Category Archives: birth culture

new podcast

Hsiao_Ling_H-Logo-Final-3000x3000It’s rare that I write two posts in a row these days! I wanted to share with you a new podcast I’m launching soon called Global Adoptee Talk, a podcast about the experiences of international and transracial adoptees around the globe. The podcast will feature 1:1 interviews with other international/transracial adoptees, and we’ll discuss topics related to international adoption, race/culture/identity, search and reunion, and mental health. Please stop by to visit my new site, GlobalAdopteeTalk.com.

And, please share the podcast with your adoption community! I’m off to work now…Thank you so much for visiting Global Adoptee Talk!

Book Release Date

CoverBeyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity is now live! If you have not yet purchased your copy, don’t delay. Signed copies can be purchased right here on my website.  Just click on Shop to order. Ebook and hardcover editions are also available via AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Indiebound.org. Unfortunately, I am unable to ship internationally; however, those copies can be ordered through Amazon and Barnes & Noble online. To learn more about the book and to read an excerpt, click here. Thank you for supporting Beyond Two Worlds!

 

Pre-Order Your Book

CoverHello out there! I’m very happy to announce that you can now pre-order your copy of my new book, Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity. Please spread the word and encourage your friends and family to purchase their book on the Beyond Two Worlds website. Just click on the “Shop” tab above, which will direct you to PayPal. All books purchased through my website will be signed and autographed.

About the Book:

What if your life story wasn’t what you thought? Experience a true story about two worlds and a woman’s search for truth, forgiveness, and love.

Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Marijane was adopted by an American military family at four months old. She grew up in a middle class neighborhood where hers was the only Asian face amongst a majority of white.

Raised to believe she was Vietnamese and Japanese, she never doubted what her adoptive parents told her, until one day, she found her lost adoption papers. This discovery unloosed secrets that had been buried for decades, causing her to question her own identity and origins. With brave determination, Marijane set out on a journey to reconstruct her past and resurrect a birth heritage that had long been forsaken. Her journey took her halfway across the world to eventually reunite with her birth family.

Beyond Two Worlds is a poignant telling of one woman’s quest for identity and belonging despite insurmountable odds, and will be of help to those seeking connection to their original families.

Coming Summer 2017!

Read an excerpt from the book here.

reunion in vietnam

Last September, I was contacted by a very thoughtful 17-year old adoptee from Vietnam. Her email stated that she’d found my blog and that it struck a deep chord with her. I was delighted to hear from her, so I reached out. She told me she was adopted at the age of 2 months from Vietnam and that she believed she’d found her birth mother via Facebook after years of searching. She explained that she’d been attempting to contact her birth mom through other bio relatives on Facebook, but was unsure if her mom wanted any contact with her. Naturally, she experienced a roller coaster of emotions and asked if I could share more of my own journey since I’d reunited with my birthfamily. She expressed she felt it hard for other non-adoptees to fully understand everything she was going through and was seeking support and “words of wisdom.” I understood, as I have also experienced very similar emotions. The tug of war when searching for one’s birthfamily is not easy to articulate and perhaps even more difficult for others to comprehend. There are multiple obstacles, and yet the desire for connection is so strong.

She continued to write to me and one day wrote that she’d finally connected with her birth mom via WhatsApp with the help of her relatives! Her parents were supportive yet urged her to be cautious. Of course they were concerned. I was ecstatic for her and hoped that the reunion would be a positive experience. This young adoptee then traveled a world away to Vietnam to meet her birth mom. The pictures she took of their reunion were some of the sweetest and most telling photographs I’ve ever seen. She captured a bond that erased years of separation and a love that was clearly undeniable. I’m certain the experience was just as profound for her birth mom.

