother). Again, she sent a letter (why they keep on this obviously failed tack is beyond me). The letter was not answered, and here the story gets blurry. I'm not sure how it went about, but somehow they achieved some verbal contact. At this time, I was corresponding with them from the United States. I inquired about my search about 2 months after I had returned, and here was their response:

Dear John

I am very sorry for late reply. It was not easy for me to explain about this situation knowing how hard you have been searching for your birth family.

But, it is true that I have been doing my best to help you. With the information we had, I had contacted the persons I thought might be your birth mother and uncle but they absolutely denied having given up a baby for adoption. Every once in a while, we come across such a situation and there are usually three explanation for it.

First, the birth mother react this way because no one knows about her past and she would like to protect her present life and the people around her. In these cases, once a couple of years has passed, some will admit to having done so.

Second, to conceal her identity, the birth mother has falsified all her information at the time of adoption. In these case, we can not find her. Third, for reasons we can not explain, we have the wrong information. In your case, we don't know which of these is the reason we can not locate your birth mother. If the first explanation fits your case, we might be able to try contact her again in two or three years.

Unfortunately, there seems to be nothing we can do right now. We tried contacting the social worker who met your birth family at the time of adoption but that branch office has since closed and she has passed away. We are so sorry and I hope you will understand that we cannot give you any more information other than what you already have. If the first situation fits your case, we have the responsibility of protecting the birth mother's privacy.

You have parents that love you now and we are certain that your birth mother gave you up because she loved you and where ever she is now, she loves you deep in her heart.

I don't think that meeting with your birth mother will complete your life. Only a few ever meet their birth mother, and back when you were adopted, our adoption procedures were lax and we were unable to collect all the necessary documents like we do today. back then, our priority was to find good families for children and procedures or documentation was often overlooked.

Of course it has changed these days. We will try again to contact your family in the future but we are sorry there is nothing we can do right now.

Please try to lead a happy life despite not being able to contact your birth mother.

Talk about a downer, so I responded with:

Dear Ms. Ok-

Thank you for your candid email. I received it about a week ago, but have been taking a long time in contemplating its contents. I am saddened by the news, and it seems, you have put this on the back burner, having reached a wall in the search.

I don't understand the development of the search from our initial contact in 1995 till now 2003 (almost 2004). I remember that initially in 1995, my supposed mother's husband had intercepted the letter, became angry and tried to sue the adoption agency. Is that the same woman that you tried to contact this year? I'm confused as to the progression, and as to what has happened.

I lived with my mother for at least 2 years. Why would she falsify my records? Why would my uncle deny such an adoption, if I was given up as an infant, like through a maternity home program, I could understand the family not knowing, but considering that I lived with my mother and grandmother for over 2 years, this seems highly unlikely.

I guess, what I'm saying is, there are so many unanswered questions. I understand your policy in protecting the privacy of the birthparents’; I want to protect my birthmother as well. However, when that policy impedes the progress of a search, I wonder how protection and the continuation of a search can be balanced.

I am going to think more upon the news, and, once again, thank you so much for your email. It is the Thanksgiving Holiday here in America, so, in those regards, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving.


John Arbour

At this point, Kim Tae Ok, Director of Post Adoption Services, responded by sending an email in Korean to the Director of Love the Children (PA) who had overseen my adoption. I've enclosed the contents of the letter here:

박회장님 , 전화로 말씀드린 입양인에 대한 mail입니다 .


1995 온가족이 모국방문단으로 한국방문하여 친가족 search 요청했는데 그당시 친모의 남편이 알게되어 기관에 항의한적 있었습니다. 그후 2001 년에 입양인이 한국에 나와있는동안 기관에 찿아와서 제가 다시 search 시도하였습니다. 95 년도에 실패한 기록이 있어 겁이나서 제가 친모의 거주지 확인해 놓고도 전화번호를 찿지못해 편지나 전보로 연락못하고 1 년이상 끌다가 겨우 친모의 오빠부인 ( 올캐) 통화했는데 자기가 친모를 결혼전 데리고 있었는데 분만한 일이 없었다고 하여 다시 벽에 부딫쳤습니다. 입양인은 그사이 계속 연락을 저에게 했는데 그러나 제가 이말을 입양인에게 하지못하고 연락이 않된다고만 밀어왔습니다. 그러다 2003 다시 친모의 새주소지를 알아내어 연락하던중 다시 친모의 남편이 알게되어 항의했습니다. 그리고 친모와 직접 통화하게 되었는데 절대 그런일이 없다고 하니 더이상 연락할수도 없습니다. 입양인은 친모가 자기를 2 년이나 키우다 보냈는데 어떻게 부인할수가 있으며 정보가 잘못될수가 있냐고 이해하지 못한다고 하는데 정말 할말이 없네요. 가끔 예날서류에 엉뚱한 사람이 친모로 둔갑해있는 경우가 있지만 아동은 키우다 보냈기 때문에 저도 의심하지 않았습니다. 이사실을 입양인에 그데로 말해서는 않될것 같고 어떻게 해명해야할지 모르겠습니다. 마지막 주고받은 \n \n보내드리겠습니다.

