Spotless Minds

It’s been a relatively long time since my last post, and there are a few explanations as to why….
1) I’m pretty much on the computer all day at my internship, so it’s the last thing I want to do when I’m not working.
2) Sometimes the online connections at KoRoot are either occupied or finicky.
3) I don’t always have access to my laptop (for various reasons) during my free time.
4) While I was in Seattle, I used my blog to especially ponder Korean adoptee issues and connect with like-minded individuals. Here in Seoul, I am able to do this in-person bascially 24/7, so I think I feel less compelled to jump online.
5) Some of the things I’ve been turning over in my head are better suited to my private journal rather than a public blog.
6) Living at KoRoot ensures that there are people around to distract me at almost all times.
7) I’ve been spending most of my evenings/weekends socializing and catching up with people I knew from my year here (’04-’05), my Korean family, and fun, new people I’ve met recently.

I had envisioned writing posts nearly every other day while I was here this summer! Sadly, this has not been the case, and writing in my personal journal has been almost non-existent. I’m reminded of when I first moved to Boston and went from living with just my parents to suddenly living with eight other energetic, entertaining individuals. During college, I was consumed with studying while pursuing my alternate-life track, so I had kind of missed out on the frenzy of having lots of people around. Thus in Boston, I felt a little like I’d been released from prison (prison = being a pre-med only child in the Midwest), and I reveled in being constantly surrounded by like-minded people. My extroverted self (that had been repressed for several years) was unleashed, and I indulged it continuously by exploring the city with my housemates and having vibrant conversations in our kitchen until 3 a.m. The result, however, was that I was hardly ever alone and never took the time to reflect. Mid-way through, I made a conscious effort to remove myself sometimes from the living room/kitchen to go do yoga or journal in my room.

It’s not as though there aren’t social opportunities for me in Seattle–it’s just that there, I often have school tasks that make me feel obligated to sit alone in front of my laptop. But instead of writing or reading as I shoud, I often surf the Internet . . . and blog.

********

Anyway! This afternoon I went to Holt in order to pick up some paperwork (adoption certificate & family registry) that I need to renew my F4 visa tomorrow. It was a little surreal walking over there, since the last time I’d been there was two years ago when I had my appointment with a social worker to view my Korean file for the first time. I remember being extremely jittery and looking at the KoRoot volunteer who accompanied me, Jun, with skepticism at his ability to translate. As it turned out, his presence was unnecessary for translation, but I appreciated having him there for moral support.

I had steeled myself in preparation for the visit, knowing that Holt has a reputation for being difficult and uncooperative. I fully expected the social worker to show me all of the same papers I already had copies of from my American adoption agency. At the most, I was hoping to see some new baby photos of myself and later have the opportunity to meet the foster mother who cared for me for eight months.

I’d grown up with the story that I’d been “abandoned,” that I miraculously appeared on the doorsteps of the Holt Reception Center at two-months-old. No one knew who left me or where I had come from. In cases such as mine, I knew that my only options for searching for my birth family were through the media (newspapers, exploitative television shows). The idea of a media search made me queasy, and I figured I’d cross that bridge at a later date.

I don’t remember what the Holt social worker (I don’t even remember her name now, I just remember that she was pregnant at the time) said exactly to me that day two years ago, but in my memory, Jun and I sat down, she offered us a drink, and then my world turned upside-down.

“Your mother passed away in 2001 . . . . your father is re-married . . . you have a sister . . .”

The story that I’d been abandoned was just that–a story. My parents actually took me to Holt themselves. My Korean files had all of their information all along. Holt had even contacted my father after my first impromptu visit to the Holt offices in Seoul back in 2001.

As the social worker continued to tell me about my Korean family, I was in shock–embarassed as I could not stop crying and was on the verge of hysteria as Jun handed me “tissue” (Koreans use rolls of toilet paper as all-purpose tissue). Jun kindly spent the rest of the day with me, taking me out to lunch and a movie as I walked around in a red-eyed fog. [Sidenote: I am to this day grateful to Jun for being supportive that day, but I stopped returning his calls after he began persistently suggesting that I would feel all better if I would just go to church. Mmmm-hmmm.]

When I was very young, I had a strange game that I would play with myself. I would somehow convince myself that I was not “Sarah,” and that everything I knew about the world was wrong. My consciousness would change, and it was a strange feeling that inspired both uneasiness and curiosity as I came back to reality. I’m not sure if this childhood game was a result of being adopted (or maybe I was just a weird little girl) . . . . But that day at Holt two years ago was like someone else playing this game with me, only it wasn’t a game, and instead of going back to what I knew as reality, an entire new, complicated chapter of my life opened.

This afternoon, I had to ask my co-workers how exactly to get to Holt from the G.O.A.’L office. As I neared the building, however, my instincts correctly led me away from what appears to be the main part of Holt and toward the reception center where the post-adoption services offices are located. I was in a bit of a rush, and quickly exchanged my shoes for indoor slippers as the doorman tried his best to give me unnecessary instructions. Once upstairs, I passed the room where Jun and I had sat two years ago, and I saw an adoptee sitting in there with what appeared to be her adoptive family and a Korean social worker. I quickly received my papers, nodded my head and said, “고맙삽니다,” and left. I was probably in the building for a mere total of five minutes. So simple. No hysterics.

