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


Adoption Ghosts

23 Jan

I saw my mom crying in the living room. There was a video playing with a woman’s uterus on it. It was explaining an abnormality that was genetically passed and caused by infertility. Mainly it talked about the pain it caused. It was painful to have because anything to do with the uterus caused pain–menses and childbirth. It wasn’t a video on the disease as much it was a video about the feelings these women had towards it. Their sadness and tearfulness over what had robbed them of what made them women.

Despite this it was information that first hit me and made me curious. I sat down in the door hallway and watched it with her. I asked her questions that I now know I shouldn’t have. She explained as she always did. She talked about the facts. I wondered if there was guilt. I only connected the pieces later and realized this was what my mom had.

She said during my questions that she really wanted to give birth to a baby. She was still fantasizing over it. This startled me. I was much older by then and hadn’t thought in those terms.

At the same time those events seemed to never happen. The video was filed in the video cabinet somewhere near her exercise videos and the Disney films that my paternal grandmother had sent.

She continued to complain about her period and how painful it was. I would think and realize it had to do with that video tape. She rejoiced when her periods stopped and when she went through menopause. She told her sister in NY that it was bad, but worth it. She talked to me about her estrogen injections warning me about the needles. But we never discussed the tape again.

In the meantime I took some of what she said. My subconscious played with it in forms of dreams. I was walking towards my parents in the living room. Their backs are turned towards me and then I see it. A baby boy–unnamed. The dream doesn’t offer how the baby got there, but it does tell me that this is their genetic child. I can feel joy and the knot of mixed feelings which include horror and the fear of replacement. Why did they need me anymore? This dream played again and again. I couldn’t reason with it.

But this was my encounter with my other ghost. This was the person I replaced when I was adopted into this family. I had killed them. I am a replacement for a child that was never born.

Because we never spoke of it again, this memory of my mom watching the video feels unreal. Perhaps I’m pushing it back like the little girl I was who pushed back her own memories. Coming face to face with this other self is never pleasant. They haunt me in revenge. They say perhaps I am not Jewish, because they would have been. They talk about things they would have been that I never can be. And sometimes I think that voice is right.

However, My brother never saw the tape. So I never know if he has the same ghost whispers too.

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Posted in Adoption Philosophy, Childhood


ADD and Daydreaming

23 Jan

I used to day dream a lot. It was escape from the teasing, the hardships that life gave me. I’d make up stories. I remember I was daydreaming in class because the problem they were teaching was boring. I could see the rafters. I was thinking up a story with Barbie who was blonde, skinny and big-chested. Her head would pop off and I’d have to hunt for my dad to put her back together. It was the usual fare. She was a princess. I was deciding who was going to be the prince.

It was a way to escape from my surroundings because from the time I started school I was in constant fear of being teased. From the time I got on the bus to the time I stepped off. The teasing I received stripped me of my adoptive culture, my birth culture and of myself. That’s in part how I learned that words have a lot of power.

I would sometimes mutter to myself sorting out the stories going through my head. I day dreamed a lot because my surroundings were less desirable. I wanted to be rescued like Cinderella from her poor life. I saw nothing wrong with this. I would do it in the middle of someone else’s conversation because I didn’t want to listen.

When my parents yelled for me to come and get dinner. I tuned them out. I had learned from the age of five that all yelling was a bad thing. Yelling from my mom because we went out into the street, yelling at school because the kids were picking on me. So I learned that all yelling was bad, so I tuned it out. As the teasing got worse and there was no one to even listen to me and as I internalized those feelings, me not listening to yelling got worse. I wouldn’t even respond when dinner was being called.

My parents, therefore, ignoring all my previous hurt of teasing, decided to take me in for hearing testing. They figured that my problem was that I couldn’t hear right. I told them up front that I passed the school hearing test. They ignored me. After they got the results, my mom said in an exacerbated voice as her volume rose up, “Is it that you’re just ignoring us? Why won’t you tell us what’s wrong?”

But the thing was, I had told them what was wrong since I was in kindergarten and they’d brushed me off every single time until I was afraid to tell them. They told me it wasn’t about race. They told me I was wrong and they just proved through the hearing test that they were not open to listening to me talk about myself, even on a small thing like that. I was a kid. I was wrong about my own state of being.

So ignoring me again and my own thoughts on the matter, my parents thought I had ADD. They brought me to a psychiatrist. I constantly asked why they were doing this. I thought they were trying to find something wrong with me, but unlike every other time I asked why they didn’t explain why until some years later. They insist that they did. Perhaps I heard it but didn’t understand. I was indignant and I was determined I was going to beat the psychiatrist over the head with how smart I was. I remember the guy as nervous. He wasn’t calm. He constantly twitched and his voice was never even. I remember his glasses and the sweat on his brow.

He sat me down. I thought it was going to be like school work. My parents weren’t there. I looked for them. He gave me blocks to stack and arrange. He gave me a puzzle of a horse that I stubbornly refused to believe was a horse. My imagination was playing itself again. But I was going to beat that timer. I was always like that. I would try to read his impassive and always nervous face. I decided I didn’t like him. That’s why I was going to defeat him.

