Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Fitting In" (Part 2)

I believe this is a big issue/concern for many foreign adoptees. At least in my personal experience it is probably the one I struggle with the most. For some odd reason, I have never really been driven by the typical question of "Why was I given up for adoption?". To be truthful, I'm not sure if I was abandoned or truly accidently lost. It was not uncommon for mothers to abandon their children as a way of "giving them up". So since I was found in a bakery, it could have been that my mother truly abandoned me or I could have been lost. In my mind, I was adopted and that was the end of it. It doesn't matter how I got here, but the fact that I am here now.

What I do struggle with sometimes is "fitting in". I remember as a child always wanting to fit in. I just recently read an interesting book written by Dr. Hei Sook Wilkinson titled "Birth Is More Than Once: The Inner World of Adopted Korean Children". Dr. Wilkinson writes about her study of 8 Korean adoptees in the Greater Detroit area. One of her findings that was common among all of the adoptees was their striving towards "fitting in". Common to all of the adoptees, was their disinterest in anything to do with Korea; This included culture, food, and language. Dr. Wilkinson observed that this was a temporary phase common in the development of the children. After some time, the children regained interest in their native country.

Since I was 5 years old when I was adopted, I had some capacity in the Korean language. My parents used to tell me about introducing me to Koreans who would try to speak to me in Korean but I would refuse or pretend not to understand them. This was even within weeks of being adopted when obviously I only understood Korean! I can't be sure why I did this because I don't even recall doing this.

Dr. Wilkinson's concluded that this was common in her study and that it was due to each adoptee wanting to "fit in" into their new culture and surroundings as fast as possible. She further postulated that this was driven by each adoptee wanting to be accepted by their new family and their new surroundings (thus contributing to the success and permanance of their adoption). New adoptees tended to believe if they blend in fast and quickly, then their new adoptive parents will have less reason to send them back. While I can't say for sure whether or not this applied to me, I do know that it makes sense. I think my parents agree in that they contribute it to my will to "fit in" as quickly as possible. I'm not sure if this was out of "fear" of being sent back if I didn't "fit in" quickly or not, but I suppose it could have been.

Another phase that Dr. Wilkinson recognized in her study was "identifying" with other Koreans (or sometimes just asians). This was of course after the child overcame or grew out of the phase above of rejecting one's culture. I vividly remember this phase of my life. A year after being in the US, my parents enrolled me in pre-school. At the pre-school I remember my best friend was another Korean boy (I think Korean, definitely asian), we believed we were brothers because we were both asian so we believed we were related.

I used to ridicule ethnic groups in the US for "clumping" together (not necessarily ridicule, but couldn't understand why people would clump together). Developing little sub-cultures such as China Town, Korea Town, Mexican Town, amongst larger cities. In these areas you will hear the appropriate foreign language and authentic food. I couldn't understand how people could live in the US and never learning how to speak English, and only speaking their native tongues. My feelings were probably due to the fact that I grew up in a very prodominantly white suburb of Detroit. So when I was growing up, I couldn't believe that people would want to isolate themselves from American society. In the last couple of years, my view on this has changed. I can now understand why they would be drawn to living in the same areas as other people with the same ethnicity.

I think I have re-entered the "identifying" phase. I seem to find myself more drawn to asians lately. For the first time in my life I the majority of my friends are asian, and mostly Korean. I recently moved, so I was in search of a new church. I have to admit that I decided to see if there was an Asian church I could go to. I found one and I found that I really liked the people and have since made a lot of friends. I'll have to say, I rather enjoy it. Its not that we are exclusively asians, there are a couple non-asians. What I found is that we just naturally have things in common. Obviously we enjoy the same foods, similar secondary languages, and similar interests in pop-culture (ie K-music and K-dramas). This makes it very easy and comfortable to develop relationships with this crowd.

