Oh, this week, what have you been? In two days I went from seeing the first photo of me ever taken to hanging out at the place where I lived as an infant to happening upon a glossy Korean rock concert to crashing a Seon Buddhist service where I meditated while the worshippers chanted until it all made sense.
Wednesday afternoon I sat in the social worker’s office at Holt’s Post Adoption Services building watching the meager pages of my file print out. Ms. Kim told me that when Holt split in the mid-70s all the files were sent to America. Holt America told me that the office in Korea might have the information I was looking for. So… no one has it, but really, that’s okay. I was only looking for some addresses - that of the police station where I was taken after I was found as an abandoned infant and the home of the family that fostered me for four months.
No such luck, unfortunately, but it was a very strange thing to be handed a piece of paper with a photo and a note saying, “Gone to USA 4.1.71” as if I’d walked off on my own in search of a better life. Kind of sad to learn that it was the first picture ever taken of me - at five months when I was turned over to the adoption agency. That I already look like a surly old man will surprise no one, I’m sure.
It was heartbreaking to learn the reasons behind a lot of abandoned children in the 70s. Many were turned over to orphanages simply because there was no access to birth control at the time so families would end up with too many mouths to feed, and if you couldn’t pull your weight, you know, being a newborn and all, off you went. Ms. Kim told me that employees of Holt would show up to work only to find babies at the gate of the building. She also told me that families would drop older children (toddlers and up) at places like the airport then hide until the child was found by someone. Then they would follow to find out where they ended up so someday they could go back in search of.
This was not the case with me. I’ve been told by Holt both in the States and here that there’s not enough info for me to initiate a search for my parents and that’s always been fine, mostly due to the feeling being that my family life is already complicated enough. I want another one to feel conflicted about? Still, never knowing a medical history and what’s nature vs nurture will always sort of bother me. Especially nature vs nurture… I think about that a lot.
(This is a partial list of all the babies turned over to Holt on November 30, 1970. I’m next to last.)
On Thursday I went to The Seoul Municipal Children’s Library, where, in its previous incarnation as City Baby Hospital, I lived for the first four months of my life. I explored the building and as I walked through the rows of books I caught my first glimpse of someone who reminded me of me, a young girl with a similar profile and a loose ponytail… a girl who’d seen the sun. When I saw her I realized that there was a missing piece in my life and finally I could put it all together.
I’ve never really wanted to come to Seoul, always fearing I would feel so out of place, that I would bristle against this patriarchal society (and it’s true, I haven’t been overly impressed by the men here), but when I was planning a trip to Asia my, err, therapist told me I had to come and so here I am. To say what I felt that afternoon sitting outside the library, looking into windows I may have looked out of, was transformational makes it seem trite, I suppose, but let’s just say this is my second year in a row of September magic. I’m a believer in the power of fall coming.
I stayed until the library closed and the last employees left, including the strange Korean twin of S, before heading off for a stroll past Gyeongbokgung Palace where I saw the aforementioned rock concert (and prayed I wouldn’t listen to music this bad had I grown up here) before heading to the Jogyesa Buddhist Temple. A meditation service was in progress so I grabbed a cushion and joined the others, not caring that I didn’t necessarily believe or belong, and sat, eyes closed, finding my place in the line.
On the way back to my hotel I wandered through a market and stopped at a shop where, when I said my usual, “Sorry, English?”, the owner looked surprised and said, “Oh! You look Korean.” I felt a funny sense of belonging upon hearing those words… a fitting end to an illuminating two days.