9-11-14

There’s been a lull since my last post and it’s not for lack of time or energy,

however I’ve found myself in a sea of apathy for the past few weeks.

You’d think I’d be enveloped by inspiration here and for the first month, I was. However, now that I’ve settled into a routine of sorts all the familiar feelings of dissatisfaction and questioning how I want to shape my purpose in the world are flooding back in.

Part of it, I believe, is due to the transience of living here. The friends you make come and go within weeks, months, if you are lucky, years, the businesses change on a weekly basis and getting attached to a restaurant is likely to leave you wandering around streets for an hour until you realize it is closed just like your last favorite restaurant and although I know change is inevitable, the pace at which it happens here feels faster. Because of that it is vulnerable to attach to anything. Of course part of you is strong and says “live in the present! Take the joy and run with it and don’t worry about when it will end”, but truth is, it it tiring to live that way. You can’t give yourself so freely all the time and I think I’ve reached my limit.

On top of that I’m getting tired of telling people “I’m here because I’m adopted.” It’s interesting to see the ways that it feels easier to get by in the states vs. in Korea. In the US, the number of people who ask “Why do you speak English even though you are Asian” is a lot smaller than the number of people here who ask “Why can’t you speak Korean when you are Korean?”

When I arrived here I was eager to facilitate the poetry workshops, give voice to the Korean adoptee narrative and I felt proud of my adoptee status. I can’t change it. It is part of my identity. I will not apologize. Nonetheless, more and more I’m feeling frustrated and restricted by it. Being caught between two cultures is like a permanent limbo and I find myself fighting for both my Korean and American background in ways that discriminate against the other without sound logic. An ex pat friend called my out on a past facebook status I had that said “listening to foreign men try pick up locals makes me want to vomit” and questioned exactly why I posted it.

I stuttered because I didn’t have a good reason. I wrote it to claim the Korean side of me and protect it. Yet, of course foreigners will try to pick up locals here — we are all looking for connection and in terms of pick up lines the truth is all pick up lines make me vomit in general. It doesn’t matter what ethnicity someone is when they use one.

The people I meet here try to define me all the time to. My head is full of “You’re not Korean. I can tell by the way you carry yourself that you’re American”, “Oh, look at you! You’re Korean, Korean now”, “I knew you were from Seattle (it was the plaid, tattoos and lucky strikes… that one’s fair), “You’re acting like a real Korean now”, “Girl, you and me will always be American, these people don’t get it” and on and on it goes…

and yes, I KNOW, I KNOW

that I’m a person. Bottom line.

However I can’t deny that the drive for me to visit here is because I wanted to learn more about myself and find out if I could belong.

Yet, thus far I’ve only learned that I don’t feel like I belong anywhere and though Seattle was where I grew up, after being in a world where I can blend in as the majority and not the minority, I feel more distant from it. I still have care for the city, of course, but feel even farther away from considering it a “home” than I did before.

Do I consider Seoul my home? No.

Yes, we create home in our friends and relationships and maybe I’m chasing after a pipe dream – but I want more than that.

Aside from that, I have started teaching English full time. My students are 4th-5th graders and one class of 1st and 2nd. It is what is currently keeping me sane at the moment. The kids are incredibly intelligent and absolutely adorable. I care deeply for them, especially when I take into account how hard they work. In Korea, if you grow up here you will spend 12-14 hours a day in school/studying until you are 18. The pressure to go to an elite college and get a good job is extremely high, so much so that the suicide rate in teens follows right behind. Luckily for me the first four hours of my day are teaching and afterwards, I get to end with playing games, watching a movie, doing yoga or drawing with the students. You have to be strict during class and kids must do well or their parents will complain. To counteract that with laughing and playing with them afterward always warms my heart.

On top of it, kids are so inspiring.

I LOVE that they are so honestly themselves — you know what they want, what they don’t, how to fix it etc. There aren’t any veneers of bullshit to crack through like when you deal with adults. We all build so many layers of defense around our feelings as we grow up. Kids are SO straightforward and it makes me tear up every time they trust me a little more, share about themselves, give me a high five or run up with a big smile to ask me to play with them.

I’m actually off to work now but I’ll write more soon.

