fatigue


After another long day in Seoul, I took the last train back to my sleepy little town, hopped on my little bike, the cool damp air chilling my arms, the smell of soil, compost, and wetlands in my nostrils, and rode under the street lamps, past the cacophonous chorus of frogs, insects, and water birds that inhabit the rice fields, and sighed a big long sigh of relief.   So glad to be in the country.

I’m SO DONE with Seoul.  It makes me want to get on the next plane out of Korea.  And it isn’t because of, like the adopted person at dinner was saying about Korean restaurant servers, “I’m tired of being abused.”  (what?)  No.  I’m not done with Seoul because of Koreans.  I’ve felt misunderstood or judged by Koreans, but never abused.  No.  I’m done with Seoul because of adoptees. It seems like I can’t ever go there without running into them even when I’m not looking.

Don’t get me wrong:  I sympathize with my fellow displaced brothers and sisters.  But that doesn’t mean I want to talk about adoption all the freaking time.  I mean, give it a rest once in awhile, for God’s sake.  And yes, it’s been a rough few weeks – a romantic encounter that turned out to be based on my being an adoptee, and a separate brush with KAD’s that made me glad I’m old as dirt.

Back when I first read John Raible’s coinage of the term adoption fatigue, the words he uses to describe the phenomenon of adoptees always having to explain their unlikely existence to the uninitiated, I was thrilled to have a new way to express my irritation with being forced to play educator about something I’d never meant to be an expert about. But adoption fatigue in the U.S.  pales – pales – compared to adoptee fatigue in Korea, which is my term to describe always being forced to talk about adoption with adoptees.  Ad nauseam.  Seriously.

As an adoptee in America, I never had to tell my whole entire adoption story, I never had to explain about my birth search, I never had to outline my connection to the adoptee community, I never had to explain what level my Korean was at, I never had to explain so many things that one has to explain here: why I am here and how long I’m staying and what my politics are or … and I never had to listen to unsolicited stories either.  Come to think of it, adoption fatigue usually occurred when someone new came into my life, and then it was over until the next new person was brave enough or indifferent to my discomfort enough to ask probing questions.  But adoptee fatigue doesn’t just happen once – it happens repeat times, or maybe ALWAYS with the same adoptee, until they think they’ve got you figured out, or until they’ve exploited something useful for themselves, or until they’ve got themselves figured out.  And if they’re on the treadmill, then it’s the always

In the beginning, it’s comforting to meet others who know what is incomprehensible to others.  That shared experience of abandonment and not fitting in is something that unites all adoptees.  And it feels like belonging.  For a second.  But how many times does one have to seek out and receive this comfort and validation?  After the hundredth time, it feels like being caught in a reverse world, another plane of existence, that destabilizes ones connection with the rest of society and warps the way in which we perceive everything.  Maybe that’s what others seek, to carve out some special place, but not me.  And as unique as this circumstance is, is it where we really want to dwell?  Forever agitated?  I want a normal life.  I had a somewhat normal life, only I was unaware of what was causing me pain.  Now that I’m aware, I want that life back, knowing it will be a richer, more informed life.  While I will never deny that I’m adopted, It doesn’t mean I want/need/should-have-to live in Adoptoland.

And so they come to Korea, to revel in this other world, this place where they can make jokes about white people and distance themselves from westerners (while behaving thoroughly western) and relish in what little Koreannesses they can grasp and claim as their own.  And push that adoptee button again and again and again and again and again and…it’s like going to an extended culture camp.  It’s like living in culture camp.  It’s all the incestuous, drama-filled, exhilarated to be far from home, manic, amplified emotions of camp.  Only these aren’t children.  Well, some are, even if they are post pubescent.  Okay.  Not camp.  More like Spring Break.  But the worst – the absolute worst of all – are the Socratic adoptees.  (You remember that guy – the one who glibly thought he was the only smart person in the world because he was smart enough to say he knew he knew nothing?)  Only sometimes replace knowledge with adjustment

That’s why I’m so glad the adoptee friends I do have are beyond this extended culture camp mind-set.  I’m really privileged to have been a total mess here in Korea and to share it here on this blog, and to have genteel civil adult conversations about getting better, living in the larger world, and growing as people with them.   I may not have a posse I run with here, but the friends I do have are real and evolving people.  And we may talk about adoption-related issues, but it is calm, thoughtful talk, and our discussions are in the context of making peace.  We’re not destroying our livers and we sleep well at night.  We are sustainable.

To those few special adoptees:  Thank you for being thoughtful and mature.  If it were not for you, I’d be on the next plane out of here.

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17 thoughts on “fatigue

  1. “And so they come to Korea, to revel in this other world, this place where they can make jokes about white people and distance themselves from westerners (while behaving thoroughly western) and relish in what little Koreannesses they can grasp and claim as their own.”

    In my perspective, transracial adoptees have to continue justifying their very existence regardless of whether or not they are in America (and trying to feel not-adopted) or in Korea (and trying to prove why they’re not *solely* American).

  2. David – Yeah, I saw that. I’ve got mixed emotions about it, feeling that it was exploitative and how a five year old can live on the streets here for ten years unnoticed is beyond me. It sounds like the teacher I knew who got kicked out of his house and had to miss high school so he could work all day and eat. What of those orphans that don’t have an operatic voice? Will there be any compassion or financial assistance for them? Soooo many things to work on in Korea, and us adoptees are at the bottom of this list, let me tell you…

    Mei-Ling – I’m transracial and going on 2.5 years in Korea, and I don’t feel the need to prove I’m Korean, or not “solely” American, nor do my adoptee friends here. I think it might be more the opposite as an ethnic returnee…it’s more that you have to underscore that you are different though you look the same and defend the right to be different.

