“The most important thing is your face…”

So we are sitting on the set at the KBS tv studio, waiting for the show to begin and I ask Eun-Seong, my interpreter, her opinion on whether or not revealing I was abused would negatively affect my parents from coming forward.  She tells me she’s been translating for KBS for this family search for three years and about fifty adoptees, and that over half of them had difficult lives.  If I want to just leave it as a difficult life or mention abuse, it is up to me.  But “the most important thing is your face.”  It is actually the identifying marks, dates, and especially recognition from the photos which compel people to come forward.  If it were her, the mention of abuse would want her to come forward even more.

Two days before they had sent me an email list of questions to answer in lieu of a telephone interview, since my phone wasn’t always working, and which I was supposed to get to them before day’s end.  But my lack of reliable internet connection, school commitments, and further administrative loose ends took up most of the evening.  And then I wrote and re-wrote and wrote again what I wanted to say on air, staying up until about 2 am.  I set the alarm for 6:30 in hopes of sending it before the family researcher woke up – but she beat me by about ten minutes.  “OH MY GOD – where is the interview?  I have to translate it and hand it in this morning!” But further talks with her indicated that everything was okay.

So of course on the day of the show, I arrive ten minutes late.  Had a few minor getting ready disasters, and left the house with an hour for travel.  It seemed like enough time, but never having been on this subway line before, I was totally dismayed at how long the travel distance was between stops in one portion of the journey and also how slow the train was going during these portions.  Fortunately, I still had my phone and was able to call the G.O.A.L. coordinator.  I also got a few calls from the search researcher wondering when I was going to get there.

Nobody seemed upset, as they were going over the other guest’s portions.  My interpreter introduced herself, explained how the show operated, and what we were supposed to do.  Most important was to NOT look at the people asking me questions and to only stare ahead at the camera.  (much harder to do than you’d think) The interpreter wanted us to practice, but I didn’t really want to do this – it’s just a weird feeling to verbalize your personal answers out loud multiple times.  It’s like I own those feelings, but they feel less important every time they are verbalized?  (I think this is the value of psychological counseling, actually.  The more you talk about your problems, the more they are diminished.  But if there’s something you WANT to hold onto, then talking about it too much can also diminish that.  I only wanted to hold onto it long enough for it to feel fresh when I was asked, though)  Then, the producer went over the questions and a mock-up of the answers I’d given in my emailed interview with the live translation.  Yeah, I got a little weepy.  There was tissue handy.  After the mock questioning, we went into the studio and walked through the positioning and schedule of the show. My interpreter tells me that many many adoptees are in line to get on this show, but the producer is captured by my story and wanted to help me and moved me to the front and that I am very lucky.

When it was my turn to go on, I wasn’t as confident as I’d wanted to be, but I can see how one could get used to being in front of a camera – it’s something you have to always be aware of.  I can imagine its limitations can become second nature, and the relationship with it becoming more nuanced and intimate.  BUT not for a layperson guest on a show exploiting human drama and emotion.  Despite the dry run-through of the questions, they were still awkwardly phrased – especially the first question, so the interpreter and I even had to develop a strategy on how to answer it.  Similar problems with some of the other questions.  Also, during the Q&A there were some questions they skipped and some of the points I was supposed to cover would have to be shoe-horned in elsewhere.  I did okay, but the last question – the most important question – my big opportunity to say something welcoming to my family – I flubbed.  My mind just went blank and I was finished.  It’s really too bad, as in my written responses there were some really profound sound bytes I had put in, and I missed them all.  I’m especially mad at myself that I wasn’t able to insert my criticism of the adoption agencies, and that I had the opportunity but blew it…

About twenty minutes into the show, there is a little activity off set and my interpreter tells me there is a phone call for me.  I’m very confused because what am I supposed to do?  Get up and leave the set in the middle of filming?  But then the MC’s are looking at me and I realize what’s going on and they are broadcasting the voice on the other end of the line.  The interpretation is pretty incredible.  It’s kind of hard to soak in really, so I’m sure I looked pretty confused.  The interpretation came in to me something like this:

Basically, the caller is a man who used to live in Wonju but now lives in the next province.  He used to be a neighbor of my father.  He is really convinced he knows who I am, because the time frame is right, and I look just like my father.  (!!!  I LOOK like somebody!)  He says the name of who he thinks is my father too!  (And it is a TOTALLY different last name)  The story goes:  My father and mother were not happy together.  My mother left him, leaving me behind.  My grandmother was very very angry.  VERY angry.  As a result, my grandmother took me to a train station and left me there.

Wow.  Television is truly miraculous!

After the show, the MC’s and the producer come up and the producer translates that they all hope I find my family and maybe they will see me again.  The translator tells me I am very lucky, it’s not often that somebody calls in right away with something so targeted.  She feels there is a good possibility the man is correct about my father’s identity, since he had so many details about the place, the time, and so much inside information about the family’s story.

The G.O.A.L. people tell me KBS will talk more with the neighbor who called in, investigate the whereabouts of my father and any other info they can on my family, who will contact G.O.A.L., and get back in touch with me.  I am told KBS is very good at investigating these things, as the big prize for them is getting to air the tearful reunions.

Of course, all this opens up a whole new pandora’s box.  If this caller is correct – Was this abandonment by my grandmother something my father also wanted?  Where did my mother end up?  Why did she abandon me? What was my name?  What the hell is that scar I have from?  What were their circumstances? Did I have any siblings?  How are they doing?  Where are they now?

You know, I’d envisioned being abandoned by economic hardship, but not this scenario.  It still makes me angry at the adoption industry.  What would have become of me if Korean society did not know abandoned children would be taken to orphanages, if there was not that assurance and possibility?  Maybe I would have been beaten daily by my resentful grandmother.  Or maybe my mother would have come back to claim me.  Whatever the case, somebody would have had to have at least given me the basics and I would have stayed in my own culture and country.

I was asked many times how I am doing, and am I okay.  Yes.  I am fine.  It’s all just a bit surreal, the possibilities so endless in the story about how you came to be.  I still have much to find out.

Very bizarre, this life I’ve had.  And all the Korean adoptees shipped away…

4 thoughts on ““The most important thing is your face…”

  1. Yes, television is miraculouse.
    I’m crying over my keyboard.
    I would have been sad and disappointed if you hadn’t got any call, even if it’s what usually happens.
    I know exactly how you are feeling now, with more new unanswered questions, and all the scenarios, and of course keeping in mind if the caller is right…
    Hoping your questions will be answered

  2. Once again, Myung-Sook, you actually DO know exactly how I feel!

    I am actually quite apprehensive about those answers and the complications they will bring. I’m hardly the idealist – I don’t think any of us adoptees are. Probably why so many really don’t want to search or go through this.

    But I am too curious. I need to fill that hole. Those first few years. I KNOW they existed. I was not born at three. Please, God, let it be a nice reunion and a gentle relationship. Please.

  3. Oh wow! Incredible that someone recognized you and knows your history. Stay strong – this is YOUR history and your story, you lived it even if you don’t remember it.


    Romany from AAAFC

  4. How exhilarating AND exhausting!

    I hope you find the answers to your questions. I also hope you are enjoying your new life there.


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