My Parents Meet My Parents

As discussed in my recent post about adoption, I am one fortunate human being. First of all, I was adopted as an infant, leaving me free of traumatizing memories of being taken to a new land as a school-age child, when memories are retrievable. My adoptive family is wonderful and supportive; never did I feel like they loved my sister any more than me.

Not all adoptees can say the same things, but I would be perfectly happy with my life if I never found my birth parents. But I did and I am also content with this outcome. Not only did I find them, they wanted to meet me and include me in their family. If an adoptee is fortunate enough to find his/her birth parents, there is an even smaller chance that the family will include him/her. There are several reasons for this, one of them being extreme shame and guilt over the situation as well as secrecy. So I am grateful that my situation is the way it is.

I don’t want to brag of being annoying about this.I feel very sorry those who are desperately searching for their families but have the highest hopes that everything will turn in their direction. My friends and family expressed interest by my story and I am open enough to share it.

I was pleasantly surprised when my parents booked tickets on three planes to see me here in Korea. My Air Force veteran father rarely sets foot on a plane without anxiety, so I was surprised by their decision to visit.

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The whole family

My birth family, too, was excited with generous doses of anxiety. My sisters, Yumi and Vora, have already been chatting with my mother on Facebook, perhaps even more than myself. My birth parents (I’ll refer to them as Omma and Appa) anxiously prepared for their arrival. Wanting to make them as comfortable as possible, they interrogated me about what kind of food and activities they like. They paid visits to my house (even startling me by brashly entering without notice when I was in peacefully in bed) to bring blankets and a mattress to make my parents as comfortable as possible. Little do they know how laid back and easy-going they are, but I appreciated their efforts.

During the first few days of my parents’ arrival in Korea, they placated their jet lag by slowly entering Korean culture. My dad first entered my house with wearing his shoes despite my nagging for him to take them off at the doorway. He eventually adjusted and now can endure dinners while sitting cross-legged. We took a nice walk around the bamboo forest in Damyang and ate on the floor, shoeless of course. Dad had a few failed (but cute) attempts to use chopsticks and even took a few nibbles of spicy foods (he’s a plain eater: he’s eaten ramen noodles, sans salt packet, for dinner). My mom engaged in awkwardly deep bows upon every interaction with a Korean, even children. She made attempts to speak a few basic phrases, with “gamsahapnida” (thank you) sounding like adfgwelijdw-imnida.This was all very cute. They were practicing their Koreanness for the anticipated birth family meeting.

We headed for Jeonju in the early afternoon on a Saturday. My parents are Greyhound bus veterans and well-experienced travelers; they were pleased with the comfortable and efficient buses that Korea boasts. I didn’t feel many strong emotions at all until we parked at the Jeonju bus terminal and saw my Omma nervously waiting. Both sets of parents are amiable and loving – I knew they would get along and we’d have a great weekend together as one family.

As we departed the bus, my mom wailed “Omma!”. Long, tight hugs were exchanged. My moms held hands as we walked to meet Appa. He waited along the street looking cool, calm, and collected as usual. Despite his manly body language, he has a very soft heart. We piled into his Lexus, all four girls squeezed in the back, and the moms continuing to hold hands. Smiles and laughs were exchanged, some tears shed. But not one word was exchanged due to the language barrier. Omma repeatedly said “sorry” and “thank you” in Korean. I could feel my birth parents’ frustration with the language barrier.

At my birth parents’ 11th floor apartment, my parents enjoyed the view overlooking the city foreground to the mountain ranges as well as admired Omma’s plants. They exchanged small gifts – coffee and chocolate from America, flowers, a tie with Korean letters, and a beautiful Korean scarf for mom. As per usual, Omma prepared a delicious meal. We had a chuckle when at my dad’s attempts to use chopsticks and then Appa giving him a miniature fork because that’s all they owned. They were embarrassed about not having a fork, but we assured them that the mini fork was more than sufficient. After the decadent Korean lunch, we munched on fruit and bamboo snacks I got the day earlier. Omma kept inquiring if this dish was delicious, if that dish has enough vegetables.

