Category Archives: Adoptee Search and Reunion

Waiting patiently…

From the Child and Juvenile Adoption Information Center, New Taipei City, Taiwan, September 5th, 2011:

“…We received some information from the household system; it’s about your birth parents. As your blog mentioned, your birth parents passed away, your birth father was died in 2008, and your birth mother was died in 1998, we are deeply sorry about this information. About the member in your birth family, we now have some information but still need time to check if we do find the right person, please be patient for our following contact…”

I received the email very early in the morning AZ time. Anxious to get to my email to see if anything had come back from the agency in Taiwan, I turned on my computer and waited for the screen to upload. The agency had requested that I provide some information on my current life, why I wanted to find my birth family, what I would do in the event that my birth family could not be found, or refused contact with me, etc. I was happy to oblige and sent them as much information as I could without being too long-winded. I also sent them a link to my blog, which I didn’t really anticipate them reading.

At last the computer uploaded, and there waiting in my inbox was an email from Taiwan. I skimmed through it happy to hear from them. I fixated on the last paragraph, the one that spoke of my birth parents having passed away. My reaction took me completely by surprise. I felt a hollowness creep into my chest, a sadness that could only be described as loss. Although I knew that my birth parents were no longer living through a correspondence sent to me by, Tien, the caseworker who’s been helping me search for my birth family for over a year now, the news just hit me right between the ribs. Intuitively, I had always believed that they were no longer living. I never knew my birth parents; how could I feel such a deep sense of loss? I was in shock. All I could do was sit for awhile. I went upstairs to get ready for work. I let the tears come. I think that knowing the dates that my birth parents passed away somehow brought a kind of finality and realization that I would never ever know them. Questions popped into my mind. Did they ever think of me? I thought mostly of my birth mother. Did she grieve over the loss of putting me up for adoption? Until recently, this thought had never really crossed my mind. Do I look anything like her? How did my birth parents die? I hoped that it was peacefully. I also thought about my adoptive parents and felt an even greater loss in that they, too, are gone, my adoptive mom in 2008, and adoptive dad in 1993.

I spent the greater part of the morning at work thinking about my birth parents, wanting to take the time to sort through my feelings. I thought about calling in sick so that I could spend some time processing all that I had learned, but decided not to. I know that this is not the end. There was some indication of hope in the agency’s correspondence; they mentioned the possibility of having information on a certain member of my birth family, but needed more time to verify it. I don’t know how long this process will take, but I await to hear back from them whether it be sooner or later.

I haven’t thought about my birth parents lately, except for in writing this post. Life is always so busy. Work, family, school all keep me preoccupied. One day I’ll return to the news I received about them and let myself imagine what their lives may have been like. I hope that in the future I’ll have some of the answers to my questions about their lives. It seems only natural now to wonder and to want to know.

The agency sent back an email shortly after receiving my background information. They have read my blog, this very one and expressed that they understand why I want to reunite with my birth family. It’s now only a matter of time before learning something. Until then, I wait patiently…

missing link

The day of my mother’s funeral just over 3 years ago was a day that changed my life. It was a day of saying good-bye, and yet it was also a day of new beginnings. On that day, I recovered a link to my past that had been missing for 41 years of my life. I had an inkling that such a link existed, but no hope or clue as to how to find it. It sat in a box in my parent’s attic preserved for many years until the day my sister dragged it out and presented it to me. This link has led me on a journey to try and find any living members of my birth family in Taiwan.

My mom hid these documents carefully from the time she and my dad brought me home from the orphanage in Taiwan. It moved with us each time we moved due to my dad’s military career in the Air Force. Sometimes I wonder if she ever wanted to give me my adoption contract and all the other things she saved. She never spoke of them. Around 1999, mom started to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, and the last 10 years of her life were hell. I’m sure that she didn’t even remember that the adoption papers existed upstairs in the dank, dusty old attic. I find it surreptitious that while she was living, she didn’t tell me about those papers. However, the day of her funeral when we went back to the house and I opened up that box, it was as though she were saying, “Here, I want you to have these things now. They belong to you. I want you to know about your past, about your birth family.” Really, I imagined her saying those very things to me and believe she willed me to find that box. 

