My article in Groove Magazine
One of my current goals is to write more and share this material with others. This is the article I wrote for the Groove Magazine in Seoul. I'm writing a follow up article now. Oh, and I'll be handling dining events and happenings and possibly writing a cooking article for Eloquence Magazine.
I think you'll have to pick up a hard copy, because it doesn't look like it's on their website. You can pick up the groove at many locations throughout Itaewon.
Here's the article.
I was adopted from Korea at the age of five, so I have no delusions about my past like so many adoptees I've met. I knew when I left Korea that I was going to a better place- a place with bathrooms with scented toilet paper and not old newspaper, a place where teachers- bitter from many years of being passed over- would not beat the hopeful. I knew that I was going to a land of Coca-Cola, Hershey's Chocolate, and bananas. And I knew that I hit the jackpot when a photo album and a care package was delivered with my new name, "Daniel."
So why am I back? Because I need to know which memories I have are real. I want a confirmation of my existence. I want to know if my mother truly loved me or if that was something I made up to console myself. I want know if my eyes belong to her, if she is artistic, if she has ever thought of me, if she is even alive. Oh, and I want a baby picture. I have no pictures before the age of 5. So after three years of wandering my homeland, I went to my adoption agency, Holt, and made an appointment to see my file.
Many people tell me they have no memories of their childhood, but I have vivid recollections of my past. I wouldn't say I have been haunted by them, maybe at one time I was, but now I simply accept them. This is my Korean life as I remember them.
I was born in Seoul and I lived with my mother in a small plain one room. It was empty except for a small dresser on which a tiny, color?, TV sat. It had a rabbit ear antennae with tin foil balled strategically on the ends. Above and to the right of the paper covered, sliding, front door was a small shelf on which sat a framed baby picture of me-fat, dressed in a orange felt jumper, drooling, and dully looking at the photographer's left toe.
My mother and I would sleep on the floor. Sadly the details of her face escapes me, but in my mind's eye, she is luminous. We would watch cartoons in the morning. I remember I used to love a cartoon about a robot with a V on his chest. One day the TV broke and we just played games or she would read a book to me. I loved stories. Sometimes I would would play with the other kids in the complex. I don't remember there being that many. The place where I lived was a very old, traditional style, Korean housing complex. There were about 8-10 rooms that faced a courtyard with a small traditional house in the center. The central house was surrounded by greenery and it sat in a lake or it had a small stream by it.
I remember once I wanted out to find my mother in the dead of night. Maybe I had a nightmare or heard a strange noise. All I knew was that I needed to find my mother in order to assuage these fears. At night, the complex was a strange place filled with riotous noise and strange movements. I found her working in a larger building, away from the courtyard. She was dressed in short blue jean shorts and was fetching beers for a room of men in military fatigues. I was scolded and sent back to my room, crying.
My mother and I lived happily together for a number of years until my father and my stepmother came. I felt like it was the first time I ever met him and he simply refused to acknowledge me. He stood firm. It was my stepmother who broke this silence with angry rebukes directed at my mother. I was spared for the time being. My mother, father, and stepmother went into the central room and I was told to leave. I remember crying and wandering around the house- feeling every slap on my mother's head, each kick to her body, and every yank of her hair. Why didn't my father try to stop this? Maybe he did, but in my mind he is always unmoving, and silent. And why didn't I rush in to rescue my Mom? I remember sitting on the step outside the room weeping on my knees. That was the last memory I have of my mother.
I left the complex for the dingy streets of Seoul. I remember wandering through the summer streets with a "bek won" burning a hole in my pocket. "Should I save it or should I buy a toy," I would ponder this for hours each day until I would finally succumb to my desire and buy a small plastic figurine. I would play with it for the rest of the day and then bury it in a hidden sand pile, lest my stepmother found out and punish me. I recall running with the older boys- 5 boys fighting over the parts of one fire-charred, crispy grasshopper. I remembered dreaming of a bottle of Coca-Cola because it held the promise of a new world. I remember once I saved all my money in a frog bank and reveled in my self-discipline. Later I would learn about human nature when my brother asked to "borrow" the money. Once my right arm was bandaged and I was unable to walk for weeks. This memory is vague, but I do recall my stepmother's face behind the wheel of a car. I remember my older sister tried to drown me in the bathtub and then made me boiled potatoes with sugar to alleviate her guilt. I don't remember much about my father. I think he was a soldier, for I remember him in military fatigues once. He is forever an unmoving, stern statue in my mind.
So how much of this is real? How much of it have I fabricated? I am going to see the contents of my file next week. Maybe a picture of my mother or my father is in there. Maybe there is a letter from them. The first step has been taken and it's a huge weight off my shoulder. I'm moving forward by delving into the past.