Yea Hee (the translator arranged for me by G.O.A.L. for my birth family search) and I agree to meet at the Express Bus Terminal, which is on the subway line. Problem is, the agreed upon exit (all the exits are numbered) is closed. So I have to acost strangers with, “do you speak English?” I finally went up to the subway ticket counter and the guy had me come inside and use their phone. (I can’t get a phone for a couple of weeks)
While waiting for her, I asked a boy for a cigarette, even though it is looked down upon for women to smoke at all and especially not in public. I asked if he knew English and he said no. See, I think most of the Koreans under thirty actually know quite a bit of English, but they all insist they don’t know any of it just because they know they can’t speak it very well.
Anyway, Yea Hee shows up and she, too, is this tiny little thing. Very pretty. She could be an actress, but she is a nursing student who spent a year in England and is applying for medical school in Hawaii.
On the bus trip, I hand her the Wonju document and I get a thorough reading of it for the first time. It appears that the form that was filled out was an admittance form of sorts to a hospital. The name of the man at the bottom is a police officer. The other form says I was admitted from Wonju City Hall, so it is a little confusing as to where and how I was abandoned. We have a really nice conversation about education and Korea and English until the man behind us tells Yea Hee we need to stop talking. Since he’s telling this 45 minutes into an hour long trip, I tell her -gosh, he should have let us know a lot earlier! Her eyes get wide. Apparantly by stop talking, it really meant I shouldn’t have said even one more thing ever. Both Yea Hee and Mi Young live with their mothers. I guess everyone lives with their mothers until they get married (or escape to foreign schools)
I took a little footage of Wonju, but it is kind of scrubby and nonspecific looking. It’s in the mountains, it’s winter bare and dreary, there is agriculture in the area, and the ubiquitous high rise apartments everywhere. It touts itself in English with signs as “Healthy Wonju.” At the City Hall, many people help us as we go from desk to another desk to some office concerning women, each time Yea Hae explaining patiently. Turns out, Wonju scrapped all old documents about ten years ago. Others from your time have come too, and there has been nothing for them. I am sorry, she says. It’s okay. I didn’t expect anything.
Next stop – police station. We get sent to an investigator’s room, and one of them tells Yea Hee that the officer mentioned in the document has passed away. It turns out that the mention of “hospital” is wrong. It really means institution, and it was common back then to go from City Hall and take the abandoned child to the nearest orphan center, which was what we previously thought was the hospital. So the document is really an intake document from the orphan center that Holt was affiliated with, and that is why it is totally unofficial. The official documents from Wonju City Hall no longer exist. The kind police officers really went above and beyond though, and we were taken into another office where two of them worked for half an hour cross referencing the deceased police officer’s name with other officers, trying to find out who his partner was at the time. We were told it might take several hours, but that they would get back with us.
So Yea Hee and I went to eat. We went to a divey old place with ondol flooring and low tables serving traditional Korean food. Think really old greasy spoon – but Korean. Very cool. Worn out. Faded. Comfortable. I got enough mandu to serve an army. I’ve decided there is no way I can eat out anymore – there’s just too much damn food. But it was super yummy. Yae Hee laughed when I would pick up big things with my chopsticks and just bite the ends off. It seems we are supposed to cut things up with our chopsticks first. She ate very delicately, everything in small bites. So even though she complimented me on eating Korean well (I guess most adoptees here have never eaten traditional Korean food) I still eat like a heathen.
On the ride home, neither of us talked, afraid some adjosshi was going to yell at us to shut up. So we both nodded off to sleep.
In the evening, hung out at Koroot for awhile. There is one adoptee here from Seattle, that has been here for something like 15 years? Has a wife and kids. Went out to eat with two of the adoptees at a night market. One of them from the Netherlands arrived here five months ago, unfortunately a month after his first father died. He moved in with his first mother only a week later and lives with her in Suwon. He’s currently in an inheritance battle with his Korean cousins over his first father’s estate! He doesn’t know any Korean…
Today I’m moving to my apartment! Yayy! I won’t have internet there, though, and will have to find a PC Bang somewhere. I can’t find my credit card – so I have to turn everything upside down and/or retrace my steps (nightmare) in this city of 11 million.