“I Can Feel Your Sadness”

Seoul – view from Pukchon.


7. Seoul – “I Can Feel Your Sadness”

My trip was coming to an end. I had started in Seoul, sat in Tapgol Park, traveled down to Pohang, and returned to Seoul. And with all the work I had done in the U.S. and in Korea, I had not found my birth mother. At this point, I knew I was not going to find her. Or my birth family. And I was fine with that. (Above Photo: Seoul – City Scene from Pukchon, Seoul)

Me - on a tv show

Me – on a TV show.

Two days before I was scheduled to leave, I met with Nancy, one of the television producers the policeman had put me in touch with. Nancy was a reporter for MBS, one of the major television networks in Korea. She had become interested in adoption issues recently, having helped with another “First Trip Home” trip for Korean American adoptees two years ago. Since then, she has volunteered with that group every year, and she has focused some of her television productions on adoptees looking for their birth families. She told me up front that she had already done an adoption story this year and that she wasn’t able to do any others. That was fine with me.

Seoul - entrance to Yonsei University.

Seoul – entrance to Yonsei University

We were at the Hyundai Department Store near Yonsei University, having coffee in Coffee Bean, one of the numerous chain coffee shops in Korea, in the basement of the store. Nancy gave me her business card and then asked the question that so many others had asked, “Why I was searching now?”

I started with the simple answer. “I had always been told it was impossible, so I never searched because what is the point in searching for the impossible?” But I also told her I had seen a movie earlier this year about a mother looking for her child who had been taken away from her, and that was why I had started searching now.

She nodded and immediately said, “Philomena.” I was surprised she knew it and had identified it so quickly.

“Yes. It was Philomena.” I told her that after seeing that movie, I realized that someone in Korea was wondering about what happened to me and I wanted to actively search to let her know that I was ok.

“You started to see things from her perspective,” she said.

Seoul – subway workers cleaning the station.

“Yes,” I replied. “I really hope that Korean culture can change to be more forgiving to unwed mothers. There were so many mothers who were forced to give up their children because of the cultural standards, and I feel that so many of them never wanted to give them up.”

Nancy talked about the problems of adoptees coming back and searching for their birth mothers because many of those women had eventually married but had kept that first baby a secret out of fear of being divorced. I had heard firsthand accounts from other adoptees of this. Korean society is so punishing towards the “unchaste” woman that a man could and would divorce his wife if he found out that she had had a child out of wedlock prior to the marriage. Clearly, adoptees looking for their birth mothers are a major problem for these women and that explains why many Korean women never initiate searches for their children. I thought it made a tragic situation even more tragic.

Nancy paused. She took my hand. “I really hope that you find your birth mother,” she said. “If you have the chance to go on another TV show I really think you should.” She was pressing my hand quite hard. She was trying to manage some very strong feelings and was losing that battle. She started to tear up.

Seoul street scene – fruit vendor

I thought, “Oh no. Please don’t cry. Because if you cry, then I’m going to cry and I have no reason to cry. Nor do I even want to. I came to Korea to find my birth parents. I didn’t find them and I am ok with that. And if I’m ok, then everyone else should be ok too.” Of course, by now, I was starting to cry.

“Why are you crying?” I managed to ask. “It shouldn’t be for me because I’m fine. I’m really ok about not finding my birth parents.”

“Because I feel your sadness,” she replied. “And because we have a responsibility to find your family.” She paused. “Even if you don’t find your birth mother now, I know that she is thinking of you. I know you will be with her some day.” Nancy looked at me gravely.

I was shaken. I hadn’t thought I was sad at all. Nor did I think, even if I allowed for the possibility that I was sad, that I was imparting that sadness on others. In fact the only reason I was crying was because she had started crying. But if I wasn’t sad, then why was she crying?

Seoul street scene – tea seller

Or was I sad? Maybe I was sad and just good at hiding it from myself. I had no idea any more.

In the recent years before coming to Korea, I had felt very sad about the loss of my birth mother. So sad that I had finally come to Korea to search for her. I had done everything I possibly could to find her in this foreign country, a country that had spit me out 44 years ago. And still, I had come up short.

Maybe I was sad about everything.