Category Archives: International adoptees

International Adoptee

ivory

RecitalMrs. 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 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!

 

a certain slant of adoption

Scribble black backgroundHello folks! It’s Sunday morning, the skies are gray in my lovely locale. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying the weekend, despite the clouds. It couldn’t have come sooner.

Today, I wanted to talk about adoption…well, duh. I have something more specific in mind. For the past 7 years, I’ve actively searched for and read blogs, books, scholarly research, adoptee group sites, birthmother sites, and adoptive parent sites seeking connection, knowledge, resources, and validation. There are as many views on adoption out there as the colors of the rainbow. As an international and transracial adoptee, my own perspective on adoption has evolved. I don’t think it uncommon for our views to change as we experience personal growth and for lack of a better term, mature. Adoptees have strong inclinations regarding adoption rooted in their own life experiences, and multiple factors shape those attitudes. I’ve spoken with adult adoptees who are not terribly interested in connecting to their cultural roots or birth heritage, nor searching for their birthfamilies. Perhaps there’s a glint of interest, but there is not yet a compelling enough reason or desire to follow it. There are other adoptees who speak strongly against international adoption and for reasons that are quite justified. International adoption has a jaded history, and there are countless adoptees who were adopted illegally, through unethical adoption practices – in some cases both the agency and adoptive parents were plainly aware of the falsification of information. These deplorable practices still occur around the world. There is evidence, and though the U.S. attempts to keep the public aware of these dark practices, they continue.

I have several friends who are adoptive parents and have adopted children internationally from China, India, Africa, Ethiopia, and Russia. They also have very strong opinions and attitudes about international adoption. Sometimes – maybe even frequently – my friends and I do not see eye to eye; nevertheless we remain friends. I strongly believe in family preservation and the support of services to keep children with their biological families. As an adopted person, I cannot see past that. And yet, we live in a world where adoption is still thriving, although in decline internationally. I feel conflicted at times because I have my own very strong attitudes about adoption and yet I am supportive of my friends and other adoptive parents, and that will not change. I am for the welfare of children whether adopted or not.

What I particularly struggle with across the landscape of adoption is judgment and how we judge one another based on our attitudes and opinions towards international adoption. I know that I am judged by others for what I believe and support. I don’t necesarrily like being judged; the word ‘judge’ itself is so harsh. And yet I also judge – it’s inevitable. We all do because it’s human nature. I have no control over what others think and say, but I can temper my own thoughts, words, and actions. I’ve gone through the gamut of emotions related to my own adoption/identity and international adoption in general, from curiosity and awe, to self-loathing and anger, to grief and loss and depression, to acceptance. Like so many adoptees, ignorance makes me angry. It’s complex. There’s a lot of ignorance surrounding international and transracial adoption – adoptive parents experience it, too, and people can say some really dumb things. Sometimes I laugh it off, and other times I get angry and vent to a trusted friend or another adoptee who gets it. There is healing and validation in sharing our experiences.

And what about birthmothers? Of all involved in the adoption ‘triangle,’ their voices and stories are the least heard. And yet, I am certain that they have also experienced trauma, separation, grief and loss, and judgment. We know that women throughout the world have been forced to ‘give up’ their children through coercion for generations (Australia, Brazil, etc). And their children were later adopted by families/individuals from other countries. Societies often judge unwed, single pregnant women who are then stigmatized and left with few options.

What to make of all of this? I will be judged by what I say and do. That’s life, and I can accept that, as painful as it may be. There are a lot of adoptees and other folks out there with some very strong voices and opinions about how things should be. What I won’t accept is bullying by others who believe that everyone should share the same attitude and carry out the same actions. That’s just unacceptable. Adoptees do not all share the same points of view. Similarly, adoptees, adoptive parents, and birthmothers have vastly different experiences. Sometimes what we see on the outside is not what’s on the inside. I realize that we may not always agree, but we can certainly respect one another and our own personal and matchless journeys. We can look for ways to inform others who have not walked in our shoes. I’m speaking as one adoptee to another – I hope to support you wherever you are in life and wherever life takes you. I do believe that collectively, we can make a difference.