8-16-14

Wow – it’s been two months and yet the context of what I’ve experienced thus far feels like it has exceeded what I have done in the past two years.

So many times in the past I’ve heard from friends/family phrases such as:
“You’re not Korean, you’re American”
“I don’t even think of you as Asian”
“You look Asian but you’re really just white”

and it is something that’s always made me uncomfortable but I didn’t know how to express why.

In being an adoptee dual identity is hard to navigate, especially when human nature wants to define the world in black and white

but personally I’ve never learned toward clean cut answers, I stray from debates and close mindedness is my biggest annoyance because the most important lesson I’ve learned is to accept that most of existence will remain a constant unknown.

In Korea I’m happy to be immersed in my biological culture and to integrate myself into it.

Back in the states I never studied US history nor was I interested however in Korea I’m reading books, watching documentaries and asking dozes of questions about all facets of this country.

Yes, Korea holds a lot of standards I don’t agree with. To revisit I’ve talked about how it’s what’s on the outside that counts, it’s patriarchal, non progressive, seemingly close minded and superficial… yet when I remember that it is only in the past 60 years that everything, EVERYTHING around me was built I am in awe. Coming from the states I was raised with ignorance and an air of superiority. Everything I needed was handed over on a silver platter and I never questioned why because hell, I didn’t need to. But now that my surroundings have been turned upside down, now that I’m a foreigner, now that many of my advantages from being in the states have been stripped away, I have a much deeper perspective and appreciation for working hard. Self sacrifice, adaption, frugality and struggle have taken a deeper shape within my being.

Above anything, I admire the resilience of Korea.

It’s one of the first impressions I had of the adoptee community too. Life is hard, building a life in Korea is hard, building a life in Korea as an adoptee is hard, yet all the people who’ve shared their stories of strife and hardship never talk with a tone of anger or a desire for sympathy. The attitude is “things are how they are and you fucking make it work, no questions asked” — and they do.

It’s funny. I recently received a message saying “you know, you can just come home”

It’s true, for me it is that easy and if I wanted I could hop on a plane and run away to comfort and familiarity.

Not one bone in my body wants that.

Yes I miss my friends and not having any relationship longer than a few months is hard but with all this technology ya’ll don’t feel THAT far away ūüôā

Regardless, I have to be here. I owe the country and myself this experience and though impulsive to have taken a one way flight with no exact plan, I have no regrets.

When I think about the suffering people endured in this country, families torn apart, war, famine, disease, the chaos between North and South Korea, the fight for democracy, the ongoing fight for acceptance, women’s rights, adoptee rights, a system to take care of the heart of a country’s people and not only the economy, I know I want to be a part of it and to make a difference even if in a small way.

Also, I’ll never poke fun of a foreigner in another state again.
It’s difficult — language is difficult
people who say, “oh they came here so they should be able to speak English” in the states should shut the fuck up (strong opinion? Yes)

We’re all trying to build a better life for ourselves and the people we love.
The only responsibility we should uphold is doing so with an open heart and helping others as best we can along the way.

8-1-14

I’m enamored with the stories I hear from people in Korea. Local Koreans, adoptees, expats all have such rich backgrounds and reasons for why they are here.

A friend asked “Didn’t you wake up one day and just think to yourself, fuck I’m in Korea?!”

If I scroll back through my entries I know there were challenges difficult to acclimate to but nothing so life altering that I lingered on them.

From speaking to others I’ve heard people who had a tough time transitioning and/or hate it here. They miss their friends, home, family and the familiarity of their upbringing. They can’t wait to leave

I haven’t felt that whatsoever.

I know I’ve spoken a lot about things I don’t like about Korea and let’s be honest. It’s easier to emphasize the negatives. I think that’s because it’s comfortable to do so. They feel prevalent and all encompassing at the time. When we are happy many of us focus on the fear of when that happiness will end and defend ourselves against it by not allowing the full feeling of joy to rest in our body/heart. However when things are bad we can talk all night.

In regards to that, let me talk about the things I LOVE about Korea.

The culture is yes, blunt nonetheless sincere and laid back. You can wander the city for hours and be fully content. It’s interesting because there is so much Western influence that at times I feel like I’m home. Home? “Home.” Certain bridges I drive over that pass lit up cityscapes and water, the bars blasting Third Eye Blind and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, advertisements, billboards, movies in the theaters (in English), top 40’s English hits blasting from H&M and much more feel all too familiar.