This recent event in my life has opened my eyes and made me realize that it does seem easier to relate when you share a common ethnicity/race with people. One thing I'm sure other adopted Koreans can relate too is introducing our non-asian friends to Korean food. The foods in particular are seaweed and especially kimchee. Depending on what kind of personalities your friends have some of them make quite the commotion about eating seaweed and kimchee. Particularly the smell of kimchee and the smell of kimchee when it "leaks" through the pores in your skin. Cultural differences such as these can definitely hinder making friendships with people who don't understand or have a "nose" for kimchee. A fellow blogger (Kim Yoonmi) talks about this issue in her blog: Here

Prior to my visits to Korea, I always lived in white societies and the vast majority of my friends were also white. Not that this is bad, actually I have some excellent friends. However, sometimes I just fealt that I didn't "fit in". So when the opportunity came to visit Korea for the first time, I was really excited that I was finally going to blend in and "fit in". I quickly found out that I was going to be disappointed. Sure I blended in by looks, but as soon as I opened my mouth I stick out like a sore thumb.

I definitely don't want to downplay the relationships I have developed with some of the best people I have ever met in my life in Korea. I met some really nice people in Korea. Some people that I will never forget and I will always remain in contact with all of my life. I would have to say that Koreans on a whole are very kind and helpful people.

However, I never felt like I didn't "fit in" more than during my travels in Korea. Ironically where I thought I would "fit in" the most, it turns out that I felt I stuck out the most. The language factor is probably the biggest reason I felt that I didn't "fit in" as well as I thought as I would. Since I love Korean food, and my Korean friends say that I am very much Korean except my language (ie my sense of humor and my interest in Korean pop-culture); I believe that language is the single biggest factor of "fitting in". Which is probably why I felt that I didn't "fit in" as well in Korea as in the US.

Sometimes it was external factors that made me feel like I didn't "fit in". Such as the one restaurant owner who refused to serve me because I didn't speak Korean. But more often than not it was my own internal feelings that made me feel like I didn't "fit in". I was so frustrated with myself on several occasions:
1. Trying to tell a taxi where to go
2. Trying to figure out what to eat for lunch or dinner
were the two most common instances where I this feeling was greatest. This feeling of not "fitting in" was not put on me other people. Instead this feeling came from internally. It was more of a feeling of shame of myself. To be honest, it was very discouraging at times. Luckily I met some really nice people in Korea who definitely made my trips worth while. But this whole scenario has put a huge drive in my life to re-learn my native language. I have purhcased and used Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, and now I take private lessons to try and learn Korean. I truely do believe that the language barrier is the primary factor of whether or not I feel like I "fit in". This is not to discount the other factors. Like I said, in my recent move, I think I have been able to make friends much quicker not only because I share the same language, but also because we share a commone sub-culture of asian food and pop-culture.

Now I can understand people wanting to "clump" together with people from their ethnicity. Particularly when language is a factor. I'm not sure that I will make decisions on where I will live in the future based on this, but I'm sure it will be in my mind when I do have to make the decision.

Monday, January 19, 2009

"Fitting In" (Part 1)

I am the type of people where I can move and live anywhere and get along. Technically I think I prefer bigger cities, but I still enjoyed my 5 years of living in a town of 6000 people. I am able to adjust and adapt to my surroundings. I don't know if this has to do with being adopted, and having gone through a huge adaption (change in culture and language) or if its just my personality. I won't dwell on that aspect long because either way, I'm glad that I have this trait.

I am an extreme introvert. My friends will laugh if they read this because I think I am very talkative around them. I mean, I have no problems talking with my friends. What most of my friends don't realize is that if they were a stranger on the street, I would never in a million years talk to them. They also don't know that when we first met, it literally made me sick to my stomach. Whenever I meet new people are in large groups (even large groups of my friends), it makes me feel nauseous. Even in a comfortable setting like in my own church. I can hardly bear the "greeting" time because there are over 10 people (even though I know them all) that I might have to "deal with". When I try to explain to my friends they just don't seem to understand, and they usually laugh because they think they know me better. Its not just butterflies and nervousness, its literally a sickness in my stomach.