When she returned she experienced a tumult of emotions and felt very torn between both worlds, the one here and the one in Vietnam. I offered support – it takes time to process such a momentous event. She wrote that finding her birth mom really filled a deep hole in her heart and, she felt lucky that it all went as well as possible. Her school newspaper caught wind of her story and asked if she’d write an article describing her journey. I asked her if I could share it with you in the hopes that it would help other adoptees who are searching and adoptive parents to understand why reunion is so important, no matter what age. Furthermore, adoptees need support from their families and friends, and in some cases, professional support to sort through all of the emotions – loss, grief, joy, disappointment, sadness – the whole gamut. This young woman’s story resonated deeply with me. No doubt, her journey is not over. But then again, I don’t think an adoptee’s journey is ever truly over. Here is the article she wrote:

This December, my life changed forever. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would one day find my Vietnamese birth mother—let alone meet her in person. It is a miracle. It all started this summer. Through Facebook.

I was adopted at two months. For the longest time I denied my adoption, but during my freshman year I tentatively came to terms with it, and began to explore my past. I discovered that my parents had a brief letter about my birth mother— name, age, city, and a line about her family—but probably fake. I scoured the internet numerous times, but to no avail.

That summer I returned to Vietnam for the first time, with my parents, eager to search for my mother. It was strange, to say the least. I visited my orphanage, only to leave with a torrent of tumultuous emotions. It was excruciating to be so close—yet so far. What if we walked past each other? I frantically scanned each woman I saw, but it was hopeless. I left discouraged and abandoned my search.

This July, we returned to Vietnam, and my thoughts flew to my mother. The same questions. What would my life have been had I stayed with her? Was she still alive? Out there somewhere? Did she remember me? Would I ever find her? It was agony.

Late one evening, I decided to search her name on Facebook. Nothing. I sat back in frustration. Then, it occurred to me to remove her middle name. One profile popped up. Ho Chi Minh City. My heart raced. I followed the link and almost had a heart attack. I had never seen anyone who looked so much like me. Those eyes. My eyes. The cheeks. Forehead. Smile. Could it be?

I went into a frenzy. I immediately asked a friend to translate a message and sent it to her. I checked all of my photos against hers. I grew more convinced by the second she was my mother. Friends cautioned me to slow down, be careful—we knew nothing about her. I might never hear back. She could be the wrong person. She might hate me. What would I do then?

I ignored them. I knew the risks, but there was nothing I wanted more than to find her. I waited a month, but no response came. I was not surprised; the account seemed outdated. After investigating the profiles of her six friends, I surmised that they were her aunt and cousins. Dare I ask them? I settled on the Aunt.

I added my Vietnamese name to my profile and sent her a friend request. To my surprise, she accepted it. I sent a quick message asking to contact her niece. The challenge was that I could not explain why; if she did not know about me it could ruin my mother’s life. I had to be persistent enough to catch her attention, but not enough to scare her, and I had to pretend I spoke Vietnamese, in case she got suspicious.

She wrote the next day. I waited with baited breath for the translation—polite, curious, but wary. We had the same last name, but who was I? Why did I ask for her niece? Maybe it was a mistake? I immediately sent the profile, but no response. For two weeks I hesitated, then messaged her again. She agreed to talk to her niece. Then nothing. I tentatively prompted her, terrified to lose touch. She said they did not recognize my photo. It continued in that manner all through August and into September; then she ignored me.

What next? I puzzled through eight weeks, tip-toeing on eggshells, and keeping a low profile. Finally, at the end of October, I plucked up the courage to try my mom’s cousin, who spoke English. I had to try twice before she replied. To my shock, she instantly agreed to help, without an explanation. She would meet her cousin the next day, to help us message each other.

Saturday, October 29th, 11pm. A message from the cousin; she was ready. I panicked. I had no one to help me type in Vietnamese. What if I lost my mother? Thankfully a Vietnamese friend was online to translate. I sent my mother the message from the summer. She read it and went offline. I paced anxiously. Ten minutes later she reappeared, How did you get this information? Could you let me know? It was late and she would talk to me later. Wait! I frantically told her, from the orphanage, when I was adopted!

