memoir

Happy November! This is my absolute favorite time of the year. With the holidays fast approaching, things are amping up. Since my last post, we sold our house and are now in escrow. My husband and I will be moving to California on November 18th where our daughter is attending college. We’ll be renting for a while until we can buy a home somewhere in the Long Beach area.

Instead of packing and organizing for the move, I’ve spent the majority of my time writing. I mentioned in my last post that I’m working on a book, a memoir. I’m thrilled to announce that the title of my book is Beyond Two Worlds, so named after my website. My editor, Allyson, and I have explored a number of different titles for some weeks now, but decided on Beyond Two Worlds because of the special meaning behind the title. The title is symbolic of the difficulties and joys I’ve experienced in accepting who I am as a Taiwanese American adoptee and highlights the complexities of navigating through two cultures and identities, one of which I tried very hard to forget for many years. The story is of my adoption and search and reunion with my birthfamily in Taiwan, by far one of the most meaningful events of my life. Ironically, the reunion with my birthfamily occurred just around the Lunar New Year (or Chinese New Year) in 2012, and we’re shooting for submitting my manuscript to the publisher around the Lunar New Year next year (end of January 2017). The timing has great significance in more than one way. If everything goes as planned, we hope the book will be out by Summer 2017.

Writing this story has been very special. It began one morning when I was sitting at home, praying. Interestingly, I was feeling like a loser that morning- I had no job, I wasn’t doing anything of much importance,  our daughter was off to college, it seemed as though our house would never sell- and I asked God, “what should I be doing?” I was suddenly overtaken with an urgency to start writing, and I haven’t stopped since. The words sprang to life. I believe strongly that this book is inspired by God and by the ties I have with my two sisters in Taiwan. I feel a connection to them that goes deeper than DNA. My sisters have inspired me beyond words. I began writing about five months ago, and I’m currently working on the final chapters.

There is much to do between now and the end of the year. Packing, organizing, moving, and finishing my book. I’ll be posting updates along the way and cannot wait to share my book with you!

autumn in arizona

I’s my favorite time of the year! I know that fall doesn’t really pick up for another month, especially in Arizona, but the mornings and evenings are gradually cooling off. And thank goodness. I’m about sick of triple digit weather.

I’m writing from beautiful Orange County, California this morning. We’re here visiting our daughter, who just began her freshman year of college. Whoopee! Her 19th birthday is on the 10th, so of course, a celebration is in order. Those initial feelings of loss that first overwhelmed me have mostly subsided, and the new normal is beginning to feel – well, normal. That first week was rough though, I ain’t gonna lie. We’ve had our home in Arizona on the market for quite a few days in the hopes of moving back to California. Our daughter was born in Anaheim, and our family lived in Orange County for close to fourteen years. We want to be nearer to our daughter, but also talked of moving back to California to retire long before our daughter took off. In the past, we had considered settling in San Diego. Now seemed as good a time as any to make a move since we don’t have any other familial ties in Arizona. Alas, the housing market is dreadfully slow, and our dream of moving to the sunshine state is beginning to become just that. A dream. We spent the good part of yesterday looking at homes in Los Altos that were quite out of our budget. It’s California, though, and no surprise, everything is overinflated. After driving five hours, house hunting was kind of a drag and exhausting. I’m not sure if the house hunting itself or the tension was more exhausting.

Autumn brings new things to hope for, however. In early November, I’m heading to Kentucky. Never been to the great state of Kentucky and am greatly looking forward to it. It’s sure to be an especially memorable trip, as I’m meeting another Taiwanese adoptee who was adopted in Taipei from from another orphanage, St. Benedict’s. We have so much to talk about! Carmen’s adoptive parents were friends of my parents in Okinawa where both our fathers were stationed. Our families lived at Kadena Air Force base. Apparently, our parents had close ties, and my parents were Carmen’s godparents. I found Carmen’s adoption papers among the items in an old box that contained my original adoption contract. Carmen and her family once visited us in Louisiana when we were very young children. I must have been around kindergarten, or possibly pre-school age at that time. It’s really hard to remember. I set out to find Carmen almost five years ago and finally located her via her adoptive brother on Facebook. Since then, we’ve kept in touch through social media and by phone. I can’t wait to meet her and her husband in person!

