Archive for January, 2011

You Should Be Grateful

23 Jan

I adopted you because you were pretty and from a foreign land. I didn’t care which. The country was cheap. You were of the best breed I could find. I rescued you from the filth and decay of this land, festered with communism. I did you a favor. You should be grateful to me. I put a roof over your head when your birth parents could not. I held you in my arms and gave you warmth and clothes. It was because I had eternal love for you, that I know I can heal all your hurts. A parent does not need anything else.

Because the place you were adopted into was better than the place you were. All people should do as I did and rescue more of your kind from these countries of backward politics and despair. You were cheap and on the bargain shelf–you came as quickly as I signed the papers. Frankly, I don’t care about the country or parents that you came from. You know deep in your heart, you owe me a deep debt of gratitude you can never repay me. You can never repay me even after I die. You will tend my grave and cry because you should be that grateful.

And those who gave you up to me–clearly they were less fortunate. The life I will give you is great, and will be no match to the one they would have given you if they had the money. But they abandoned you anyway. Why do you think of your gratitude for them, when it is me that has done all of these things for you? For you will be properly educated–devoid of anything of that country before you once lived in. If you do not look me in the eyes, you must truly have a mental disorder–how can you not? If you speak a language I don’t understand–it’s your fault and the fault of your country, not mine. For they are beneath your new country.

I did this for the sake of the children, the children I was led to see by the great organization you should be thankful to, who placed you, that despondent child into my arms. You filled with a blood not of my own, a culture that your parents who abandoned you infected you with. What language have you learned before? Forget it. What skin color do you possess? I do not see it. It is you, my child, my rescued child that must forget all those past things for I know deep inside they will only bring you pain. For what I think and know are also what you think and know.

It is a favor I give to you, that you live in my place, with my love, with me. And then the world will say, what a wondrous person I am.

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Posted in Adoption Philosophy



23 Jan

One day my Dad took me to a store and told me to pick a backpack. My vision focused on a pink one. He also had me pick out pen and paper and a lunch box. We went to the store and bought new clothes. He explained that I was going to school, but I didn’t have any concept of what that meant.

He spent some time trying to explain to me what school would be like.

“You can make friends and you’ll learn new things.”

The thought of having friends excited me. I imagined being able to play games like we did at the day care. I imagined being friends with a group of girls, and having fun together, like we did in the neighborhood.

He explained the types of things I would learn in school, though most of it went over my head.

On the day I was supposed to go, he woke me up early and I chose my first day of school clothes. He made my lunch which had a huge dark pink Thermos, and a sandwich he made himself, plus two Oreo cookies. This was put into the pink lunchbox I’d selected and then put into my backpack along with some pencils and paper.

On the way there he explained to me again what was going to happen.

“Since this is your first day of school, I’ll be here when you get out,” he said smiling under his salt and pepper mustache and beard.

Other kids passed me holding the hands of their parents. My dad wasn’t coming in with me. My parents never really came into the school except in the days of day care programs to do things like take off our shoes and make sure we had our stuff.

This was the first time I was alone and away from home with no one else I knew. I was absolutely determined to bear all my feelings alone with clenched teeth if I had to. It was the only way I knew how to survive.

I entered the school with that determination. The first thing that hit me was no one looked like me. It was a sea of Caucasian or African Americans. No Asians. No one looked remotely like me. I was greeted at the door by my homeroom teacher. I understood her, but looked at her confused.

I wasn’t the type to talk unless I felt there was a need outside of the home. I already felt awkward which made me feel shy. Silence, I later learned is considered evil. I saw it as a form of diligence.

The classroom was chaos. Kids were running around, parents still lingered, and there was noise. I thought this was a waste of time. I could see blonde girls, black students and again no Asians. Kids were already making friends. I was quickly isolated.

The teacher finally called us to order. I was waiting for it. She told us her name, the rules and what was expected of us. The only rule I remember was that any work you didn’t finish in class was homework. If you finished work early that meant you could spend time in playtime. The rest of her instructions fogs away for a more potent memory.

My first crystal clear memory of school was being surrounded by two or three kids. One was African American–frankly I noted it, but it didn’t seem to matter. They started to chant at me and shifted their eyes with their fingers. “Chinese.. Japanese… which are you? You look Chinese.” I didn’t know what to say at first. I said proudly, “Korean” and they asked “Where’s that?” in a half-taunting tone. I looked for the teacher. I was used to looking for adults. It was what I was taught to do. I didn’t know where it was in the world. It was just a place in my pushed back memories. I said nothing. The country I’d grown up in was invisible to them. This was a personal blow to me.

My thought was as it had always been, “I will not cry.” I wanted to save face. It was the only thing I had left. I was not going to give them the satisfaction to show that their teasing worked.

