Abandonment epidemic


I really need to write a lesson plan, but I also feel I should write a little about what I learned this week…

What I learned in Wonju
I learned the Police never invented the names of the children they found. They took the children to the City Hall and City Hall may have given the children names.  The police chief there thought it was highly unusual for two children to be on one document, but this was only his theory on what happened, because he was too young to have known for sure.  I asked about other orphanages in the area, and about the four missing days and he thought City Hall back then had a temporary child care facility.  He told us we should talk to City Hall, since they were the ones who took all the records.

At the City Hall I learned that there were no records that far back and that in the past they had purged their records every five years.  After the war, there weren’t the resources to take good records, there were too many children being abandoned, and nobody thought anyone would ever want these records.  (identity of humans and their movement seemed to have no importance?)  They never had temporary child care facilities and they always sent the children immediately to an orphanage.  The Wonju document was probably not one of their documents, but came from the orphanage.

The most senior man working there gave us his theories:  He thought by looking at me that I was only about 16 months old in the photo, (and everyone there agreed that I was definitely not 2 years old) that it was common for multiple children to be on one document and that maybe the woman in the photo was actually my grandmother (and maybe I came from a rich family, because only the rich had cameras at that time) that it was common for children to know their own name, so he thought my name Suh was probably correct.  (though I argued that a little child would know their first name more than their last name) But that actually that was before his time and he told us we should talk to the Police.  Theories all, and everyone, it turns out has many theories when a t.v. camera is filming them.  But at least this man took the time to consider everything much more carefully than the others had.

The producer and I disuss abandonment and because it was March and I was so young, she says I was probably left alone for less than an hour.  We discuss the age, and it makes more sense that I would have been less likely to have been a lost child or wandering around looking for my mother.

In the file vault at City Hall I learned that actually there were records back until 1980 and that prior to that they had purged files every five years.  They would only let us film neatly filed documents and I had to point to them  as I read.  (I suppose pantomime would help any old people watching the show)

At the Train Station I learned that it was unchanged since the 1960’s and that many children had been abandoned there.  The man who called in at KBS told us that I had been abandoned at the train station.  However, SBS found the family he had referred to and also the mother and the orphaned girl he had referred to.  She was abandoned in 1970, so it turns out it couldn’t be me.  They had also put my name: Suh, Yung Sook (I’ve been spelling it wrong, Young, even though it is Yung on my documents – ugh) in the Korean citizen database and there is no record of anyone by that name born in the 60’s.  And I guess because it has to do with taxes, it’s pretty exhaustive but not necessarily cross-referenced.  (which kind of makes me think Suh is not my family name)

At dinner I learned again (I had been in Gangneung two weeks before) that I love Gangwon-do (province) side dishes.  For example, one side dish was sage that had been deep-fried like tempura.  And the appetizer of steamed pork was to die for.

At the precinct house (also unchanged since the 60’s) where I was found (I hear these are referred to as Police boxes because they are square two story buildings – you don’t know how many Korean orphans have grown up believing they were left abandoned at drop-boxes at Police stations…) I found out that currently the police force in that district had 30 cops patrolling.  But looking at a map, the officer in charge there showed us how in 1966 the beat was just a fraction of the size and centered around Wonju’s market place.  So it was highly likely I was actually abandoned in the market.

At Shin-ae-won orphanage, (which also had not changed since the 60’s – it was really really lovely there, btw, a very idyllic place for orphaned children to be raised) I found out that none of the four orphanages kept children under age four (three years old American)  and that they were immediately sent to Holt.  If a child that age had stayed at any of those orphanages, they wouldn’t even have bothered to record them, and that explains why there are four days missing in my records and why I don’t appear on any orphanage records. They said that the photo of the woman had to be a Holt photo, because in those days nobody could afford to process photographs except somebody with money like Holt.  We only went to Shin-Ae-Won because SBS had previously been to Wonju and gone to the other three orphanages.  I found the Shin-Ae-Won orphanage by searching on the internet, which SBS confirmed and found the location for me.

That evening we met the partner of the police officer that found me.  He was 74 and looked fantastic.  It turns out that he wasn’t actually his partner – just the only one left alive that knew him.  Back in 1966, there were only 8 police officers assigned to the market:  4 in the day and 4 at night.  He was on night watch and never really worked with the man who found me.  He was sorry he couldn’t help me, but actually he helped more than anyone else, because instead of theories he had actually lived then and could tell us how things actually were handled.  He confirmed that  the woman in the photo had to be a pomo (nurse) from Holt because photos were too expensive for anyone else to have taken.  He said children were being abandoned almost every other day, and that there were too many children to be able to remember any particular one.  He said that often times the children were left with notes pinned on them leaving some information, but that most children were old enough to be able to ask their names and they could tell them.  So he theorized that part of my name might be real.

After meeting the partner of the officer that found me, I felt both resigned and relieved:  we’d pretty much hit dead end after dead end with very little new information.  But here was somebody who’d actually been there at that time and new how it really was.  My search was over, but at least I had a picture of what it was like back then.

Basically, it was an abandonment epidemic.   Later, looking at Holt’s documents, it appears that it was more like once or twice a week that a child may have been abandoned in Wonju.  It seemed like about a fourth to one third of the orphans that year came from Wonju:  page after page of them.  I can theorize that they all left them there because the people there had less resources and they knew abandoned children were being taken in by Holt.

I find out much more information while at Holt, but I have to go to school now and that’s another whole post…

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