Last week, I also spoke to another Taiwanese adoptee by phone, Michael. Michael lives on the East coast and was adopted from the same orphanage where my parents adopted me, The Family Planning Association of China in Taipei. A close relation to Michael found my blog and introduced us via email several years ago. I contacted Michael recently to talk and exchange stories about our adoptions. Michael traced his ancestry through 23andMe, an organization that provides DNA testing and analysis. He has a Taiwanese sister who was also adopted from the same orphanage and presently lives in England with her family. Their adoptive father was similarly in the U.S. Air Force. Michael, Carmen, and I were all adopted within years of one another. I would really like to build a yearly conference for Taiwanese adoptees one day, kind of like KAAN. It would take a team of folks to make that a reality, but it’s not impossible.

Lastly, I’m writing a book, a memoir of sorts, about my reunion with my birth family in Taipei. I’ve been working with an editor, formerly of Sage Publications, and am extremely excited about this project. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions as I’ve reached back into my memory, heart, past blog posts, and journal to recapture those years of searching, and ultimately, the reunion with my birth family in Taipei. My editor, Allyson, collaborates independently with writers who wish to self-publish and is considering making this a full-time occupation. She worked at Sage Publications for many years before deciding to leave her busy career there to focus on raising her family. My first draft is tentatively scheduled for completion by year’s end. Much of my time lately has been spent writing in between completing job applications, writing cover letters, and sending resumes to multiple agencies in California (no luck yet). It’s nice to have so much time to write, although this time will become much more limited once I start working again. I’ve completed roughly seventeen chapters thus far; however, there is much to be refined. No publication date set, but sometime in 2017. I’ll keep you posted!

I’m signing off to hang with our friends, the Pokorny’s, who generously allow us to stay in their home every time we visit California. Then off to pick up our daughter for a birthday shopping spree. Maybe staying in Arizona isn’t such a bad thing after all. It’s been very disappointing that our house hasn’t sold, but perhaps there is yet a better plan that we’re unaware of to be revealed.

mid-autumn festival

wholemooncakeHappy Moon Festival! I went to check out the moon cake display at my favorite Taiwanese bakery, AA Ozzy Bakery in Mesa, this afternoon after lunch. The moon cakes came in single packages as well as pretty pre-packaged boxes.

Interestingly, the origin of the Moon Festival is rooted in Chinese mythology and beliefs. It’s celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. Today, September 15th, happens to be the exact day of the Moon Festival. As its name suggests, legends (there are several) surrounding the Moon Festival are generally related to the moon. One of the most popular legends told widely during the festival days is that of Chang E flying to the moon. It is said that in ancient times, ten suns existed, and the extreme heat made people’s lives quite difficult. Hou Yi, a famous archer, shot down nine of the ten suns and became a hero due to this great feat. Upon hearing about this act and the hero who performed it, people came from far and wide to learn from him. Peng Meng was among these people. Later, Hou Yi married a beautiful and kind-hearted woman named Chang E and lived a happy life.
4mooncakesOne day, Hou Yi came upon Wangmu, the queen of heaven, on the way to meet his old friend. Wangmu presented him with an elixir which, if taken, would cause him to ascend immediately to heaven and become a god. Instead of drinking the potion himself, however, Hou Yi took it home and presented it to Chang E to keep. Unfortunately, Peng Meng secretly saw Hou Yi give the potion to his wife and three days later, while Hou Yi was out hunting, Peng Meng rushed into the backyard and demanded that Chang E hand over the elixir. Knowing that she could not win, she took out the elixir and swallowed it immediately. The moment she drank it, she flew out of the window and up into the sky. Chang E’s great love for her husband drew her towards the Moon, which is the nearest place to the earth in heaven.

mooncakehalvedHou Yi was so grieved after realizing what happened to his wife that he shouted Chang E’s name to the sky. He was amazed to see a figure which looked just like his wife appear in the Moon. He took the food liked by Chang E to an altar and offered it as a sacrifice for her. After hearing that Chang E became a goddess, folk people also offered sacrifices to Chang E to pray for peace and good luck. Since then, the custom of sacrificing to the moon has been spread among the folklore. It is said that Chang E looks the most beautiful against the full moon on Mid-Autumn Festival. According to legend,  you can see her dancing and swaying shadow in the light of the moon.

