Category Archives: birthfamily

ivory

Recital

Mandi and I at the piano

Mrs. Guinn placed the clunky brown headphones snuggly over my head, the giant earpieces squeezed my temples. A long, coiled cord reached across the way to a stereo where she now stood, ready to drop the needle. I had no idea what I was in store for. Mrs. Guinn had never offered to play music for me at any of my other piano lessons. Mandi, my friend next door, and I took weekly lessons at Mrs. Guinn’s house. I loved going to Mrs. Guinn’s for my piano lessons and looked forward to them every week. She lived in a quiet neighborhood in Shady Grove and was probably 30-something in age. She was married to an officer in the Air Force and had a pretty face and gentle demeanor. She reminded me of Toni Tennille of Captain and Tenille. The front living room where Mrs. Guinn taught held an upright piano on one wall and an organ against another, a large window overlooked the street. Her house was always meticulously clean and inviting. “I have something I want you to listen to today,” she said as she guided me into the family room. The headphones felt heavy against my ears as she adjusted them. I sat silently and settled into Mrs. Guinn’s plush black couch, waiting for the music to begin playing.

“Da-da-da-DUM.” “Da-da-da-DUM!” Those first four minor pitches of Beethoven’s all too famous Fifth Symphony bellowed in my ears. The music escalated, and I became completely enraptured, magically swept away. With every pulse of the bass, my heart quickened. I was only 9-years old at the time, and yet that was such a defining moment in my life. The rest of the world fell away in those brief eight minutes or so of that first movement. I was an extremely shy, introverted kid, but at my lesson the following week, I mustered the courage to ask Mrs. Guinn if I could listen to that recording again. Of course, she obliged. Little did Mrs. Guinn know how much that recording influenced me musically. One of the other things I enjoyed while taking lessons from Mrs. Guin was the monthly gatherings she held at her home where all her students performed for each other. The best part was when she performed for us on her organ. I loved watching her feet fly across the pedals.

Mrs. Guinn was a member of the National Federation of Music and entered me into my first music festival where students performed and were adjudicated. I received a superior + and was selected to perform in the Honors Recital with many other students. Kabelevsky’s, The Clown, Op. 39, No. 2, was my first performance piece ever. As I climbed the stairs the night of the recital towards the concert grand piano, it felt as though I were having an out of body experience. Somehow, I got through my piece without any fumbles and took my bow to the applause of the audience. I would perform in many other recitals, each one causing more anxiety than the last. It was something I continuously struggled with.

Mrs. Guinn moved within a year or two. I was deeply saddened when she told me her husband had received a military transfer to Texas, as I had become quite attached to her. I eventually studied with Mr. Robert Buckner during my high school years. Mr. Buckner lived in Shreveport and was quite a character. He had a piano studio behind his house, and a dachsund named Angie. I began every lesson with major and/or minor scales as a warm-up, or Hanon exercises. I felt comfortable with his teaching style and sense of humor. I decided to major in music and attended Centenary College of Louisiana where I studied piano performance, primarily because it meant I didn’t have to take a single math class. I was beyond horrible in math or anything that had to do with numbers. Initially, I felt terribly inadequate compared to my peers who seemed to have much better training musically than I did. I struggled with ear training and theory, but loved composition and piano literature. I studied with Constance Knox Carroll and absolutely adored her. She was an inspiring teacher and incredible pianist. I’m sure, however, that I was one of her least favorite students, as I was not very disciplined and did not practice as I should have, especially during my senior year. I got distracted with theatre and dance and remember her scolding me at one particular lesson for my lack of practice. She had every right to because my senior recital loomed ahead, and I hadn’t memorized all of my pieces. She remarked that it seemed like I liked theatre and dance better, and she was right. What did I know at that age? Not a whole lot. I sat there silently, not knowing what to say.

I wasn’t exactly lazy, but discipline was not my strong suit. Practicing was such an isolating endeavor, and yet in those days, I didn’t always mind it. I typically hit the practice room for four hours a day, sometimes six on the rare occasion that I was super inspired. There were times when it was such a rewarding experience to sit at the keyboard and just play without anyone listening. Those were the times when I performed the best. But in front of an audience, I lost all sense of composure. Performance anxiety plagued me. I could not control my hands; they became leaden, nor the adrenaline racing through me, and memory slips haunted me. On one occasion, several students were to perform with the Shreveport Symphony in a special recital. I was going to perform the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A, K414. I can’t describe how exhilarating it was to perform with an orchestra, with other musicians. It was like flying, but without the motion sickness. Unfortunately, performance anxiety got the best of me, and my memory lapsed somewhere during the development. The orchestra continued to play as if nothing happened while I sat frozen. Eventually, I wove my way back in, but the damage had been done. I barely made it through the cadenza.