When I thought that I’d lost my adoption contract last week, I was heartbroken. We moved at the beginning of the year, and in all the frenzy, I guess I lost track of that box. I had no idea it was missing. After waiting 41 years to find something so important, was I to lose it now? I looked through the boxes in our garage to no avail. I looked through the boxes in my husband’s closet, but didn’t find anything. Luckily, my husband went through the boxes in his office one more time, and sure enough, the box was there! I couldn’t believe that I’d overlooked it, but was ecstatic.

You see, two weeks ago, I received an email from an old contact, Tien, who has been helping me search for my birth family in Taiwan for almost a year now. Her message came out of the blue, as I’ve tried contacting her for several months with no response. I was surprised, yet really happy to hear from her. She told me that she hadn’t forgotten about me and that she’d found one of my birth sisters in Taiwan through the Registration Office in Taipei while on visit there. She also told me that my birth parents had passed away long ago. The officials would not give Tien the name or address of the woman who could be my sister because she was not related. Tien therefore sent me a link to an agency in Taiwan that provides reunion services for adoptees and their birth families. I completed the reunion service request form and sent them a copy of my adoption contract, but apparently there was a page missing, the most important one. It became necessary for me to find the original contract because the missing document, the “household document” was most needed to begin the search. Thankfully, having found the original papers, I was able to scan and email what I believed to be the correct page.  I’ve never been so grateful for advanced technology!

So now, it’s time once again to wait. Wait and see if the person Tien discovered is really one of my birth sisters. I wish that I could fly to Taiwan and do all of this in person. It would just be so much easier. If it is my birth sister, I hope she’ll want to meet me. In that case, I’ll be on a flight to Taiwan somehow, someway. I know that if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen. I just have to wait, the hardest part of all.

searching for my birthfamily

Tien made a new suggestion to try and find my birthfamily in Taiwan. She suggests that I place an article in a local newspaper stating that I’m in search of my birthfamily. The best solution by far would be to travel to Taiwan in person and search for records. Tien has even invited me to accompany her on her next expedition there in the near future. I would be very interested in doing so, although it seems like pursuing this is such a distant dream. Now that I’ve started a new full-time job, it would be difficult to get the time off from work. Honestly, I’ve been so wrapped up in my new job, I’ve given my adoption search less thought. But tonight, I wonder a little if this search will ever lead me to someone from my birth amily. Will placing such an article in a newspaper draw any attention? It’s worth a chance.

I’m hoping to hear back from Tien soon to find out what information is needed to write such an article. What will I say? Woman in search of birth family who was adopted by Americans over 40 years ago? Who knows if anyone from my birth family is still living. I was the youngest, and I’m 44 years old. My birth parents may not be living – in fact, most likely are not. I know of other adoptees who have found their birth parents, or siblings, not all Asian American adoptees, but some white, who were adopted domestically. It seems that because my adoption took place so long ago, and both of my adoptive parents are no longer living, the little information that I’ve discovered is not enough to find out anything significant. It seems impossible. The obsession to find someone from my birthfamily has minimized a little. I think it has to do with working and having other distractions. In any case, I’ll have to continue to wait and see what unfolds. Who knows, maybe a trip to Taiwan will come to fruition in the not too distant future.

road block

Just before noon, my inbox alerted me to a new email. It was from Tien at Journeys of the Heart adoption services in Hillsboro, Oregon. She’s a caseworker at the agency who has volunteered to help me in the search for my birthfamily back in China. After three months, she finally returned my email in response to moving forward with the search. My neighbor, a month ago, offered to do what he could to help search for any information while he was visiting China. He returned last Thursday, but hasn’t contacted me at all. My husband suggested that perhaps this wasn’t of high priority to our neighbor and not to bug him. I’m at a loss and feel that finding my birthfamily is not going to be easy. I’m doubting that after such a long time there could be any possibility of finding them. Strangely, I’m not surprised that our neighbor did not come back with any news.

