At the Thanksgiving dinner for adoptees and unwed moms, Jane comes in with the KBS producer, and he and his interpreter make a point to meet the cover girl from Hankyeoreh 21. Embarassed, I mention how awkward that article was for me, and in so doing, create another awkward moment. Fortunately, the children of the unwed moms and the children of adoptees are playing adorably and I am off the hook. Jane, Alice, me, (the senior female adoptees in Korea, me being the oldest) and Jane’s boyfriend wrap Christmas toys for the unwed mom’s children before the evening officially begins.
Afterward I speak with a volunteer helping cater, and we have a long in-depth conversation about coffee culture in America vs. Korea. He tells me young Korean girls spend an average of 200,000 won a month on coffee. That’s $173. Which is probably the same as many in Seattle – except in relative terms, I would give it a value more like $250. This is because you can eat a large meal here for $5. He talks about conspicuous consumption. Random Koreans have amazing vocabularies like this, in a language that is often their second or third, and sometimes even fourth. He is unusual in that he is not embarrassed to speak and make mistakes.
As opening time passes, a wall of adoptees approach and the KBS interpreter gasps, “so many!” I explain to her and the producer how thousands return every year to search, but then leave, and how meaningful it is for me to see all those gathered here who have stayed, separated from their families. I tell them that those who stay are special, because they care about Korea and hope to change it for the better. The producer asks if he can interview me and I say sure, when? “How about now?” he says, and in a flurry of activity I am suddenly having a camera and mike in front of me again. As always, I’m less than satisfied with my eloquence and berate myself for not having sound bytes prepared or being more facile on-the-spot, but Jane and everyone else seems happy.
Our food is cold because of the interview. We sit and eat and the producer tells us entertaining stories about how ludicrous his job can sometimes be. I go back for seconds of mashed poatoes and gravy. The interpreter loves gravy too, as she spent six years going to a private school in Portland. After dinner, they make their rounds saying goodbye to everyone . “Be happy,” the producer says to me as he leaves. I smile and nod and for a moment I love him.
Alice seems happy. She tells entertaining anecdotes of the trials and joys of her extended families in her humorous and engaging Dutch manner, and she has a huge family. Two adoptees who’ve married and each found their natural families, each with their adoptive families abroad, and two children tying all of those families together. Alice’s mother found her two years after she’d given up searching. Miwha, the same age as me, reminds me that her mother is still very active and that my mother is probably alive and doing well somewhere in Korea. I forget these things, as my adoptive parents were over forty when they adopted me.
The SBS producer emailed me yesterday, wondering if I’ve found Kim Sook Ja. I wrote who I think might be her last month, but no response yet. Other adoptees tell me sometimes it takes a year for those contacted to come around. I don’t have my hopes set, for if her transracial adoptee experience was anything close to mine, it might take a near death experience before other identities are considered or reservations set aside.
I told the KBS producer that no Korean children should have to suffer like we did, but what I meant was that no Korean children should have to go through the confusion of having a family that isn’t yours and which is obvious both to you and the entire society around that matches them, but not you. This disconnect is too deep for gratitude or stoicism to touch. You have to lock it up and throw away the key, or render yourself totally dysfunctional.
In that world. In this world you have to pry it permanently open in order to live again. I could use some grief counseling, but keeping busy manages to keep demons at bay. I know these things I’m feeling are growing pains, and that they’re good for me. I just wish things were less significant all the time.
The question always crops up, “how long will you stay in Korea?” The answer changes each time, from moment to moment. I want to love Korea. I want to forget the losses. I want a new soundtrack, and struggle because that soundtrack is black or white, not yellow. I want to quit moving. I want a sustainable life. I want to be with my children. I want every child to know its mother. I feel torn between two continents and dream about a third.
I tape up the boxes, count my blessings and marvel how so many of my teaching friends, endearing characters all, have set aside tomorrow to help me move.