He asked no questions. Sometimes he would give a little vocal guidance. I was secretly upset when he helped out. I wasn’t day dreaming because I could see the challenge set in front of me.

We remet with my parents in, I think, his office. I could see his degree. I was a strange child. I always looked for degrees and the things around the office. I still spend time reading instructions, product labels and cereal boxes.
“She just needs more attention in the classroom. I think smaller classroom size would be helpful.” He only helped to confirm their suspicions. It wasn’t because I was being teased, it was because I had a learning disability which could only be cured by smaller class sizes. He helped their denial.

I didn’t know what going on. I already was trying to figure out the context.
“Yes, we’re trying to transfer her.”

They mentioned a school and people they knew from there. This was baffling to me. It occurred to me that most of the people’s names were Jewish or that I knew them.
My parents had never asked me why I daydreamed. I can confidently answer them that it was the only way to keep my sanity when I was in constant fear of being teased. I would day dream in the middle of their teasing. Through their chants of “teacher’s pet” “cooties” “You are gay with your best friend” or pairing me with another classmate they didn’t think acceptable. They never associated the two together. I wouldn’t expect them to.

I had a freak determination to never return to that position again. I concentrated more out of pride rather than because I had a smaller classroom size. However the change of schools helped in other ways. I wasn’t teased as much. People didn’t chant about Asians. People didn’t pair me up with strange people or call me gay. I wonder if my parents still think that change of schools cured my day dreaming, or if it ever occurred to them how horrid the teasing was.

I still write stories. And occasionally if someone talks for too long I begin to think of them, but I’ve learned a new skill since the last time I sat in that psychiatrist’s chair. The skill of half listening.

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Posted in Parents, Racism, Teasing


Look it Up

23 Jan

When I wanted to know the definition of a word, I would ask my parents, “What is the definition of…” and then the word. My parents would say, “Look it Up.” For example, I wanted to know what “Thou” was really used for, so they said, “Look it up.” The old beat up dictionary with a short proper name definitions in the back would come out and I’d sit it in my lap or on a table and leaf through. I’d find the word, and announce it. Occasionally they really didn’t know and would say so. If I stumbled my mom would insist, “Sound it out.” Which only with my knowledge now can see how much folly it is to say that. She would sound it out with me if I really got stuck.

This was also their answer to something if I wanted to know what something was. So if I wanted to know what a kiwi bird was, I’d have to pull out the index of the huge Britannica or the Compton’s encyclopedia. The order was always the smaller one, then I’d announce I couldn’t find it or that it wasn’t very long at all. I hated actually looking anything. It was tedious, and I liked to skip ahead. If those smaller volumes didn’t have it, then I would have to go to the Index of the Britannica. Then go to the Micropedia section, look in there. When I didn’t find it in there, they would help me with the Macropedia. These volumes were huge and I still remember their weight on my small body and how heavy they were to lift. It was literally physically and mentally demanding in the wrong ways that I hated the process.

Occasionally, I would leaf through the index of cute dogs, horses and cats because Compton’s had and try to memorize the breeds. I found out the breeds of the dogs in the cartoons. For example, Lady and the Tramp, had a mutt, a English Terrier, Scottish Terrier and Bloodhound. I figured out that my Aunt’s Horse was a Thoroughbred. And then try to figure out the cats, and read all of the entry.

I spent so much time looking through those pictures and laboring through looking through the volumes, I was kind of sad to find that when I came back home my parents had given the volumes away. Though it was for the child, bitter memories of having to pull large volumes in her arms and then sort through them, scan through the passages, and so on, it still well… as like my parents would like to say, “Built character.”

These days I’ve already looked it up when they say, “Look it up.” And then they are forced to usually say, “I don’t know.” I’ve learned through this that there is a lot they don’t know, even if they are MIT graduates.

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Posted in Childhood, Parents


Explaining Swimming Cramps

23 Jan

I was staring at the sparkling pool at my Great Aunt’s and Great Uncle’s place. I’d just eaten and I’d had the foolishness of asking why I couldn’t go into the pool. The words besides pool, muscles, blood flow, heart, cramps and drowning washed over me. I always wondered if that meant that if I went into the water at all my leg would automatically cramp, because by his logic, it was furthest from my body and then I would drown, or if it really meant that if I went into the water and started swimming that my whole body would cramp like I have Tetanus into a small ball sink like a cannon and then like a cartoon I would come up with x’s in my eyes.

My cousins were doing other things. I patiently waited. I was thinking the last words, eying the clock and the pool, keeping track like I always did. His talk was about 5 to ten minutes– I don’t remember which. When he finished, I knew the time and said, “Can I go swimming now?”

He looked and said, “Yes.”

My parents did this with almost every scientific and engineering question I asked, no matter how old I was.

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Posted in Childhood, Parents


It Will Build Character

23 Jan

My parents were fond of the words, “It will build character.” But I now know that those words mean one thing and one thing only–you will be miserable through the process and most likely get nothing out of it in the long run besides to entertain other people.

They said this when I needed to brush my teeth, when I should wash my face, when they wanted me to get a job. They said this and I knew what they really meant was, “You will be miserable and you will get nothing out of it.” I never really got anything out of things that were supposed to build character. If anything, I just got more cynical about life.

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Posted in Childhood, Parents

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