From the Holt Korea tour, adoptee Krista Gause shares about visiting the town where her birth mother lived — and the reasons why she fell in love with it.
I only know a few things about my birth mother.
She was 23 when she had me.
She gave birth to me in Dongdaemun, Seoul.
She died on January 17, 1996.
And she was registered in Miryang.
In Korea, where one is registered could mean various things but more than likely it’s where her family is from (at least that’s what Koreans have been telling me).
So today while the rest of our group toured around Busan, John and I went to Miryang. And it was absolutely beautiful.
First of all, I’m deeply thankful that my adoption agency set up this side trip for John and I. It was technically our second side trip (I’ll blog about the first trip later) and I almost feel like I’m abusing their generosity at this point but it was so worth it.
Honest moment: I feel as adoptees, or just human beings in general, sometimes we forget it’s okay to be selfish. As an adoptee whenever I share my story and journey I always make sure that my listener understands that I’m okay and happy and grateful without pausing to understand that it’s okay to not be those things. Which is why on this trip it’s nice to be surrounded by other adoptees who you don’t have to worry about whether your opinion will make them adverse to adoption or if your life story will make them pity you — here you can be honest. You can say, “no I’m not okay.” And you can be selfish with your emotions and let them overtake you without having to explain them to anybody.
So for this particular side trip I chose to just go alone with John. I often feel that parents, in an attempt to support and protect their children, often implant their own emotions into a situation and naturally that becomes the dominant energy. For example, when I was learning babysitting etiquette 101, we were taught from the very beginning that if a child hurts himself to quickly pick them back up and not even address the scrap or fall. Rather just change the subject, “look over here!” Because if you do the alternate, fuss over the child and ask if he’s okay and needs a Bandaid, they’re going to panic because you already are, and once they see the level of anxiety you’re already at, it’s too late…they’re already crying.
I chose not to bring my parents because I wanted my emotions and feelings during the entire day to be unaltered and influence-free of other people’s emotions. I wanted to go through this part selfishly. I didn’t want anyone with me to ask every five minutes if I’m okay, or to start randomly crying during the drive over, or to ask any questions I wasn’t ready to ask. I wanted to hear just my voice, my thoughts and my emotions all day.
And since John is my hired photographer for the trip he was allowed to come.
Honest moment over.
Back to Miryang…our translator and tour guide is beautiful Lydia. She was born and raised in Pusan but studied English in Chicago. She was an amazing guide and friend throughout the day.
Before leaving for Miryang, John had a great idea to email the main church in the city to see if they had any information about a female resident who died on January 17, 1996. We didn’t expect a response back. But we got one anyway. The graciousness and openness to help in our search from “Mr. Mike” at the Catholic Church blew me away. Adoption in Korea is still somewhat a “touchy” subject so for a Catholic parishioner to offer his services really surprised me and made me feel very lucky and loved.
Lydia drove us straight to the church and started going through all the open office doors to find someone to speak to. I thought I was on a mission, but Lydia was the one breaking down doors…almost literally. She isn’t the first Korean we met here to do this for us which I will blog about later, but I hope this gives you a sense of what the people are like here. The camaraderie, the love and the desire to help.
Well, while Lydia continued to look for some church members, John and I began to look at the dates in the mausoleum. Most of them were missing and I was getting frustrated. But then Lydia again comes to the rescue and says she called the office line and spoke to a member and they are coming in later and will conduct a search for us in their database.
To kill time between now and then Lydia gave us a quick tour of Miryang. We went to city hall where many workers were shocked to see John. Then we took a cable car to the top of the mountain and got a full view of Miryang. It was stunning. Miryang is a valley with multiple rivers running through it and lakes nesting between the mountains. There are mountains everywhere you look. Everything is green. And the clouds sit on the very tips of the mountains to hide their forested peaks. At the base of the mountains are hundreds of apple farms. Miryang is famous for its apples and the sight of all the orchards makes me want to return for their harvest in September.
The entire time we were there I kept thinking that it must have been nice to grow up there. But Lydia reminded us a few times that life in Korea back in the 70s and 80s was extremely different than it is now, and for most families very very difficult. As an adoptee that was born in the 80s you can’t come back to Korea and think, ‘it would have been nice to grow up here.’ Because 2016 Korea does not reflect 1988 Korea. So while it was nice to see that Miryang was such a naturally beautiful city, it was also nice to be reminded that there was a reason behind my mother’s decision.
Now back at the church, we finally get to meet with a staff member. She’s older and to be frank I’m pretty nervous that she’s judging me and looking at me like I’m just another abandoned child. Lydia goes through the introductions and she kindly asks if it’s okay to share my adoption story. I’m kind of taken aback…because I don’t think anyone has ever asked that. It meant a lot to me. But after sharing my story we all watch as the lady opens an excel sheet and tries multiple times to find anything. And then she checks again. And again. And it begins to break my heart that this woman is desperate to provide me with an answer. Finally she turns around and we chat and she tells Lydia that she will have the director check his funerary records tomorrow when he’s in the office and will email us. And lastly she tells me how sorry she is that she couldn’t help me. And that her heart hurts for me. And how she’s happy to see me here in my birth mother’s town, to see its beauty. Her compassion made me cry.
Lydia is just a volunteer. She spent the entire day with us. She wouldn’t let us pay for gas, she demanded she buy us a Korean pastry made famous in Busan, and she told me she wouldn’t give up. That even though I am leaving tomorrow for another Korean city she will continue to search Miryang for answers. Lydia is just a volunteer and she gave me a gift to thank me for my visit. A beautiful gift. She gave ME a gift. Lydia and the woman we met at the church today is the reason why I fell so quickly in love with my birth country. Because even though it might not feel like home they make you feel at home, surrounded by people who care about you.