Last week a friend from my past reached out to me, wanting to meet up for dinner. I had not seen Abby (not her real name) for at least five years, although we have loosely kept in touch. She was in DC from the Atlanta area for work-related travel and wanted to meet during her short time here.
Abby and I know each other from our days living in Orlando, Florida—a period of my life I often describe as being the weirdest, most frightening time of my adulthood years. Abby was one of several girl friends who was a transplant to the city just as I was, and I relied on her and a few others to help me reconnect with the normal world when things got too weird down in O-Town, a strange city that is so unlike the sterile fairy-tale fantasy of Disney World.
Anyway, we met up for dinner at Fireworks Pizza in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, not too far from where she was staying. It was really good to see her. She looked exactly the same as I remembered—she hadn’t changed a bit—still the stunning, younger version of Cameron Diaz I remembered her to be. So little had changed since we last met and yet our lives had completely transformed from our Orlando days. It was great to see that it was relatively easy picking up from where we left off nearly five years ago in a city neither of us no longer live in.
Abby told me how she had been following me and my posts about adoption, as well as my recent trip to Korea, and she was fascinated with the experiences I have had, the things I have learned and the thoughts I have shared online. I was surprised to hear this as she has not reacted online to my writings and posts, but it was wonderful to hear that she has been reading my contributions, and she admitted many of the stories I have shared were relatable to her own life, which is something I did not expect to hear. Continue reading “The Social Politics of Abandonment and Thoughts on Genetic Migration”→
Very rarely am I conscious of the fact that I’m Asian living in a non-Asian country. Yes, there are times when I am reminded of this reality, such as when I go shopping for clothes (I get it, I’m short!), or when I’m getting my nails done and my Vietnamese technician asks me questions I don’t know the answers to about Korea. Or when I buy make-up (I think I’ve finally figured out how to blend the perfect liquid foundation shade but God did it take a lot of trial and error), but other than that, I’ve been very fortunate to feel no different from those around me most of my days. (I very much credit this to living in Washington, DC which truly is an international city.)
My parents likely didn’t know what they were doing, raising me as an adopted Korean kid in the 1980s-90s. There were no internet groups for adoptive parents, few written books or resources on the topic and limited access to social workers specializing in this area. In many ways, this was uncharted territory for them. But one thing I can say is that they did try their best. They tried to socialize me with other adopted kids from Korea (although at the end of the day, we kind of forgot that that was the one big thing we had in common), presented me with the option to attend Korean culture camps (I ended up volunteering as a counselor at one of them, and that’s as far as I was comfortable going), letting me take tae kwan do one summer, cooking white sticky rice for dinner from time-to-time and buying me a subscription to A. Magazine as a teenager (which I think now goes by the name of Hyphen Magazine). Looking back on it all, one can’t help but admire them for trying (and sometimes succeeding) in raising me to have an appreciation for my identity as an adopted Korean American.
So I’m sitting there in one of our office conference rooms with an SVP, a senior fellow/East Asia/nuclear security expert, a fellow fundraiser like myself, and some junior level program staff, all who were invited to meet the organization’s newest addition—our visiting senior policy fellow from South Korea. (For the sake of context, I work for an international policy think tank in Washington, DC.) Continue reading “Close Encounters with the Same Kind”→
As an adoptee traveling to Korea, there are many useful words you’ll want to know: hello, good morning, thank you, good-bye, how much is this, where is the bathroom…but just as equally important is the word 입양아 (ib-yang-ah) which translates into the word “adoptee.” Trust me when I tell you that knowing this word will save you many headaches.
The thing is, when you’re in Korea, Koreans are naturally going to assume you speak Korean. And when you don’t speak Korean to them, they are going to assume you are second, third, fourth-generation Korean-American/Canadian/etc. and that your parents did a lousy job of raising you for not teaching you how to speak “our language,” and trust me when I say that you’ll get an earful, and it won’t always be nice. It can pretty much border on being offensive. Continue reading “The One Word You Need to Know When Traveling to Korea”→