The only reason why my friends don't realize that I have this problem is because I force myself to overcome this fear. I know this is a weakness in terms of meeting new people and that realistically I could be perfectly content and happy living a "hermit" style life (which is dangerous for an introvert). So even though it makes me sick to my stomach thinking about it and doing it, I force myself to deal with it. Like I mentioned above; even after I overcome it I still face it every week. Church for example. Even though I know most of the people there, I still get nauseous every Sunday when we are supposed to get up and greet everyone. Or during "fellowship" after church. A big room with lots of people, is probably my biggest fear in life.

Even though I have done it many times, the fear never subsides, it never reduces and never gets easier to do. I have put myself in these situations each week at church, and doing it today, is no easier than my first visit.

I kind of went off on a tangent, so I will split this post into two parts, the second part will resume where I meant to lead this post.

MLK Jr. Day!

Its been a little while since I posted last. I've enjoyed a little rest/break the last couple of days. I've been traveling a lot for work, and its wearing me down a little. However, I did get a nice rest this weekend with MLK Jr. Day off. Its going to be short though because I have to leave tonight for Houston again! I think I'll be glad when my traveling slows down..lol

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

To Search or Not To Search: That is the question.

I think this is going to be the toughest post I write. I have been thinking about how to write it for the last couple of days. The reason its going to be the hardest is because its the most "personal" one I've written to date. Lately I have "met" some new people because of the whole adoption posts. I have had some great dialogues with these people. I have decided to publish these thoughts for the public to read in the hopes that it might help others to see what goes on, at least in my mind, when dealing with this topic.

My previous post I showed some videos of an organization called GOAL which helps Korean Adoptees to search for their birth parents. I met with this organization when I was in Seoul last year. However at the time I was not ready to begin my search.

Actually to this day, I am still not ready to start the search. However, the more time that goes by the more that I feel closer to being "ready".

If your not an adoptee you may wonder why someone would not want to search for the parents right away. You may also wonder what it means to be "ready". Unfortunately these are not easy questions to answer. The answer actually depends on each individual.

When I was growing up, I was never really interested in searching for my birth parents. I never really thought much about this subject while I was growing up. Since visiting Korea last year for the first time, this subject has resurfaced. My opinion is slowly changing. I don't want to start my search yet, but I do feel that I am slowly moving in that direction.

While I was growing up, I was not interested in searching for my birth parents because in my mind, the only parents I had in my life were my adoptive parents. I'm not blaming my adoptive parents, and I'm not saying it was because of them that I didn't search. It was totally my decision. My parents were always open and I knew all growing up that if I wanted to search for my birth parents my adoptive parents would have been as supportive as they possibly could have been. However, my life was comfortable and I didn't want anything to disrupt that.

There are several reasons that I don't feel ready.

First, I think I am emotionally scared. Meaning I don't know how I would react to the whole scenario if I were successful in finding my birth parents, and I guess I am a little scared of that.

Second, When I do meet my birth mother, I want to be able to speak to her. That means that I need to learn Korean. If you watched those videos in the previous post, you will notice most of the adoptees couldn't speak to their parents. I think that would be an agonizing feeling. I know it would really upset me, not being able to speak to my birth mother when I find her.

Third, in my situation, it is highly unlikely I would be able to find my parents. Since I was found in a bakery, There is no documentation about my parents. Basically I would have to participate in a television program where adoptees can search for their parents, and people call in if they have any information. I feel that my situation would make the likelihood of me finding my birth parents to be very unlikely which I guess discourages me from starting the search. I know this is a weak excuse, it still plays a role in my decision.

My last concern is if I am successful in finding my birth parents, that the urge to move/live in Korea would be too much for me. I think I would end up moving to Korea almost immediately. This would really hurt my career and I am not ready to put my career on hold right now.

I am slowing working on these items. I am slowly coming to terms that I will want to start the search for my birth parents soon. I am taking Korean tutoring right now, so hopefully I will be able to speak Korean to my birth mother.

As a result of addressing these items, I create a fear. I am fearful that while I prepare to begin my search that I risk that my birth parents may pass away. Obviously the longer I wait the more of a risk this becomes.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


No I'm not watching soccer.

