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My earliest birth memory of Korea

My earliest birth memory of Korea would be that of the orphanage where I stayed for about 8 months before I got adopted. I did remember it would get really cold during winter and that I often wore a thick coat or some sweaters and my nose would get wet, then my sweater would get wet too because I kept wiping off my nose. I remember I would play with kids and I liked playing with swings in the playground. I also remember the lady, a bomo, who would watch us while we slept and more than that, she would beat me with a newspaper rolled into a baton if I couldn’t fall asleep and I would stay down on the floor and watch her and the small fluorescent lamp that was alongside her. She always seemed to have books with her so I guess she was reading or studying, maybe for the college entrance examination and I’d ruin her concentration with my sleeplessness on many nights. Then I’d finally fall asleep.

Another memory I had of the orphanage was how I’d notice some kids would become “missing” so to speak. Like I’d find some kids who didn’t mind playing with me since I couldn’t hear and I’d look out for those kids till they disappeared. Where did they go? I wondered. One time when I finally got big enough to be able to get up on the high balcony that was by the window, probably my favorite spot of the orphanage as I can pretty much see everything what’s out in the world. It was on a second floor. I saw a small white truck out there and almost every morning, the guy would park by the curb, get out of the truck, get around to the back and haul something out of it. Light white air (actually just a cold steam) would come out of the truck’s rear and I had no idea what the guy was doing. I thought that must be how kids disappeared, as the man got the kids and dumped them into there. I told myself I would stay away from the truck or hope not to get caught and be put away by that truck. When I visited Korea again in 2002, I saw the same kind of truck again….and it was just a delivery food truck. So much for my own imagination.

Next and last memory I had in Korea was of the plane I was abroad on. I remember how everything was in a rush because my bomo was buttoning me up with everything, from my shoes to my coat, and put on a hat and I saw my clothes being folded into a suitcase and my bomo just kept grabbing my hand and pulling me around and I finally got into a car. My bomo had some tears on her face, knowing that she won’t be bothered again by my annoying presence. Then we got on the plane. I remember it was mostly red inside, lights off for most of the time and that it was a very long flight.

The plane finally touched down on the ground and when I stepped out of the plane and walked down the tunnel, and at the end, my parents and I met for the first time ever.

Family post reunion

I realize I haven’t really shared my experience about the first meeting between my Korean family and my parents. Although it was already planned for some time, I didn’t realize it was that big of a moment for everyone involved and I can remember my family was getting real nervous about meeting my parents for the first time. I kept telling them that my parents were really cool nice people. There’s nothing they should be worried about but I can understand their apprehension. I would be nervous too. My parents were a little hesitant as well, like unsure what to do in this completely new scene, something they had never been in before. For some reason, I was real cool about the whole meeting and knew it’d go fine. Which it was.

I should mention that one of the things I learned about my family was they never thought I would be raised by parents who were Deaf. They thought I would be raised by hearing parents. That was for 20 years. So, since my parents were deaf, I had to get an interpreter, which I was fortunate enough to find one. She was able to interpret Korean, English, ASL, and KSL all at once. Amazing woman! I will tell more about her at another time. Since I had already met my birth family back in 2002, then visited again in 2008 to see my newly born niece, and I got a chance to work in Korea for a year, I’ve gotten used to the presence of my family, as opposed to what it was in 2002 where it was all but uncertainty. Obviously, that wasn’t the case for both parties this time.

I must say that it took me a while to finally understand my parents’ initial pessimism about me discovering my family in Korea. Since my parents were born and raised in America where economy was a free market capitalism, I realize my parents were used to the idea of buy-it-and-it-is-yours. They carried that kind of mentality over to adoption as they worked hard to save money to be able to afford adoption. When they finally adopted me as their only child, they thought I’m all theirs and nothing will ever take that away. Needless to say, they were very taken aback when I discovered my birth family in Korea in 2002 and they didn’t know what to do or what to say. My mom mostly said nothing but my dad would remind me that you were let go for adoption and we got you and provided you a good care and home. That’s the thing about my parents, as they were raised on capitalism ideals and also Christianity in that you be nice to kids and provide shelter. I didn’t want to have too big of a confrontation and I kind of let things settle by themselves. And I was busy with school stuffs anyway. After a while, we had gotten used to the realization that I had a family in Korea after all and what’s more, my sister was deaf and married to her husband who was deaf too. So, I was very curious about that part and my first question was exactly how deaf were they? do they use sign language to communicate? or were they more like hard of hearing in that they were able to communicate by talking and do not know any sign language? since both parents and I used ASL, so I wondered if they used KSL. Do they experience similar frustrations that most deaf people generally experience in life? I had questions like that and I basically waited till I met them for the first time and I would get all my answers.