It turns out that Tien’s email was timely. We’ll pick up where we left off. I She wasn’t surprised either that my neighbor came back with no information because my adoption took place such a long time ago. She mentioned something about the civil war that took place in Mainland China making it even more difficult to gain information. I will now give my consent for power of attorney to give their contact person authority to dig for more information for me in Taiwan, i.e., search records, ask for information, etc. I have to send this form to the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) for legalization.

We may not be able to get any further than this. Tien seems to think that my birthfamily moved from China to Taiwan where I was placed for adoption at the Family Planning Association of China. Unfortunately, that orphanage no longer exists. I will continue to hope for the best and try to figure out other ways to find information about my birthfamily.

a mystery letter

Bits of styrofoam clung to my hands and arms as I dug down to the bottom of the box. What did my sister send? I lifted out a manilla folder which had settled among dozens of scattered pictures and styrofoam peanuts. In the folder lay a letter yellowed from age. I recognized the embellished handwriting immediately as that of my mom’s. Curiosity set in as I wondered who Dr. Woo was, the obvious recipient.

The letter was left undated and appeared to be a draft from all of the crossed out words. Apparently, Mom had written the letter as a followup to a conversation she’d previously had with Dr. Woo. After reading through the first paragraph, I soon realized that this letter described my parents’ initial visit to the Family Planning Association of China, the orphanage where I was adopted. I could not read the rest of the letter fast enough. This is what it said:

Dr. Woo –

Following our conversation adopted Chinese daughter’s visa physical, and our conversation as to what was where we obtained her, and the cash price we paid, I will attempt to explain the procedure and all the obstacles that confront an American who adopts a child from the Family Planning Association of China.

We arrived in Taipei at 10 AM – went directly to Family Planning. We were allowed to go immediately to the 4th floor to a huge room with open windows and no heat where we walked from crate to crate and from basket to basket looking at tiny babies. I chose two from the 26 that were adoptable that day.

At 4 o’ clock that evening we were ushered into a large office and were introduced to Mrs. Tze-Kuan Shee Kan. She stated she had just returned from a fundraising drive in the United States, and had acquired $30,000 to start building a new orphanage for her children. She stated that $250 was the minimum fee, which was $150 for prior care of the child (medical, food and lodging) and $100 was for the cost of all the paper work required to bring the po baby to Okinawa. This was to be pd. in American cash.

By 6 o’ clock – the necessary papers were signed and she asked if I had picked out a baby. I told her about the 2 I had chosen and which one they brought down was all right with us. In a few moments they brought our baby to us, a beautiful three month old, 7 lbs., 7 oz., and very listless baby girl. I could not stand to think she would stay another moment under their roof. I asked permission…

I couldn’t believe there wasn’t more to the letter! I went back to the box and rummaged around trying to find a second page but found nothing. Where was the rest of the letter? I was so intrigued and disappointed that there wasn’t more. I telephoned my sister back in Louisiana to ask if she knew about the letter and had any idea where the missing part might be. She knew nothing. I had to just accept the fact that the other half was gone.

I had so many questions. Did I go home with my parents that afternoon? What did Mom ask permission for? What were some of the “obstacles” mom mentioned in adopting from the Family Planning Association? Was Mom petitioning for Dr. Woo’s assistance and did he help in any way? From the description Mom gave in the letter, I envisioned the orphanage to be in poor condition with barely enough for all of the babies and children there due to little funding. That I was only 7 lbs and 7 oz. at the age of 3 months was proof enough. I went back to read one of mom’s diaries dated the same year I was born. There was nothing said about Dr. Woo, only how they brought me home to Okinawa.

I went back to the folder and found another clue about my adoption: a medical examination form signed by Dr. Woo. I pieced together that my parents needed to get a visa for me, and he must have given the exam required. The form is dated January, 31, 1968 and was officially stamped in San Francisco on June 28, 1968, six months later. I found some other information showing that one year previous, my parents had filed for a petition for visa in Okinawa, which was officially approved on July 7, 1967. The entire process to get an actual visa took over a year from start to finish. Eventually we moved to the states around 1968 or 1969. I’m pretty sure that my parents were in a hurry to get out of Okinawa in case my birthfamily changed their mind about the adoption. My dad was transferred from Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts.

