Holt Office, Reception Center, and Kyeong-Dong Children’s Home

5/22/12 Reviewing adoption files (Holt Office)
The day before one of the group guides stated that many adoptees, more often than not, find additional information in their Korean adoption file. The reasoning for this is because their social workers want to explain things in person, in order to prevent important information from getting lost in translation. This makes complete sense. “More often than not” became my mantra, regardless of my futile attempts to block out any hope/excitement. Unfortunately, I generally tend to be an optimistic person, so there’s usually a part of me that finds something to hope for.

But of course, since the universe just really hates me, there was no new information in my file. She showed me the original intake report (written in Hangul), but said that she couldn’t share any of it with me, noting that the parts that were sharable have already been given to me. In hindsight, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t clever enough to find a way to covertly snap a picture on my phone. I’m also surprised that I didn’t grab the paper and begin running, because there was a strong urge pulling me in that direction. I’m confident in my ability to run and certain that they wouldn’t have been able to catch me. Being arrested for wanting to know my birth parents’ names and information about them? That’s something I can live with. I’d love to meet someone who thinks differently.

The only surprising part about reviewing my file was that they had my adoptive parents’ application– their background/histories, reason for adopting, and so forth. When I asked to read through it, the social worker said that I was not allowed to since there may have been confidential information, then said “you probably already know all of this anyway.” I wonder what she would have said if I would have told her “trust me, if you’ve read through this, you already know more than me– I don’t even know what year my parents were born. We’re pretty close.”

5/22/12 Holt Staff (Holt Office)
At the Holt Office we were quickly introduced to the key staff members and then watched a brief overview video of the history of Holt. My feelings throughout were very diverse. One moment I was grateful for the organization, while the next I found myself filled with loathing, wishing that the building would spontaneously combust.

When I saw Director Kim all I could think about was “you talked to my birth mother! you know her voice!” Part of me wanted to run up to her, fall at her feet and beg for information– what did my birth mother sound like? what did she say and how did she say it? did she sound angry, scared or a combination of the two? I was, and am, desperate for something, anything, that can help me begin to imagine my birth parents. While passing people on the street, I can’t help but wonder about things like how my birth parents dress (do they dress casually or business casual and stylish) and what they do for a living (are they street vendors, business people, teachers, servers, hotel staff). Not knowing anything about them makes everything a possibility. This is all information that Director Kim could know, if only she would ask. As such, seeing her in real life, made her more real, made my parents more real. There seems to be a direct correlation between my parents becoming more real and the distance put between us.

Juxtapose that with my response to seeing Molly Holt (the daughter of Harry and Bertha Holt), which was a combination of loathing and compassion, and you can begin to see how this got emotional pretty quickly. Seeing Molly Holt made me want to vomit. It’s not that she disgusted me, but the image of what she represented disgusted me. Watching her was a constant struggle to stay in control and remember that she is probably a very nice and wonderful individual. It’s not fair to blame her for the things her parents did, but given the complex views I hold of adoption I still found myself constantly having to “be her,” to see myself in her, in order to think clearly, objectively, and with compassion. For me, it was the epitome of an empathic, transcendent even, experience. All of this was so unexpected and at the end I found myself hurting a lot, but thinking “Molly, you’re okay, you are.”

The next person to be introduced was Dr. Cho, my pediatrician for the first five months of my life and the only person who I know spent time with me, even though it was to perform routine tests and check-ups. Even though she was the pediatrician for all of the babies, I still felt a strange, emotional attachment to her, mainly because she is the only real link to my beginnings. Upon seeing her, I had the desire to run up and hug her, like you would do upon seeing a good friend after years of being apart. She’s such a beautiful woman and a delight to be around. She’s one of those people who glows, one of the ones who brightens any room, one of the ones you’re always sad to leave.

5/22/12 Holt Reception Center
Visiting the Holt Reception Center (the place where the babies are taken and kept for various durations) made me recall some of the things that people, especially adoptees, cringe upon hearing. The main ones are the following:

“I want an Asian baby!”
“She’d stuff one in a suitcase and bring one back if she knew it would be safe!”
“Bring one back with you!”
“You should take one home!”

Believe it or not, babies at an orphanage really are different than puppies at a pound.

They’re not puppies.
They’re not objects.
They’re not commodities.
They’re humans.

5/24/12 Kyeong-Dong Children’s Home
On the 24th I was able to visit the orphanage that I was in. Although the building wasn’t the original, the director was. She was a really sweet woman and was really happy that myself and another adoptee came back to Korea to visit. I’m not sure how many adoptees have returned because our presence there was really emotional for her (based off of a comparison of another adoptees’ visit to her orphanage).

Although this was emotional for her, I felt pretty disconnected from all of it, given that it wasn’t the original building and not knowing if she had spent time with me or not.