My brother asked me, “So, your parent are going to visit here during Christmas time?” I said yes. He said “Okay, I wanted to make dinner plans for us.” So, we talked about that and what would be a good dinner for everyone. We finally came down to a traditional Korean food cuisine and we made a nice dinner reservation in the Gangnam district, which was pretty upscale. At that time, I kind of knew that we wouldn’t be thinking too much about dinner — it was just a setting for us to meet and since my parents were a first time visitor to Korea, at this dinner, they didn’t have to decide and order dishes, as waitress would keep bringing different dishes onto the table. I also thought my brother or my family could explain some dishes and recommend them, as a way to break the ice. When we arrived at the place, the restaurant looked very nice. It had a nice Korean architecture going on and we were seated inside a traditional Korean room with doors that shut. We were dressed nice and finally, it’s time to start introductions.

Deep inside, I must say it was a big moment for me because this was something I had imagined so many times in my mind, and sometimes, in my dreams. I really wanted for both my parents and my family to meet each other. It finally all came down to that and to my own fortune, I got an interpreter who knew all languages needed to facilitate communication over the dinner table. As it turned out, my niece was the perfect ice breaker as we all looked at her and said words to describe how cute she was. It didn’t take very long before we would talk about my adoption and that my family wanted to take a moment to say a big thanks and how grateful they were for me to be adopted by them, my parents. The foods would arrive and naturally, my parents had trouble identifying which kinds were they and since my dad liked food, he would try them all. My parents had to let the interpreter know that they didn’t know how to use chopsticks, so she informed the waitress and she got some western utensils for my parents. That got everyone to laugh. My parents told my family they had the best times raising me and that it was a blessing to them and wouldn’t have it any other way. My mom brought some pictures of me as a young kid and showed to them. My dad seemed to be having a nice time talking with my sister and she was trying to teach my dad some KSL signs and my sister’s husband already knew some ASL, so they were able to carry a conversation on their own. I knew my mom wasn’t as gregarious as my dad, she’s more on the sensitive side and can be emotional, so I kept checking on her and making sure she’s all right. I think I know my mom better than anyone else and I would often reassure her. My mom had some curious questions to ask the birth mother, especially when I first arrived in the U.S. The interpreter interpreted and the birth mother tried to answer them as best as she could but frankly, it was a very long time ago, and obviously emotional, so she couldn’t remember all of it. I realize it wasn’t that important to remember the past exactly. The point was that we’re all here, able to share dinner together, talking, and counted our blessings.

All in all, dinner went very well and my parents thought the Korean dinner cuisine was interesting and that the walled room and no chairs made up for a neat atmosphere, obviously Korean. My family told my parents that this kind of dinner was very similiar to what the kings from the Joseon dynasty would normally have in their dinner. My mom said “oh really, wow!”

The night was still young and we wanted to talk more, so we walked to a nice coffee place not far from the restaurant and we got our coffee there. My dad thought the coffee was very good, impressed by the barista who made it for him and told him to please enjoy the coffee. And that would be how our reunion went.

-nathan

Judgment of Adoption

This cause coming on to be heard on this 24th day of June, 1985, on the Petition for Adoption filed by Harold Wayne Kester and Pamela Kester, the Answer of the Guardian Ad Litem of the minor child sought to be adopted, the Entry of Appearance and Consent of Bethany Christian Services, Inc., a child welfare agency licensed in the State of Illinois, and the investigation heretofore made by Bethany Christian Services, Inc.; and the Court having heard all the evidence and now being fully advised in the premises, FINDS:

1. That it has jurisdiction of the parties to this cause and the subject matter hereof.

2. That the Petitioners reside at Hennessey Street, Box 25, New Berlin, Illinois, and have been residents of the State of Illinois for several years; they are of legal age and under no legal disability.

3. That the Petitioners desire to adopt Nah, Jong IL, an unrelated male child, born on February 22, 1981, in Korea. That the said child is in the custody of the Petitioners and has resided in the home of the Petitioners since December 1984.

4. That the biological parents of said children are unknown in that the child was an abandoned child; Holt Children’s Services, Inc. of Seoul, Korea was appointed Guardian for the minor orphan; Holt transferred its guardianship rights to Bethany Christian Services, Inc., a duly licensed Illinois Child Welfare Agency.

5. Bethany Christian Services, Inc. has consented in writing to the adoption of said child by Petitioners through its duly authorized representative.

6. That the Petitioners are reputable persons of good moral character with sufficient ability and financial means to rear, nurture, and educate the child in a suitable and proper manner.

7. That the allegations of the Petition are true and proven as therein alleged and it is fit and proper and for the best interests of the said child that the adoption be allowed herein.