After graduating college, I taught piano for a brief time at St. Mark’s Episcopal in Shreveport and another Christian school before moving to Florida. I didn’t touch a keyboard for nearly 20 years after that. One day, my mom asked if I wanted my baby grand piano, the one they bought me when I first started taking piano lessons. Of course I did, and a couple of months later, my baby grand arrived to our tiny condo in California. It took up an entire room. I started teaching piano thereafter at a Christian elementary school in Mission Viejo, CA, and eventually taught privately on and off until 2013. My piano skills were more than a little rusty, and I lamented the loss. I attempted to take piano lessons a couple of different times, but just didn’t have the time to commit to practicing with family responsibilities and work. I stopped teaching altogether in 2013 when I went back to school to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work.

I’ve now had my baby grand since 1999. It has moved with us many different times in the last several years. It’s sitting in our family room in need of a little TLC – or a lot actually. Every once in awhile, I sit down to play,  but most of my time is spent at work these days. Recently, I felt moved to find Mrs. Guinn and searched for her via Google. Amazingly, I found her, and she wrote back to me immediately. She continues to teach, perform at churches, and accompany choirs in Nebraska. Although she only vaguely remembered me, she said that she looked up old recital programs and located one dated May 23, 1976, that I performed in. She said I played a Schaum arrangement of Yankee Doodle as a solo and again in a trio performance with Mandi, my friend, and another student named Kelly Scott. I was so happy to hear from Mrs. Guinn and that she continues to teach and play.

I feel truly blessed to have been trained in piano for so many years. I wish that I’d held onto it, but I think there was a part of me that felt incredibly inadequate as a pianist, so I shut it out of my life for a spell. When I studied to become a board-certified music therapist in 2006, that passion for music came back to life. And now, I long for my piano to be more than just a pretty conversation piece in my living room. One of these days, and hopefully not too long from now, I will get back to playing, perhaps a little at a time. It’s hard to play as I compare my skills now to those days when I was playing everyday for long hours. People tend to tell me, “you should just play for yourself.” Well, it’s easier said than done. Nevertheless, music is truly part of my fabric. I can’t think of anything more powerful and transformative than music.

So, for your listening pleasure, here is one of my favorite pianists, Murrah Perahia, at the keyboard performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K. 414. To Mrs. Carroll, who inspired me to be a better pianist:

 

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 the Shop tab above to order. Ebook and hardcover editions are also available via Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 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.

a Korean adoptee’s search

Greetings from sunny Long Beach, California! Hope you’re enjoying the holiday season. This morning, I wanted to share a very touching video posted by adoptee, Brent Silkey, who was born in S. Korea and adopted by an American family. Brent is currently searching for his birth mother. I saw the video below posted on an adoptee-only Facebook group page, Adoptees from Asia, and knew I had to post it here. The video has received around 136,000 views worldwide so far and close to 3,500 shares.

Brent’s birth mom and dad met through mutual friends and started dating. They enjoyed things like camping together with their friends. After their relationship ended, Brent’s birth mom found out she was pregnant. She had no way of getting in contact with his birth father. She came from a family that didn’t have a lot of financial means and dropped out of school after her second year of middle school (the US equivalent of 8th grade). Brent believes his birth mom helped her family cleaning homes, and she was the eldest of three girls. She lived with her father and father’s parents.

When Brent was born, his birth mom was just a teenager (19 years old in Korea, which is equivalent to 18 in America). He was a full-term baby and was placed for adoption immediately.

Brent expressed: I don’t know exactly why, but I would imagine that she wanted to give me the gift of life, but knew she would have been unable to take care of me with the other demands of her life and family.

I am SO thankful for her. I love her. I want to tell her how thankful I am for giving me the opportunity to be taken care of by such a wonderful foster family and then to be adopted by my parents in America. I have had such a blessed life and I want to give my birth mom a hug and thank her for being courageous enough to have me and to give me a great opportunity to have a wonderful life.

It is my dream to meet her in person, to share with her my life’s journey, and to tell her how my life has been forever changed by the love of God through Jesus Christ.

I would be incredibly honored to introduce her to my beautiful wife and two daughters (her granddaughters!!). We would do whatever we needed to in order to have the opportunity to meet her and to have relationship with her if she would allow us to.

I have only feelings of love, respect, and gratitude toward her.

I hope she has not carried around a sense of guilt or shame for the last 30 years. That is why I want to give her a hug.

I’ve been working with my adoption agency, but we continue to hit road blocks regarding the search. Her name is a very common name and “they don’t have the man power” to search for her.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting Brent and passing this video along. I’m certain that his birth mom never forgot him.

a thousand years

It’s been just over a year since I reunited with my birthfamily in Taipei, Taiwan. Distance, of course, puts us at a huge disadvantage for seeing each other more often. I think of them often, though, especially my two sisters who I spent most of my time with in Taiwan. In those brief ten days, we got to know each other and tried to fit into a week what we had missed in half a lifetime. They took me under their wings and introduced me to a culture that I never knew. I keep in touch with my eldest sister via email. However, I learned late last year that she had become ill and required surgery. She didn’t tell me at first because she didn’t want me to worry. Furthermore, there were complications following surgery. My other sister took care of her during and after the surgery. My eldest sister and I continue to keep in touch as much as she is able to, but reading and using the computer are difficult for her now. I pray for her complete recovery and also for the rest of my family in Taiwan. In dedication to my two lovely sisters and family in Taiwan, I share this song by Christina Perri, “A Thousand Years.” The lyrics remind me of how significant our reunion was in my life and that we found each other so late in our lives. You will see the lyrics posted in a unique way throughout the video. Sending love and hugs out to my two sisters through this song ♥

