just give me an excuse


On weekends I either forget to eat or I eat only as an excuse to get up from my constant sitting position.  Sometimes I will make a trip to the convenience store for a snack I don’t want, simply to have a destination.  I can’t go for a long walk because I have too much work to do.  I am too poor to do anything else, even if I wanted to.

I finally found Korean crackers that aren’t sugared or made into frosting sandwiches.  The crackers are tasteless.  My adoptive mother’s remedy for this was butter, but the Korean butter is tasteless.  My cupboards are typically bare and my refrigerator is empty, because I live at school and I have only one day a week spent like this:  too much time on my hands, while at the same time snowed under with unfinished work.

“You look like you think too much,” a young Korean adoptee I’d never met told me at this Saturday’s function.  Later I saw him talking to a fellow sullen adoptee half my age.  I realize that being sullen is only something the young can get away with.  Being sullen at my age is held against me.  She’s got a chance.  I seem to have lost mine.

I talk to men and I turn men off.  Not on purpose, of course.  I’m just sullen and honest and forthright.  Not mysterious.  Not playful.  Who can play games?  Who can play when there’s so much oppressive work to do?  All men I’ve talked to here are in love with Jane.  That gets old.  Everyone talking about Jane.  I wonder if she’s ever felt lonely.  If yes, then not like this.  I look back on my past spinster acquaintances and remember how important community was to them.  I have no community here.  Not even Jane.  I can’t relate to the adoptees here.  I am in a different place entirely.  I’ve already been everywhere they are heading.  We’ve nothing in common except this work.  I don’t get it.  They all seem angrier and more obsessed than me.  Yet they all have relationships.  They all have community.  Maybe I should be angrier.  I think the real issue is I am two decades older than them.  The adoptees here with children – their children are in elementary school.  Mine are in college.  Everyone my age is married.  Everyone is two decades younger, unmarried, and clubbing and mixing with Koreans over drinks.  There really isn’t anyone here like me:  real Korean or fake Korean.  And to be honest, there’s no one here interesting.  If they are interesting, they aren’t available.  The pairing has all been done.  There seems to be only one door to heaven, and I missed it.

My white friend has been rejected in favor of a generic Korean barbie doll.  It seems she busted his chops about relationship insensitivity.  And it’s much easier to deal with petty high maintenance Korean barbie dolls than it is with a foreigner who wants respect.  I haven’t heard back from the boy for the same reason.  That’s the thing about young people, you can’t bust their chops or work out issues because they can move on – they don’t have to bother.  Emotional responsibility is something they will work on later, when there aren’t easy ways to opt out.  Plus, I’ve got nothing to offer.  Not being a trophy, not able to give babies, nor connections, nor anything but an example of what not to do.  And the things I have are not something anybody wants to know.  Not my zen.  Not my satisfaction with practically nothing.  Nobody sticks around long enough to see that.

I got a text from another American friend.  “omg!  your life is on display!”  Sure enough, it’s part of an installation about adoption back in Anyang, put up by the hagwon we’re working with.  It’s kind of disturbing, put that way.  My life.  This life.  On display.  What kind of life is this? My life is an education for others.  But there’s no personal rewards.