Today, the Chinese celebrate the Mid-Autumn festival with dances, feasting, moon gazing and, of course, mooncakes. While baked goods are a common feature at most celebrations, mooncakes are inextricably linked with the Moon festival. Mooncakes are often filled with lotus seed paste, are roughly the size of a human palm, and are meant to be cut diagonally in quarters and passed around. This explains their rather steep price ($8.00 for mine!). In the middle of the mooncake is a salty yolk, representing the full moon. I’m not particularly fond of mooncakes; however, I do love many of the other baked goods. And they are really fun and pretty to look at!

 

grown and flown

chair-in-college-courtyard-I love being a mom. The one most significant, life-changing event that has occurred over the course of my life is having a kid. Our beautiful daughter is now on the cusp of starting a new adventure. Next Monday, we head out to California where she will be attending college. We’re so proud of her, and I can’t wait to hear about how she likes her classes and professors, the new friends she’s making, and how she’s adjusting to campus life.

On the other hand, I feel as though I’m on a roller coaster of emotions. One minute, I’m thrilled for her, like when we’re out shopping for her dorm room. And then, I have a momentary lapse in grief, this overwhelming sense of panic that she’s really leaving the nest. I realize that my part is naturally diminishing. I remind myself that she is ready to fly and so very excited about going away to college. I think about how fun it will be starting the next chapter of her life.

Mom & LexOne of the most important things that being a mom has taught me is unconditional love. Seriously, there’s nothing our daughter could do that would make me love her less. I also think of unconditional love as something that’s not earned, but given freely. My daughter and I have a very close relationship, and so saying good-bye is going to be especially hard. She in turn has been grieving the loss of her friends, whom she claims are the best friends in the world. I have fond memories of our daughter and her good friend, Sophia, dancing at many a competition. Sophia’s mom and I lamented the strict rehearsal schedule and all the crazy driving back and forth between rehearsals and competitions. Our daughter worries whether she’ll be able to find friends as amazing and supportive as the ones she’s had over the past couple of years in high school. I have no doubt that she’ll make new friends in college and will simply expand the circle. But she understands that things change when you go away and are moving in different directions.

Being a parent has been the one thing I think I’ve done most successfully (not that it’s completely over yet). Parenting has taught me so much. It’s increased my sense of intuition and ability to have deeper relationships with others. It’s made me wiser and more empathetic. It’s made me appreciative of my own mother, my adoptive mother whom I had a turbulent relationship with. I learned to forgive my mother and realized that despite her shortcomings, she loved me and was parenting the only way she knew how. Being a mom has brought more joy than I could ever express in words. I’m grateful that we have shared such an intimate relationship and that it’s markedly different than the relationship I had with my adoptive mom. It’s scary how alike my daughter and I are in our interests and opinions. It’s also scary how I’ve passed down to her some of my most negative attributes. She is her own person, however. Strong, independent, and kind.

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Happy college freshman. July 2016

As I move forward into the next phase of my life (as an empty-nester), there are many things I hope to accomplish. We are experiencing much change, so much that it makes my head swim at times (moving, the prospect of starting another new job). I have had hopes for a long time to visit two other adult adoptees who were adopted from the same orphanage in Taipei. One lives in Kentucky and the other out East. Unfortunately, my plans always get sidetracked for one reason or another. One day I will make it happen. I want to go back to Taipei and visit my birthfamily. This, too, is always sidetracked. I’ve tossed around the idea of writing some kind of book about my adoption/reunion with my birthfamily. So many adoptees have done this, however, and I don’t want to just write another memoir or book on international adoption. These days, videos and podcasts featuring adoptees are becoming increasingly popular. I feel that I’m too old to start something like that, but perhaps I have the wrong perspective. I have a dream to work in orphan care, but not the kind you think. My hope is that one day, there will be no orphanages and that children will be fostered or adopted within their own countries. There is much work to be done on this front.

