Monthly Archives: February 2006

Cavities, questioning, and love

Yes, upon visiting the dentist this morning, I was shocked and ashamed to learn that I have a few cavities. I’ve never had a cavity before in my life, so I’d been under the assumption that somehow I was immune . . . my teeth were just that good. Not so fast. I suppose not visiting the dentist for an entire year in Korea wasn’t such a great idea. And I’m sure all the coffee I’ve consumed upon my return to the States hasn’t helped.

I told myself that I wasn’t going to procrastinate this week, but I must get this off my chest. As some of you may remember, my job for this quarter has been very interesting. I’m working for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at the UW and reading applications for the incoming freshman class. Thus far, I’ve read somewhere around 800 applications . . . with 2 1/2 more weeks of reading to go. It’s a fascinating thing to read people’s personal statements. I’ve read everything from a wrenching story about a boy who had to escape Somalia on foot with his family after watching his uncle get shot in the head to about a million stories of various applicants tearing their ACL (as I told J.N., not the most original personal statement topic). One of the best parts of reading applications is sitting around with my fellow graduate students, making the occasional sarcastic comment or sharing a moving story.

Out of these hundreds of applications, I’ve read three that were Korean adoptees. One was the first file that I read today . . . and it just killed me. One of the things he wrote was that he often wonders about his birth parents and questions what his life might have been like if he had grown up in Korea.

But he said, “I’ve stopped doing that, because thinking ‘what if’ is disrespectful to my parents and family.”

I have heard similar feelings expressed by so many young adoptees that I’ve met over the years through culture camps . . . and those same words have escaped my own lips. All of the adoptee applications I read followed a similar theme: explaining how their birth parents were unable to keep them, how being adopted has prompted them to question their identity and at times experience loneliness/isolation, and then reassuring the reader that they are happy in their lives with their adoptive families. And yet they can never forget that they are different.

I wish there was a way I could tell these teenagers that questioning our pasts and wondering about our birth families is natural. Just because we are curious about our beginnings–our roots–does not mean that we love our adoptive families any less. And yet, there is a subliminal message permeating society that says it does. A few years ago, “Dateline” ran this special about a Korean adoptee from Colorado going back to Korea to meet his birth family. The ridiculous title of the piece was “A Test of Love.” Before each commerical break, Ann Curry would ominously intone, “Which family will he choose?” (cue eyeroll)

Christmas in Belleville, IL

I remember looking at a photo album when I was around 6-years-old, browsing through pictures of the day I arrived at Kansas City International Airport in 1979. My mom was in the kitchen, making dinner, and I was asking her questions about my adoption. I asked her why my Korean mother wasn’t able to keep me, and my mom gently said that she didn’t know, but it must have been because she was very poor or too young to have a baby. My eyes brimmed with tears, with an emotion I couldn’t name. My mom, noticing my silence, asked me “Are you sad, because you’re thinking about your Korean mother?” I quickly turned away, so she wouldn’t see the tears. I knew that I didn’t want my mom to think I was sad, but I had no idea why.

Parents want so badly for their children to be happy, and I think ultimately children want to please their parents. So this UW applicant shoves away the “what if” questions. But censoring oneself and denying valid emotions doesn’t lead to happiness! I understand that some adoptees don’t have a desire to go to Korea or search for their birth families . . . but I think that we should be allowed to make that choice ourselves without the spectre of guilt hanging over our heads.

One of my classmates said to me, “I’m sure adoption must be better now than when you were younger.” Maybe in some respects (there are more resources available now than my family could have ever dreamed of). And yet this questioning about love remains . . . .

My Korean mother with my older sister, 미선언니. 사랑해.



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Crunch time

Yes, it’s that time again. Two weeks left in the quarter . . . which means I’ve gotta get busy. But there is a limit. Nine hours in the Evans computer lab working on our stats policy report with A.H.?? Thank goodness he’s an Excel & SPSS wizard, otherwise we would’ve been there twice as long. I think we balance each other out–he does the graphics/number-crunching while I make everything “sound” good.

Speaking of A.H. (Korean language partner), I had an interesting conversation with him the other day at my favorite Chinese restaurant, Shanghai Garden. He says that he thinks there needs to be a “leader” in a marriage. I nearly choked on my 14-flavor tofu, and said, “Whaaaaat??”