Pause. Eight minutes later, I am [name]. When I was young I was afraid my family know so I ask to  orphan my child. After giving birth to her I had never see her again. The nanny had already took her…After read those information you gave me above, I believe that you are the child I gave birth to that year. I was stunned. Time stopped.

We talked for three hours. I am so glad to hear your life is good. I think of you always, but couldn’t find you after such a long time apart. Thank God blessed you to find me. I want to meet you again in the near future. I was in a daze. My mother sent me a photo on the beach, and all the tears spilled out. I am crying now! Tears of sorrow, and joy at finding you, I told her. I could picture her smile: I wish I were there to hold you in my hands, I am crying too. Thank God we found each other after all. Goodnight my lovely daughter.

All week we talked. I cried so much, she said. Thinking about leaving you forever felt like someone stabbed my heart into pieces…I’m so happy. You’re my little princess. I am so happy to see your message everyday after coming home from work. I’m so thankful to God and can’t ask more. Now I have you, my daughter. You’re the joy of my life. I love you so much.

On the third day, my mom asked about a video call the coming weekend. My aunts sent a flurry of messages. I was nervous, but desperately wanted to meet her, so I agreed. I will never forget the mix of astonishment, wonder, and bliss on her face when she first saw me, the raw love swimming in her eyes. We were speechless. We could only gaze at each other. Mesmerized. I met my aunts and grandmother, and they all cried and laughed. It felt like a dream.

I begged my parents let me to visit over winter break, and they agreed. We set off, on what was about to be one hell of an emotional roller coaster ride. The day we met, I was petrified. What if she was a horrible person? Or we could not communicate? Or disappointed each other? What if she was the wrong person? I wanted to hide in the car, but it was far too late to turn back.

My mother and aunt met us on the street. I tentatively stepped out of the car, and instantly found myself wrapped in her arms. I could not think, only smile. We walked to the house. I was met by a barrage of hugs and kisses, watery smiles. It was surreal. To gaze into my birthmother’s eyes. To feel the warmth of her embrace, her fingers stroking my hair. To listen to her soothing voice. To kiss her cheek. To claim each other as our own. After 17 years.

We spent nine days together, with the rest of the family. Leaving her was one of the most painful things I have ever done. Every adoption is different; there is no guarantee how it will turn out. But I am incredibly lucky. I found her, and everything turned out as perfectly as possible. Someone once told me that if you wish for something with all of your heart, somehow it will happen. Perhaps, but tenacity can go a long way.

we are family

IMG_4348_Airport2

Amy, Me, Christina at Taoyuan Airport in Taipei

 I’ve been in Taipei just shy of one week now. So much has happened in the past 5 days. As much as I’ve wanted to keep a daily journal, I’ve just been too tired and busy to keep up. It’s a good kind of tired and busy though. Below is a recap of my first day in Taiwan.

The journey to Taiwan begins on Saturday, January 15th. I feel amped up and nervous about leaving my family behind, but once I get to the Seattle airport, I feel a bit more calm. I Skype my husband and daughter, and they seem fine. Around 10:30 pm, I notice a woman who looks like Tien arrive at the gate and immediately go to introduce myself. She’s the miracle worker (with the most effervescent personality) who has been instrumental in helping me find my birth family in Taiwan. We arrange to have seats near each other and get acquainted while waiting to board the plane. At last, boarding begins, and we make our way up to the top deck. I’m glad that Tien is here and that we’re traveling together. It’s around 1:00 am. Once airborne, the flight attendants start a meal service, not a snack, but a full on meal. Really, at 1:30  am? I’m not really hungry, but I eat anyway. It doesn’t take long for everyone to start snoozing. I sleep for most of the flight. Although it’s a 13-hour trip, time seems to pass quickly to my amazement. Another meal is served about 2-hours before we are to land. What bizarre times to eat! The Taiwanese woman sitting next to me strikes up a conversation and from then on doesn’t stop! She is giving me all kinds of advice about Taiwan after I explain to her why I’m visiting. She is leaning in towards me as close as she possibly can without bumping my head and continues to poke my sore left arm where I recently got a tetanus shot. I try to lean away the other way. She and her husband are very nice, but I’m glad when the flight attendants announce that we’re preparing for landing, a welcome distraction. The air turbulence doesn’t even bother me as we begin our bumpy descent toward Taipei. I can’t help but grin as we get closer to our destination; the anticipation of meeting my sisters growing. I gaze out the airplane window at Taipei City below. A thousand tiny specks of light illuminate the curvy highways below.

