“Do you know how I got adopted” I asked my parents the other day.
“No, we don’t. All we knew was that you were found at the police station. That’s what adoption paper says.” said my parents.
“Oh I see.”
I’d read through adoption documents more than a few times. I was evaluated by a social worker 3 times during the period I stayed at the orphanage in Seoul and the reports said I was a healthy baby with a profound hearing loss and that I was ready for adoption.
That was the knowledge that I had of my adoption for much of my life. I wasn’t overly concerned about wanting to go back to find my family in Korea; just wanted to know why I was adopted. That changed everything when I met an international girl student from Korea in college. It was so random how we met. That I look back, I think she was really the first international Korean person I’ve met. Others I met were Korean-Americans who had either been born or lived in America. We met in the lounge room as we lived in the same dorm. She was studying English while I was doing a required art project for Visual Arts 101. It helped to have a good sense because I noticed she was paying attention to the TV in the room. It was showing a volleyball game between South Korea and Australia at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. I summed up courage and asked her if she’s Korean. She replied “Yes, how do you know?” I said “Wild guess. I noticed you were watching the game.” “Oh, how clever.” We kept chatting and became friends.
10 years later, my parents came to visit Korea for the first time and four days ago, we made a visit to the orphanage where I’d stayed at. It was yet another big moment for us. To my astonishment, the building had been torn down and a new building was built with four floors instead of two. The director of orphanage came to greet us. He was a short guy with a thin hair. We sat down around a table and started talking. There was a photo album on the table and in the album, it showed two pictures of me staying at the orphanage.
I asked the director a question that the building is new? He replied yes, it was opened two months ago. It now houses 60 orphaned kids, aging from a few months old babies to eleven years old kids.
My mom asked how long have you been working here? He said I’ve been working here for 49 years. I’m 76 years old now.
My dad asked how many kids have been adopted out of here? He said 3,200 kids have been adopted. I remember Nathan very well because he was the only deaf toddler ever to stay here. I had to do a special paperwork for Nathan because this place is supposed for babies with no parents but his birth mother kept insisting that Nathan be adopted here. I was also worried because I may not find a parent who would want to adopt a baby with a hearing loss and that it may have taken much longer.
My mom said “I’m glad we got him!”
After some talking, we took a visit around the building and saw some kids playing. They looked pretty happy despite having no parents. There has been a change to the adoption law that the orphanage can no longer send them abroad, only domestic adoptions. They will look after them till they become adults and able to take care of themselves and would remain in Korea.
The director remembers my family and asked how are they doing. I said they’re doing fine. My sister has a daughter aged 3 years old.
I asked him if he plans to retire anytime soon as he’s worked for a very long time. The director smiled, “Yes, I will retire in maybe 2 years. My daughter will take over. She is studying Ph.D in social policy right now.”
“I see you’ve grown up to a fine young man with an inquisitive mind. I hope you’re happy?”
I nodded and said “Yes, thank you.”
It was relatively a short visit for us and I know we wouldn’t need to look at the adoption papers again as we now know I wasn’t found at the police station. And I gave the orphanage one last glance as we were leaving.