It is therefore ordered and adjudged that from this date, Nah, Jong IL, a minor, shall be to all legal intents and purposes, the child of the Petitioners, Harold Wayne Kester and Pamela Kester, for the purpose of inheritances and all other legal incidents and consequences.

It is further ordered that the name of the said child be and it is hereby changed to Nathan Wayne Kester.

Identity

Thought I’d take some time to share some of my thoughts as I’ve been here in Korea for a little more than a month. Initially, I was excited to be here, to have some new experiences and to get know Korea in a first-hand manner. By now, I’d say the novelty has settled in and I’ve been thinking about myself and the world at large.

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Our visit to the orphanage

“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.

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Korea

Prior to meeting my family in 2002, my previous knowledge about Korea was pretty much to nothing other than being “found” at the police station, according to adoption documents and that’s all my adoptive parents knew too. For much of my life, I took that as a fact and did not really think much about it. But then over the time, it seemed natural that I’d start to ask questions about myself like what does my parents look like or whether if I have siblings. As for my siblings, I remember having a strong feeling about them and I remember not believing that I was an only child in my biological family and that I must have had a brother or sister. Sure enough, when I met my siblings in 2002, my sister told me she spent some time with me (she was six years old) and helped carry me on her back at times.

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How I got adopted

Now that my trip to five countries (Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Hong Kong.) is completed, I’ve had a plenty of time to mull and I read ‘Outliers’ book by Malcolm Gladwell since it got out in the paperback version. Outliers was fascinating because basically, in order for people to be as successful as those mentioned in the book, they needed to be born at the right place at the right time. That was his major premise of the book. I thought about that deeply, and well, I thought I’d share a story of mine…on how I got adopted.

When it comes to adopting a child, you can be sure that there are lots of procedure/factors involved to have a successful adoption. One tiny misstep in the procedure could make adoptions go awry. I’ll give an example. My parents needed to get their fingers pressed for the application. The agency was able to get my dad’s fingerprints but not so for my mom. They were having a hard time getting a clean copy from my mom’s. Why? because my mom had worked 15 years at the Capitol Records (EMI Manufacturing) factory in Jacksonville, IL on checking the quality of cassette tapes. She had to make sure that tapes were properly packaged before they get inserted into plastic boxes. All of those checking had pretty much smeared my mom’s fingers. She also had to quit because the job was giving her carpal tunnel syndrome, in which she got a surgery on her both wrists. After unsuccessful prints, my parents had to drive up to Chicago and stop by a FBI office to meet with a FBI-trained officer and get fingerprints. They did manage to get them but barely. So if that didn’t happen, I won’t be here typing this post.

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I remember you.

“I remember you.” were the words my sister signed to me after we were finally reunited and as an adoptee who was “temporarily gone” from home for more than 18 years, ofc, I had questions to ask. “Do you remember me?” was one of those more immediate questions.

I remember when I was growing up, I’d often play sports with non-asian people, and during evenings with my parents, I watched TV. It was a good thing that TV had closed captioning and that it was always turned on. My parents were deaf too. My dad used to sell Zenith TVs, and had the big analog satellite in the backyard and installed a black box to access all channels like HBO. 4 pm to 5 pm was the reserved time for my mom to watch ‘Days of our Lives’ soap opera and she’s never missed an episode. If there was ever Jeopardy on the topic, she’d sweep the column.

I was their only child and as an only child, deep down inside, I’ve always felt that I couldn’t be an only child and felt strongly that I had siblings and by this, I often wondered about my birth family. It was quite like the movie, Star Wars, with Luke Skywalker sensing the Force with his sister, Princess Leia. That remained unknown till I received the news that my family had been discovered and that I indeed had a brother and sister. I was happy to know that. However, I still needed to confirm to make sure that they’re really my birth family (there were cases that required DNA testing to confirm, for example.) What’s more was that my sister is deaf, like me, so that vastly increased the odds that we’re family.

As I was visiting around in Korea, the mother took me to visit the orphanage where I stayed for about a year before I was adopted. The orphanage was one of those last memories I had in Korea and still could remember. I remember I played a lot with balloons—it made those loud sounds when you try to rub it. They had a high balcony with big windows and I would try to crawl up onto the balcony and see the world out there. Out in the world, there would be a white van coming up in front of the fence and then a man came around the van to the back and hauled something out of it and a white cloud of steam would come out. I had no idea what that was and I also remember that some of young faces would be missing, so I thought maybe the guy took them in and went somewhere.

The building still looked exactly the same as if it never changed except for the trees that had gotten bigger, like me. Built with red, auburn bricks, it had a small playground with swings inside the fence. I met up with Director who oversaw the orphanage. He was the same guy who took me in and one thing he said caught my attention was that I was the only deaf child they had and there hadn’t been another orphan after me who was also deaf. So, a further evidence that I was the same child that he had overseen. Then, I saw the white van coming up in front and a guy came around to get something out of the rear. It was food he was delivering to the orphanage. So much for kidnapping the children.

