What About Sally?

Seoul city skyline

Seoul skyline – looking towards Mt. Nam.


8. What About Sally?

I am no longer in contact with Sally. I am very, very sorry about that because she did so much for me throughout the search and I am so grateful for all the time and effort she gave me. Even though I did not find my birth family, she was the one, I felt, who got me the closest. She connected me to Pohang, she got me the meeting with the policeman, who, as she said, “If he can’t find your birth mother, then no one can,” and generally, she made me feel great that there was someone on the ground in Korea who was really working with, and for, me.


Seoul – Shoppers at Insadong, known for its art galleries.

We met up twice after I had moved out of her place. Both times were awkward for reasons I won’t go into here, but suffice it to say, I eventually realized that perhaps there were issues in her own life that may have affected what had happened between the two of us. I also accept the possibility that I may have projected some of my own birth mother issues on her.

Regardless, I wanted to leave on good terms. I sent her an email, ignoring the bad, and focusing on the good. I thanked her for all the help she had given me and told her that I never would have been able to accomplish what I had without her help. I never heard back from her.

Woman with Child Sculpture near Seoul Museum of Art.

My stories with Sally are both funny and sad, and I hope entertaining. But if I consider her as a representative Korean mother, say, someone who could potentially have been my mother, she represents the kaleidoscope of good and bad about coming face to face with your birth family. During the time that she was helping, she was supportive and determined and eager to help. But there was another side that emerged in Korea that I had not experienced in our phone calls or emails. Her Korean mothering and enforcing of the Korean culture and tradition quickly became very difficult to manage. And she wasn’t even my birth mother! Neither was she a “pure” Korean mother since she had spent over 20 years in the U.S. raising her daughters there before returning to Korea. She, better than most Korean mothers, would have known the culture I was coming from. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to reunite with a Korean mother who had never traveled outside of that country.

A flyer I had created with the hope that Sally would help me translate and distribute it.

In Korea, with Sally, I am sad to say that a very great chasm opened up between us. But if things happen for a reason, I suppose this happened so that I could get a taste of what it would be like to find my family and be absorbed into something that I hadn’t really asked for, even though I had, literally asked for it.

I had always wanted to know my birth mother, but I had also always been ambivalent about having an ongoing relationship with her. I am still ambivalent about that and, in that sense, not finding her was a relief because that was an issue I no longer had to worry about. Of course, I knew that if I found her, I was most likely not going to have a choice in relating to her. Unless she chose to reject me again, I was most likely going to be absorbed into her life and her psyche, her losses and her dreams. And her regrets.

Taking a photo

Taking a photo from the restaurant at Jongno Tower, near my hotel.

Over the summer, I had told myself that if I found her, I would establish my boundaries and stick to them. I would not allow her to take me to the saunas, or hold me for hours to make up for the lost time, or allow her to dress me, cook for me, shop for me, or do my hair for me. I would remain my own person. The person I had become after she had given me up.

I doubt those boundaries would have held up very well in practice, but I will never really know unless I find her. I am not unhappy with that outcome.