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.

meeting carmen

faulkenburgs

The Faulkenbergs on L, my sister, & mom holding me

2016 is quickly coming to a close, and what a year it has been! We arrived in southern California late Friday afternoon where we’ll take up residence indefinitely 🙂 It’s rainy and cool in Seal Beach, not so typical So Cal weather, but the rain is much needed considering the drought. Our daughter was born in Anaheim, the home of Disneyland, but was raised primarily in Chandler, AZ where we lived for just over thirteen years. As we departed Phoenix, I thought about what we were leaving behind- so many positive and significant milestones were achieved while we lived in Arizona. I’ll miss Chandler very much, our friends and my old stomping grounds- Tumbleweed Recreation Center where I worked out with a very friendly and lovely group of women and fitness instructors, Pomogranate Cafe, my favorite vegan restaurant, Peixoto Coffee where I enjoyed many a seasonal coffee special, Chandler Whole Foods because the employees were so darn friendly, and our church, Redemption Gilbert, which has the best worship team and ministry leaders we’ve ever encountered. I’ll miss the less jammed freeways for sure. Change is scary, too. Moving to a new city and finding the right job and home is certainly anxiety provoking. We’re looking at homes in a region of So Cal that we’ve never lived in before, but have close friends in nearby Los Alamitos. Home prices are outrageous. Nevertheless, the best part of our move is being closer to our daughter, who’s attending college here. As I’m writing this post, we’re eating cookie dough in bed and watching old episodes of Modern Family, one of our favorites!

mecarmenThe last few weeks prior to leaving AZ were hugely chaotic. I was writing quite a bit and trying to organize our house for the moving crew. I’ve hardly had time to process our departure. I spent a weekend in Louisville/Middletown Kentucky where I visited with Carmen Faulkenberg Seitz, another adoptee from Taiwan. Carmen and her husband, Courtney, were beyond hospitable, and Kentucky was absolutely beautiful! The fall weather was gorgeous and a welcome change from Arizona’s warmer temps. Carmen and I had so much to share. There’s a connection between adoptees, and maybe even more so adoptees from the same country, that’s undeniable. I learned from Carmen that she was abandoned as a baby. She was taken in by a group of nuns at a Catholic organization, St. Benedict’s Home for Children, in Taipei, now a Catholic monastery. Carmen returned to Taiwan with her husband in 2008 and reconnected with the same nun who signed her adoption contract and helped facilitate her adoption. She was able to take a tour through the old orphanage, currently headquarters to the monastery. We were adopted from different orphanages in Taipei, but in one of my mom’s diaries, she wrote about visiting St. Benedict’s. I wondered if she had hoped to adopt a baby there. My parents adopted me from The Family Planning Association of China. Carmen’s date of birth is unknown, but was presumed to be around 1962. She was adopted in 1965 by Clarence and Janice Marie “Mickey” Faulkenburg, just a year before my adoption. Carmen found out from her father before he passed away that he and my father were close friends in Okinawa and made a verbal agreement making my adoptive parents Carmen’s godparents. Both our fathers served in World War II and at Kadena AFB in Okinawa where my parents lived when I was adopted.

It was heartbreaking to learn about the difficulties Carmen experienced as a young girl. Her adoptive mother was physically and emotionally abusive often leaving her and her younger brother, a biological son, alone for long periods of time while her father was serving overseas in Korea. She and her brother grew up in Indiana and would leave the house frequently unaccompanied wandering off into the city and asking strangers to take them back home. Today, that would be incredibly dangerous for kids, placing them at great risk for kidnapping, child prostitution/human sex trafficking, or who knows what. Carmen said she protected her brother as best she could and assumed care and responsibility for him. It’s what we call “parentified” behavior. Such behaviors lead to a burden far too heavy for children. Carmen’s brother was never abused, and Carmen felt unwanted by her adoptive mother. She said she believed it was her father who wanted to adopt her. It’s remarkable that Carmen was able to cope with the abuse and eventually forgive her mother. Although she has overcome much of the trauma she experienced, the emotional scars still exist and continue to manifest in different ways. Despite her painful past, Carmen is one of the most uplifting and energetic people I’ve ever met.

fullsizerCarmen and I both have many questions about our adoptions and how our adoptive families crossed paths. We wondered how our dads originally met and what their relationship was like. Did they work together, were they drinking buddies, why didn’t they keep in touch? My dad never mentioned Carmen’s father or any other friends he may have had during his service in the Air Force. Neither of our parents are living, so our questions will probably never be answered. In any case, I’m thrilled to have connected with Carmen and Courtney. We talked about how cool it would be to form a gathering for Taiwanese adoptees one day to connect and share stories. That would really be something.