During one evening, I asked my sister if she remembered me. She said yes, and she was six years old when I had been taken away. She said she’d remember the orphanage, that place with red, auburn bricks. We actually had gone there a few times, as the parents debated whether to give me up and when that day came, my sister didn’t come with me. That information was never communicated by the parents but the absence of their youngest brother was obvious enough that he’s not going to be back anytime soon.

So, when I signed to my sister and she signed back at me, that was enough of a confirmation to know we’re family after all.

Happy birthday and retirement, Dad!

Out of all things what I can get for my dad’s birthday and his retirement, I think the best gift I can get for him is this, other than a plane ticket to surprise him at home.

My dad turns 57 years old today; we’re 30 years apart so that makes it easy to remember. This one is probably his best one ’cause he gets to retire! he worked for 31 years at the United States Postal Service. He was a mail handler and for the last five or six years, he worked the forklift. To be frank, I was a little depressed to hear what did he get out of this. All he got was a plaque that’s made of paper and a cake to go with it. That’s it. Not even an ounce of cheese, summer sausage, celery, carrot or a single cracker. Zilch. Just a cake for my dad. He had a clean record—no suspensions or late warnings—and had more than 500 sick hours to spare.

It was only two weeks ago that my team and I had a nice team outing. We went to this cool indoor go-kart racing where we put on racing uniforms and helmets, then had some pizza and soda for lunch. What a contrast. The speaker box blasted on after a half hour of celebration, telling everyone to go back to work. So, after working for more than thirty years for P.O, ensuring that every box goes to your door on time, my dad’s retirement party was over in less than a half hour.

I’d like to share a story about how my dad wound up at the P.O. He used to work as a printer, along with his good friend who was also deaf. They were good workers who do their jobs well and would know exactly if something went wrong. It could be as obvious as ink running out or as small as a nut getting loose. My dad would see that easily and go to fix it. keeping the whole facility equipment running, which kept the business going and ultimately, for managers to be happy.

For some time, I wonder why did my dad decide to make a jump to work at the P.O. I found out it was because of me. When it came to a time for my parents to have a child, they already knew they couldn’t have a child so they wanted to adopt. After they’ve found a child to adopt and that, of course, came with a cost. My dad knew they couldn’t afford the adoption, had he stayed at the printing so he applied and got the job. His math skill helped him out. He had to work on weekends, had Wed., and Thurs. off and worked overnight because it paid more than the daytime. He thought he would eventually work in the daytime but he never did, though he did have better days off – on Fri and Sat. and he was the last employee to have those such days off.

For the first year or two, my parents didn’t see each other much but that didn’t bother them, they had the same goal, which was to save up money to afford the adoption. At that time in 1984, the cost was eight grand (18k in today’s value). They were able to save 6 grand, two thousand dollars short but when the agency found out that I was deaf, they slashed it by half, to four thousands. Ha, I’m a bargain child, so to speak.

With those said, I’m ecstatic to see my dad retired and I hope he’ll enjoy his retirement and do whatever he wants. Happy birthday and retirement, Dad. This is yours.

“Back to the Future” – Korean adoption story

Written sometime in 2002., “Back to the Future” was my fave childhood movie about a young guy who goes back in time with a flying car. The best chilldhood movie ever made.

When the 747 Boeing finally put its wheels on the ground, I made a sigh of relief and stretched out my legs, finally moving after 4 hours of immobility. The plane slowly crawled as it looked for a gate to hug. Gazing through the window and thinking quietly, I wondered if this was really where my ticket stub stated. “Incheon, Korea. Arrival time: 3:37 pm.” If so, I had traveled roughly 7,000 miles from the other side of the world, 14 hours non-stop flight straight from Chicago, U.S.A. The plane paused and I waited to see if it finally stopped this time. Indeed, it stopped and passengers started to get up. I got up and reached for my North Face backpack in the overhead and stood impatiently as the line slowly made its way out of the plane. My hands began to sweat as I held my backpack and with almost every step, my heart started to beat faster, then into a pounding rhythm. I took a big breath and focused on where I was supposed to be going.

Any doubts of actually being in Korea were immediately put away when I saw the airport signs in Korean and couldn’t understand any of them. I followed a crowd of passengers as my guide to the baggage claims area and waited for my luggage to emerge. As I looked around the huge void and noticed that the airport wasn’t as crowded as many of the major U.S. airports were. I had expected a full traffic of people but here, only passengers were waiting to pick up their luggage.
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