On weekends I either forget to eat or I eat only as an excuse to get up from my constant sitting position. Sometimes I will make a trip to the convenience store for a snack I don’t want, simply to have a destination. I can’t go for a long walk because I have too much work to do. I am too poor to do anything else, even if I wanted to.
I finally found Korean crackers that aren’t sugared or made into frosting sandwiches. The crackers are tasteless. My adoptive mother’s remedy for this was butter, but the Korean butter is tasteless. My cupboards are typically bare and my refrigerator is empty, because I live at school and I have only one day a week spent like this: too much time on my hands, while at the same time snowed under with unfinished work.
“You look like you think too much,” a young Korean adoptee I’d never met told me at this Saturday’s function. Later I saw him talking to a fellow sullen adoptee half my age. I realize that being sullen is only something the young can get away with. Being sullen at my age is held against me. She’s got a chance. I seem to have lost mine.
I talk to men and I turn men off. Not on purpose, of course. I’m just sullen and honest and forthright. Not mysterious. Not playful. Who can play games? Who can play when there’s so much oppressive work to do? All men I’ve talked to here are in love with Jane. That gets old. Everyone talking about Jane. I wonder if she’s ever felt lonely. If yes, then not like this. I look back on my past spinster acquaintances and remember how important community was to them. I have no community here. Not even Jane. I can’t relate to the adoptees here. I am in a different place entirely. I’ve already been everywhere they are heading. We’ve nothing in common except this work. I don’t get it. They all seem angrier and more obsessed than me. Yet they all have relationships. They all have community. Maybe I should be angrier. I think the real issue is I am two decades older than them. The adoptees here with children – their children are in elementary school. Mine are in college. Everyone my age is married. Everyone is two decades younger, unmarried, and clubbing and mixing with Koreans over drinks. There really isn’t anyone here like me: real Korean or fake Korean. And to be honest, there’s no one here interesting. If they are interesting, they aren’t available. The pairing has all been done. There seems to be only one door to heaven, and I missed it.
My white friend has been rejected in favor of a generic Korean barbie doll. It seems she busted his chops about relationship insensitivity. And it’s much easier to deal with petty high maintenance Korean barbie dolls than it is with a foreigner who wants respect. I haven’t heard back from the boy for the same reason. That’s the thing about young people, you can’t bust their chops or work out issues because they can move on – they don’t have to bother. Emotional responsibility is something they will work on later, when there aren’t easy ways to opt out. Plus, I’ve got nothing to offer. Not being a trophy, not able to give babies, nor connections, nor anything but an example of what not to do. And the things I have are not something anybody wants to know. Not my zen. Not my satisfaction with practically nothing. Nobody sticks around long enough to see that.
I got a text from another American friend. “omg! your life is on display!” Sure enough, it’s part of an installation about adoption back in Anyang, put up by the hagwon we’re working with. It’s kind of disturbing, put that way. My life. This life. On display. What kind of life is this? My life is an education for others. But there’s no personal rewards.
Wednesday I went to Gapyeong Ministry of Education to judge middle school students in an English poetry contest. On the way the co-teacher told me she’d learned a lot in my classroom this year, and that it was a welcome change from the tedious handouts the last foreign teacher gave out. So that was something. The poetry was surprisingly good. These middle school students, the creme de la creme from all over the county, were much better at English than my high school students. One of the schools is a famous international school, where all subjects are taught in English. It was explained that their students come from all over Korea, mostly Seoul. Do they commute every day? I ask. No. It is a public boarding school. What kind of life is that? To be boarded out in middle school. I shake my head. The (I believe) winning entry was a poem by a boy. The topic was dream for the future. He spoke of his mother’s worn hands and his mother’s crooked back and his mother’s unfailing telephone calls to his grandmother. His dream for the future was to mother her. To hold her hands, massage her back, and to never fail to comfort her. His delivery was a little melodramatic, but I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Afterward, we were supposed to eat dinner with the rest of the panel and the administrators, but the Korean English teachers wanted to go home. My co-teacher said she hated Ja Ja myeon and asked me if I hated it to. I told her it was okay, so-so, nothing special. I hadn’t realized it was code for: I want to go home. Obviously this is the case, as I’ve seen her eat it at lunch with no complaints. And so they put us foreigners on the spot, saying we didn’t really want to stay. And the senior person asked us if we really didn’t want to eat with them and we uncomfortably did as our Korean English co-teachers wanted, as it was explained that the foreigners don’t like ja ja myeon. Yet another example of where younger people hate obligation and will do anything to get out of it. I still can’t decide what was worse, having to stay, or leaving abruptly. It felt terrible being forced to be the rude foreigner, though.