So, here we are in California. Who knows what the future will bring. We continue to house hunt, praying to find a home we like (and can afford!). I continue to send out new apps and resumes. We’ll be spending the holidays in temporary housing, but at least we’re here. I’ll finish writing my book, Beyond Two Worlds, by the end of the year. It’ll be submitted for publication by the end of January 2017 with a release date of Summer 2017. Lots of change on the horizon. It doesn’t feel quite real yet, that we’ve moved to California. It kinda feels like we’re vacationing as we’ve done so many times before in California. I’m sure in time, everything will fall into place as it should be. Until then, I’m gonna do my best to enjoy the ride.

annoying stereotypes & microaggressions

inmyshoesI enjoy meeting and talking with other international and transracial adoptees. That we are adopted persons gives us a social identity that is unique. The environmental contexts in which we grow up are doubtless very different, and our adoption journeys are unique; however, when I talk to other internationally adopted persons, there’s a connection. It’s like, he or she gets me. We get each other.

Towards the end of my last semester of grad school, I learned that the student who sat right across from me in my Advanced Practice class was also an adoptee. She was adopted from Korea and grew up in Michigan. She is some twenty years younger, yet I immediately felt that kinship with her. We met for coffee one afternoon after class to commiserate over school and swapped stories about adoption. We laughed about stereotyping and how we have managed to live in a predominantly white world. It felt good to connect with another adoptee who also happens to be a social worker!

Earlier this month, I met with another adoptee, a friend. She, too, was adopted from Korea. We met for lunch at a Vietnamese sandwich shop to catch up. During our conversation, she asked me about my feelings towards international adoption after having completed my thesis and if I had an interest in working in international adoption. It is such a difficult question to answer, and I don’t think that I have a definitive one. We talked about our conflicted feelings towards international adoption. On the one hand, orphans need permanency and loving families. On the other hand, the complexities of international adoption are significant, and there is a great need for others to be educated. There is still so much to learn about international adoption, how it impacts the psychosocial development of adoptees, and how to help prepare and support adoptive parents, as well as adoptees – not that any parent regardless of adoptive status or not could ever be fully prepared for parenthood. But there are ways to better educate the general public and adoptive families and to offer a more realistic picture of this process.

My journey through adoption continues to evolve. Although I have experienced incredible personal growth through the years, I’m not sure that I could work in international adoption, at least not in the capacity of a caseworker. I’m sure that my own personal challenges as an adoptee have much to do with these conflicted feelings. I can help educate adoptive families, provide cultural training and support, try to impact international adoption policy, but don’t think I could manage the actual adoption process. I have several friends who have adopted children internationally, and I always think in the back of my mind that international adoption is a business. I would support greater efforts to prevent the need for adoption altogether…preventive services and services to keep families together.

While we were sitting and conversing, an older white gentleman walked over to us and interrupted our conversation to ask if either of us knew of a good Asian salon where he could get his hair cut. He told us that most of the Asian women he encounters don’t speak very good English and upon hearing our conversation and ability to speak “good” English, felt like we could point him in the right direction. I felt completely annoyed. I told the man that I did not know of any Asian salons as did my friend. The look on his face was one of complete shock. It told me that he assumed we knew the right salon to direct him to. We did not tell the man that we were both adopted and knew as much about Asian salons as the man in the moon. Instead, we watched him walk away, perplexed, and returned to our conversation. I could not shake off how ruffled I felt. Although this man was completely unaware, he had committed a microaggression that was just plain annoying.

I’m glad to have visited with my friend. It was encouraging to hang out with another adoptee, someone who has walked in “my shoes” in many ways. I didn’t ask her if she felt as annoyed as I did by the man who asked us about a hair salon. She seemed to brush it off and was so polite. I took her lead and decided to be polite, too, despite my feelings.