양모도 양모지만 입양인과 직접 통화해 주시면 더욱 좋겠습니다 . 이아동이 입양갈시점은 초기시점으로 사후관리에 대한 준비가 전혀 없었고 아동의 수속을 위해 본래의story 무시된경우도 있는것 같습니다. 그러나 아동들이 그런 상황을 어떻게 이해할수 있겠어요?

I don't have the heart to translate it all word for word, but it tells the overview of what I already said transpired. It's also hard to understand everything as it's written in relation to a phone conversation that the two directors had prior. Kim Tae Ok, tried to contact my bm, and it's unclear if she was able to contact her directly or not, but that the rebuttle was that I, as a birth, child, adoption did not exist in their realm of reality. She iterates that this was a hard thing to tell someone like me, and that she [Kim Tae Ok] did not know how to break such harsh/bad news. She hoped that the director of Love the Children could tell me in kinder and more understanding terms. She again reiterates how I have a good life here, and that I should try and lead a happy existence.

Not to bore you with all the details, but in 10 years, not much has come of the search. In my last correspondence with the adoption agency, the director of post adoption services emailed me, and then emailed their adoption counterpart here in the USA, Love the Children (based out of PA). She asked the director of Love the Children (who had overseen my own adoption) to explain to me the situation of the search.

Back to square one.

My Adoption Photo w/ Foster Mom:

 Foster MomFirst Picture


There's someone special I know who has a hankering to try the native drink of Korea. I can't wait to go on a tasting spree with her, but until then, I figured I'd post a little about this misnomer known as Korea's sake (aka Korea's vodka). It's been listed as one of the world's cheapest alcohols (most economic way of getting smashed), though, because of international trade tariffs and such, it's rather expensive here in the US of A.

Considering my own tumultuous history with what many Koreans calls, "A friend of life" aka soju "소주", I thought I'd share some background, facts, and stories involving this infamous green bottle (though, it can be found in Korea in clear bottles as well). You can read more about from a true FOB (just read his writing) here: http://www.american.edu/TED/soju.htm

I came upon the notion of soju at a wee age of 13 or was it 12? (well, the effects on memory are plain to see). My soju experience came hand in hand with my first experience with soondae "순대" (blood sausage and the whatnot, but this is for another post), with the company and guidance of my hyungs (older brothers). They were all college students, who, in trying to share their Korean cultural roots with me, naturally brought me to eat Korean food, and drink Korean liquor. I can't say I minded too much. Before we get ahead of ourselves and assume the worst about these "hyungs" of mind, I should mention that they were extremely conscientious of my age and safety. With that said, once my parents caught wind of it, there were far fewer trips to "go see my Korean camp counselors at college". Sad.

So it began thus. During my 2 and a half year stay in Korea the relationship really blossomed. As many of you might, or might not know, Korean BBQ is some of the best in the world. There is NOTHING like sitting outside at one of these BBQ shacks during the summer, grilling up some good ol' meat (btw, I've converted to a veggie + fish diet lately, but I can't knock a good Korean BBQ), and of course, ordering bottle, after bottle of soju. Koreans like this clear, fairly watery, swift shot of liquor to chase down the greasy meat. They also enjoy it with spicy foods as well, as it tends to take a bite out of the spicy-ness, or perhaps it's the spicey-ness that takes a bite out of the soju (<shrugs>).

To be completely frank, nearing the end of this post, I can't say I really LOVE soju now like I used to. I would probably opt for an alternative drink if given the choice (but godforbid one of my Korean friends should hear me say this).

Now a few tidbit pointers for drinking with Koreans, and drinking soju:

There are quite a few brands of soju, but it's not like sake~! So many people (read this as, so many WHITE people) find it indistinguishable from Japan's sake. There is one major difference, sake is made from RICE, soju is made from potatoes (usually YAMS). I particularly like San Soju (산소주). I don't really know when it started to be produced, but know that when I first got to Korea, it was just starting to become popular. It was introduced as a hang-over reducing soju, as they add green tea extract to the mix (of course I think this is probably a marketing crock-of-bird poo, but it got in my head, and so I believe it too). The other really popular brand, is the straight up stuff, Cham-i-seul. But like I said, I'd go for the San Soju. Here in the United States, Jinro (the Korean liquor producer) has a few popular labels as well, including Green, and just plain Jinro.

Soju is so popular, you can buy it pretty much EVERYWHERE. This includes your local 7-11's (yes, they have them there, and they're pretty darn cool). The last time I checked, it costed about 900won (about 90cents) to buy a bottle. You can also buy 1.5liter (like the Poland Spring bottles) of soju. They also have mini plastic "flasks" of soju, and they even have soju in juice cartons (like the small ones that your mom probably gave you, but was labeled "Hi-C" not "Soju").