As I was walking to the subway tonight, Santoki and I were looking at my family registry. It has my Korean name, with “제적” in a bold box underneath. Santoki explained that “제적” means that I have been “deleted.” Erased from the family, at least legally. But paperwork did not result in spotless minds for my Korean family, particularly my mother. It did for me, however, because while growing up I had no memories of Korea, except for abstract dreams that went away once I entered school.

I’m thankful now that my mind is no longer spotless and has been sufficiently muddled . . . .

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10 Comments

Filed under Adoption (the industry), Korean Adoptees, Updates

10 responses to “Spotless Minds

  1. Incredible story. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Amy

    This is why you should blog more.

  3. I feel you, I thought I was going to be posting like hell, and yet
    I’ve only come up with two entries…though, at least, both ended up being significant to me.

    Our justifications for the spotty consistency are different though–judging by your social butterfly tendencies, you seem to be the life of every party. My persona, “perennial wallflower”, must seem so boring to everyone else. As cliché as it sounds (and as cliché as it is to start with that preamble), I’m not really into being part of an entourage, I’d much rather have a handful of peeps in my life who’ve got my back no matter the time or place. So even if we were at the same club, we’d likely never meet since you’d be flipping double-birds in the middle of the dance floor while I’d be sitting at a table with a friend or two watching the mob around you. Perhaps my tendency to wait for a girl to signal interest in me first is the explanation for its tendency not to happen.

    Anyway, what I meant to say is that it must be thrilling to be able to say you’ve truly come out of your shell, especially with all your Korean kababayans to kick it with. I bet it opens up all sorts of social doors. As I’ve just recently escaped from pre-med incarceration, my return stateside will be a revealing one in terms of how sudden independence/freedom will change my life of habit (eg, studying). Sadly, I don’t have an apartment yet. Nor roommates. Nor have I moved. So ill-prepared.

    I was also glad to read that you seem to have reached a sort of calm, or at least stability, with regard to where you belong. I’m not an adoptee. The kinds of issues I have to tackle are of a completely different nature. So what do I know about the Korean adoptee experience? Well, very little outside of whatever limited understanding I can gleen off you, Ji-in, and the loose connection of also being an Asian American.

    However, I do know that I’m not just trying to kiss ass when I say it seems like you now have developed a firmer grip on that aspect of your life’s reality–even if that reality continues to be frequently punctuated with unpleasantries. In only a few years time, you seem better equipped to answer your own questions, and less prone to drowning in them. I’m sure for some Korean adoptees, it takes a lifetime to get to where you are…that is, those who choose to face it at all. Not everyone could tackle their identity questions head-on like this, returning to Korea multiple times, spending time with their birth family, working for an organization like G.O.A.’L., or even blogging about it. I would take a humble guess and say you seem to be doing alright on your path to self-understanding as a Korean Adoptee.

  4. Also: when does the public get its first glimpse of the new coif?

  5. what a great post! I remember walking into the Holt offices feeling panicky.No information in my file, but a few days later a friend of mine was reunited with his birth family in the Holt offices. It was surreal watching it, I can’t imagine being the one it was happening to. Thanks for sharing.

  6. The allusion to your childhood game and its reversal in real life is mind-blowing.

    Organizations like KoRoot and GOA’L should exist for all adoptees.

    Ever since our last conversation about why Vietnamese adoptees haven’t set up similarly powerful (uplifting) institutions, I’ve been thinking (off and on) about some of the possible reasons and the complex dynamic within our minority-within-a-minority-within-a-minority community.

    However, I know I could never be completely objective about the situation. It would be tempered by my personal involvement in it and subsequent falling out with it. In other words, my analysis would be unfairly too negative. Also, I don’t feel I should come up with solutions for a problem that, at most, leaves me feeling indifferent.

    But, I still feel a need to speak out for us (not just VN adoptees but all of us) and defend us against those who are ignorant of our history and situation. Such is ambiguity.

    Anyway, great writing. Keep on learning.

  7. I always love hearing about your childhood memories. I used to play this weird game in my head where I would imagine/believe that I was a doll in a dollhouse, and everything around me was an accessory to this dollhouse. That someone else had control over all my moves and my life was not what I thought it to be. Maybe we’re both just two weirdos…who knows? I do know I appreciate your recollections.

  8. sarah

    Abandonment is my story too. Now I wonder how true that is. I hope to find out more when I go to the gathering next year. Did they have all that information just sitting there waiting for you to ask?
    Thanks for your story. It helps me to know a little of what to expect when the time comes.

  9. KT

    Wow Sarah…that was a powerful post. Its weird how a word like “erased” holds so much power. Well guess what, korea? we’re not erased…we’re back here and whatcha gonna do about it???

  10. This is a good thing your doing with GOAL

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