The letter will probably always be a mystery, but it did give me some insight into the orphanage where I was adopted. Just yesterday, as I was out sweeping the driveway, our neighbor and his son, Alex, came outside. Alex and his sister-in-law had come over to help interpret my adoption contract just a week ago. We exchanged hellos and Alex’s father proceeded to ask me if I was Chinese. Three months ago, my response would have been no, but then I’ve learned so much since then. I launched into a brief explanation of my adoption and my current attempt to find my birthfamily in China. He told me that he’d be traveling to China soon and that his brother currently works for the government there. He offered to help do whatever he could in China to find out about my birthfamily with the help of his brother. Alex suggested that I give his father the address of my birthparents listed on the adoption contract. His father will be staying in Ghuangzhou which is very close to the province where my birthparents lived at the time of my adoption. I was touched that he wanted to help.

I’ll continue to try to piece together the mystery of my adoption from what I now have in my possession. I hope that my neighbor can bring back some kind of information about my birthfamily from China, but I’m not holding my breath. Only time will tell.

learning about my adoption

I peeked out of our office window to see who was at the door. UPS. My eyes settled in on a large brown box sitting next to the delivery man’s feet. Then I remembered. My sister had shipped a package from Louisiana with more stuff from home, including my mom’s diaries. Looking at the box, I noticed that the tape had come unglued around the edges leaving wide gaping holes. The UPS guy was concerned about possible damage to the contents and asked that I take a look inside. I hurried back into the house, and after grabbing a pair of scissors, knelt beside the box and began cutting away at the tape. Styrofoam peanuts began flying out as I reached inside. I lifted up one particularly large article bound tightly with bubble wrap and tape and heard the sound of clinking glass. After suggesting that I call UPS for an inspection of the damaged goods, the UPS guy zipped off. I dragged the heavy box inside and began tearing it open. By the looks of all the stuff inside, I wondered where I’d have room to put it all. There were large picture frames containing more of my dad’s military awards and a shoebox full of pictures, mom’s diaries, yearbooks, diplomas. One of the greatest finds was a small scrapbook evidently made by my dad’s mom, whom I don’t remember meeting. She had saved several newspaper clippings of stories about my dad from their hometown, as well as his early flight training graduation program and invitation to a grand graduation ball. I could tell that dad’s mom was very proud of him. I took out the broken item and, through the bubble wrap, saw that it was a certificate given to my dad in honor of his military retirement. The signatures of several officers were visible at the bottom in various shades of blue and black ink. Dad had served honorably as Director of the Personnel Actions Division for many years after an aneurysm in 1963 had physically disqualified him from ever flying again.

I dug in the box to find my mom’s diaries and was anxious to start reading. My sister found three, although I knew that there were more. They were all in pretty good shape and readable. The first one I perused through was dated 1943 – 1946, the years during World War II. Her entries were very brief, mostly just a few sentences, but there were a few longer ones. I discovered that my mom married her first husband, Jim Bell, on July 23, 1943 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Everett Brines, Jim’s aunt and uncle. She was only eighteen years old. It appeared that she and Jim quarreled a lot, and one entry described a near split after Jim read a letter she received from another gentlemen. It was hard for me to imagine my mom at such a young age. My brother, Larry, recently told me that Jim, his dad, had an awful temper, and it made me wonder as I read mom’s diary what this man, my mom’s first husband, was like. Mom wrote about Jim flying often and being gone from home; obviously he was in the Army Air Corp. They listened to the radio and went to see shows together frequently. On May 8, 1944, she had her first son, my half-brother Larry. I skimmed through the rest of the diary anxious to see if one of the others covered the 60’s, the year my parents adopted me. I found one dated January 1, 1962 – December 31, 1966. Mom skipped around from year to year, which made it difficult to follow sometimes. I went right to 1966 looking for clues about my adoption. The first hint of my parents wanting to adopt occurred on January 21, 1966:

“Janie and I went to Machoriato to the Souls Episcopalian Church and Father Stough to talk about the baby. Not too much help but certainly believe he’ll help…”

I’m not sure where Machoriato is, but I did a Google search on the church mom referred to and found an All Souls Anglican Church and Mission on the Internet. From what I could tell, it fit the description of the church mom talked about in her diary. I sent an email hoping to find out and no more than half an hour later, received an email from Fr. Larry Kirchner stating that indeed it was the same church, and there was a Fr. Stough during that time period.