We were able to review the file that the orphanage had for us. Again, no new information (except that I was the 106th baby admitted), but there was a picture of myself that I had never seen before. It was really surprising to see because I didn’t know any others existed. (Note: There was a huge translation error while reviewing the file, which brought me pretty high up and, upon correction, left me plummeting downward again.)

All of that said, it was refreshing to see the orphanage because it was a really nice facility, filled with volunteers who were actively playing with the babies (one of the disconcerting parts about the Reception Center was that a lot of the babies were just slung onto womens’ backs while they worked). The children here seemed like they were well taken care of it.

(After the mistranslation, my ability to feel was replaced with numbness, so the rest of the tour of the orphanage was pretty flat and disconnected for me. Hence, I have very few comments/thoughts on it.)

Return to Kyung Dong

By Sunny Jo (July 4, 1999)

Kyung Dong Babies’ Home in Suwon. The orphanage where I lived for a few
months before being was adopted to a family in Norway at age 1 1/2. I
was 23 years old and I it was my first time back to Korea and Kyung
Dong.

Accompanied by 4 of my Korean friends who were to act as translators, I
was about to visit a place I used to call “home” yet was unable to
consciously remember. It was very special to be back. The original
building was still there, the same one that had housed myself and
probably thousands of other children through the years.

We were welcomed by the orphanage director and the staff. The director,
Chung Uei-Soon, had been the one in charge even back in the 1970s when I
was in there, so she was very touched by my visit. Due to her lack of
English language skills and my lack of Korean, it was difficult to
communicate. Luckily I had my friends there to translate, but a lot was
lost due to linguistic and cultural difference. Some things though, do
not need words to be expressed. She hugged me over and over, and she was
holding my hand most of the time.

I got my Korean name, Jung Ahn-Sun, by the director. Jung (Chung) is her
own family name, and Ahn is because I came from the city of Ahn yang.

I got to see my file from my stay in the orphanage. It contained the
name of the woman who brought me there + her address! That was
completely new information to me. When I had contacted my adoption
agency some years back, they told me all my files had been damaged in a
fire in the orphanage. Turns out that my file had been there the entire
time. I was in shock.

I went to play with the kids. They were so cute. When I held one little
girl in my arms I could not help thinking that she was about the same
age as I had been when living there. I also got to see and hold the
youngest babies. The youngest was only a month old. I could not help but
to think about what tragedy must have caused their mothers to abandon
these little ones. But even more, I thought about what the future would
hold for them, if they were to be sent off to an uncertain fate far away
the same way I had been. My heart sank when thinking about it. Maybe 20
years into the future, one of these children will return to Kyung Dong,
speaking another language than Korean as their mother tongue. Maybe one
day even they will visit Korea, the country of their birth, yet be
nothing more than tourists. Maybe.

Flesh from Their Flesh, Blood from Their Blood

By Sunny Jo

Mirror, mirror on the wall . . .
I used to look at myself in the mirror and see her — my mother, my unknown Korean mother, my biological mother. Or, at least, that is how I imagined she would look, since I had no memories of her, no picture, name, age or other information. So, all I could do was dream and fantasize about her, create pictures in my head, wonder if she was beautiful. And then she was there, looking back at me whenever I saw myself in the mirror. Of course she had to look like me, she carried me in her womb, shaped me from her own body. So when I saw myself, I also saw her.

*  *  *

From as long as I can remember I used to hate when new babies were born into my adoptive family. Everyone would compare the nose, the toes and other body parts to see if the offspring was most similar to the mother’s side of the family, or the father’s. And then there was me, always the black sheep standing out, not looking like anyone else in the family, the only one with black, straight hair and almond shaped eyes. The external differences were small compared to the mental and emotional alienation I felt.

I hated the fact that I was always standing out. I hated being different both in physical and emotional terms. And I never felt like I fully belonged, or that anyone could understand me. The well-meaning assumptions and expectations of my complete assimilation into my adoptive parents’ culture did not leave room for my loneliness, grief or experiences of racial discrimination. They tried to hide the fact that I was different behind my all-Western name, their own mono-culture and my perfect language skills. I had nowhere to turn for support from someone who knew what it was like being a minority, from someone who had experienced racism. And, it was all based on a fear of destroying the myths that “love is enough” and that “race does not matter.”

All my childhood years I was dreaming about this unknown woman, my biological mother. My hopes of ever meeting her were slim, my adoption papers gave little hope.  “The child was brought in to Kyung Dong Babies’ home from Ahnyang city. Father — Unknown. Mother — Unknown. Family origin: Han Yang,” stated the court document. So my fantasies were all I had. And I built up my life as an individual, completely different from my adoptive parents and extended relatives. I felt few ties holding me back, I could not identify with anyone else, so I had to create my own path walking it all alone. It was a lonely walk, but all I knew. My journey lead me to foreign countries and exciting experiences. I lived both through failures and successes, attempting to fill the emptiness inside. But the emptiness was always there, the feeling of being alone and disconnected from everything and everyone around remained. No amount of colorblind love, education, unique experiences, new friends and well-meaning “acceptance” could ever make it go away.