Wednesday I went to Gapyeong Ministry of Education to judge middle school students in an English poetry contest.  On the way the co-teacher told me she’d learned a lot in my classroom this year, and that it was a welcome change from the tedious handouts the last foreign teacher gave out.  So that was something.  The poetry was surprisingly good.  These middle school students, the creme de la creme from all over the county, were much better at English than my high school students.  One of the schools is a famous international school, where all subjects are taught in English.  It was explained that their students come from all over Korea, mostly Seoul.  Do they commute every day?  I ask.  No.  It is a public boarding school.  What kind of life is that?  To be boarded out in middle school.  I shake my head.  The (I believe) winning entry was a poem by a boy.  The topic was dream for the future. He spoke of his mother’s worn hands and his mother’s crooked back and his mother’s unfailing telephone calls to his grandmother.  His dream for the future was to mother her.  To hold her hands, massage her back, and to never fail to comfort her.  His delivery was a little melodramatic, but I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.  Afterward, we were supposed to eat dinner with the rest of the panel and the administrators, but the Korean English teachers wanted to go home.  My co-teacher said she hated Ja Ja myeon and asked me if I hated it to.  I told her it was okay, so-so, nothing special.  I hadn’t realized it was code for:  I want to go home.  Obviously this is the case, as I’ve seen her eat it at lunch with no complaints.  And so they put us foreigners on the spot, saying we didn’t really want to stay.  And the senior person asked us if we really didn’t want to eat with them and we uncomfortably did as our Korean English co-teachers wanted, as it was explained that the foreigners don’t like ja ja myeon.  Yet another example of where younger people hate obligation and will do anything to get out of it.  I still can’t decide what was worse, having to stay, or leaving abruptly.  It felt terrible being forced to be the rude foreigner, though.

Thursday I watched file footage of Australian women who’d been coerced out of their children.  Three and four decades ago, they were sent away without recourse to hide their pregnancies and denied access to their babies unless they signed relinquishment forms.  The homes were run by Christians and hospitals acted on behalf of adoption agencies.  They signed, but it was not informed consent.  Because the situation then so closely parallels the situation in Korea, I decided women needed to know their rights and be given contact information for support networks, resources, and which unwed mother’s homes are NOT run by adoption agencies.  So that’s my latest project, which I proposed to Jane and which I presented a few days later and for which we’re immediately taking action on.

The mihonmo here all kind of adore me.  There is even affection there.  I wish we could live together.  They could nurture me and I could babysit.  There is one child especially who is not a spoiled terror, like most Korean children are.  Jane says its not possible, that they would lose what little benefits they get.

Yeonah the director wants to get together and have a long conversation.  She thinks I am an artist, though I always tell her I’m not.  Who has time for art with all this adoption reform work /school work?

Actually, lots of adoptees want to talk to me.  But it is short lived.  I comfort.  But there’s no one who can comfort me.  There is no one who can comfort me.  Only MyungSook can comfort me.  If I am lucky, there will be acknowledgment that yes, I have the trifecta of pain here:  adopted, older/undatable, the only foreigner, no one to communicate with, living alone, living in the country, well – I guess that’s more than a trifecta…

It sounds like I do so much:  meet so many.  It’s more like I pump a lot of hands.  Some are regular faces.  A couple stop to talk.  But they don’t really care, and even if they did – I am here and they are there.  We live in two different worlds.  How I’d love to tell everyone everything is lovely:  that I’m having the time of my life.

“City vil” I tell the taxi driver.  (not my apartment, but the only apartment nearby anyone recognizes exists)  I am late for the Paella event at Koroot, where our benefactor is making everyone Paella, and where I will tell the mihonmo about Australia and helping inform other mihonmo about their rights.  The taxi driver on the other end can’t understand me.  CI – TI – VILLA.  He starts to yell.  SEE TEE BIL.  He’s swearing now.  CITI BIL  He’s yelling for someone else to deal with me.  Citi vil, jusayo.  He can’t understand me.  CI TEE BILLA!  He’s yelling at me.  City vil.  See Tee Ville. City bil. Oh for God’s sake.  I hang up.  I walk.  All that and the train is not due for quite awhile.  The schedule has changed, but of course a foreigner wouldn’t know that.  I could have saved myself the frustration had I known.  On the return trip I also take a taxi due to the weight of my bags.  “City vil, jusayo.”  He can’t understand me.  See Tee Bil.  He can’t understand me.  I take him to the bank, then I have to instruct left here, straight up here, here, left, etc.  I point to the sign.  Citi bil?  Huh?  See tee bil? Yea, he says. see tee bil.  I want to whack my head into a brick wall repeatedly until it’s mush, until I’m totally disfigured and unrecognizable.  In fact, I’d like someone to physically smack me.  It would at least be something.  Some feeling.  Some passion.  Something other than nothing.  It’s too hard to feel so pent up about something without shape or physical form.  I’d like an opportunity to let loose this growing rage in me. I want to strike back, but nobody will hit me.  Nobody will give me license.