He tried to backtrack and say that if his wife was making the “better decisions,” then he’d let her be the leader. So who gets to decide whose decisions are better? “Err. . . .” said A.H.

I’ve done my fair share of b*tching about A.H., but I am truly going to miss him if he ends up going back to Korea next month to join the military. Even though he’s told me that the way I speak Korean is somehow very masculine (“먹자!”). I think we’ve been good for each other by providing each other a better glimpse into our respective cultures. And he was a good listener today, as I was telling him about this existential crisis (well, perhaps that’s being overdramatic) I was experiencing last week . . . .

A multitude of events have triggered me to re-think and re-evaluate where I’m at and where I want to go. I spent all day, every day last week obsessing about it. It got to the point where I was unable to do any homework, and I couldn’t even read applications at work (it was taking me 30 minutes to get through one personal statement). Not that this isn’t something we all go through, but it scared me last week, because I began to question whether or not I’ll ever be happy with where I’m at.

To make a long story short, I’m seriously contemplating doing another master’s program after I complete my M.P.A. At UCLA. To get an M.A. in Asian-American Studies . . . and maybe an M.S.W., too. Am I insane? A masochist? A Korean Peter Pan? I was going to elaborate more on this topic, but I think that will have to wait until later. As it is, I’ve already talked to a number of you who read this blog regularly about this, and I don’t want to bore you. Let’s see, can I end this post with something amusing from the weekend?

Well, this certainly made me laugh (thanks, Angry Asian Man–perhaps I will see the elusive Angry Asian Man in SF next month . . . . H. already thinks I’m stalking him. Perhaps I’m in denial.)

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Confessions from the dance floor

Sometimes you just have to dance . . . .


. . . hopefully not with this facial expression.


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So many benefits to being a Korean Adoptee

SCENE: Checking in for my appointment at Hall Health (clinic on UW campus).

White Receptionist: “Hellooooo, sweetie, can I have your name, please?”
Me: (states full name, including vaguely Scottish/British-sounding last name. Hands receptionist student ID card so as to expedite the process)
White Receptionist: “Oooh! You’re going to make it easy for me! I thought you were going to have one of those looooong ASIAN names that are just SO hard for me to figure out . . . . you know, except for Thai names, I’m good at those because they’re just so phonetic, you know . . . .”
Me: “Mmm-hmmm….” (grits teeth)


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I’m tagging myself . . . and you, too

If you’re reading this, consider yourself tagged. (Given that you have an iPod) If you don’t want to post on your own blog, or if you don’t have one, just leave a comment. [Come on, to all of my blog-shy friends who read this and don’t leave comments. I know who you are! Just click “anonymous” and leave your initial in the body of the comment.]

Top 5 Most-Played Songs on My iPod
1. “10 Dollar” (M.I.A.)–Ok, at least my #1 isn’t embarassing. If you don’t know who M.I.A. is, she’s fantastic. Although how I discovered M.I.A. is embarassing. I’ll tell you sometime if you really want to know.
2. “We Belong Together” (Mariah Carey)–Oh, stop. It’s a great song! Really, it is!
3. “Grindin'” (Clipse)–This is an oldie, but a goodie.
4. “Let Me Love You” (Mario)–Yet another song that further distances me from any hope of ever claiming any “indie hip-hop” or “hipster” street cred.
5. “Drop It Like It’s Hot” (Snoop Dogg & Pharrell)–Yikes. This one obliterates my feminist street cred as well. Snooooooop.

I’m not sure what this says about me other than that the four hours I spent yesterday uploading new songs onto my iPod was well worth it. It’s really a very time-consuming process, and I still haven’t reached 1,000 songs (I’ve got to at least get to a point where splurging for the 20GB was worth it . . .). What can I say, I’m not a music snob. Never have been, never will be. At least I have friends who can enlighten me. What’s sad, though, is that these top 5 songs aren’t even close to what I’d say are my favorites on my iPod (I love walking across campus, listening to Bao Phi rant & rave). Seriously, if I was to construct “Sarah Kim’s Playlist” on iTunes, none of my Top 5 Most-Played would be on there (well, except “10Dollar”). Perhaps my subconscious is hopelessly uncool, while my conscious self only just now remembered to put Blue Scholars on there (and I still have not managed to snag The Long March . . . .)


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My father, the playwright

My dad has been working for the past six months or so on a musical that he wrote himself as a fundraiser for the subdivision my parents live in. They live in a community of condos (in Johnson County, Kansas) that is mostly inhabited by elderly people. It’s not “officially” a retirement community, but when I walk around there, I hear the theme to The Golden Girls in my head.

