After another long day in Seoul, I took the last train back to my sleepy little town, hopped on my little bike, the cool damp air chilling my arms, the smell of soil, compost, and wetlands in my nostrils, and rode under the street lamps, past the cacophonous chorus of frogs, insects, and water birds that inhabit the rice fields, and sighed a big long sigh of relief. So glad to be in the country.
I’m SO DONE with Seoul. It makes me want to get on the next plane out of Korea. And it isn’t because of, like the adopted person at dinner was saying about Korean restaurant servers, “I’m tired of being abused.” (what?) No. I’m not done with Seoul because of Koreans. I’ve felt misunderstood or judged by Koreans, but never abused. No. I’m done with Seoul because of adoptees. It seems like I can’t ever go there without running into them even when I’m not looking.
Don’t get me wrong: I sympathize with my fellow displaced brothers and sisters. But that doesn’t mean I want to talk about adoption all the freaking time. I mean, give it a rest once in awhile, for God’s sake. And yes, it’s been a rough few weeks – a romantic encounter that turned out to be based on my being an adoptee, and a separate brush with KAD’s that made me glad I’m old as dirt.
Back when I first read John Raible’s coinage of the term adoption fatigue, the words he uses to describe the phenomenon of adoptees always having to explain their unlikely existence to the uninitiated, I was thrilled to have a new way to express my irritation with being forced to play educator about something I’d never meant to be an expert about. But adoption fatigue in the U.S. pales – pales – compared to adoptee fatigue in Korea, which is my term to describe always being forced to talk about adoption with adoptees. Ad nauseam. Seriously.
As an adoptee in America, I never had to tell my whole entire adoption story, I never had to explain about my birth search, I never had to outline my connection to the adoptee community, I never had to explain what level my Korean was at, I never had to explain so many things that one has to explain here: why I am here and how long I’m staying and what my politics are or … and I never had to listen to unsolicited stories either. Come to think of it, adoption fatigue usually occurred when someone new came into my life, and then it was over until the next new person was brave enough or indifferent to my discomfort enough to ask probing questions. But adoptee fatigue doesn’t just happen once – it happens repeat times, or maybe ALWAYS with the same adoptee, until they think they’ve got you figured out, or until they’ve exploited something useful for themselves, or until they’ve got themselves figured out. And if they’re on the treadmill, then it’s the always…
In the beginning, it’s comforting to meet others who know what is incomprehensible to others. That shared experience of abandonment and not fitting in is something that unites all adoptees. And it feels like belonging. For a second. But how many times does one have to seek out and receive this comfort and validation? After the hundredth time, it feels like being caught in a reverse world, another plane of existence, that destabilizes ones connection with the rest of society and warps the way in which we perceive everything. Maybe that’s what others seek, to carve out some special place, but not me. And as unique as this circumstance is, is it where we really want to dwell? Forever agitated? I want a normal life. I had a somewhat normal life, only I was unaware of what was causing me pain. Now that I’m aware, I want that life back, knowing it will be a richer, more informed life. While I will never deny that I’m adopted, It doesn’t mean I want/need/should-have-to live in Adoptoland.
And so they come to Korea, to revel in this other world, this place where they can make jokes about white people and distance themselves from westerners (while behaving thoroughly western) and relish in what little Koreannesses they can grasp and claim as their own. And push that adoptee button again and again and again and again and again and…it’s like going to an extended culture camp. It’s like living in culture camp. It’s all the incestuous, drama-filled, exhilarated to be far from home, manic, amplified emotions of camp. Only these aren’t children. Well, some are, even if they are post pubescent. Okay. Not camp. More like Spring Break. But the worst – the absolute worst of all – are the Socratic adoptees. (You remember that guy – the one who glibly thought he was the only smart person in the world because he was smart enough to say he knew he knew nothing?) Only sometimes replace knowledge with adjustment…
That’s why I’m so glad the adoptee friends I do have are beyond this extended culture camp mind-set. I’m really privileged to have been a total mess here in Korea and to share it here on this blog, and to have genteel civil adult conversations about getting better, living in the larger world, and growing as people with them. I may not have a posse I run with here, but the friends I do have are real and evolving people. And we may talk about adoption-related issues, but it is calm, thoughtful talk, and our discussions are in the context of making peace. We’re not destroying our livers and we sleep well at night. We are sustainable.
To those few special adoptees: Thank you for being thoughtful and mature. If it were not for you, I’d be on the next plane out of here.