    For me the knowledge I’m not alone in my circumstances here is comforting in and of itself. But unfortunately being a returning adoptee is a club membership (again, one I didn’t ask for) that is not without burden. I’m all about providing practical knowledge or helping out the new adoptee here. But I’m not all about people dropping their pearls of sage wisdom on me, because ultimately we all come to resolution (or not) in our own unique way. And I’m especially not into a pack mentality looking for alpha leadership, and the posturing and popularity contests that go hand in hand with that. So junior high school. What I take issue with mostly is the collective retardation that occurs when any group becomes insular and only seeks feedback from itself and then views that as wisdom.

    I mean, that’s a huge problem, when mutual aid society becomes mutual support in dysfunction and when guests in a country who casually talk of being abused by their hosts are viewed as sage…

    I’ve no interest in hanging around with people like this whether adopted or not adopted. So while I’m a member by default, I opt not to participate, because this expat adoptee community isn’t a culture that slows down enough to really think or discuss anything critically or thoroughly enough to make sound decisions.

  3. “As an adoptee in America, I never had to tell my whole entire adoption story, I never had to explain about my birth search, I never had to outline my connection to the adoptee community, I never had to explain what level my Korean was at, I never had to explain so many things that one has to explain here: why I am here and how long I’m staying and what my politics are”

    That sounds exhausting–the constant sizing up of one another.

    “And as unique as this circumstance is, is it where we really want to dwell? Forever agitated? I want a normal life. I had a somewhat normal life, only I was unaware of what was causing me pain. Now that I’m aware, I want that life back, knowing it will be a richer, more informed life. While I will never deny that I’m adopted, It doesn’t mean I want/need/should-have-to live in Adoptoland.”

    Can I quote you with the above statement?

  4. but of course you can…and it DOES get old…

    I miss you – how are you doing lately? how’s motherhood treating you?

  5. I could’ve swore I was on the subway next to that singing boy tonight…too bad I don’t know any Korean songs to have hummed as I was next to him…

  6. my only hope for that kid is that he is not a fraud. he looks too good to be true but for now i will give him the benefit. i found his video at other tranracial adoptee’s site and she commented that how bless she was through adoption because she did not growup in his shoe. What is your opinion in that statement?

  7. That thought crossed my mind as well, but it’s probably more like someone saw that lack of background info and that the producers milked it for all it was worth, coaching the judges to play it up. (sigh)

    Ha. I’m watching that show right now…Sundays, 1 pm? tvN. Just heard a tenor that sounded like an angel – I ususally don’t like tenor solos…

    My opinion about that other adoptee’s comment is rolled eyes. It’s a crap-shoot, a lottery, whatever our fate is/would-have-been on either side of the ocean. The orphanage I may have stayed at that I went to visit was a wonderful place. My friend Myung-Sook experienced an abusive orphanage and a nice orphanage. Some of us adoptees got sent to live lives of fawning privilege and, some of us were forced to be third world poster children for bleeding heart liberals, and some of us were abused. It’s ridiculous to speculate, really.

    It’s also the view of someone who hasn’t experienced a sustained relationship with the country and who can could say, “omg I’m so glad I was adopted or I would have had to grow up with pit toilets and never get an education and ended up as a prostitute.”

    I think all those things are ridiculous. Who knows who she would have ended up had she stayed in Korea? Look at Deanne Borshay’s In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee as an example. She might have been secretly adopted by a chaebol executive and been sent to study fashion in Paris. Who knows?

    This is just another example of the histrionics one sees from all sides of the adoption debate, which people resort to in order to support the adoption mythology they need to justify their lives, and I’m getting tired of it.

  8. Aw, miss me? Thanks–I feel missed and out of it…motherhood is so much harder than i thought it would be! but most big things in life are i suppose… ;) i …love my boy, but wow, he’s exhausting! if u have any advice, i welcome it!

  9. I heard that tenor as well. If we talking about the same person, he is 58 years and a owner of a chungkokjang restaruant. Too bad that he could not start his singing career earlier. i agree with you on transracial adoption. Even in the best or circumstances you lose something.

  10. Milaleum,

    No advice – each baby is sooo different! But I AM a firm believer that carrying the baby all the time makes for a very secure child, which ultimately frees you later and reduces separation anxiety. It’s hard, though, because you need breaks and get contact over-load, so you must have a very understanding partner who will accommodate all that.

    Just know it gets better, it really does!

  11. David,

    Wasn’t that tenor GREAT? I mean, I thought I was listening to a studio cut movie soundtrack, he was that polished. It’s sad to me that such artistry never wins contests these days. Like that mediocre belly dancer and the poppin’ and lockin’ dance troupe. The little chubby boy could really dance, though. And that’s a rare sight in Korea, as most people just connect poses together and call it dancing.

    As for adoptee suppositions – the past is something we can’t change. We have to deal with our current emotions, though. We have to separate myth and wish from reality.

  12. If you are interested in singing contest, there is a show call 나는 가수다 shown on mbc every sunday. The contest features leading vocalists in korea like lee sora and others. Check it out cuz you won’t be disappointed.

  13. Yes, you are correct. The leading vocalists are given past popular song and are ask to remix to their style. For me it is interesting to compare the original versus the remix version. Even if you do not know the orignal version, you will be entertain by good music.
    I agree with you on that belly dancer but the reason I think she went to the next round is because of her beautiful body, man what a nice S-line. :) You can call me dirty old man. She has a face that can be fix via plastic sugery and she could easily be a member of an idol group.

  14. There is a blog call “ask a korean” and I am not sure if you know of it. There is an interesting article on Confucianism that I think you might be interested in reading. The author is a whole lot better than me with words so you might want to check it out.

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