My mom was asked to be on the board of directors of the subdivision, and ever since then, my parents have been actively involved in doing everything from getting a recycling bin for the neighborhood to this musical. I’ve been happy that they’ve been more involved in the community, since in the past my parents liked to envision themselves as country recluses (is it any wonder why I used to fantasize about going away to boarding school as a child??).

It sounded very much like a sitcom to me . . . my father sitting at a piano, surrounded by white-haired ladies, singing a parody-version of “Start Spreading the News.” My mom has also been in a long-running feud with the former president of the board–a woman who happened to have a leading role in the musical. It sounded to me like either a sitcom, or Waiting for Guffman. (In fact, my parents’ lives seem to eerily reflect all of Christopher Guest’s films . . . . they went through a phase where they were really into dog shows [Best in Show], and they were also big folk music buffs [A Mighty Wind].)

This weekend was opening night, and my mom called me, telling me breathlessly that it had been a huge success, and everyone had so much fun. They sold out this weekend’s performances, so they decided to have two more performances next weekend. Hearing their voices filled with so much joy made me wish even more that I had been there. I told my dad that I was proud of him, and this, according to my mom, was the best part of the weekend for him.

Even though it often feels like my parents and I originated on different planets (let alone continents), there are times when I am reminded that no matter how strange, my family is still my family. And we love each other . . . in a way that has evolved over the years and is kind of difficult for me to explain to other people. (Those of you who know my parents probably have a better idea . . . .)

I still have moments when talking to my mother causes me to inwardly scream and think to myself, “Choose your battles.” But as the years have passed, I have matured, my mother has matured (my dad is somehow always the same–God bless him, he’s a simple man), and we’ve become friends. They may never understand me on the level that I wish they would, they may never visit Korea, etc., but we’ve reached the point where they accept me and want happiness for me (minus the conditions that used to be attached).

Maybe I could follow in my dad’s creative footsteps and craft a Christopher Guest-style pseudo-documentary of growing up as a Korean adoptee in the Midwest . . . .


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Spreading the Love

Today, (or rather yesterday, I suppose) I made lots of sarcastic remarks regarding V-Day. That’s right, Valentine’s Day. Ugh. I hate it. But I would still like to take this opportunity to send my love out into e-space to my wonderful friends who read this blog (and to those who don’t). Yesterday, I had one of those moments of feeling very content with my life, and I realize that while part of it is the gorgeous, sunny weather Seattle has been blessed with the past few days, most of my good cheer is because I’m blessed with a wonderful, quirky family of friends. And you’re all scattered so far and wide! Sometimes I get bummed at how little I get to see some of you (good thing I’m an internet junkie . . . although my eyes are starting to cross right now), but better to have made these connections with you all and miss you now than to have never met.

Kansas City, Omaha, Boston, Seattle, Seoul . . . . and all the random places in between (Holt Camp introduced me to those folks 😉 ). Belton, Sion, Creighton, AmeriCorps, JEL, Evans–I’m a lucky woman to have met great friends at each of these places. I’m really enjoying our little community at Evans right now . . . . it’s been a nice surprise to have such a fun group of people to study with, drink with, etc.

And thanks to the people I’ve met through blogger-space. Who would’ve thought we could offer each other such support in spite of never meeting face-to-face? And that such a statement wouldn’t sound quite as psychotic and nerdy as it would have five years ago? 😉

So that’s my little reflection for right now. No Bachelor obsessing. In spite of all of my complaining, I’m doing pretty well overall. I definitely needed a kick in the pants, though, regarding meeting deadlines this week . . . . but anyway I digress.

(I have to share this story, even though I posted it as a comment on a friend’s blog. Someone made this enormous, elaborate sign [it filled the hallway inside Parrington] that said “SARAH’S CUTE.” All day, people were coming up to me and asking, “Oh, is that for you?” I knew that it wasn’t for me, but I had to verify . . . and yes, it was indeed for the other Sarah who’s also a first-year Evans student. She has a med student boyfriend who apparently has enough time to make a 10′ x 4′ poster publicly declaring his affections. Lucky b*tch. My friends tried to console me, saying, “Oh, but you are cute anyway.” 🙂 )

Never mind the silly story. I’m still spreading Valentine love!


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