Finally, we touch ground; it’s around 6:30 am Taiwan time. I want to shout a really loud yahoo, but decide to keep it to myself. We wait impatiently for the plane to come to a complete stop at the gate. Once the signal is given, I gather my stuff and make my way into the crowded aisle. I feel like I’ve been stuffed into a can for the past 24 hours, and it’s nice to stand up. Tien tells me to go ahead of her, as she has to wait to get her carry on. We trudge off the plane and head straight to the money exchange window, fill out arrival cards and wait in the queue for the next available representative. Everything goes quickly and smoothly, and to my surprise, I don’t feel a bit tired. Next, downstairs to baggage claim and to meet my sisters! As we near the airport lobby, I immediately recognize my older sister. She and my 2nd sister are holding a white banner with big blue letters saying, “Welcome, Marijane.” I hurry over as fast as I can despite being weighed down by a set of heavy luggage and give each one a big hug. Our smiles are big enough to light up the entire city of Taipei. Tien and my sisters introduce themselves and exchange conversation, and I get caught up in the chatter of Mandarin and laughter. My older sister shows me pictures of our mother and pa-they’re mine to keep. She has also made a CD of pictures of our pa in his later years and gives this to me. I study my sisters’ faces. They both look so much alike, but do I look like either of them? My second sister tells the other something in Mandarin, and my older sister says to me, “she thinks you resemble our mother.” But after seeing both of our parents’ pictures, I think I look more like our pa in his younger days; same eyes and nose. Wow. Now I finally know what my biological parents look like. Soon, my older sister begins to take photos. I can’t seem to find my camera, but she reassures me that she’ll send me all of her pictures. I’m told that our brother is not physically well and will not join us until the dinner with the whole family on lunar Chinese New Year, January 22nd. I immediately notice the affection between my two sisters; they’re only one year apart in age. Now they have extended their affection toward me, little sister by 10 years. I’m amazed at how warm and welcoming they are, as though we’ve known each other our whole lives.

My eldest sister, me, and 2nd sister

After a half hour or so of talking together, we decide it’s time to head for my hotel, about an hour’s drive away. My oldest sister first gives me a hand phone in a cute little red case and a diamond studded handle complete with charger for me to keep during my visit. She puts it inside another little case for safe keeping. They have thought everything through and are so organized! Older sister explains how to use it and makes sure that I know which number is hers and my other sister’s. She takes charge and both sisters wheel my luggage outside toward a long line of other people waiting for taxis. They banter back and forth in Mandarin. Once a taxi becomes available, we climb in and my sisters encourage me to close my eyes and rest. I’m too caught up in the moment to go to sleep though. So we talk most of the ride to the hotel. Once we arrive, my sisters help me check in, and we head upstairs to my room. They shower me with gifts, pineapple cakes packaged beautifully, a thermos, an umbrella, and a small knife for cutting up fruit. They insist on making sure I get some rest and leave shortly thereafter only to return to hand me some cash. They don’t take no for an answer either!

