Monthly Archives: November 2005

My Korean mother

My mother
Originally uploaded by sarahhyunah.


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Parents’ Wedding Day

Parents’ Wedding Day
Originally uploaded by sarahhyunah.

This is one of the photos I stared at the longest when I met my sisters in January.

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Lost Time

I had a very relaxing Thanksgiving that involved lots of eating and movie-watching . . . as Thanksgiving should be. I’m currently procrastinating on completing a course paper for my Race & Public Policy class . . . and I’ve got to meet my group in two hours to go over our final presentation!!

That said, I must blog about something I’ve been mulling over the past two weeks or so. I knew that processing last year’s events would pop up this year at times when I wasn’t looking for it . . . .

I recently met a Korean adoptee who is just beginning to explore his identity as not only a person of color, but as a person adopted from Korea. For those of you not adopted, this may sound strange, but many adoptees grow up with no knowledge or recognition of this part of our identities that is glaringly obvious to the rest of the world. Anyway, as someone who also once thought of Korea as only a vague, foreign land relegated to dusty textbooks and embarassing otherness, I felt empathetic towards D., and I was only too happy to tell him about my experiences last year. I could tell that he’s curious but still feeling cautious about everything. He said that he wants to visit Korea someday and conduct a birth family search, but it will probably be a few years from now.

He asked me for some advice on finding adoption-related resources. I didn’t want to overwhelm him, since I know from my own experience that everybody comes to terms with these things at their own pace. So I sent him an e-mail with some links to a few books and websites that I think he might find helpful. He was appreciative, and it seemed as though this little interaction was just another happy diversion from my grad school grind.

However, I found myself thinking about my own foray into exploring my Korean adoptee-ness. I do firmly believe that everyone has their own pace, their own trajectory of development in how we deal with being adopted. No one should be forced to face the ghosts of their past before they’re ready. I know that I’m glad with how my life has turned out, with the discoveries I’ve made. And yet . . . .

Although I like to say I have no regrets, I think it’s possible to be happy with your life but still acknowledge a sense of loss and be sad at times for that.

I met a Korean adoptee when I was 21 and a senior at Creighton . . . but I avoided him (D.M.) like the plague. I didn’t start talking to him as a friend until January of 2001, which is also the same month I met B., my first Korean (born & raised) friend. She took me to eat Korean food for my first time, D.M. told me about Holt Camp, and the rest is history.

January 2001 is also the same month that my Korean mother died from cancer.

I visited Korea with B.L. (we stayed with B.) during the summer of 2001, but didn’t do anything with a birth family search. And as you all know, I didn’t meet my sisters and my family until January 2005, four years after beginning this whole journey.

It’s a very strange and indescribable experience to see your mother’s face for the first time in a photograph and to know that you’ll never know her beyond that–static, two-dimensional, silent.

I know several Korean adoptees whose mothers have passed away from cancer . . . Jane Jeong Trenka provides a beautiful re-telling of caring for her ailing mother in her book, Language of Blood. I read this after I met my sisters, and I realized what a harrowing experience it must’ve been to re-discover your mother and lose her a second time to cancer.

And still, if I could turn back the clock and somehow be able to meet my mother one day before she died, to be able to hold her hand and see her in person, face-to-face–I would do it in a second.

I wonder–if I had had more support in my younger years, if I had had access to the network and the community that exists now–might I have gone to Korea earlier? Maybe I would’ve gone in 2000? In 1999? What if, what if . . . . it’s such a frustrating game we play with ourselves. I can’t help but imagine possibilities of the past & future, although I try to focus on the present. I accept how my life has turned out, and I’m genuinely happy, for it’s made me who I am today, as cheesy as that sounds. But I passionately believe that international adoption must be entered into with great care, and adoptees must be given so much more support and resources than was given to adoptees of my generation.

And so, to D.–the guy I met a few weeks ago–I want to say so many conflicting things (although I’m going to let him explore on his own for awhile). I hope that he is able to go on this journey at his own pace, knowing that there is support if he needs it. But I also want him to know that the longer he waits, the higher the chance that he might meet his mother in a photograph, too.


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mmmm . . . Turkey

I’m excited to be going down to Portland this week to spend some quality time with my uncle, aunt, and cousin. However, I’m going to be stuck in day-before-Thanksgiving gridlock on I-5 tomorrow afternoon between Seattle and Portland. I did this drive two years ago, and I have vague memories of thinking, “I should’ve left earlier!” But I have no idea what time I actually went. Anyway, my last class isn’t finished until 12:30 p.m. tomorrow. I’ll probably be on the road in the mid-afternoon, so hopefully I’ll avoid the post-work crush.