I hate being so strong.  I hate that I can’t get drunk.  I hate that I can’t just descend into an opium stupor.  I hate that I can’t just pop pills and walk around numb.  I hate being so god damned aware.  I hate being so responsible.  I hate…I hate being in this place.  Not this place physically.  Being in this situation in this climate.  I can’t even tell you about meeting Greg and his wife and child from France, because it just makes me realize how empty my life is.  I can’t even stand writing anymore.

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8 thoughts on “just give me an excuse

  1. i want to tell you that you just have to keep going. i read what you write because . . .i am also “older” and an adoptee and i guess afraid of making the giant leap of moving to korea and being alone. there i said it. but i read your blog to see a little of what it is like.

    i don’t know your situation nor would i claim to, but i do know what it feels like to not fit in, to want to fit in, and to feel lonely or just alone.

    so i’d tell you to hang in there. i hate it when korean people tell me to “cheer up” so i’m not going to tell you that.

    but hang in there. because you are making a difference and i am reading.

  2. Thank you, Saebom, for your words of encouragement.

    I have always been a loner, so my social skills are a little retarded – I’m sure most people would do better in this situation, but at the same time, these demographics, social structures, and biases are very very real. Despite being a loner, I’ve never been completely cut off from possibilities like I am here. I always had choices I could successfully exercise. But here, it’s been two years without affection. It looks to be several years more. Fortunately, I look much younger than I am. I’m hopeful that when I leave this ROK what’s left of my youthful appearance hasn’t totally disappeared. I really should learn Korean, but I don’t have the stomach for it. Also, learn survival Korean before you come. It won’t sound accurate, but there will at least be a foundation upon which to build.

    If you come, please don’t live alone if you can help it. Or time your trip to coincide with that of a close friend. Or better yet, bring someone with you. If there is any way you can work at a hogwan, do it. (though the hiring discrimination is brutal and they prefer young girls) The hours are longer and less convenient, but you will be able to converse with other foreigners on a regular basis. I’ve also heard that teaching nursery school is a good way to learn basic Korean and that hogwans at that age are more willing to hire adoptees, though the burnout factor is high. And also, I am happy to counsel and am open to alternatives.

    Due to my economic situation, I can not leave Korea. Otherwise, I would certainly be on the next plane, without hesitation. Aside from personal presentations, everything I do for adoption reform can be done with an internet connection.

    Also – and I hate to say this – if you come here, it is better to leave the nasty adoption reform business to others who are younger and just show up occasionally when asked. At the same time, I would admonish so many of the young adoptees who only do the minimum…they have more energy and options for living a full and balanced life here, so shame on them for leaving it all up to us older adoptees. Doing this work has totally sucked up my time and energies and impacted how much I can participate in the socializing all humans need, which is particularly important for us older adoptees who are seriously handicapped. It’s a mental juggernaut, as I waste as much time as I work. But it is a jealous lover. A demanding one. A depressing one. Maybe this is a co-dependent relationship.

    Sorry I lose heart so often. I should be more positive.

  3. i’m about a decade behind you but totally aware korea is not at all kind of those over 30 who are considered “old.” i get it. it hurts and sucks but i get it.

    i had this conversation with a korean friend here in the us. . and i told her some of the difficulties i am having being back here in the u.s. after having lived in korea for 6 months earlier this year (i went to a korean university for 6 months to try and learn korean and taught english to kids and had a homestay thru my adoption agency). .. she asked me if it was bc of korea. . .well, kind of.

    we had a pretty significant conversation and she told me she’s worried about me bc if i were to go to korea i would have 3 strikes against me. (my words, not her’s.)