 

the way i are

During the first half of my life, I never thought of myself as anything other than being American. What I mean is, I always thought of myself as being white. My outward appearance, however, has never really fit the image of  what most people typically think of as a white person. DUH. I was raised by white parents in a mostly white neighborhood. In every way, I grew up to think “white,” to be white. What does this mean? It means I learned to be like everyone else around me. I tried very hard to minimize looking Asian (people in the South call it “Oriental,” but to set the record straight, Asian is the culturally correct term). Being white meant being privileged. In my mind, it was synonymous with superiority, a thought that makes me cringe now. I wanted blonde hair with blue eyes, a skinny nose, and about five inches more in height. When you wish for something that you’re not, it leads to some serious insecurity, discontent, and general unhappiness.

When I was very young, I didn’t recognize the significance of how different I looked from my parents or my peers. My adoptive parents didn’t talk about race or culture. They didn’t know how to. Up until a certain age, kids tend to be colorblind and less attuned to differentness. Somewhere between kindergarten and elementary school, they take notice of others who stick out for whatever reason. For the longest time, I didn’t get why certain kids picked on me– the racial gestures, like pulling up on the corners of the eyes, or the slurs, like “chink,” seemed so weird to me. I just thought kids were plain old mean and had no idea they were acting prejudiced towards me.

I was extremely sociophobic, shy to the max, which made things even worse. Speaking up to defend myself was not in my nature at the time. I was afraid of my own shadow. I quietly ignored negative encounters with others and went about my business. Internally, I felt inferior, invisible, a complex that stayed with me for a very long time. To this day, I’m still an introvert, but I feel much more comfortable stating my opinion, although it sometimes feels unnatural. I’ve always admired those with loud, boisterous personalities who aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

What’s so ironic is that I was pretty spoiled growing up. My parents handed me things – I think that was their love language– giving gifts. You would think that this was a good thing. I was cared for physically and materially in a way I may never have been in my own birth country. Such is not the case. I didn’t learn to be very responsible until much later in my life because I always had someone there to take care of me. It had a crippling effect. When I graduated college, I bolted in pursuit of independence from my parents. I moved to Florida, then Los Angeles., but was still so naive. I’m amazed I didn’t get myself into more trouble than I did. Difficult times followed, but it was never like I was ever homeless, in harm’s way or hungry (although I did eat a lot of cereal for dinner-Corn Chex was my favourite).  It was the psychological and emotional areas that needed maturing. I needed a strong dose of character, too.

And now, how do I feel about things as I reach my 47th birthday (not until August) and see life through a different lens? You’ll be happy to know I’ve come to the realization that I’m not really white…DUH. A light went off when I found my adoption papers and learned that I was Taiwanese, not Japanese and Vietnamese as my adoptive parents always told me. My sister found the box where my adoption papers were hidden in my parent’s attic. I wanted to learn about my cultural heritage for the first time in my life. I was intrigued by the possibility that my birthfamily was out there still alive somewhere. Imagine yourself being re-born–that’s the only way I know how to describe what it felt like to learn that I was Taiwanese, that my identity was not what I’d always thought it to be. It’s been thrilling to grow into my cultural roots and even more so, to have met my birthfamily in Taiwan last year. Nothing could ever replace that reunion and the welcome I felt from my two sisters and family in Taipei. I often ask myself now, why am I so passionate about transracial adoption and identity? Who really cares? Then I remind myself that someone needs to speak up about adoption and identity. Someone has to help make it better and help others understand the special challenges of inter-country adoption. Someone has to help adoptees who are struggling emotionally and/or behaviorally due to adoption-related issues. I signed on to be a messenger and a helper.

If you’re wondering where I align myself ethnically now, I’m proud to say that I’m Taiwanese American. After years of identity confusion, it’s nice to finally be clear on that. It’s complicated though. I can’t change the core of who I am, the southern girl who will always be a bit country. I have a fondness for southern food and movies about the South (like Steel Magnolias). There are some things about the South that I appreciate. Louisiana will forever be like home away from home. But during the second half of my life, I will not ignore the fact that I’m also Taiwanese. I have a lot of catching up to do. One day I hope to meet other adult Taiwanese adoptees. We would have a lot to share with each other.

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!