One of the unanticipated aspects of coming to Korea was the realization that I’m “normal.”
At some point during the first day of the trip while I was walking around Korea, it hit me that these people look like me. (“Duh” would be the appropriate response to this.) It’s difficult to articulate what this experience feels like to non-adoptees and people who grew up in their birth culture because it’s always been natural for them; it’s always been their truth, their reality.
For the first time in my life I’m seeing myself physically reflected in the people around me– face, arms, legs, stature and all around build. All of a sudden *why* I look the way I do makes sense and it’s in a way that’s deeper than “because you’re Asian.” (Similar to how many people forget that Africa is not one country, but many, Asia is also not one country. People forget this all.the.time. so “Asian” generally meant/means Chinese.)
Throughout my life, the fact that I’m “Asian” has always stood out, making me insecure and feeling inferior to…everyone. At a young age, I remember hearing my parents comment on things like my “skinny Asian legs” and “small Asian feet.” I remember playing a mermaid game with my mom’s friend’s daughter who insisted that I take my shirt off to play. When I repeatedly refused she finally said that she was only curious in what an “Asian body” looked like; a family member once became curious about the same thing. I remember hearing the words “epicanthic fold” in science class and dreading the next moment: the moment when everyone would turn to me to confirm or deny if “Asians” were without eyelids. (I still cringe at the words.) I remember someone in college asking what “Asian boobies” looked like. (Go vomit now.)
I interpreted everyones curiosity (ignorance) by thinking that Asians were different –> different was bad –> bad was dirty, unnatural and weird. My response to this was a strong fondness toward clothes and being covered. The hardest part about Tae Kwon Do was having to be barefoot. I was embarrassed by my feet, like everyone was looking at them and silently gagging. It took me until high school to finally feel comfortable wearing sandals and it wasn’t until college that I felt okay wearing tank tops (around friends, not family). To this day I still
have a strong aversion toward hate swimsuits and swimming.
If someone were to tell me a week ago that being in Korea would lead me to the revelation that I’m “normal,” I would have never believed them because I never understood how my thoughts had been formed, or even what my thoughts were. It’s definitely something that I’ve only arrived at because of being able to experience how it feels to have myself (physically) reflected back to me. As such, I’m slowly starting to understand that what I once believed were my flaws, imperfections and inadequacies are shared with at least 50 million people. And when that many people have the same things in common, it becomes normalized.
Korean becomes normal.
I become normal.