    1. i would be adopted 2. i would be divorced 3. i would be “old” (translation: over 30)

    it hurt to hear these things but at the same time i appreciated her honesty. i have given these classifications A LOT of thought. i know i would be a pariah in korean society because of them. but honestly, i don’t care. or, i think they are more pluses than they are minuses for me. i have a lot of friends bc of the fact that i am an adoptee. i have korean friends who understand me and my personality and background gives me a lot of freedom to float thru society in the way i wouldn’t be able to if i were a native.

    so i’m going thru a hard time now here too. and reading your blog helps. so hang in there. hopefully we can offer each other support. i know the younger adoptees should pitch in, but i think they’re also being courageous and doing good things there!

    i hate it when korean people tell me to “cheer up” so i won’t tell you that. but i like the term “fighting” cause i feel it’s more hopeful; positive, empowering.

  4. Sorry to hear you’re having a hard time back in the states. I hear of those who go through a hard time upon return. I’m not getting that, but maybe I will when I get to that point. I’m also not as embracing of this Korean experience as others, so am hoping it won’t be as bad for me. I can say that I already don’t feel like I have a home anymore, though. So if that’s what adoptees mean, than I get that.

    Not to discount what you feel or what other over 30’s feel, but I see the 30-40 set and they have so very many more options than myself. It’s bad for all of us, but I’m really standing on a sliver here. Who knew. I’m sure this will change in the next decade, as there are so many career women and divorce is increasing. But I’m not here next decade. I guess I’m saying this for the 40-50’s who want to come back: not advised. Please don’t.

    Also, being an adoptee doesn’t make more friends for me, but you’re right I can move places natives can’t because I just don’t care and have no obligations. But I also don’t want to live in that realm. There’s really no benefit except my own smug knowledge that I can. Unless I want to mix with others who revel in being outsiders. Which I would enjoy if it, too, didn’t have its own ageism.

    I think language is a huge part of the limitations of my age group, that other groups don’t experience as much. My Korean peers are paralyzed by English. With each successive decade the skills go from poor, to fair, to good, and some to fluent. But my age group, English ability is non-existent. So on the outside chance I find a single person my age – we can’t communicate at all. And Koreans all expect me to be conversational within a year or two – on top of working full time with no one to talk to.

    I get so envious when other adoptees describe their studying Korean full time or having home stays! You are very fortunate for that!

    Jane is studying on a scholarship that would be great for me – but the cutoff age is forty. Jesus, you’d think I needed a walker or something.

    Sometimes I just think I and all of my wave of adoptees are just cursed. The first wave – they’re 99% in PTSD shell shock, hidden in the woodwork of their respective countries. And the second wave – only a few of us have ventured out, and whether it was in our adoptive countries or our native country, we have been/are faced with the least accommodating transitions. So programs, awareness, etc. develop for waves three, four, & five. And society accommodates them more and more and more. But that doesn’t include us.

    We weren’t supposed to come back, you know…

  5. are you talking about the nieed scholarship? (or is it niied?) i know adoptees who are doing it. even tho it seems great it also seems is very hard. not much support. some i know are failing the language classes. i think, like a lot of programs in korea for us, it has good intentions and looks good on paper but in practice it’s not run so well. lacking a lot of organization and support. but don’t quote me on that.

    i see what you mean about being an outsider in korea. it’s been interesting to read what you write about that, esp your thoughts on chusok. i agree that if you want to live in korea might as well try and get into the culture/society as much as you can rather than flit around on the outskirts.

    but i also think that people there do what they can. adoptees there do what you can/what they can cope with. i think living in korea is very very very hard. very very very lonely. loneliness was such a pervasive theme among my friends: korean nationals, adoptees, and those who were neither korean nor adoptees. i guess people are lonely in every city, but for some reason it stood out much more in korea for me, even the ones who were happy just seemed so lonely.

    i think we will always be outsiders so we just gotta do what we can. there’s so many obstacles you have to overcome to really truly integrate into that society: speak the language fluently, become a citizen, get some sort of blood line. . .but who really wants that?

    i think things will change. . .they seem on the cusp and they HAVE to change; the country can’t keep functioning the way it is now for it to sustain itself. i mean, why is it so bad to be divorced when 35-40% of the population is? and who really cares that your son/daughter and his gf/bs are living together? it’s the smart thing to do and maybe might prevent some of those future divorces from happening. . .

