Tag Archives: Cross-Cultural Adoption

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.

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.

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…

 

creative roots

Monkey FamilyWhen I reunited with my sisters and family in Taiwan, I was so curious about our family history, about what led up to my adoption, and of course, about my country of origin. I had so many questions about our parents and family, but I wanted to be sensitive to my sisters and not press them to reveal things unless they wanted to. It was such a joyous event just to be with them and to meet my extended biological family, to share a sisterly connection despite a language and cultural barrier. I continue to learn about my cultural heritage, although sadly, there isn’t much Chinese or Taiwanese culture in Arizona.

I often wondered prior to reuniting with my birthfamily if we shared any similar characteristics, physical features, but also areas of interest or special talents. I grew up playing the piano and studied piano performance in undergrad. I love classical music, learning, academia, drawing, writing, singing, drama/theatre – really, anything related to the arts. I learned from my sisters that our mother also enjoyed classical music and had a love of learning. When I was a young girl, I drew a lot and kept a sketchbook. Who knows whatever happened to that sketchbook – it probably ended up in the trash at some point. In any case, I posted some of my artwork on Facebook recently, and my oldest sister messaged me saying that she also loved to draw. She sent me several recent drawings and gave me permission to share some of them here. I’m so impressed with her artwork, but even more, that we share a common interest and passion. One of my favorites is a drawing my sister made of three little monkeys – of course, my sisters and I! 2016 is the Year of the Monkey, the ninth of the 12 animals in the recurring 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle, so the drawing is especially meaningful. My sister also told me that our brother is very artistic and a gifted photographer. Our father was a skillful calligrapher. So, I’m inclined to say that art is in our genes.

Mine 1

I’m so happy that social media allows me to stay connected to my family in Taiwan in a way that would have been impossible years ago. I hope to travel to Taiwan again in the near future. I had hoped to return years ago, but things seem to come up that prevent me from traveling back. It’s been 4 years since our reunification.

Pic 1

I’ve posted some of my eldest sister’s drawings here, as well as one of my own. I wish that I had more time to improve my drawing skills. It seems that at this stage in my life, I’m getting further and further away from the things I most enjoy artistically. Sad, but true. I’d like to find meaningful work that allows me to use my artistic talents to a greater capacity, as well as my experiences as an internationally adopted person. I haven’t quite found my niche yet, but there is always hope.

a chance encounter

Carmen, her adoptive mom, Me, December 1967

Every once in awhile, I sift through the contents of the box that preserves my adoption papers. Recently, I came across something baffling: the papers of another little girl who was also adopted by a military family. Apparently, my parents knew the family in Okinawa. My father and the little girl’s father were both stationed at Kadena Air Force Base. The little girl’s name was Carmen. I vaguely remember hearing the name growing up, and in the recesses of my memory, recall an Asian girl who was older than me and very pretty. My mom put her school picture in a family photo album. I actually remember looking at her picture as a kid and wishing I looked more like her. Curiosity got the best of me, and soon, I found myself digging through the cramped quarters of our storage closet in search of that old photo album.

As I flipped through the pages of one particular album, two pictures caught my attention. I recognized myself – I couldn’t have been more than 2 years old – but who was the other little Asian girl and the white woman? There was no writing on the back of these photos, but something told me that the other little girl was Carmen and the woman in the picture was her adoptive mom. I speculated that my parents were Carmen’s godparents and that’s how her adoption papers ended up amidst my adoption stuff. Obviously, there was some connection.

Carmen, Scotty, Me. July, 1970.

I did more digging. I googled the name, “Carmen Marie Faulkenburg,” her “American” name. Her name appeared under mylife, which listed her location and age – 49, just a few years older than me. I was disappointed, however, that I couldn’t get any further information. I searched again and found a Scott Faulkenburg. I clicked on the Facebook link hoping to find info leading me to Carmen. What should I find as I scrolled through Scott’s Facebook friends but the name and picture of, “Carmen Faulkenburg Seitz,” Scott’s sister – an Asian woman! I knew it had to be her! I immediately emailed Scott explaining why I was contacting him in hopes he would respond and not think I was crazy. I’m happy to say that Scott contacted me four days ago letting me know that he passed my message on to Carmen!