Thursday I watched file footage of Australian women who’d been coerced out of their children. Three and four decades ago, they were sent away without recourse to hide their pregnancies and denied access to their babies unless they signed relinquishment forms. The homes were run by Christians and hospitals acted on behalf of adoption agencies. They signed, but it was not informed consent. Because the situation then so closely parallels the situation in Korea, I decided women needed to know their rights and be given contact information for support networks, resources, and which unwed mother’s homes are NOT run by adoption agencies. So that’s my latest project, which I proposed to Jane and which I presented a few days later and for which we’re immediately taking action on.
The mihonmo here all kind of adore me. There is even affection there. I wish we could live together. They could nurture me and I could babysit. There is one child especially who is not a spoiled terror, like most Korean children are. Jane says its not possible, that they would lose what little benefits they get.
Yeonah the director wants to get together and have a long conversation. She thinks I am an artist, though I always tell her I’m not. Who has time for art with all this adoption reform work /school work?
Actually, lots of adoptees want to talk to me. But it is short lived. I comfort. But there’s no one who can comfort me. There is no one who can comfort me. Only MyungSook can comfort me. If I am lucky, there will be acknowledgment that yes, I have the trifecta of pain here: adopted, older/undatable, the only foreigner, no one to communicate with, living alone, living in the country, well – I guess that’s more than a trifecta…
It sounds like I do so much: meet so many. It’s more like I pump a lot of hands. Some are regular faces. A couple stop to talk. But they don’t really care, and even if they did – I am here and they are there. We live in two different worlds. How I’d love to tell everyone everything is lovely: that I’m having the time of my life.
“City vil” I tell the taxi driver. (not my apartment, but the only apartment nearby anyone recognizes exists) I am late for the Paella event at Koroot, where our benefactor is making everyone Paella, and where I will tell the mihonmo about Australia and helping inform other mihonmo about their rights. The taxi driver on the other end can’t understand me. CI – TI – VILLA. He starts to yell. SEE TEE BIL. He’s swearing now. CITI BIL He’s yelling for someone else to deal with me. Citi vil, jusayo. He can’t understand me. CI TEE BILLA! He’s yelling at me. City vil. See Tee Ville. City bil. Oh for God’s sake. I hang up. I walk. All that and the train is not due for quite awhile. The schedule has changed, but of course a foreigner wouldn’t know that. I could have saved myself the frustration had I known. On the return trip I also take a taxi due to the weight of my bags. “City vil, jusayo.” He can’t understand me. See Tee Bil. He can’t understand me. I take him to the bank, then I have to instruct left here, straight up here, here, left, etc. I point to the sign. Citi bil? Huh? See tee bil? Yea, he says. see tee bil. I want to whack my head into a brick wall repeatedly until it’s mush, until I’m totally disfigured and unrecognizable. In fact, I’d like someone to physically smack me. It would at least be something. Some feeling. Some passion. Something other than nothing. It’s too hard to feel so pent up about something without shape or physical form. I’d like an opportunity to let loose this growing rage in me. I want to strike back, but nobody will hit me. Nobody will give me license.
I hate being so strong. I hate that I can’t get drunk. I hate that I can’t just descend into an opium stupor. I hate that I can’t just pop pills and walk around numb. I hate being so god damned aware. I hate being so responsible. I hate…I hate being in this place. Not this place physically. Being in this situation in this climate. I can’t even tell you about meeting Greg and his wife and child from France, because it just makes me realize how empty my life is. I can’t even stand writing anymore.