However I also know that personally I have a few tools under my belt that allow me to adjust to change with ease. For better or for worse the most dangerous coping mechanism I’ve learned is the ability to detach and become numb.

I remember being a teenager and aimlessly wandering the streets. I was terrified and spent hours screaming at the sky asking what I did to deserve such an emptiness and loss of foundation. Yet I couldn’t let it break me so I’d put on headphones and strut like I owned the city. My eyes glazed over as all my surroundings became a blur. I do that a lot here too. I think that’s why culture shock hasn’t been a factor. I don’t care that everyone is Korean. People are people. Buildings are buildings. Language is Language. There’s nothing more to see beyond that.

It’s scary though. It’s a strength and weakness to look at existence with such a logical lens. At times you lose the value of what emotion lets you deem meaningful. The world seems trite and insignificant.

Anyway, HAPPY things, right?

God, why is it so hard?

What keeps me happy is people. This has been universal. After moving away from the adoptee guesthouse I’m now meeting locals and travelers. A nice man from Australia and I chatted on the rooftop today. He’s been here a few years and finds it easy to get by. He owns a small business and leaves every three months when his tourist visa expires then comes back. He was telling me how excited he was the first winter he spent here. He exclaimed “it was a real winter! There was snow like I’d always seen in movies. It was magical.”

I love when people remind you how miraculous things you’d normally take for granted are.

Especially nowadays with technology at the tips of our fingers, it’s easy to become addicted to instant gratification and lose sight of the natural beauty this place holds.

ALSO

I am SO VERY GRATEFUL (this is a selfish musing) of how Korea has strengthened my self esteem.

After a history of eating disorders and low body image since middle school I can say that I’m now more confident than ever.

There are a few reasons why.

Talking about my history with anorexia/ bulimia has been a hush, hush topic. Though I’ve been open in talking about depression, self harm and suicide I’ve kept my body image battles quiet because I felt them vain yet honestly they’ve been the hardest to overcome.

I actually made a promise to myself that if I were to come to Korea it would be under the circumstances that I could take care of myself. Before the trip I went to therapy and participated in somatic/ lifespan treatments that helped for the long term. Eating disorders are tricky because they are not the problem. They are a symptom of a problem.

In Korea as I’ve mentioned SO MUCH emphasis is placed on looks…

but you know what?

1. I will NEVER be a double zero stick thin woman. My body type is naturally muscular and has been my entire life.

2. the FASHION here is SO vastly different from my personal preference that there’s no way I’m changing. Give me the plaid, the v-necks everything simple and comfortable. Keep the lace, the frills, the polka dots, the high heeled sandles and cutesy dresses for yourself.

3. Walking around and seeing women in masks with swollen faces from plastic surgery makes me incredibly sad. I understand that is the norm here. In order to gain status, jobs, a good husband you need to play the game. Plastic surgery is a common graduation gift and I don’t think people are wrong. They don’t know anything different. However it pulls as my heart as I feel that most must struggle with self love when they are brought up to alter themselves in such superficial ways. I want to be content how I am.

4. FUCK IT. I personally don’t feel attracted to Asian men (not to be degrading) but this means there’s NO ONE to impress.

I’ve started not wearing any makeup at all and guess what? It feels good to love yourself. Who’d have thought?

Lastly,

I love the heat. I’m sure a lot of you would deem running in 80 degree, muggy weather as torment but I can’t get enough of it. To run through the thick air is rewarding. It’s like you have to break through something, the heat makes you focus and find a meditative state and when you’re done you’re body is a waterfall of sweat. What is more satisfying than that?

7-24-14

It’s been a minute

and by minute I mean it’s now been over a month since I’ve arrived.

I felt sad this morning and reached out to a couple people. One friend wrote “you have always had a great sense of knowing if things feel good or not… how does this FEEL?”

As a whole, it does feel right.

On the bus today I reflected on why that is.

I don’t think I would have been drawn to Korea if not for being born here and this move will not be permanent. However, a couple years here as opposed to a “first trip home” tour that lasts two weeks is the only thing that makes sense. It’s happenstance that I grew up in the states and I feel a sense of responsibility to adapt and exist here for the long term.