That same evening, Carmen emailed me. Since then, we’ve talked on the phone twice trying to piece together the connection between our families and adoptions. Carmen has a southern drawl that reminds me so much of growing up in Louisiana. I laughed when Carmen told me that her brother  first announced, “I found your sister!” when initially forwarding my message to her. We may not be blood-relatives, but I certainly feel like I’ve found a long lost sister! I learned from Carmen that she was abandoned as a baby and left beside a set of railroad tracks in Taipei. She was taken in by a group of nuns at a Catholic organization, St. Benedict’s Home for Children, now a Catholic monastery. Carmen actually returned to Taiwan with her husband in 2008 and reconnected with the nun who signed her adoption contract. Carmen’s date of birth is unknown, but was presumed to be around 1962. She was adopted in 1965 by Clarence and Janice Marie Faulkenburg, just a year before my adoption. Carmen found out from her father that he and my father were close friends in Okinawa and made a verbal agreement stipulating my parents as Carmen’s godparents. My speculation was right! Carmen wrote, “from the stories that my dad told me about Colonel Buck, he was a very good man.”

The Faulkenburgs, July 1970

Later, I found an old letter addressed to the Faulkenburg’s from St. Benedict’s Home for Children. Why my parents had the letter, I’m not sure. Intrigued, I took the letter out and read it. It was written by a nun, Sister Glenore, O.S.B. (Order of St. Benedict). She was trying to confirm with the Faulkenburgs that my parents had finally adopted a child. My parents had evidently been on a waiting list of families hoping to adopt from St. Benedict’s, but found me first at The Family Planning Association of China. Sister Glenore thanked the Faulkenburgs, my parents and others who had contributed much needed necessities to the orphanage. After I found the letter, I remembered seeing other photos of an older Carmen in some of our family photo albums. Again, I started searching. Sure enough, I discovered pictures of Carmen, her younger brother, Scott, and her adoptive parents at our home on LaNell Street. Having matched faces with names, I now recognize the Faulkenburgs in an old black and white photo taken after my adoption. They are pictured with my sister, Lynn, my mom and I.

The Faulkenburgs on L, my sister, mom and me

It’s been exciting to connect with Carmen and to discover yet another little piece of my past. We are hoping to meet each other at the end of July when I’ll be traveling to Indiana, just across the border from Kentucky where Carmen lives. In the meantime, she is visiting her father in Indiana this weekend and, perhaps, will learn a little more about our adoptions. I’m thrilled that we have found each other and truly amazed that our paths have crossed once again, 40 something years later!

 

those shoes

My first pair of shoes. I found them in the box, the one my adoptive mom hid in the attic with the rest of my adoption stuff. They are so small. A few scuff marks are visible where creases have worn into the toes. Amazingly, the laces are still a pristine white. The shoes smell faintly of mustiness after all these years having been buried in an old attic for who knows how long. On the soles of each shoe, my mom wrote, “Mari, 1st Shoes, Taiwan.” My family and close friends back home in Louisiana called me Mari, except for my dad. He always called me by my full name.

I will never know for sure why my mom hid so many things about my adoption. I suspect that she was being protective. When she died, I truly believe that she felt she had unfinished business. I’ll tell you why. She appeared to me shortly after her death, during a music therapy workshop, of all places. I was in a training class, along with some of my classmates, for The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), which is a music-oriented exploration of consciousness intended to awaken a deeper understanding of self. Basically, it’s music-assisted psychotherapy.

During the training, we practiced facilitating sessions with each other, one student facilitating, the other playing the role of client. During my session, the imagery that emerged was of my adoptive mom and another unknown figure. I sensed that my adoptive mom wanted to tell me something important. I saw her face so clearly; it was how I remembered her before she got sick. Her eyes beamed radiantly at me the way they always did when she was happy. I felt such warmth and gentleness emanating from her presence and wanted so desperately to reach out to her. She was nudging me toward something, or someone. A figure appeared before me in the distance wearing a cloak similar to the one we all recognize from the fairy tale, Red Riding Hood, except, this cloak was dark. At first, I felt afraid. The figure was kind of creepy looking and ominous, and I wasn’t sure why it was there. It seemed to be waiting. As the music changed, the figure became less imposing, it took on the stature of a slender female figure. I noticed a pair of long gray gloves adorning her hands and forearms, like those long white gloves that women wore back in the 50’s. It slowly dawned on me that the figure was my birth mother. I’m not sure how I knew it was my birth mother, her face was hidden behind the hood of the cloak,  but I just knew it was her. What’s interesting to me is that before this experience, I had never consciously thought about my birth mother. Of course, I’d never met or seen her before either. At the time of the workshop, I didn’t know that she had passed away several years previous. My birth mother came closer and then embraced me. We stood like that for a long time. She was so elegant and lovely. She told me that she hadn’t wanted to give me up and that my musicality was a gift from her. She affirmed her love for me, not only through her words, but through an unspoken understanding. Much later when I reunited with my biological sisters in Taiwan, I learned that my birth mother loved and listened to classical music, which I also love and studied for many years, and that my biological father had placed me for adoption without telling her. So it was true, she hadn’t consented to relinquish me. She, nor my 2 biological sisters, had any idea what our father was up to.