My dad was there as he promised. We walked home together. He asked how my day was. I told him what we did, gave him the list of supplies that I needed–no books, but never mentioned the teasing. I was convinced I could deal with it myself.

One say when I couldn’t handle it anymore, I asked why kids tease. He couldn’t answer. He said, “Say to the kids, Stick and Stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt me.” This made the teasing worse. The kids said because they didn’t know where Korea was, it didn’t exist. The adults made it worse by saying, “Oh yeah, the Korean war.” My little heart was shattered.

The teasing didn’t stop until I changed schools in seventh grade. I didn’t gain confidence in Korea until I was in my twenties.

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Posted in Childhood


Terror of Teasing

23 Jan

Teasing is worse than PTSD. It’s a living terror of every day, every second your heart pounds that someone will single you out and humiliate you. It’s only a whisper there, and glimmer there, a passed note on the other side and the tide mounts and continues to get worse the more you stay with those people. It plays with your identity and every foundation of who you think you are. And those whispers start with childish jeers of race, religion, and impossible questions that don’t want answers. Then it builds to a peak where the teasing gets smarter and smarter. Where a kid can’t be reprimanded for singling someone out because of a feature of who they are.

A little teasing made my life a living terror. The only way I could escape was to go into my mind. The more they teased, the more I day dreamed. The more that I day dreamed, the more I tuned out the world. I started to disconnect myself completely from the world. I also plunged myself into school work to try to get some kind of praise or approval that I craved so desperately. I put myself into wanting to get perfect grades, to being the top of my class. I wanted to escape the whispers.

But I couldn’t escape the whispers because they began to whisper in my own head too. Maybe I wasn’t pretty. Mothers say their own children are pretty, don’t they? There weren’t any other Asian Kids in the class. Maybe I was really ugly. There weren’t any Asians on television either besides Mr. Miyagi and Jackie Chan. The women were all arm decoration supporting the hero.

What my mother said, I knew, were insecurities. Because the underlying words were, you’re more beautiful than I.

I ran home at times, crying over being teased. I cried from the bus stop. I asked why. And my Dad wouldn’t say anything. “It’ll make you stronger” My Mom would see the tears and would hand me a wash cloth. She’d ask my Dad what was wrong and he’d tell her, but she would forget. Neither of them could face my pain. Neither of them stood up for me.

I began to fish for praise, but finding none, and getting scolded at home for not getting a perfect report card, and being teased at school, I found the world of imagination beckoning me in. And there I flew until my parents thought I had ADD, not being able to face their daughter was being teased.

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Posted in Parenting


The Nature of Teasing

23 Jan

I realized after talking to some adoptive parents, that they don’t know the horrid things people can say that are racist. In fact, they wouldn’t know why I would be so fearful of my classmates and how much that can effect self-esteem. In accordance with this, I thought it would be a good idea to list the racist things that have been said to me when I was in Kindergarten to demonstrate how awful children can be and how much it can ostracize and leave children out.

Things said to me:
Why is your face flat? (A few adults said this to me when I was five years old too…)
Did a doctor drop you on your face or were you born that way?
Where is Korea? (then I answer). Oh. *looks away* (Adults did this too… but this is more sad than anything.)
Are you CHINESE?
Where are your *real parents*? (this was also asked by adults–don’t doubt the ignorance of adults.)
Korea. Oh, that’s where the Korean war happened. (This was the extent to the adult knowledge of Korea throughout my childhood…. which is sad.)
You’re Korean? But your eyes are Chinese.
Did the doctor drop you on your face, or were you born this way?
Asians are smart. Help me with my homework.
Asian women are submissive.
What language do you speak? Oh You speak English good. (Uhh… it’s well… and yes, I still get this question after talking to the person for 10 minutes. Does my English seem that deficient?)
What are you? (I usually answer Human, and you?)
I was called stupid Asian.
I was told, “This is America.” when I didn’t act like a submissive female Asian.
Was your face hit with a frying pan?
If I know Japanese language, then I must be Japanese. I know French too… I must be French.