    i disagree tho, i think we are meant to come back. maybe not from the adoption agencies’ perspective, but from korea’s perspective. . .i think it wants us to come back. i think in reality we are all really just on loan ot our adoptive countries and in the end we have to go back. . .have you seen the movie wo ai ni about the 8 yr-old chinese girl who was adopted? i watched that and that’s what i kept thinking. . .in the end we have to go back.

    sometimes i think the older adoptees, maybe around your age, are like sacrificial lambs; dedicating their lives to help us, future us-es. in service to our community. it sux and it’s not something i wish for anyone. but i think that if i do get divorced (i’m not yet) that is what i will think about my life. i will want to go to korea and be old and single and a pariah in korean society and then just work my life in service to the adoptee community.

    and don’t get me started about how hard it is to re-assimilate back to adoptive country after living in korea. i hear it typically takes a year. i write a lot about it and let me tell you it is really difficult. it is painful. isolating. displaced. confused. you feel like no one understands you.

    ok, i think i just shared way too much with the entire www. later.

  6. i guess people are lonely in every city, but for some reason it stood out much more in korea for me, even the ones who were happy just seemed so lonely.

    I’m not so sure about this. The Korean nationals all around me talk about stress, and about life being a struggle (and these are lonely endeavors), but they have much stronger, longer-lasting networks of friends than I’ve ever seen anywhere else. I think some of them imagine themselves lonelier than they actually are. I think they’re no different than any people anywhere, and maybe their expectations are just higher. This is a collectivist culture that is struggling with individuality. I tend to think they just haven’t figured out how to balance what they lose with what they gain yet. I know that I feel more isolated just in contrast, to their culture, and maybe they feel more isolated in contrast to their former and ever-changing culture.

    I think it’s all about personal economics, you know. What’s the price of acceptance? What’s the price of non-conformity? Can those of us without a choice find each other? And what of the micro-economics of those relationships?

    i disagree tho, i think we are meant to come back. maybe not from the adoption agencies’ perspective, but from korea’s perspective. . .

    I was talking only about the 2nd wave. I was also being sarcastic and speaking to the adoption industry.

    i think in reality we are all really just on loan ot our adoptive countries and in the end we have to go back. . .have you seen the movie wo ai ni about the 8 yr-old chinese girl who was adopted? i watched that and that’s what i kept thinking. . .in the end we have to go back.

    I don’t think we can go back. We must check it out. We must understand our losses. And then we have to carve a new life. Aside from Jane, who has a really unique relationship with this place, I don’t know of any adoptees who want to live out the rest of their days here. I can see how we can adjust and accept life here. But we know we’re just living at the surface. That’s not sustainable. At least not without love, without a reason to grow roots. So I agree more with those who say it is a pilgrimage.

    and don’t get me started about how hard it is to re-assimilate back to adoptive country after living in korea. i hear it typically takes a year. i write a lot about it and let me tell you it is really difficult. it is painful. isolating. displaced. confused. you feel like no one understands you.

    Well, that’s sobering. But for me personally, I’ve never had a community I didn’t create myself, so aside from my children I didn’t leave anything of merit, so there is nothing to come back to, aside from my children. I’ve been searching for a new and different place to hang my hat for a long time, and I see Korea as an interruption in that process. So my expectations going back are very low. Wherever it is I land, nobody will know me or understand me. Wherever I go, it doesn’t matter as long as I am not denied the communication tools I need to survive (like I am here) so I can live a human existence, and as long as I can visit my kids.

    Starting over is hard. Especially when you’re not re-inventing yourself, but uncovering yourself instead. It’s part of the value of coming here: to become a more authentic you. And it’s not the places and people you left and return to that change, it is yourself that is more authentic and whom others no longer recognize.

    i will want to go to korea and be old and single and a pariah in korean society and then just work my life in service to the adoptee community.

    Well, I’m sure Jane will gladly welcome your help!