Turkey! Ah, how I’ve missed thee! It’s been two years since I had an American-style holiday meal, so you can bet I’m going to take advantage of the fact that my aunt makes everything from scratch. Hope you all have Happy Thanksgivings, and for those of you who read this and are abroad, I’ll eat a slice of pumpkin pie for you.


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“Color-blind” public policy

Just wanted to put my two cents in–I think the recent riots in Paris show that so-called “color-blind” public policy does not eliminate racism and discrimination. Have been thinking about this, since my Race & Public Policy group is studying the devastating effects that I-200 (the initiative that eliminated affirmative action at the UW) has had on minority admissions at the university.

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Nude Girlfriend Bonding

Get your mind out of the gutter–we weren’t in the newest version of Girls Gone Wild: Girls of the ROK. No, we went to . . . the new Lynnwood branch of Olympus Spa, a popular Korean spa that’s been in Tacoma and just opened their new branch this week. Some of the AAAW ladies and myself spent last night in a prolonged state of relaxed bliss. We also celebrated T.’s birthday in the spa restaurant/juice bar after a few hours of enjoying the spa amenities.

Last year, I never got the chance to go to a 목욕탕 (mogyotang) or a 짐질방 (jimjilbang)–although K. was all for it in August–so I was excited to have this opportunity to try out the Korean (albeit slightly Americanized) bathing experience. Even better to have some girlfriends to go with.


We were all discussing beforehand whether or not the spa allows bathing suits in the whirlpools and saunas. No one was quite sure, because in Korea, the only suit allowed is your birthday suit. But one of my friends had been to a place in NYC where they kept chasing her around and trying to cover her up. I decided I should bring a suit just in case.

But of course, 1/2-way on the long drive up to Lynnwood, I realized I’d forgotten it at home.

I had a slight moment of panic, thinking, “I’ll be the only one who forgot to bring a suit!” and cursed myself for not being more religious at working out the past few months. Fortunately, once I arrived, I signed a form stating that I understood the spa’s policies, one of which is “absolutely no clothing, except for shower caps, is allowed in the whirlpools or saunas.”

Granted, the idea of hanging out with my friends completely nude was unnerving, but after that initial moment of hesitation before disrobing (I went around the corner so that T. couldn’t see me), I felt remarkably nonchalant about it. It was interesting and relieving to see all body types there. We all looked ridiculous anyway, with our pink shower caps. I couldn’t help but feel a bit like animals in a zoo. The tables where they do the body scrubs, with the hoses and whatnot–the rather fierce-looking 아주마 (ajuma) seemed like a dog groomer (or in some cases an elephant handler . . . now I’m being catty). Also, there were several heated rooms with various benefits (releasing toxins, etc.). My favorites were the sand room and the mud & jade room. Again, though, with the faux-stone walls and the red lighting, laying on the 150-degree floor, I felt like a lizard in a reptile exhibit. A relaxed lizard.

I splurged on a massage, which was fantastic, wonderful, blissful. She played vaguely Hawaiian-sounding guitar music, which helped my daydream of being on a beach. Later, I sampled some of the whirlpools, steam saunas, and heated rooms. We wrapped up the evening with 비빔밥 and 만두 (and birthday cake) in the restaurant. Not a bad way to spend a Friday night.

And now . . . time to tackle the homework I’ve been avoiding thus far. Once I get through this upcoming week, I’m golden until finals (so soon!).


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Safe Travels!

Thursday night, I went to a farewell party for my former AmeriCorps site director, the lovely C.K. My first year in Seattle was in 2003-2004 as a member of Sound Youth AmeriCorps (check out my blurb here under “New Holly”), and C.K. was a great leader–passionate, committed, and good at her job. She’s preparing to go to Kenya this January for a full year to volunteer with Notre Dame Mission Volunteers (no, it’s not one of those proselytizing, “let’s convert the heathens” groups–it’s a volunteer organization founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur). I’m not exactly sure what she’ll be doing in Kenya, but I do know that she’ll be in a small village with no electricity. For a year. On $100/month. (Makes the AmeriCorps stipend look like the lottery jackpot.) She’s very brave, and I hope she has a safe and fulfilling year.

It was a bit like attending a high school reunion, which surprised me, although I should’ve been expecting that, since I knew that I would see a lot of old AmeriCorps teammates. A lot of hugs and earnest, “Let’s get together sometime!”s, knowing full well that we won’t. Hahaha, I sound cynical, right? Let me backpedal a bit–there are a few people from those Seattle AmeriCorps days that I consider real friends, and the ones that I don’t, well, it was good to catch up. I always like to get the “where are they now” update, because I’m such a gossip fiend. 😉 Thursday night’s experience reminded me of how I hope to soon have a Boston NDA reunion–we’ve been talking about that ever since we finished in 2003 . . . .

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