As well, there is a lot of work to be done in Korea: socially, politically … and in my hope, artistically. To make that work a reality will take time.

My poetry propositions have received enthusiastic feedback and many have stated how necessary it is, especially in regards to the adoptee movement and especially right now. Upon hearing that on one hand I feel thrilled and driven to make a difference. On the other I feel like a drop in the ocean.

A few adoptee friends are going back home soon.

That’s difficult.

Although we’ve only known each other for a few weeks I feel closer to some of them than I do people I’ve known for years. There’s a kindred connection built from similar upbringings and I believe it’s because we’re given permission to express and be understood in a way that we haven’t encountered before.

In hearing stories of birth family reunions I quickly tear up and if unable to compartmentalize I’ll linger on the concept of family and what it would be like to feel unquestionably wanted. Everyone says you don’t understand until you have your own child. There is a bond biologically formed and it is powerful. Shrug, who knows?

I’m curious to see where my stance on adoption will land. Right now it remains an open ended question yet in recent conversations that have surfaced whenever I hear someone say “I’d rather adopt than have my own child” my chest tightens and part of me thinks no, don’t do it.

ANYWAY

I spent the last week back in Busan at the beach. It’s monsoon season and I was caught in a couple downpours. Very wet.

My friend and I stayed at “Sum Guesthouse” (ha). No one spoke English and on top of that they were all very drunk when we arrived. Communication turns into a game and it’s exhausting yet highly amusing. Lots of facial expressions, pointing, broken sentences, laughter and patience. There was a girl on the floor attempting to open her luggage with a bottle opener. I guess she forgot the number combo and we all were trying to help.

Nonetheless, soju, beer and smiles are fairly foolproof.

I move to Gangnam this weekend. It will be good to get settled.

It feels like there is something deeper I want to articulate but I don’t know what it is or how to yet. There are so many emotional angles to constantly wrangle with and simultaneously repress. I’ll figure it out eventually.

7-7-14

Never a dull moment. I spent four hours laboring over a sonnet only to accidentally erase it off of my phone. This happened right as I arrived at my bus stop and I was so upset that I walked off forgetting a plastic bag containing my wallet. I frantically ran over to information and the bus was called back to the station but the bag was already gone. One of the bus station workers kindly paid for a taxi to return me to the guest house.

I almost had a melt down in the car but held it in. I’m curious as to what will end up breaking me.

Nonetheless, self contempt is a unforgiving teacher.

My sub conscious dug a rabbit hole filled with: “you irresponsible fuck up”, “what made you think you could move to Korea?”, “you can’t take care of yourself”, “art isn’t going to change anyone’s life”, “you’re worthless” etc.

The reality of how inept I am to Korean culture came flooding in as even the most seemingly minimal tasks are challenging. I can’t step into a Wells Fargo and get a new card. I can’t setup a Korean bank account until my F4 Visa goes through. My apt. to obtain an F4 isn’t for another week. I don’t have a job. The interviews I have setup feel tentative because I can’t speak Korean. The list goes on.

Yet, I’m so damn lucky. I CHOSE this. I wasn’t abruptly sent back due to complications from the adoption.

However, I still feel emotional complications from the adoption.

The reason for the hiatus in blog posts is because my time in Seoul has felt over stimulating. Being immersed in a community of adoptees who are in constant flux is draining. It is an atmosphere of introductions and repeating questions like: “where are you from?”, “have you found your parents?”, “what do your adoptive parents think?”, “what do you think of adoption?” plus everyone is on different levels of emotional complexity.

On top of that visiting my adoption agency was bizarre and infuriating. When trying to review my file the case worker literally said “You’re not allowed to read what is on the pages. You’re only allowed to quickly flip through them.” When my eyes lingered too long on a page she took the file back. There was a folder with pre-copied documents for me to keep but when I had them translated I was told that any info that would potentially help me find my mother had been whited out. In terms of the next steps to locate her, I’m taking a break. My options are KAS another adoption service and going on TV/radio.