happy new year

As we close 2011, I am ecstatic that the search for my birth family has finally ended in actually finding them. It was in November, 2009 that I first began focusing on finding them. I had gone to see journalist, Mei-Ling Hopgood, author of “Lucky Girl” on November 1, 2009 where she was giving a book signing at the Phoenix Public Library. She was also adopted from Taiwan by a Caucasian-American couple and reunited with her biological family at the age of 23. Her book inspired me to forge ahead with my own search and gave me hope that perhaps it was possible to find my birth family. I was referred to Tien around that time as well by an adoptive mother from FCC (Families of Children from China), and from there the rest is history. I have saved nearly all of my correspondences with Tien and other people who were referred to me over the past couple of years in hopes that one day, I could put it all together into some kind of timeline.

The best part of 2011 is now being able to correspond with my oldest sister. I received the first email from her this past Wednesday morning before work. I was overjoyed to hear from her and overflowing with tears of joy. My sister’s English is very good, much better than my Mandarin at the moment. She told me a little about my older brother and other older sister and that they each have grown children. She also said that when they were little, they were good at painting and music. We all share some artistic abilities! We continued to email each other up through Friday. With each email I learned a little more of my biological parents and the circumstances surrounding my adoption. I treasure learning of how it all began and of my birth family. My sister tells me that I resemble our mother and that our father was quite handsome. I’ve always wondered if I look like any of my sisters or birth parents. I so look forward to meeting all of them soon.

I’m happy that this evening, we are joining some friends to celebrate New Year’s. Our friends adopted a little girl at 15 months from China nearly 3 years ago. They were at our home on Christmas Eve and were some of the first people to hear the news that Tien had made contact with my oldest sister. All of this seems surreal, and yet I know that I’ll be in Taiwan soon. It’s been difficult to concentrate at work because I’m preoccupied with all the emotions of at long last finding my biological siblings. I’m on cloud 9.

My Mandarin tutor taught me a new word today: you yuan. It means “have fate.” Women you yuan. My sisters and brother and I are fortunate to have good fate, the kind that brings people together. I feel so lucky to celebrate New Year’s here with good friends and onward to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family in Taiwan.

christmas miracle

It’s Christmas Eve. We have guests staying with us from out of town, and this evening we have a houseful of friends and kids over for dinner. The day has been full of catching up with old friends and running around here and there. Now, our kitchen is a buzz of conversation and laughter as everyone mingles together and loads their plates full of holiday fixings. In all honesty, I begin to feel a little overwhelmed by the houseful of people and noise and decide to steal upstairs for a few minutes of quiet. I log onto my computer to check my emails. Earlier today, I sent Tien an email to wish her a merry Christmas. Tien has been helping me with the search for my birth family. I’m happy to find an email from her in return. Her email begins, I have the greatest Christmas gift for you. As I continue reading, she tells me she has received an email from my oldest sister in Taiwan! I can hardly believe it! “You have two older sisters and one older brother,” Tien confirms. She has corresponded with my sister and has told her that we’ll be in Taipei in January. Tien includes my sister’s email response to her.  She tells Tien that she just received letters from the Household Registration Office today learning of my search for her and my other siblings. She writes,

“To my greatest pleasure that my youngest sister(黃筱玲) is now very well in USA. and she will visit Taiwan early next year.

Though we family members missed for almost half century, like a broken kite line. Thank God, we finally find each other in our life time. Isn’t it a miracle?”

I’m in tears and cannot believe that we have found my sister! She mentions that she will tell my brother and other sister about me and my trip to Taiwan. From her email, it appears that she speaks and writes in English, unless Tien translated her email, but I don’t think so. I run downstairs to share the news with our friends and my own family. I’m so happy that my sister wants to meet me! They remember me! I feel the same way she does, thank God that we have finally found each other in our life time. It is truly a miracle.

Without Tien’s help, none of this would be possible. She wasn’t kidding when she said she had a great Christmas gift. Tien has been a miracle worker, and God has truly answered my prayers. I thank all of you who have also sent up prayers!

I send my sister an email back directly, as she included her email and home and hand phone numbers. I wonder how I should begin, how to introduce myself. Finally I just begin by telling her, “I’m your youngest sister” and that Tien has sent word to me that she’s contacted her. I tell her a little bit about myself and family and how happy I am that she wants to reunite. I hope that my email sounds OK and appropriate.

My sister ends her email to Tien with this,

“…And I think we all are happy for the greatest gift of God, our reunion” and sent Christmas wishes to us all. It is the greatest gift of God to have the opportunity to finally reunite with my biological family. I’m still soaking in the news, full of anticipation. I will be able to meet them soon. I’m amazed at how everything is falling into place. Our goal to contact my sister before leaving for Taiwan has happened! Nothing short of a Christmas miracle.