    And I wouldn’t go so far as to say we are pariahs. It’s not like we have leprosy or anything. We are more just living evidence of Korea’s darkest moments, it’s arterial sclerosis, it’s…and I see the 20 somethings and they aren’t pariahs at all, at least amongst their age peers. I think they are a fascination, actually – some mythic enfants terrible you want to look at, poke, and pet – but not necessarily keep. (a lot of them swagger in here self-centered and obnoxious, and don’t make themselves very lovable) Like a science experiment that went a little wrong, but you’re fascinated with it nonetheless.

    I also don’t intend to be a sacrificial lamb nor dedicate my life to help adoptees out. It’s more that wherever I am and whatever I’m doing, I try to improve it.

    But I seriously doubt you want to be old and single here. I used to romanticize that back when I was married or common law, and even after when I was seeing others — until I came here and got a taste of what loneliness really is. But you’re younger, so maybe it won’t be quite as challenging for you. But really, you shouldn’t romanticize it. That used to be a form of punishment: exile.

    Kind of ironic, huh?

  7. Man, you really covered a lot of ground in this post..
    everybody loves Jane cause Jane loves everybody. Plus she’s a pioneer in our collective kad experiences..I think that helps …plus I heard she’s married now.oh well..

    I would of told that kad dude “you don’t look like you think Enough!”
    Who the hell is he ? the thinking police? Sounds like one of the younger swaggering kids who speak before they Think,haha..

    Hey,you have every right to be sullen or angry or bitter , you’ve survived a fucking horrific experience(s) called abused kad life.. I think you’ve earned the right to feel whatever you want and not have to explain shit to any of these younger kads who fucking won the adoption lottery with “good” families.. I want to send a message to all these lucky kads who got “good families”,, if I ever hear another one of you tell another kad who didn’t get so lucky and got dealt a shitty hand to” just lighten up” or “get over it” I’ll punch you in the face..CLEAR enough.. Man that shit bugs me!

    What’s a mihonmo?

    I love that you are so strong. Drinking gets old fast. Opium and pills are a dead end street. We’ve had it hard enough don’t need to make it even harder for ourselves.

    Saebom- I agree with you about giving support to each other .
    Like your blog as well. Looks like I missed meeting you in Korea last May by just a few days , I left at the end of may and then found your blog when I got back.. It’s a rough transition every time I come back to the usa as well..

    I have a dream… We can all rent a nice house with 3,5,7 other kads who didn’t win the adoption lottery when we are in Korea again and give support to each other but most importantly have freaking Blast together!

    Love to you my fellow survivors

  8. Oh, I have no issue with Jane — I have issue with guys talking about her all the freaking time. And since I don’t talk to many men, the stats have been maddening. Like the time I was seeing someone romantically and all he could do was talk adnauseum about Jane. I have issue with friends salving my wounds as I talk about loneliness with talk about how into Jane they are. I have issues about emails with men who also talk about Jane. It’s just insensitive is all. I’m grossly, disgustingly lonely and needy for the first time ever in my life and the only time I speak with men there is a third person present in our conversations, and they just can’t not include rapturous talk about Jane. Call me petty, but if I’m standing in front of someone, it’s nice to be spoken to and not past…

    But thanks for the rest of the support. There’s been many days where I’d have loved to sock someone in the face for discounting my experience. So sanctimonious. And if they looked in a mirror, they’d see what a total mess they are themselves…And can they even fathom what complications we’ve had to rise above? Or respect that? No. The worst part is there’s some sick competitive thing going on – to be the most blatantly well adjusted and dismissing or grudgingly admitting they have any losses. There will be a day of recognition and we’ll see how well adjusted they are when that day comes. Part of me feels generosity towards them because of that impending experience, but that generosity disappears when they disparage me or my fellow comrades.

    A mihonmo is an unwed mom, btw.

    I’m in on the house – as long as we don’t talk adoption all the time – let it be a place of relaxation from adoption fatigue. Yes! Having a blast is in order! Let it have a rooftop BBQ and a community car and movie nights and sidewalk painting and a music room and an oven where we can bake cookies and…

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