Now for the drinking part. My friends and I in Korea liked to joke that soju was the type of friend who would love you one second and beat the crap out of you the next if you weren't careful (talk about an emtionally unstable friend). But it's very true. Soju does NOT have a very high alcohol content 20-25% at most. This tends to lead the deviant nubile drinker to exceed their soju limit. Where often you drink and feel the effects of drunkenness and either 1) can't drink anymore or 2) realize this and STOP drinking more, soju immediately goes from the drunken "happy stage" to the drunken "kicking your arse" stage. I could write more, but the long and the short of it is, soju tolerance is highly different for each person and as compared to other alcohols (I've known a girl in Korea to have drank a CAPFULL and pass out, literally!).

There is a Korean wine-type of drink called Baek Sae-ju (Baek means 100, as in 100 years liquor). A favorite for the party-minded individual is to pour one bottle of Baek Sae-ju with one bottle of soju to form what we call, "Oh-ship-sae-ju" (Oh-ship means 50, as in 50 years liquor, cuz it's been diluted by one half). This tends to really knock people's socks off, sometimes literally (unfortunately).

Koreans party-goers are also a fan of the pok-tan-ju (or the bombs). This usually entails whiskey shots dumped into half full beer mugs, but a shot of soju mixes just as well.

Having experienced both of the above methods for terminal intoxication, I can say that both are quite effective.

As a reminder, I will write a post in the future about drinking customs, history, and etiquette. But for now, lest all my readers render me a full-blown alcoholic, and refer me to the local AA meetings, I'm going to end on a blissful note of wisdom; drinking with the right alcohol (and or amount of alcohol) is far less important than being with the companions with whom you choose to be consuming it with. (<— ewww ended the sentence with a preposition, oh well)

(my refrigerator)


Remember the teen drama of the mid 90's (1994-95) starring the impecably angsty Claire Danes?  Well if that's what you're looking for, then you're probably in the wrong place.

Having started this project once before in 2002, back when Xanga was THE blogspot of choice for the teen-something disenfranchised, and during the pick-up of online blogging, I can tell you that my posts will probably leave you as bored as I was when initially writing them.  That's my disclaimer for the evening.

With that said, I think it appropriate that I thank Julia for her motivated urgings for me to start my own WordPress blogger.  If it wasn't for THAT amazing woman, I think I'd probably still be lurking, blogging infrequently and randomly on my Xanga, various yahoo groups, and in my own personal journal.

Speaking of writing, it's appropriate to point out a few of my own viewpoints on the matter.  Even though I was adopted as a toddler, and though English was not my first language, I've discovered an inate joy in it.  Speaking it, and especially writing it, finding new ways of expressing the nuances and spectrum of human emotion is very satisfying.

I had the lucky opportunity to grow up in a family (with parents) who emphasized "entertaining ones' self", aka go read a book.  I began to read in nursery school.  I was still having trouble pronouncing many of the English sounds that do not exist in the Korean language, yet my mother was spending an hour a day walking me through a reading series.  I actually remember sounding out words and the pleasure of those sounds finding a unique place in my memory.

When I entered elementary school (1-4 grades), I began to read with a vengeance.  I had my own book to read, and all the while, my mother or father still spent time on my bedroom floor reading me book after book.  "Where the Red Fern Grows" was a poignant one, and tears still bubble up in the corner of my eye when I read it, and it is these moments in time that shape a lifetime in the future.  How wonderously sage my parents were.

I didn't stop reading, and I still haven't, though there are definite doldrums in the reading waters.  Genre was never an issue, though there were many years where I read, and I still am very fond of, fantasy and sci-fi/fantasy hybrids.  Every year, during library class through grammar school, I would listen to our librarian read to us a book that I had already read many times over, rolling my eyes, and or letting my mind drift to the book I'd be reading at home.  This may have added to my own false sense of arrogance (a topic that may be discussed in the future).

But to focus on the aspect of "writing" a little more, I sometimes wonder about the phenomenon of online journals.  Journals have historically had a secretive aesthetic, which obviously online journals don't really address.  However, I see an even more interesting dichotomy, and this is just my own humble opinion.  It lies in the fact that I see "writing" to be unapologetically and essentially a means of "sharing".  With sharing comes the fact that you must have people read it, for it to be shared.  Thus, journal and writing and certainly the added factor of online leads me to believe that in an effort of sharing the daily thoughts, emotions and tribulations of our life, we write online, a public journal.

So here it is.  This is MY public journal, and it will have a life of its own.  Winding, wandering, and entwining thoughts, events, and emotions, into an infinite log of a single soul of billions…I hope you enjoy, and I hope you might find something to take away with you..