For now, it’s time to send our daughter off to college. Wow, it’s been the adventure of a lifetime raising our daughter. So many memories of the past 18 years come flooding back. Some say it gets better as time goes on. Others disagree. I tend to think that it really depends on the individual parent and their own internal process. Those first few months are gonna be tough. There is no doubt about that. I am so proud of the woman my daughter is and is yet to become. California here we come.

i am

It’s always interesting to me the words that people use to identify or describe themselves. I am this or that. Surely, we all identify ourselves in multiple ways. I get a kick out of reading how people describe themselves on their Twitter profile or blog tagline. Here are some words that I came across: Storyteller | Dreamer | Adoptee | Activist | Advocate | Feminist. Parallel Parker and Fully Qualified Batman Villain were a couple of the more interesting ones. And here is an intriguing tagline I found: “Blabbering, borderline, wannabe badass with a wicked case of wanderlust” at a blog entitled Big Mouth. That about sums it up.

When I was growing up, I used to say about myself, “I America girl,” or so my adoptive mom told me. No doubt, I  was very proud to be an American. As an adopted kid, to be American carried special meaning. I’m still proud to be an American, for the most part. As I watch the DNC, I’m filled with nostalgia. I remember my childhood growing up in a military family. I knew even as a youngster there was something significant about being in the military. My father was a lieutenant colonel, a staunch Republican by political orientation, and my mother, a Democrat. Their political views and opinions were as different as night and day. Honor and respect for America and the land of the free became inherent. In elementary school we stood up in class with our hand placed over our hearts and recited the pledge of allegiance every morning. When we drove back onto the military base, the dude in the funny get up gave an extra special salute to my dad. I went to the BX and commissary with my parents, and when my dad retired after 29 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, they gave him a very proper retirement ceremony full of pomp and circumstance that I still remember vividly. We were American. I have nothing but fond memories of being a military brat. I was American through and through. Funny thing is, I didn’t look American. Duh, my outward appearance suggested that I was an outsider, different. And you know what, that is how I came to view myself. Never quite fit in no matter how hard I tried. Subconsciously, I considered myself inferior, although I’m sure that most others did not view me in that way. It became hardwired nevertheless.

I have followed recently some blogs authored by transracial adoptees that I find inspiring. One, The Adopted Life, is authored by Angela Tucker, who began a film series on transracial adoption. Angela describes herself as an “advocate for adoptee rights.” I caught Episode #1 of her film series where she sits down with 6 different adoptees who discuss being transracially adopted. One adoptee, a 20-year old female from Vietnam, speaks of feeling “embarrassed” while growing up because she did not look like her white parents. She states that her eyes were different, her skin tone was different, people knew she was different. Another adoptee, a 15- year old from China, says that she wants to “know the truth” and what happened. She states “it’s annoying not knowing that part of you.” Another adoptee, age 19 from China, further describes the unknowns in the following way, “accepting the mystery is part of me.” I thought that was very well put. There is definitely mystery in our lives as adoptees. It’s a part of our identity.

I also came across a You Tube channel called The Here and Nao produced by Naomi, a Chinese/British adoptee living in the UK. She describes herself as a “UK based student and cat lover.” In one episode, Figuring Out My Identity: An Adoptee Talks, Naomi discusses her views on the topic of identity. She talks about having tea with her close friends and feeling very strongly British, and then visiting China and returning home feeling like, “yes, I’m Chinese.” She explains identity as being “fluid.” A lot of times she feels, and perhaps other adoptees can relate, that she has to be “one or the other” in regards to her English and Chinese identities. She expresses that this often leads adoptees to feel “like we can be neither.” Hmmm. I can relate to that. How’s that for a tag line? Naomi concludes with the idea that identity evolves and that multi-ethnic individuals can integrate both or all identities, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and we go back and forth between our identities. I envision this like the ebb and flow of the ocean tide, or something like that.