The next entry referring to “the baby” is dated February 1, 1966:

“Janie came up very early – Father Stough called that he had a little 3 yr. old boy, then it turned out to be a girl for me to see. Janie almost hit a kid on Kadena AFB.”

So glad they didn’t actually hit the kid. Janie is my godmother. I remember vividly one of her visits to us in Louisiana. She painted my fingernails and sewed a new dress for me, and I fell in love with her. I cried the day she had to leave. She and her husband, Nelson, once visited me when I lived in Orlando, Florida in the early 1990’s. I lost touch with Janie after that and am not sure if she’s still living. Janie was my mom’s confidante at Kadena and a dearly loved friend.

On February 3, 1966, Father Stough called mom about the baby, and they set a date the following Monday to meet with a little girl. Here’s the entry from Monday, February 7, 1966:

“We go to see the little girl. Went to Naha to see her – she was beautiful – absolutely as pretty a child as I ever saw in my life. We were so disappointed that the Grandma didn’t want to give her up. Janie and Nelson brought me home.”

I can only imagine the disappointment mom felt after that. I’m now starting to wonder where my dad was as Mom and Janie were off visiting orphanages. Probably at work. The next entry to mention any news of adoption doesn’t occur until 2 months later on April 28th. Mom heard about an Okinawan girl expecting a baby. Then on May 21st she makes the first mention of adopting from Taiwan:

“Rains so heavy. Heard about getting a baby in Taiwan…”

A month later, she wrote a letter about “getting a baby from Taiwan” followed soon after by another letter to Taiwan with power of attorney, so she and Dad could become legal guardians of a minor. I found the receipt for payment dated December 20, 1966 from the Dept. of State – United States of America. For the next month, they didn’t hear anything back from Taiwan. Finally on August 8th, word came back:

“…Got letter from Mr. Forbes in Taipei, Taiwan…”

For the next three months, my parents waited. Mom wrote on November 25th, 1966:

“…Maybe we’ll go to Taiwan soon…”

Around December 5th, things started to roll. I’ve tried piecing together the information I found, but it’s a bit confusing. It appears that they didn’t wait for or receive a referral for a child like adoptive parents do today, but could travel to Taiwan anytime they wanted to. How did they know which orphanage to go to, or did they visit several? I found 2 long lists of the names of orphanages mostly in the Taipei area with all of my adoption stuff and wonder if my mom visited all of those orphanages?

“Decided to go to Taiwan next week if possible…”

On Monday, December 12th, mom found out that they’d leave on the following Thursday for Taiwan, and the next day received some information on adoption in Taiwan. The big day arrived and Mom’s entry on December 15, 1966 said:

“Left Kadena AFB for Taipei, Taiwan. Went to Family Planning. Saw Chaling. Had interview with Mrs. Kan. Chaling was brought to us. Such a beautiful baby. Faulkenburgs with us. Went out to see and meet Miss Radley and Susie.”

On my adoption contract, “Chaling” is actually spelled out Hsiao-ling. I imagine that someone probably wrote out how to pronounce the name phonetically for my parents to remember and the translation stuck, which is how I ended up with Chaling as my middle name. On Friday, December 16th, my parents started the paperwork:

“Started the paperwork for Marijane Chaling Buck – raining. Finished at the Court House by 5 pm. Then we all went out to eat. Took the baby to 7th D. Adventist Hosp. She checked out OK.”