Things I have done to me:
Someone pinched my hand until it bled. My parents and teacher ignored it.
I said I was teased all through grade school. My parents ignored it.
People refused to make friends with me.
I was abandoned for a white friend.
When people *did* make friends with me, they were equally teased for being friends with me. This meant I couldn’t make friends because they became targets too.
I was singled out to help with homework and do all the problems for the group.
I’ve been hit upon for being Asian rather than any other reason. (Excuse the language, but the myth of the tight vagina in Asian women still exists.)
Children will pull their eyes back and chant, “Chinese, Japanese.” First day, I had this happen.
They will surround you.
I had my homework stolen. But the teacher caught it. (Do you think this isn’t racist… you have to be seriously whacked to not think it is racism.)
I was picked on more than anyone else in the class. (I was the only Asian in the entire school, I believe…)

Things I have felt:
Kids sometimes *stare* at me. If people want to know if a three year old can tell the difference between races, I can tell you they can.
Men hitting on me for being Asian, indirectly. (Whistling). I mean if you’re in baggy jeans, your hair is an absolute wreck from bed head, and you’re slouching in a dirty jacket, why else is that guy whistling at you from a car two lanes away and trying to get you to climb in his car?
I’ve been hired because I was Asian and when I wasn’t “submissive” Asian enough they fired me. (True story)

Fortunate things:
I haven’t been called “chink” yet.
I haven’t been called gook yet.
I haven’t been called “Jap” yet.
But then I don’t think anyone has the guts too.
I haven’t been told I could be blinded by dental floss.

How this can effect children:
What stereotypes do is serve to make a mold of being that people expect one to conform to. In this case, it is the submissive Japanese female who will bow at the door to greet her husband, be wild in bed and have a tight vagina, yet have dinner and a bath ready, with the entire house clean.

If you don’t conform to this stereotype, then the question is: “What is wrong with you?” This would be the “stupid” Asian attitude listed above.
If you conform to this stereotype, then you are screwed because you are pigeon-holed into being someone you are not. In another words, by teasing one is forced to become these stereotypes without a way to escape. So the choice is black and white, with no way to navigate to define oneself on ones own terms because the other person is categorizing you no matter what you say.

This is a living terror because no matter what you do, you can’t ever define yourself without someone else doing it for you, which eats at your self-esteem. If self-esteem is the ability to define oneself, then this has been robbed from the person being teased. But then, who wants to conform to such black and white terms of self based on ignorance from a few hundred years of race relations of Chinese and Japanese immigration? Not to mention, cultural facts that are plain perpetrated and are wrong? There is no chance if you do these things that you would fit into those cultures either–rather you will justify those stereotypes for the people giving it to you.

Of course teasing gets worse when:
1. An adult joins in and doesn’t defend the child.
2. When people choose to ignore the teasing.
3. When the only talk about race relations is black-white.
4. When people believe children are innocent and can’t say vicious things like, “Your face must have been hit by a frying pan.”

I scored on all of these… and so that’s why it was safer to drift into myself because accepting these stereotypes and sayings would have destroyed me from the inside.

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Posted in Teasing



23 Jan

When I see the peppery hot kimchi I think of the slight tingle it has in my mouth from it being pickled and the sweet crunch it makes. I can smell the fish, but beneath that is a stronger smell. It’s something about the hot-sweetness of the peppers that draws me back. Not just the cabbage, but other kinds as well. Nabak Kimchi (Watery Kimchi) and whole radish kimchi, daikon kimchi… even occasionally squid kimchi.

I know some adoptees hate kimchi–even some Korean Americans who came here and never really tasted it. It’s the fishy smell, especially the South Korean Northern version of Kimchi which uses dried shrimp rather than the version of the south which uses fish sauce. But something about the kimchi is addictive. Is it the adrenaline from the sweet-hotness or the fact that I like the tingle it leaves behind something like a milder version of Poprock candy in my mouth?

I use it as a medicine and prevention from colds and the flu. Koreans have a saying when someone has a cold, “Didn’t you eat your kimchi?” My parents never had to worry about vitamin C deficiency with us. Just put kimchi in front of us and we’d eat it. We ate our vegetables without fuss because Koreans eat vegetables. I only got sick maybe once a year when I was younger.

I know that Koreans accustom their children to kimchi. They start young and wash off the pepper, so that the child can get past the fire in their mouths and slowly build them up to normal pepper levels. By the time they are five they see no difference.

At my four o’clock snack of kimchi and rice like clockwork my dad said the smell was overtaking the kitchen and to put the kimchi jar away. Ironically this was usually when I was watching cartoons even though I was long a teenager by then. Japanese cartoons. (Since the Korean industry didn’t start doing animation yet.)

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Posted in Korean Culture


The Worst Teacher

23 Jan

The biggest ass teacher I ever had was a substitute teacher. He was nervous. His hands shook and I remember his mouth quivering. His hair was parted on one side. He was disorganized. He didn’t know the material. I wasn’t impressed. It was fourth grade. He was subbing for a teacher I liked.

This was a class I originally liked because the teacher was strict and fair, but never let any injustice pass her by. Everyone hated her. The lessons they complained were too hard. Most of them didn’t even want to try. She didn’t let any disorder go in her class.

