Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sung Ae Won Orphanage

K: I've been thinking about this post for awhile now. I was never exactly sure what to say -- how much to share, is this too heavy a subject, if it would get too sappy etc. But, this blog has shown a lot of wonderful, beautiful, and amazing things about Korea and not very much of the ugly. This blog post will talk one of the sadder issues in Korea.

When my parents were visiting Korea and we took a trip to Busan, one of the primary reasons for visiting was to see the orphanage my brother, Kevin, spent the first 5 years of his life. It's called Sung Ae Won Orphanage.

I think I could've easily also titled this post, "The Day My Life Changed."

When I got to Korea, I kept hearing stories about adoptees who were angry with the system and who feel that Korean orphans should not be sent to foreign countries. While I, personally, can't relate to the anger they feel, I can understand the feeling of never really belonging to Korea. Sometimes it really sucks to see an entire country of people who look like me, but who I'll never truly understand because I left my true "Korean-ness" behind when I boarded a plane for America at the age of 2.

I've always toyed with the idea of wanting to build my future family through adoption, since I have received so much from my adoptive parents. But before visiting the orphanage, I was questioning this. However, after visiting this orphanage, I'm positive that adoption will be in Mark's and my future. I'll explain why later...

Anyway, back to the orphanage visit. We pulled up to the orphanage and, besides a paint job, it looked almost exactly the same as a picture my mom received a few years after Kevin was adopted. We were happy to see that the orphanage was in good condition.

Here's a shot of the bathroom/kitchen area.

When we walked through the door, we were greeted by a woman named Chris who spoke perfect English. She was able to find some of Kevin's paperwork and answer some of my parents' questions. They even received a new picture of Kevin that they had never seen before!

One thing that caught my eye was this bulletin board. Yes, those are all the children that currently live at the orphanage. There are 76 of them. But looking at their pictures didn't do them justice.

We waited around until they woke up from their naps. Look at all these tiny shoes!

These were the youngest kids. They are all 6 months or slightly older. Chris told us that when an abandoned baby is found, they keep him or her for 6 months in a temporary home in case the birth parents change their minds. Only after those 6 months is the child put in the orphanage for adoption.

We couldn't really play with them since they were under the weather.

Next, we went to the room with the babies who were about a year old. There were easily 12-15 of them in one tiny room with one nurse.

When we walked in, they immediately ran over to us and held their arms up to be held. When we picked them up, they got huge smiles on their faces, grabbed us tight around the neck, and didn't want to be put down. They seemed starved for attention and love, which was heartbreaking.

When it came time to leave the room, it was awful. They began crying and screaming hysterically. We had only spent 15-20 minutes holding them and playing with them, but it was like the world was ending to them when we left.

Last, we spent some time with the oldest children. They were between 5 and 7.

This little girl is the oldest girl in the orphanage. She is 7 years old. Before long, she will be transferred to another home. She was obsessed with SangKwun's camera. When we looked at her pictures later, we were surprised to see that they were quite good!

This little cutie jumped into Mark's arms and took it upon herself to try to teach him some Korean. :)

One of the little boys ran right up to my Dad and threw his arms in the air to be held. It was pretty cute.

You may be wondering why all these children are in the orphanages in the first place. I know I was. Korea isn't the impoverished country it was back in the 80s when I was adopted. I read an article in the New York Times earlier this month about the cultural issue of unwed mothers. You can read it here: Group Resists Korean Stigma for Unwed Mothers. I really recommend reading this, it's truly shocking. Some of these statistics are just plain horrible.

Chris told us that Sung Ae Won no longer does international adoptions. The Korean government is concerned about their reputation around the world, so they've greatly limited the number of children they can send abroad. Unfortunately, even though adoption is free (and there's even a monthly stipend) for Korean citizens who adopt, there are Korean cultural issues with adoption. Chris said that if a couple is unable to conceive, they will usually wait 15 years or so before they even consider adoption. So usually the adoptive parents are much older. And Korean culture is all about the family bloodline, so there's a good chance that the adopted child's grandparents, uncles, and aunts will not recognize that child as a member of the family. In Sung Ae Won, only 5 children... that's 5 children out of about 76 children.... were adopted last year. The odds are not good for these kids to join a forever family.

Seeing, holding, and hugging these children has convinced me that these kids need a parent's love more than the ability to speak Korean fluently, or to celebrate Cheusok, or to eat kimchi. (Though, these are all things we plan to make an integral part of our children's lives no matter what, whether they're adopted or not.)