I found the original receipts from the Taiwan Sanitarium and Hospital mixed in with all the paperwork for my adoption. I wondered if the 7th Day Adventist Hospital and Taiwan Sanitarium were somehow connected? Sure enough, after another Google search, I found a web page for the Taiwan Adventist Hospital. It’s one of over 600 healthcare institutions operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in a worldwide mission system. The Hospital was relocated from Shanghai to Taipei in 1949. It was later re-established as the Taiwan Sanitorium Hospital by the founder. Afterwards, due to the hospital’s growth, it was renamed the Taiwan Sanitarium and Hospital. In 1971, it was again renamed the Taiwan Adventist Hospital after more community services were added. My visit there cost my parents $559.00 for vaccinations, meds, consultation, and the doctor’s visit.

Saturday, December 17th and Sunday were filled with getting all the necessary paperwork together and a little shopping. Mom wrote,

“Run – run – trying to get things done. Everything closes at noon in Taiwan. Took train to Yan Shui to St. Benedicts’. Beautiful. Enjoyed meeting the sisters.”

“Spent a little time shopping. Then stayed out at the Hosp. Visited with Susie. She’s a darling.”

Who were the sisters at St. Benedict’s? Was St. Benedict’s another orphanage, and who was Susie? I wonder if St. Benedict’s still exists? Hmmm….In the next entry dated Monday, December 19th, it looked like all the paperwork had finally been completed. Mom wrote:

“Wendy and Alice Lee run all day – got our papers finished. Baby vaccinated. Spent all day running with Esther and Susie to find baby clothes. Not too much luck. The Faulkenburgs left.”

“Shopped a bit. Met Col. Richmond – helped us get on S/A plane. Arrived at Kadena at 2 AM. Baby very good. Mickey and Barney here – Lee and Dan got up to see baby. Girls very pleased.”

Who are all the people my mom mentioned? I have no idea who Alice Lee was, or Col. Richmond, Mickey, Barney, Lee or Dan. So many unanswered questions! The girls were my two half sisters, Lynn and Linda, one from my mom’s previous marriage and one from my dad’s previous marriage. They were both teenagers in high school when my parents adopted me. I guess I’ll probably never know who the others were.

After getting the “new baby settled in,” the 4252nd wing gave mom a baby shower. She wrote, “I got everything for Marijane. It was so nice.” Mom saved all of the baby shower cards from that day. They were all carefully placed with my adoption papers, and I was amazed that she had kept them buried all this time. One of mom’s last entries for that year was:

“Our baby girl is with us. So precious. Went to the “Little Club” for Xmas Dinner. Marijane very good. Girls had a good Xmas. A very happy day for all.”

I wonder how I adjusted to my new family? I’m sure that English was foreign to my ears at the time of my adoption. Did I attach quickly to my adoptive parents? I’m not sure that I’ll ever find out.

the translation

Last Thursday morning I found the nerve to knock on our neighbor’s door. I knew the family was from China and wanted to ask if someone could help me with the translation of my adoption contract, which had been buried in my parents’ attic for years. I wondered why I’d waited so long to have someone take a look at it. As I stood there waiting for someone to answer the door, I studied a small red vase with intricately etched dragons and yellow flowers hanging next to the door. I wondered what the characters on the vase said. After several minutes, my neighbor answered the door. He owns a Chinese food restaurant right down the street. I stumbled over my words as I tried to explain why I had stopped by. He told me in broken English to come back in half an hour when his daughter-in-law would be there. I busied myself around the house and lost track of time until the doorbell rang an hour or so later. Our neighbor’s youngest son, Alex, appeared in the doorway with his sister-in-law, Kelly. He introduced her to me and explained that she did not speak English but would be happy to interpret my papers. I gave him a copy of the adoption contract regretful that he had to hurry off to class. That meant I’d have to wait for the interpretation. I tried not to think about it too much throughout the day as I anticipated meeting them later.