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Yujin, her husband, and my incredibly cute niece, Hayun, arrived shortly after lunch. She is the eldest. Thus, it is not surprising that she is the most motherly out of the four girls. Her facial expression appeared to be very touched and emotional when meeting my parents. She remembers Omma being pregnant with me, after all. Being the mother that she is, it was time for more eating: tomatoes and strawberries. I could tell that my parents were full, but they politely ate more.

Completely stuffed, we took a curvy ride into the mountains. We stopped over to admire a waterfall and then a Buddhist temple. The long day of traveling and emotions caused everyone to be a little tired, so we headed to the pension tucked away in the countryside mountains. The two-story cabin has an abundance of open space, hardwood floors and furniture, balconies (plural!), a porch, an art studio, and fully equipped with cooking equipment and bedding. I could easily live there for an extended time. It isn’t a Korean home if a karaoke set wasn’t available. Appa busted a few loud songs, in which my sisters lowered their heads with embarrassment. I personally love his songs and find it very entertaining.

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My parents enjoyed their first quintessential Korean barbecue of samgyupsal. We gathered around a picnic table in the front yard, stuffing ingredients into lettuce wraps and then into our mouths. Some of us even handfed my parents, a sign of closeness and love. The air cooled after the sunset, so we gathered in the cozy living room for fruit, laughs, and entertainment brought to you by Hayun. The toddler was fearful for my foreigner parents at first sight, but she warmed up and called over “grandpa” to the chair so she could spin him ceaselessly. Seeing everyone together as one family really warmed my heart. Sleepiness ensued and I crawled on the floor between my two older sisters.

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The morning started with the baby wailing “emo!” (auntie) and telling us to get up. We usually eat Korean style breakfasts like rice, soup, and kimchi, but my family kept the cultural differences in mind when they filled the table with various breads at Paris Baguette and glasses of warm milk.

We had a slow morning in our pajamas. I read (from my new Kindle – thanks Adam!) on the balcony while everyone else got ready. My family hates that I don’t take more than 10 minutes on my appearance with a dozen chemical-laden skin products. I hate that they do. We stuffed ourselves back in the cars to spend the afternoon in some gorgeous gardens followed by the traditional village.

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Saying goodbye was hard for my Korean family. My sisters couldn’t hold back the tears when they tightly squeezed my tiny mother farewell. It might be the last time they meet.

The photos I shared on Facebook were hit with over a hundred virtual thumbs up, happy comments, and friends private messaging me about how happy they are for me. Thank you for being a part of my journey.

In these kind of stories, the adoptive family and child tend to get the most attention. It’s a selfless act for a couple to jump through hoops to take care of an orphaned child and continue to parent that child for the rest of their lives. Adoption is a great thing to save the children, they say.

But adoption is not always happy. In fact, almost every adoption story starts with pain. Some people are never relieved of the pain, but others overcome those barriers. Even if the adopted child is happy and experiences minimal psychological issues, the birth parents will feel pain. Putting a child up for adoption can be the most difficult and heartbreaking decisions a parent can make. I am not a mother myself, so I can only begin to imagine how my birth parents feel. They try to communicate with my birth mother repeatedly saying “미안해” (sorry). The past is the past and nothing can be done to change that. We can only do our best to be happy that we found each other and grateful that everyone is healthy.

Anyway, the family union events made my life feel like an episode of a Korean drama. After that weekend, I enjoyed spending time with my parents so they can get a taste of my life in Korea. They loved my friends and boyfriend, as predicted, and had nothing but great things to say about Korea’s cities, transportation, safety, food (for the most part), nature, and general harmony. They encouraged me to stay here as long as I can here in “paradise”, as my mom calls it. Sorry, Mom and Dad, after this year, that’s it for me. Being Korean, but not really Korean, in Korea is not always easy. That topic calls for another post. I’ll leave you with some photos.

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Getting his exercise on the outdoor machines
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Lotte Giants baseball game in Busan. Dad’s highlight of the trip
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My favorite night spot in Korea. Gwangalli Beach, Busan.
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My Gwangju Family!
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Damyang Bamboo Forest
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