After the file review I was taken to a room with a few others to meet the president of the agency. We watched a fifteen minute (this is me being slightly dramatic) propaganda-esque video on the benefit of adoption and then were lectured on how much we helped Korea’s economy. The word “natural resources” kept coming up. It made me mad. I’m sick of being treated like a profit or transaction. From a baby book filled with receipts and check copies to the bull shit of getting my passport and then trying to see my own files. Dehumanization is cruel. I’m savvy enough at detaching myself from my heart. I don’t need other people to do it for me.

This was followed by a lunch banquet that mixed adoptees and the couples there to pick up children. I was seated next to a doe eyed couple from Arizona who enthusiastically asked for advice on how to raise their 2 year old daughter. My social energy and filter were exhausted however I appreciated that they asked. It’s a layered question and I replied “Keep an open dialogue… on everything, no matter what comes up. Make sure she is aware of her adoption and as questions surface keep your mind and perspective open.”

I don’t mean to focus on negatives.

They feel monumental because of how badly I want this and I had no idea how difficult it was going to be. I’m angry to feel prejudice both the states and the country I was born. I’m angry that mothers were manipulated out of their children. I’m angry at the patriarchal structure of Korean society. I’m angry that I don’t know how or where to even begin to help.

OKAY – done ranting.

On the flip side, traveling alone in a different country is liberating. The anonymity of being able to blend into the background and disappear feels peaceful. There’s absolutely NO ONE I care about impressing. I stroll the markets belting Bob Marley at the top of my lungs and dance at cross walks on a daily basis.

Some fun highlights of my time have been spent inadvertently stumbling into a live concert and sea of red light up devil horns on the heads of World Cup fans eagerly waiting to watch their team (brutally lose), nore-bang-ing, making fun of drunk people at 3:30am only to promptly slip on a flyer and land on my ass, running until waterfalls of sweat pour down my face from humidity and beginning to build a community of new friends.

ALSO, I realize writing a blog makes my experiences feel a bit permanent but remember I am fine. These are temporary emotions and it’s part of the process. Love you all.

6-27-14

Yesterday was the second close call I had to crying in Korea but it was avoided.

I had an¬†interview at TBSfm radio station in Seoul. From what I’ve heard of the context it seems comparable to NPR. The host who interviewed me was a white man¬†(semi-surprising) who has been living here for 16 years. He sounded like a host.¬†Exuberant and sales-y. The set was prerecorded and will air next week.

The questions were hard IE¬†personal and I felt put on the spot in regards to my lack of knowledge of¬†Korean culture. It’s embarrassing that my ignorance is blatantly¬†obvious and seemingly pointed out though I’m likely overreacting on account of how vulnerable the process felt.¬†

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m coming¬†to understand¬†the repercussions of allowing this journey to be open to the public. There will inevitably be backlash on certain¬†opinions and people who’ll get offended. Honestly I’m most worried¬†about the adoptee community. I don’t want people to think I’m doing this for¬†attention or to dramatize the experience. Korean media has already placed a reputation on birth family searches as being a¬†gimmick and even¬†caught scrutiny for the way they portray adoptees. A recent example is an SNL skit.

http://www.allkpop.com/article/2014/03/snl-korea-apologizes-for-their-controversial-skit-on-korean-adoptees

All I want to do is help people.

The hardest part of the interview was realizing that¬†I am¬†giving my heart openly and freely to a world who has no obligation to receive it with compassion. If the result of this work is that it doesn’t help¬†or worse, if it ends¬†up hurting people I will be devastated. The risk is high. The cost is priceless. This is my life.

After leaving TBSfm I attended a KAD meetup. It was a small group and we talked for a few hours at Starbucks. Adoptees stories are vast and textured. Not one is similar to another and I’m fascinated by the¬†experiences, perspectives and values people hold.

Getting settled in Korea is challenging, especially as an adoptee. I’ve been told that it is better to tell locals that I’m gyopo (Korean-American) and not e-byoung-in (adopted). The biggest challenge is getting employed. Even if you are a native English speaker with a BA Korean’s want someone who is white. I’ve heard of cases where people meet all the credentials of a job but when they reveal their Korean appearance to the client they’re automatically dismissed.

It’s a catch 22.

One on hand at least personally, I feel honored to have an opportunity to explore two different cultures. On the other, I feel like I don’t belong in either.