The following night, our doorbell rang once again. It was our neighbors, Alex and Kelly. After showing them in, we gathered around the dinner table with the adoption contract, and the translation began. I sat on the edge of my chair wishing I could understand what Kelly was saying. I tried to determine the language she spoke. Was it Mandarin or Cantonese?  Every so often Alex would interject to ask a question. Finally, Alex turned to me. The first thing he told me was that one particular page of the contract was a history of why my birth parents placed me for adoption. According to this paper, my birth parents were very poor and “there was no money in the household.” I was the 4th daughter from a large family. It didn’t state how many other siblings there were, but Alex and Kelly seemed to believe that the family was very large. They had to give one girl up for adoption and it happened to be me, the youngest. I immediately wondered if had I been born a boy, would they have kept me? I wondered if they had been disappointed that another girl had been born into the family? Did they waiver over the decision to relinquish me? Was I placed in the orphanage right after my birth, or did I stay with my birth parents for a little while? In my mind, I was also trying to reconcile the differences in stories between my mom’s account and what was actually written on the contract. Mom had always told me that my birth parents had placed all the girls for adoption and that they had tried to find one of my sisters to adopt her too. So many missing pieces.

Alex then brought my attention to a specific area of the contract. It was the handwritten signatures of both my birth parents on the contract. I was amazed that their signatures were actually right there on the paper, and I’d never noticed it before. He circled their names, the Mandarin characters written one on top of the other in vertical fashion. In fact, the entire contract was written in traditional Chinese text forming vertical columns from top to bottom. I examined the faded handwriting of my birth parents more closely. Alex moved on and explained that my birth parents were from a province in China, not Taiwan, called Guangxi. Another surprise. “It’s in south China,” he explained, “like Hong Kong.” He wrote out the name phonetically, Gong-sai, so that I’d remember how to pronounce it. Cantonese is the prominent language in Guangxi and all of southern China. Later, I did some research on Guangxi learning that it has a population of 45 million people made up of several ethnic groups and borders the country of Vietnam. Hmm… So maybe that had something to do with my adoptive parents telling me that I was part Vietnamese. So, how did I end up in Taiwan? Did my birth parents travel, or actually move there? Alex suggested that perhaps the orphanages were better in Taiwan and my birth parents placed me there to increase any chances of being adopted.

As the evening came to a close, Alex and Kelly assured me that my adoption was legally agreed upon by both my adoptive and birth parents. Alex told me that traditional Chinese families typically remain living in one house their whole life, so chances are that the family still currently lives in Guangxi at the same address. He also told me that their address would be fairly easy to locate if we should travel to China one day. I thanked them both for taking the time to help me, and they wished me good luck in my search happy to have been of help.

After they left, I went over everything Alex and Kelly told me. It’s frustrating not having all of the pieces and I’m more intrigued than ever. I’ve enlisted the help of a social worker at an adoption agency specializing in adoptions from Taiwan. I hope that she can help me find my birthfamily, or at least connect me to the right people. It seems like a longshot, but I can always hope.

false identity

lucky girlI don’t recall the exact moment when I realized I was adopted. My parents must have told me at a very young age because I just always knew. They often told me that I was “chosen,” and mom occasionally retold the story of how they found me. Usually she would end up in tears, and I would try my best not to cry in front of her. Like anyone else’s parents, my mom and dad were my mom and dad. We had the same kind of relationship that other kids had with their parents. It didn’t matter that I looked different from them. As I grew up, however, my adoptive parents were in no way prepared or equipped to manage the racial teasing that I encountered and the difficulties I experienced related to identity. In fact, they never knew, as I kept it to myself.

According to my mom’s story, I was the eleventh, give or take a few, child born to my birthparents; they gave all the girls up for adoption. How accurate this is, I’m not sure. My birthfather was supposedly Japanese and mother was Vietnamese. My parents attempted to find one of my biological sisters to adopt as well, but were unsuccessful in finding her. After my mom’s death in 2008, I found the original contract of my adoption, as well as many other documents, notes, receipts, etc. Everything had been carefully preserved and hidden away in a storage box up in my parent’s attic. I found one note of a list of orphanages scribbled on pieces of tablet paper; the writing appeared to be in Mandarin, but had English translations. Were these the orphanages my parents visited to look for my sister, or maybe even for me? I’ve often wondered how they found the Family Planning Association of China, the orphanage where they found me. The orphanage no longer exists today.