My friend Lacy Chu (fake name to protect the innocent...lol), sent me a youtube link about this organization. It reminded me about this great organization. I found them on the internet last year when I was planning on going back to Korea. I actually visited there office in Seoul.

They offer many great services to adopted Koreans. They help with family searches, setting up trips to Korea, and language programs. Here is the link to their website if your interested:


Here is the great documentary. Its in Korean, however the interviews are all in English because they are all Korean adoptees who only speak Korean. Plus you can see the emotions they go through. Be warned, have a box of tissues ready.
Episode 1:

Episode 2:

Episode 3:

Episode 4:

Episode 5:

Episode 6:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Korean Cooking!

I have bought several Korean cook books recently. I have been stocking up on the base ingredients and buying cooking equipment.

I personally love to cook. However, even for someone who thoroughly enjoys cooking, cooking new foods can be daunting. Even though I am Korean, Korean food is somewhat "foreign". By this I mean, I grew up learning how to cook American food. My parents were good about teaching me how to cook. I'm not ashamed to be a single guy who knows how to cook and bake, I'll never go hungry! However cooking American food is much different from cooking Korean food, or any other ethnic food. This may not seem like a big deal, but it does make a big difference.

The difference comes to creativity and time preparation. When you learn how to cook one ethnic type of food, you know what type of flavors, spices, and tastes mix well or work well together. You also learn valuable time savings methods in preparation. So trying to learn a new type of cooking takes a lot of time and effort. It also takes a lot of trial and error, but if your willing to put in the time, the end rewards is great!

Here is one of the recipe books that I purchased:
Discovering Korean Cuisine: Recipes from the Best Korean Restaurants in LA

I was really concerned when I was thinking about purchasing this book. In my past experience most cookbooks from restaurants were usually sub-par. The reason being is the recipes are often extremely complex and difficult, requires equipment the average person doesnt have, and never seems to taste right (like the restaurant is really going to give away their secret sauce!)

This cookbook does not fit this mold. It is actually very good. The recipes are fairly simple (much more than I expected) and they taste great! Although I am still skeptical that the restaurants give out their exact recipes, however, they still taste very good. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to start learning how to cook Korean. Fairly simple recipes, great tastes!

Here are some of the items I've cooked so far:
Dwaeji Bulgogi:

It was so good! It was so good that I made it again a week later!:

The recipe doesnt call for vegetables, but I hate making dishes with just meat, plus I love onions, green peppers, and green onions with these types of dishes! I think I am starting to overcome my "fear" of Korean cooking because I am starting to modify the dishes to my taste!

I have also made kimchi jeon:

I love kimchi jeon, but I never made it before because I thought it might be a little tough to make. Boy was I wrong! Flour, water, kimchi, salt! Thats it!!! And it tastes great!

The third dish I have made from this book was an egg casserole:

It looked really good! Unfortunately, it didnt taste as good as it looked. I think I know what went wrong, so the next time I make it I think I will know how to improve it. I really like this dish so I will try again!

Like I said this cookbook is really good. The recipes taste great, and the recipes are fairly simple and do not require a lot of ingredients (with a few exceptions).

I mentioned that I bought some new equipment...here was a gift to myself. I figured it would motivate me in my quest to learn Korean cooking, its worked so far!

Jealous? You should be, these are awesome tools! I had to think a long time about buying these. A really good knife set is really expensive. Was it worth the cost? Definitely, I am asking myself why I waited so long to buy a nice set. The efficiency of the way the knives cut is hard to describe. They are very solid knives, with some weight to them (personally like a heavier knife, it makes me feel like there is something there). Of course you can get a really good knife that is light weight. Actually the way the knife fits your hand and the weight are the biggest determining factors when buying a high end knife. So if your debating on getting a really good knife or set, I would highly recommend it. If you don't want to fork over all that money for a full set, I would highly recommend buying a good 8" chef knife, and a 3" or 4" paring knife, these two knives are the most used/common and probably the most cost efficient.