As I looked into their eyes, I could've been looking into Kevin's eyes, or even my own eyes in the mirror. Their story is my story. I was one of those kids in the orphanage -- wanting an Omma (mom) and an Appa (dad). I was just lucky enough to be "picked." Someday I want to "pick" a child or two and give them the unconditional love they deserve. And I'm fortunate enough to have a husband who feels the same way. :)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Only in Korea...

Only in Korea would a taxi driver take the time find an English speaking friend to call you to let you know he'll bring the cell phone to you that you left in his car the previous night. And then sit and wait in front of the apartment complex for you. What can I say, we Koreans are good people. :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dennis and Mary visit the "Land of the Morning Calm"

K: My parents just spent two weeks with us in Korea. It was great to spend time with them and show them around. They packed quite a bit into those two weeks... a trip up to the DMZ, another trip to the second largest city in Korea (Busan), and a third trip to Jeju Island. I stole some of these pictures off my mom's camera, so I'm just going to cover the highlights. If you want to hear more about it, you'll have to give them a call. I'm sure they'd be more than happy to tell you all about it. :)

My parents arrived the week of the swine flu shut down, so Mark, SangKwun, and I were all able to greet them at the airport. I swear, I think they were the last ones off the plane! We kept waiting and waiting and then we saw them come through the glass doors with big smiles on their faces. Compared to their normal walking pace, they were practically sprinting toward us. Check out the blur on my mom's foot in the picture below!

Then, the 5 of us met Emily for a quick dinner. They hardly slept on the flight, so the sleep deprivation seemed to be hitting them hard. We dropped them off at their hotel for a good night's sleep.

The next day, we took them to a favorite sight in Korea, Gyeongbokgung Palace. The weather was perfect, so it was a great day to walk around. Interestingly enough, during that trip, my father stumbled upon TWO Korean people who could speak Spanish. Later on his Jeju trip, he also encountered a Korean woman who could speak French. Apparently, all it took was a trip to the Orient for him to practice his language skills.

Look at these two terrifying warriors! If you squint and shake your head while looking at this picture, they almost appear authentic.

Later that night, we met Birth Father, SangKwun, and Emily for the famous seafood meal at Noryangin Fish Market. Father took charge in the market and ordered us crab, massive shrimp, scallops, sashimi, and live squid. I think my Dad nearly passed out when he sat down to wriggling tentacles in front of him. He did NOT sample that dish.

Then my mom presented SangKwun and Birth Father with their gifts. She got birth father a photo frame with pictures of all of us. He really seemed to like it.

And us St. Louisans are relentless in trying to spread the Cardinal Fever around the world. She got SangKwun a Pujols jersey. We were hoping that he could wear it for the playoffs, but...

The next day was Cheusok (or Korean thanksgiving). We went to Birth Father's apartment, then to Children's Grand Park. Here's the group of us in front of the waterfall.

Here's my Dad, blending in quite well with his surroundings.

After a couple days enjoying the Seoul smog and congestion, Birth Father invited my parents to accompany him, Emily, and SangKwun to Jeju Island. Jeju Island is described as the Hawaii of Korea. Unfortunately, Mark and I had to work, so to say I was a little jealous is putting it mildly.

My mom shared these pictures -- I only heard about their experiences secondhand, so I can't really this as well as I'd like.

I like this picture of them enjoying paradise.

I do know that they took a 2 day bus tour, and did all sorts of things from going in an underwater submarine, watching a Chinese acrobatic show, taking nature walks, and horseback riding. Here are my mom and Birth Father all dressed up and ready to take a ride. This picture makes me laugh every time.

Here's the group again.

After Jeju, they flew to Busan. Mark and I took the KTX bullet train down there after work and met them. The weather was beautiful.

Busan is actually where Kevin lived before he joined us in America. We visited his orphanage and it was such an incredible, heart-wrenching experience. But that will have to be another separate blog post. Stay tuned.

The following week when we got back to Seoul (and after the mandatory 1 week quarantine away from the kids due to H1N1), my parents visited Poly.

They sat in on one of my classes and one of Mark's classes. To have two former teachers observing us was a little nerve-wrecking. :)

Then we stopped by my director, Nicole's, office so they could meet her and her husband. Then my Mom, always on the lookout for a photo op, requested a group picture. So here I am sitting awkwardly between my director and her husband.

Overall, I would say that my parents had a successful trip. They saw and did a lot, conquered the Seoul subway system, visited Kevin's orphanage, and got to know my birth brother better. The one thing they weren't overly wild about was the Korean food. There were some dishes they liked, but they thought a lot of it was too spicy.

My Dad did pretty well with the chop sticks, though!

Here we are, a final shot at the subway station.

Thanks for visiting, Mom and Dad! And if anyone else wants to come hang out with us in Seoul, just let us know! It's an open invitation!