When I first found my adoption contract, I thought I’d made the discovery of a lifetime. What has intrigued me since examining the contract is that some of my mom’s story is contrary to the content of the contract. Mom never alluded to this document, and once when I asked to see my adoption papers, she freaked out and became suspicious. I have no idea why, except that perhaps she was afraid I’d want to find my birthfamily, which I never had any desire to do. It was all very weird. The adoption contract revealed the names of my birthparents. My birthmother’s name was Shiow-Jean Lu and birthfather’s, Chan-Huai Huang. My birth name was Hsiao-ling Huang (pronounced Shou-ling, like cow). My parents kept my birth name as my middle name but changed the spelling to Chaling. I’m speculating that during the translation of the contract, someone wrote out phonetically how to pronounce my birth name, or maybe my parents did it, and that’s how “Chaling” came to be. Or perhaps they simply ‘Americanized’ my given birth name. What really puzzles me is the fact that my birthparents names’ are not Japanese or Vietnamese, but Chinese. Could I be Chinese, or Taiwanese (I was born in Taiwan)? It’s such a mystery…

lucky girlAs my mom’s story goes, they knew that I was “the one” they wanted when I looked up at my mom and smiled at her. Apparently, my parents did not get to choose the baby they wanted, they were just given a baby. The process of cross-cultural adoptions in the U.S. is nothing like what my parents experienced. Adoptive parents go through a very lengthy process of completing a complicated mass of paperwork, the dossier, which can take months. Each country’s government has its own set of eligibility criteria, requirements, fees, etc. and there are also U.S. state and federal adoption laws. Then there’s interviews with adoptive parents, background checks, home visits… After all of that, adoptive parents begin to receive referrals based on their preferences. The whole process can take up to 2 or 3 years depending on which country the adoptive parents are seeking the adoption. My parents adopted me in a matter of days. Of course, they were actually there in Taiwan and able to go to the orphanage and see the children available for adoption. On December 16, 1966, I became Marijane Chaling Buck, the daughter of Lt. Col. Wendell and Gloria Buck. 

lucky girlWe traveled back to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa where my dad was stationed after my adoption. It would take another seven months for the petition for my visa to be approved (through the Tokyo, Japan Immigration and Naturalization Service). When my parents attended their appointment at the American Embassy to file for the petition, they were disappointed to learn that additional documentation was required attesting to “the abandoned status of their adopted daughter,” meaning a letter from the adoption agency was needed. My parents contacted the Secretary General of the Family Planning Association, Mrs. Tze-kuan Shu Kan, to write the letter. In addition to this information, I found some interesting letters to my parents from a caseworker, Rose-Marie, reassuring them that the necessary paperwork was being properly notarized and that there would be “no further trouble.” I also found the letter that Mrs. Kan eventually wrote to confirm the status of my abandonment; however, only half of it is legible. Part of the document is damaged, to my great disappointment. This was frustrating, as I was hoping to learn more about my adoption and birthfamily. What I did make out basically stated that I was abandoned at the age of 1 month, 9 days and placed in their orphanage. I’m almost positive that there was more explaining why my birthparents gave me up for adoption though. On July 7, 1967, my parents finally received approval on their petition for the visa. This enabled them to file a formal visa application, which required even more paperwork. A small note with scribbled handwriting listed all the items mom needed for the visa application: 6 photographs, 4 copies of adoption paper, 6 copies of household registration of the child, passport, medical exam and vaccinations, etc.

After finally receiving the visa in 1968, my dad received a transfer to the States. We moved to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts for a couple of years, then were transferred again to Barksdale AFB in Bossier City, Louisiana. It was in Shreveport on March 4, 1971, at the age of 4 years that I became a naturalized American citizen, along with 37 other people. I remember vaguely the naturalization ceremony, mostly feeling scared. The court room was filled with so many people, and when the judge picked me up to hold me for the news reporters, I started to cry.

We remained in Bossier City, Louisiana, throughout the rest of my childhood, and my parents continued to live there for the rest of their lives. They lived in the same house for 37 years. Obviously, finding my adoption contract has left me with a lot of questions. My parents are deceased, so it will be difficult to find the answers. After all of these years, I never thought that I’d be this curious about my past, but because my adoptive parents provided inaccurate information, I’m perplexed and would really like to find some answers. I’m not sure if they’re out there or how to go about finding them, but I’m going to try.