At 6 pm, they come by to take me to dinner, a nice Chinese restaurant not far from the hotel. They come bearing more gifts, fruit and specialty cookies famous in Taiwan, which the bell person offers to take to my room. We get into another taxi and head to the restaurant. After a quick drive through the crowded downtown streets, which continually abound with taxis, cars, and motorcycles, we arrive at the restaurant and are ushered upstairs to dine. My 2nd sister orders for us, and we talk about how my search for them first began. The food arrives quickly, one course after another, and is very delicious. Suddenly I feel like I’m 10-years old again as my sisters see to it to keep adding more food to my plate once it appears near empty. I’m stuffed by the time dinner is over. After dinner, we go back to the hotel room, and I show them the photo album that I put together of my adoptive family.They ooh and ah over my baby pictures, and my oldest sister comments on how alike both my adoptive father and our pa look. I totally agree!

It’s been an amazing day, and again I don’t feel the least bit tired. Maybe it’ll hit later on. It’s very surreal to be here in Taiwan, to have finally met the 2 sisters who looked after me at the babysitters after school. They were only 10 and 9 years old when I was born. Both tell me that they used to hold me when visiting the babysitters’. Interestingly, while we are looking at the photo album, my oldest sister recognizes a woman holding me in some of the pictures; it is the babysitter! How very amazing – another piece of the puzzle fits into place. My sisters do not overstay so that I can get some rest. Tomorrow there will be 2 interviews with 2 different newspaper reporters who are interested in our reunion story. My sisters decide not to be in the interview in order to protect their privacy. Before I even arrive, both have been contacted by the news reporters and are quite shocked. I respect their wishes. Tien will be there to translate. Oh, what a day it’s been, a joyous reunion to remember! My sister’s have made a schedule for our time together. It will be like trying to cram in a lifetime’s worth of being apart into 2 short weeks. It’s all an adventure!

a whole new world

I have become intrigued by everything Asian, specifically things related to Chinese culture and to Taiwan. It surprises me how strongly I feel about this. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve become a little too obsessed. Am I going overboard? Is this a mid-life crisis? Have other transracially adopted adults gone through this kind of searching later in life? When I explain to friends and family that I’m taking Mandarin lessons, going to Taiwan soon, and really exploring my cultural roots, their reactions are often encouraging, but I don’t think they quite get it. Perhaps they believe that this is just a phase I’m going through similar to a kid going through adolescence. It has, after all, taken half of my lifetime to get to that point of wanting to learn more of my cultural heritage. Twenty years ago I would never have thought twice about pursuing a search for my biological sisters, planning a trip to Taiwan, or learning Mandarin. There was no hint of a desire whatsoever.

I am happy that this new chapter of my life has begun. I’m not sure where it will all lead, but it’s an adventure. Recently, I’ve been watching a Taiwanese TV drama called, “Meteor Garden.” I had a hard time getting into it at first because it’s targeted for a younger audience, but I must say I got sucked in. I’ve begun to pick up on a few Mandarin words and phrases here and there. I have a growing list of Taiwanese dramas that I want to watch! I’ve also been listening to K-Pop (Korean pop music) and Taiwanese pop music lately. I’ve been enjoying it and am getting acquainted with popular Taiwanese singers and bands, like Jay Chou and Jerry Yan. I’m sure there are a lot more great artists out there.

I still have many questions about my adoption. One thing that still mystifies me is why my adoptive parents told me that I was Japanese and Vietnamese. My birth parents were both from China and moved to Taiwan where I was born and adopted. When and whythey moved from China to Taiwan, I’m not exactly sure. I would like to know what happened to the adoption agency, The Family Planning Association of China, as it no longer exists. I’d like to know if Tze-kuan Shu Kan, the director of the agency, is still living. My adoptive mom also kept a list of orphanages in the Taipei area. I wonder if she visited all those orphanages before finding me? I would like to visit one of those orphanages in Taipei while I’m there in January. Of course, to find one of my biological sisters and meet would be beyond wonderful and would most likely lead to some of the answers to my questions. Maybe going to Taiwan is just the beginning. I hope that more doors open up. I don’t think that this is just a phase. I think it’s a growing appreciation for my birth culture, an opportunity to explore it and expand my identity. So, I may come off a little obsessed, but it really is a whole new world.

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.