Now she was gone. The class was chaotic as there was no “real” teacher. The students all whispered about the freedom they would have without our teacher there.

The first order of business for the students was finding other students to pick on. I was number one as a good target. And this other student was another target. Neither of us fought back, which made us perfect. The other kid was tall and big. He was African American. I didn’t know it then, but the kids must of, that his parents were white. He was also adopted. The kids loved pairing us together. The more I objected, the more they teased.

The roar of kids dominated the classroom. Every motion or thing they thought disgusting was under their critical eye if they didn’t like you. Today was no different.

They accused me of farting. A bunch of kids started teasing and laughing, disturbing the class. They started making sound to imitate. In addition they pinned it on our side of the classroom pointing to me or the other guy.

The teacher was not able to handle the chaos. In a desperate attempt to control the chaos he asked me if it was true. When I said nothing from the shock that he was going to blame me he escorted me to the bathroom.

This was the first time an adult had failed my expectations. Even when Eomma left, I had faith in her. I forgave her. Even when I was placed in the orphanage, I had faith in Appa.

He took me and forced me to sit in the bathroom, which was inside of the classroom. I spent my time in there crying silently while the kids outside laughed at me. The class went wild.

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Posted in Childhood, Teasing


I love my Kimchi

23 Jan

Set to the tune of My Little Sunshine. I’m working on the Korean version, but it’s hard.

I love my kimchi,
my only kimchi
it makes me happy when my skies are gray
you never know, dear, how much I love my kimchi
please don’t take my kimchi away.

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Posted in Korean Culture, Korean Food


My Mom and Korea

23 Jan

My Mom smiles at me with that stiff smile. “I don’t understand why Korean is so difficult.”

I say, “Hangeul is phonetic.”

“But the sounds change. Korean is so hard.”

I shake my head. “Many languages are like this. English is like this too. Wa-ter turns into Wader in Standard American English.”

“Yeah, but Korean is so hard. I will only learn hangeul” I can feel myself getting upset at her. I wonder if I have the right to yell at her for pushing away my heritage with such ease.

“English has ‘through,’ ‘rough,’ and other words that sound different, but are spelled the same. No language is harder than another. They are just different.”

“I don’t have a gift with languages.” I refrain from snapping, “I don’t have a gift either, the difference is that I was forced to try.”

My Dad chimes in, “[My brother] will translate for us.”

I say, “No, he will not. I will get you guys a translator.”

The room grows silent. I try to hide my anger.

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Posted in Korean Culture, Parenting, Parents, Racism


Report Card Time

23 Jan

I would see my report card in the stack of mail and cringe. I knew what was coming. No matter how many A’s I got in a class, no matter how many B’s I would get picked over for my C’s D’s and F’s. I rarely got F’s, but when I did, I knew that it would be handed down with a punishment and my parents arguing over discipline.

If the report cards came on the same day, my brother and I would ask each other who wanted to go first. We would rotate, knowing that our mother would yell at us, no matter what we got. She would lecture to us about college, even though we were nowhere near the age, and then she would say no TV for a week.

And then for that week we would find ways to disobey her. One time she banned us both from watching television. So we disobeyed. She caught us. She took the cable line. We disobeyed and my brother through his engineering skills he’d learned managed to reroute the cable for when she was gone. She took the VCR, without telling her we disobeyed and managed to watch cable TV without the VCR.

We did not respect her. We could not. She who yelled at us when she had stress from work. She who yelled at us when she got home fishing for things to yell about. She who distanced us by saying she had work to do and we were not to bother her. She who would not purely play with us after I was seven years old. We never obeyed her. We only obeyed our Dad because she was never around–because she always made excuses. Because in essence she refused to take care of us we refused to obey her. We would instead pretend to obey her. We would complain to each other about her behavior. And when I found my voice, I argued with her. I tried to get her to hear my grievances. But she never learned to listen.

And report card time was the same. We did not respect her. We did not respect her who would put us down all the time. I only respected her for the knowledge she carried. I respected her out of duty, because that’s what she said she felt for us too. Duty. Obligation. And buried in there was love, but it was not love through communication and understanding. It was love through pure duty, fear and respect.

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Posted in Parenting, Parents



23 Jan

Jane Jeong Trenka said in her book Language of Blood that an Adoptee has ghosts. I liked this concept. The idea that the person you were when you were adopted died and the person you ultimately replaced also died. I think in a lot of ways these ghosts really haunt adoptees.

Because thinking of ourselves as ghosts who cannot be the child that died or be the child that never existed has a ring of truth to it. These ghosts are the expectations of the parents and society into who the person should be but never can be.

For me, I see it as people often see the ghost before they see me.

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Posted in Adoption Philosophy

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