I was touched by these videos because the adoptees are much younger than I am and yet also struggle with identity and being internationally/transracially adopted. Sometimes I think it’s just us older generation adoptees who struggle with identity and issues related to growing up in a family of a different race. It appears that transracial adoptees of all ages share the same struggles, young and old, raised in America or the UK or wherever. Apparently, I’m not the only one. I find this to be extremely validating.

Not too long ago, I updated the tagline on this blog from “musings of a Taiwanese-American adoptee” to “musings of a reunified Taiwanese adoptee.” It’s a better reflection of who I am now. The “American” part of me is a given I thought, as I’ve lived in America pretty much my whole life. The Taiwanese in me gets the spotlight. So what’s your tag line? You know, they really do speak volumes.

become

shutterstock_449362561A recent post written by another adoptee caught my attention the other day. The author’s name is Kumar, and he blogs at A Stroll Through My Mind. Kumar was adopted from Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu, India. In this particular post, he discusses a book, Daughter of the Ganges, written by author/adoptee, Asha Miro. Miro chronicles her travels back to India to uncover her native roots. She visits India on two separate occasions, the second eight years after the first. What struck me as I read Kumar’s post was his comparison of the two trips and how the impetus of Miro’s journey seems to change over time. He reflects, “Her first [trip] feels naive, innocent and very good natured. She, as I would do myself, trusts that others have her best interest at heart and ends up receiving information that is not wholly accurate.” I have not read Miro’s books, but could certainly relate to the naivety in which Miro sets out to uncover her roots and the receipt of inaccurate information. Kumar shares that he similarly trusted that others had his best interest at heart, as did I when I first began this blog and the initial search for my birthfamily in Taiwan. I trusted my adoptive parents and the information they provided to me only to find out that the information was hugely inaccurate. Unfortunately, I will probably never know where the lines got crossed. Miro’s second journey to India is quite different. Kumar says, “She pushes people for information, gets the necessary help and is able to create some amazing connections.” Adoptees are constantly pushing others for information. It often doesn’t come easily.

I set out to find my own native roots anxious to investigate the unknowns and find answers. I held no ill feelings towards my adoptive parents for withholding what they knew about my adoption, although I had a right to know. Finding and reunifying with my birthfamily has been one of the most significant events in my life, one that I continue to ponder. That my sisters and family never forgot me and wanted to reunite is beyond wonder. As I have researched international adoption and read the stories of many other adoptees and birth mothers, I have lost the naivety I once possessed regarding adoption. Although I gather that many adoptive parents approach international adoption with the best of intentions and for a multitude of reasons, the very nature of international adoption is complex and rooted in loss, which is oft misunderstood or minimized. The loss of a culture and language, the loss of parents/caregivers, the loss of everything familiar is no small thing, and this grief and loss cannot be understated nor underestimated. Most internationally adopted children eventually adapt and assimilate, yet for some of us, the unknowns continue to be painful reminders that our pasts are not quite whole.

I know that my adoptive parents loved me, and despite the challenges in our family, I loved my parents. It was not easy growing up in my adoptive family, and I was often conflicted by their expectations and anger, primarily my adoptive mother’s, and my own insecurities. I’ve come to terms with who I am as a transracially adopted person, although there are days when my drive for perfection and neurosis drives even me crazy. I’m no longer the naive, “good natured” adoptee that I once was, which is actually freeing. I can’t help but be a little cynical and sarcastic. With age and maturity, I’ve come to a new knowledge, perspective, and understanding.

I have many friends who have adopted children internationally, and it’s ironic that I somehow end up inadvertently in the company of others connected to adoption in some way…One of the psychiatrists I worked with at the state hospital had children adopted from Ethiopia and I want to say Guatemala, and my co-worker, also a social worker, was adopted from Brazil. On the long plane ride to the adoption initiative conference in NJ, I happened to sit next to a woman who had an adopted daughter from China. She wanted to know about my experiences and how I managed. Her daughter is a second year college student going through her own set of challenges. Go figure.