*   *   *

Twenty-three years after the day I left Korea for an unknown destination in Norway, I could for the first time look into the faces of my biological family and see my own flesh and blood. Fate had succeeded in the seemingly impossible task of reuniting a family which should never have been separated in the first place. My parents never intended to lose their two children to international adoption, but they survived this personal tragedy and later had another child who they raised. When looking at my little sister, I saw my life as it should have been, if not for a long line of tragic and unfortunate circumstances that ripped my family apart and sent my brother and I on two separate journeys to different lands and continents, touching several hearts along the way.

When I met my birthparents again in Kimpo Airport, we clung to each other while living through an emotional tornado. I met my own mirror images in the form of foreign strangers. The physical features gave no room for doubt, I was truly the daughter of this Korean woman and man in front of me. The girl in front of me was a younger version of myself. For the first time ever, I felt a true belonging, a deep connection, with other people. I felt the tie of blood, of family. My entire body was investigated and each part of my flesh was properly traced to its originator — my nose from my father, my eyes from my mother. It might seem trivial, but to me this was proof that I came from somewhere else, that I had roots and a family tree after all. It was the evidence that I wasn’t only a transplanted item, like a donated organ — accepted by the body but forever a “foreign object.”

But not only my physical traits could be found in my relatives. Even my mental and emotional personality was mirrored in blood. My restlessness was a legacy from my father, same with the mood swings. And my small, trivial habits of folding the edges of my clothes and tapping my fingers on the table as if I was typing on an invisible computer keyboard, were shared with both my mother and sister.

To find these similarities in people who did not share either my language nor my culture, touched my heart at the deepest levels. We could not have a decent conversation due to the linguistic barriers which separated us. But the unity we felt and the family atmosphere did not need any words.

Not all the inheritance from my biological family can be seen as positive. I carry my mother’s rheumatic disease in my body and my father’s hot temper in my head, both with me for life, not possible to escape from. They have caused obstacles and barriers, required me to adjust my life and forced me to change future plans. As a result, I have suffered losses and experienced deep grief. I worry about other illnesses which exist in my family, and wonder if I, or maybe my own children one day will suffer from one of them. I see my own weaknesses so clearly when I look at them in someone else. The clash of cultures and expectations lead to misunderstandings, offended feelings and disappointments. Tension built up from the frustration of not being able to properly communicate with people who I had so much to talk about. I felt rejected and excluded in my original Korean culture, due to the fact that I had been brought up with Western values and did not know the invisible codes of proper behavior.

Meeting my biological parents did not solve all of my inner problems, nor my outer ones. It did not answer all of my questions, but instead raised a set of new ones. But knowing who I was, and was not, where I started out and where I came from, gave me a solid foundation to continue my life. It filled in the missing pieces in my own puzzle, it gave me the tools I needed in order to find myself. And, it proved to me that I was more than only myself, that I have links and ties that go outside of my own being. And most importantly, I discovered that in the end I was who I was, not determined either by nature or nurture alone, but a delicate mix of both. And then something more. Finding my heritage brought my own being into balance. I am flesh of their flesh, blood from their blood. What else was there to say? So simple. So true. And yet so controversial.

———————————————————————————————————-
After spending the day researching in secret, one of the things that I learned was that I was born in An Yang Hospital (Kyunggi Province), where I spent the next fourteen days in an incubator due to a low birth weight (4.6 lbs). After that I was supposed to be released into foster care, but was instead sent to Kyung Dong Babies Home (an orphanage). Between that time and the time I was sent over to the United States, I was hospitalized three times and later put into foster care.

Naturally, I’ve been googling my pediatrician, the hospital, and the orphanage. Turns out, there are a lot of Koreans with the name of my pediatrician, so I stopped browsing and immediately began to google the hospital. I couldn’t find anything on it right away, so I quickly proceeded to google the orphanage.

I’ve only gone through the first page of results and am excited by what I’ve found so far. The above story is one of the great finds, as it resonates within me in a variety of different ways, most notably the italicized parts.

Wow.

In addition, I learned more about the orphanage as it is today. Not much, but remember, anything is something at this point. Here is some broad information about the orphanage:

Name: Kyong Dong Babies’ Home
Address: 71-3 Kodung  Dong, Suon; Kyunggi Do, Korea
Director: Mrs. Chung Ui Soon
Number of children: 135

It’s not much, but it’s a start.