The imagery was intensely vivid and powerful. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it before. It’s like you’re in a dream-like state, but are aware at all times of your surroundings and what’s going on around you. At the end of that session, I was sobbing and in quite a state of shock. That is the only contact I’ve ever had with my birth mother as an adult, in the subconscious recesses of my mind. We processed with the workshop facilitators afterwards, who assured me that many clients have reported similar spiritual experiences in which loved ones who have passed on appear during their sessions. Was it my way of working through my adoptive mother’s death and the loss of being separated from my birth mother, or was it somehow a real connection spiritually between me, both my adoptive and biological mothers? I struggled to believe the latter, that my two mothers had come back to visit me through some transcendent experience. But in the end, I came to accept it and believed it was true.

When I first found the shoes, I felt a deep pang of loss all over again. The loss of my mom, the loss of my dad, discussions I would never have about my adoption. A disparity between what I thought to be my true identity and the evidence that stated otherwise surfaced in a mere instant leaving me not only grief-stricken, but dumbfounded. Grieving leaves such a huge gaping hole in your heart, a heaviness that weighs down on you as though you’re suffocating. In addition to the grief, I struggled with feelings of guilt over my long absence from home as my mom became more and more demented from Alzheimer’s. Simultaneously, those moments of sifting through the items in that box were empowering. It was as though my mom was telling me it was OK for me to know about my past. I was in a daze for a long time after that discovery as the realization that I was not who I thought I was sunk in.

As I’ve gone back through all the photo albums my mom made, I’ve noticed those shoes in several pictures. My mom dressed me in them often. I found another pair of white shoes similar to my first pair, just a little bigger to accommodate my growing feet. Obviously, it was important for my mom to keep these items. She could have given them to Goodwill, or passed them on to my niece, but she didn’t. She had to have known that one day I’d find everything, my adoption contract, the shoes, the picture of her holding me in the orphanage, the diaper pins and baby shower cards. It pains me to imagine the relationship my mom and I could have had if she hadn’t gotten Alzheimer’s. Would we have been more open with each other? Would she have confessed that she’d hidden my adoption papers and eventually given them to me? Would I have become curious about my biological family on my own and questioned my adoption story without the discovery of  my adoption papers? Would I have had the desire to connect with my birth culture and search for my birth family, or would I have remained ignorant?

I’m glad my mom kept the shoes. I’ve had them setting out for a couple of weeks, wanting to write about them, but not really having the inspiration, or time. They bring back a flood of memories. They remind me of the shy little girl I once was and of a mostly happy childhood with my adoptive family before the turmoil of my teen years. They remind me of growing up in Louisiana. I’m not the least bit bitter or angry towards my deceased parents, adoptive nor biological. There are days when I still question, when I still want more answers, but mostly, I feel at peace knowing that I was loved by my adoptive parents and that they sacrificed in many ways to raise me as their own child. I realize that everything that’s occurred has made me who I am. I’m doing my best to accept what I cannot change about the past and striving to work through my sense of loss and the unknown answers to so many of my questions.