I’m learning that Korea is a proud country who likes to put on a face literally and figuratively. People who have lived here a long time tell me it seems they operate with an out of sight out of mind philosophy. The reason it isn’t helpful to tell locals I’m adopted is because the country is filled with shame around adoption and it isn’t spoken of. That’s part of the reason there is so much activism work yet to be done. Although the war ended over 60 years ago presently a huge need remains to bring awareness to the issue itself. The society is rooted in patriarchy. The stigma against unwed mothers is damaging to the point that women don’t feel capable of speaking up. Those who do lose respect.

I had a long talk with a pastor who runs the adoptee guesthouse I’m staying in. We pulled two chairs out into the garden and he told me about the work he has been doing since the 80’s.

It’s incredible how powerful a person’s words become when you realize 1. they have to try twice has hard to talk as it is their second or third language 2. they also listen that much harder because it takes more work to understand what you are saying. Communication turns into pure intention to get to know one another better vs. something we take for granted to pass the time.

He told me that when he was first asked to help adoptees he didn’t necessarily want to. However the incident that changed his mind was a girl who drowned herself in the river. She left behind a note that said: I want to be with my biological mother.

He believes the most difficult part of adoption is separation. Though people are given food, shelter, an education etc. nothing can seem to replace the question of “why did they get rid of me?”.

I don’t remember a time I did not know I was adopted or wasn’t okay with it. I never had animosity toward my biological family.

However I didn’t ever feel connected to my adoptive family. I wanted to. I initially believed the disconnect was due to logical factors as in how my family unhealthily functions but after talking with the pastor I wonder if a part of that was biologically engrained.

Le sigh.

You all still with me?

From there I met with GOAL to get educated on the process of a birth family search. They advised what questions to ask ESWS and essentially I need to find as many leads as possible. Jobs, cities, birthdays, etc. Then we will compare my states file with my Korean file and an interpreter will accompany me to the found specific places to search for clues.

All in all I’m emotionally exhausted.

As candid as my personality this is testing my limits. I know I have control in creating boundaries, but nonetheless I’m trying to stay strong.

Life is short and I believe the best we can do is cut out superficial bullshit and share our experiences boldly in order to cultivate support, inspiration and growth.

6-25-14

A fellow adoptee from Seattle arrived at the guesthouse and I felt happy to talk with someone so openly and comfortably about our experiences. Today he and I went with another adoptee from Milan, Italy on a subway to Itaewon which is a hot spot for foreigners. She introduced us to more friends and one helped me get a phone. I didn’t realize how complex it was going to be to obtain it without getting ripped off or pressured into a contract and this man was on top of his game. He bartered the price down and made sure I got the best quality for the lowest price. I have no idea what went on in the shop or where the owners got their wide selection of phones to begin with but regardless I now have a smart phone and can tap into the abundance of free wifi.

I’ve heard about adoptees who live in the states for years unaware that they were never certified as a US citizen. Even while getting my passport I remember the woman at the courthouse breathing a sigh of relief when she saw my naturalization certificate because frequently that process isn’t finalized. After hanging out with these new friends I’ve now met and heard of multiple cases where adoptees are abruptly transported back to Korea and struggle to put their life in some semblance of order. The concept of being an immigrant in one’s country of origin sounds disorienting and hard.

Anyway, after the phone adventure we got soju and pizza. You’re allowed to drink on the streets here however, it is illegal for men to walk around with their shirts off. Shrug.

I’m slowly learning the transportation system. I purchased a t-money card which is like an orca card and picked up a subway map. I did have a snafu while attempting to get into the station. I kept trying to walk through the exit turnstile instead of the entrance one, not aware of the red light arrow pointing in the opposite direction. I hope that made passerby’s laugh. The subway is filled with a lot of ads for plastic surgery. Women’s faces with before and after pictures.

That’s a thing: the emphasis of physical appearance.

Throughout my life people often ask “are you mixed?” and I’m getting that a lot here too. I’ve been told that my fair skin and wide eyes make me appear half white and not full Korean and that, that’s better in terms of me finding a job. It’s weird to have certain privileges given because of arbitrary factors.

I have an hour long radio interview tomorrow for TBS fm radio station in Seoul and right after am off to my first KAD (Korean Adoptee) meetup. Send a kiss to the Seattle stars for me. Mwah