I find it difficult to discuss international adoption as the only alternative. I know far too many adoptees around the world whose stories are not characterized by the “forever family” rhetoric and whose adoptions occurred as a result of unethical adoption practices (that’s another story). Search and reunion becomes extremely difficult as you can well imagine because of falsified information or lack of information. But no matter, adoptees are resilient. I think it’s in our genes. We awaken, we learn, we evolve, we transform, and we become. Sometimes it’s a lonely, misunderstood road, but we keep going…And we wish our voices to be heard by those in the industry who would otherwise hope for us to be grateful that we were adopted.

Revolutionary Daily Thought

I appreciate this particular post in lieu of the race-related violence that has occurred across our country.

Moorbey'z Blog

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It stopz with copz. good copz don’t let bad copz kill defenselezz citizenz.

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one step closer

I recently attended the 9th Biennial Adoption Initiative Conference in New Jersey at Montclair State University. I had the opportunity to present a paper on international and transracial adoptees and how adoptees manage racism/racial discrimination . The presentation was based upon a qualitative study I conducted while completing my master’s degree at ASU. The whole conference was one of those experiences that left me with plenty to think about and process. It was almost overwhelming, as there were many sessions on evocative topics. I wanted to attend them all, but only one selection could be made out of several per the conference schedule. It’s encouraging to see how many bright researchers there are conducting research related to international/transracial adoption, many of the researchers adoptees themselves. I regret that I did not meet and connect more deeply with people, as I, unfortunately, was not feeling very well during the 3-day conference and was not my usual self. Nevertheless, I had the pleasure of connecting with some attendees who made my experience at the conference that much more meaningful.

NYC

NYC after conference. Patrick (L) is founder of The Brazilian Baby Affair in Zurich, Switzerland  & adoptee. Michele (R) is an adoption attorney in LA.

The week following the conference, my husband and I traveled to California to begin house hunting. We will be moving to California in the coming months predicated upon the sale of our current home in Arizona. Oh the joys of moving – we’ve moved so many times over the years that I’ve lost count. Friends offer their excitement about the prospect of us moving back to beautiful California; however, I feel that the task of moving is largely clouded by my own lack of energy and motivation, not to mention the stress of organizing such a move. We will obviously downsize, but have to find a home that will accommodate my baby grand piano. I’ve entertained the thought of selling it, as has my husband, but I’ve had the piano since I was 8-years old and for sentimental reasons, don’t want to part ways. The piano was given to me by my adoptive parents, and I grew up practicing on those ivory keys for many an hour. It’s really not important to anyone else but me, but important enough to hang on to. We will travel to California again next week to continue our ventures in house hunting.

Since arriving back home from the conference, I’ve thought a lot again about legally changing my name – my middle name that is. My adoptive parents gave me the middle name “Chaling.” There is no such name in Chinese. My birth name is Hsiao-ling Huang. I don’t know why my parents changed my middle name the way that they did – perhaps to Westernize my birth name, yet keep some token of my birth country? In any case, there is an exorbitant fee attached to a legal name change even in the state of California. If I could change my first name back to Hsiao-ling, I certainly would, but at this point in my life, it seems a little late. Names are important. I never thought so until I realized the significance of being renamed by my adoptive parents. Many adoptees’ names are changed by their adoptive parents, or adoptees are given a generic name by orphanage staff because there is insufficient information regarding the birthfamily. It only makes identity that much more convoluted by all of the unknowns. In the midst of all that’s going on in the world right now, this seems very insignificant. Maybe it’s just in the timing and I need to wait a little longer.

At this juncture, there are many big things going on at once. It feels unsettling, like a storm is brewing. We’re moving. I have to find a new job, and hopefully one where I can put my strengths to good use for a much longer period of time than my last 2 positions. I don’t know where that will be or what even interests me at this time. Our daughter is going to college in the fall. I guess a name change would go right along with all of the other changes that are taking place. The next time I see you, perhaps I’ll ask you to call me Hsiao-ling instead of Marijane…