good-bye dear sisters

Last picture together at Taoyuan Airport

Yesterday was a tough day. At the same time, I spent another wonderful afternoon with my sisters before departing Taiwan and heading back to Arizona. I really do hate good-byes, even though I know in this case it won’t be the last time I see my sisters. We’ve talked about future visits and the possibility of them coming to the U.S. in a couple of years. It was hard to say good-bye nevertheless to my dear sisters who embraced and truly took me under their wings as their little sister ( 小妹 ). There was one event in particular that stands out. I got very sick suddenly the morning that we were to visit the pagoda of our mother and father. My two sisters ended up having to take me to the emergency room at Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei. About 30 minutes into our trip, I started to feel very dizzy and ill and asked to return to the hotel – I knew I wouldn’t make the hour long drive up the mountain to the pagoda. By the time we arrived at the hotel, I was so sick that I couldn’t stand and felt very close to passing out. The hospital was not far from my hotel, thank goodness. I remember a paramedic lifting me out of the taxi and putting me onto a gurney. I was wheeled around to several different rooms for tests, and I just remember thinking, I wish they’d stop wheeling me around. It made the dizziness even worse. To make a long story short, it turned out that my potassium level was extremely low causing my electrolytes to be way off balance. I received a couple of injections and stayed in ER for a couple of hours. When I felt well enough, my two sisters went out of their way to make sure I was going to be OK. My 2nd sister went to a nearby store and bought porridge for all of us and fresh orange juice. I’m now a diehard porridge addict! My sisters would not let me pay for the emergency visit. I’m just so grateful that they took care of me. After that incident I was, unfortunately, slightly ill for the rest of the trip, and we ended up cancelling some of the sightseeing that I had on my list of must do’s. My sisters and I still spent time together, but I had to slow down some.

My 2nd sister made a home-made meal at her home

Yesterday afternoon, my sisters took me out to lunch at a restaurant where they make the best dumplings. I don’t know the name of it, but the dumplings were amazing. I ate so much the entire time I was in Taiwan! My sisters said that I “eat like a bird,” but on the contrary, I always left each meal feeling overstuffed. The restaurant we went to must be a popular one because shortly after arriving, the whole place was packed.

My beautiful sisters

The restaurant was close to my hotel, so we walked back and had afternoon tea. It was still too early to go to the airport, so my elder sister taught me a little Mandarin. She bought 3 little books on Mandarin symbols, made a CD pronouncing each symbol, and wrote out each symbol very neatly. We decided that we’d Skype each other daily at a certain time so that she could teach me one new Mandarin word, or phrase. That should increase my vocabulary within a year.

Now that I’m back in the States, my trip to Taiwan seems like a dream. Just yesterday I was having lunch with my sisters, and now here I am at home. So much happened in such a short period of time. What I value the most from my trip is getting to know my two older sisters. I know I’ve said this before, but their generosity truly amazed me, as did the generosity of the rest of my birthfamily. I left having mixed feelings about international adoption. I’m very grateful to my adoptive parents who will always be my parents. But, I also felt sadness and compassion for families who decide to give up a child due to poverty and the inability to provide for their child, especially for the birth mother. I learned from my sisters that my biological father relinquished me to adoption without the knowledge of my birth mother, who was not well physically or mentally at the time. My elder sister told me that they would play with me and hold me everyday after school at the babysitter’s who lived nearby until I was no longer there. Both sisters also told me that our mother had sadness in her heart the rest of her life, even though she never talked about me after I was gone.

First day in Taipei

From what my two sisters shared with me, my birthfamily’s situation was challenging when I was born for many reasons. They are happy for me that I was able to go to college and study music and be in a stable home environment. I’m so happy my search for my birthfamily ended in reunion. A lot of people wished for me that I’d find exactly what I was looking for before setting out for Taiwan. I thought that was somewhat odd, because what I was looking for was my sisters. Maybe they were worried that my birthfamily wouldn’t want to meet me; however, such was not the case. Maybe they thought it would bring some kind of closure. On the contrary, meeting my birthfamily is really a beginning. I can’t imagine now not ever knowing them. It just doesn’t make sense to me to have gone through life having never met them; they’re my biological family, maybe not the family I grew up with, but nonetheless, my family. I feel like I’m part of two worlds now, one here with my own family and one far away in Taiwan.

So, I will continue studying Mandarin and may one day apply for Taiwanese citizenship. I vowed to get better at speaking Mandarin, and my 2nd sister vowed to get better at speaking English. My sisters admonished me several times to take better care of my health and not work so hard. That I hope to do. Both my sisters and brother practice Qigong. Their lives are so much less stressed than our lives here in the U.S. I think Qigong contributes to their good health and well-being. I’m hoping to learn Qigong or T’ai Chi Ch’uan, whatever I can find here in Arizona. Maybe the next time we visit one another, we’ll all be able to practice Qigong together, as well as communicate in Mandarin.

we are family: a reunion

Happy reunion at the airport

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!