Posted by Heliocentrism on February 1, 2014
Before December 23, 2012
We spent Christmas of 2012 in South Korea. We were visiting Mark’s cousins who, just a few years before, he didn’t know he had. He met them, along with his biological father, at a reunion in the states earlier in the year. But, let’s start at the beginning of Mark’s childhood. I will try to tell his story. What I know I’ve pieced together from what the Korean government has told Mark and things his new cousins have said.
Mark was born on a southern island in Korea. He was given the name Choi, JaeMin. He, his sister and brother lived with their parents in a poor village. Also living in this village was Mark’s uncle on his father’s side and the uncle’s family. The uncle had two daughters who were quite fond of Mark and his siblings.
Mark’s father earned money collecting sea weed, but his income was small. The father also had a tendency to get drunk. This made Mark’s mother very unhappy. One day the mother could not take it anymore. She left without any word of where she was going.
Without a mother to look after them, Mark and his siblings were often left unattended. Mark’s Uncle also didn’t have much money. There was a time when Mark, his siblings, and cousins were taken to church to be fed and get clothes even though they were not Christians.
The family eventually moved to Korea’s second largest city, Busan, in an attempt to improve their standard of living. However, the move did not help. Finding work and making enough to take care of three small children prove to be very difficult for Mark’s father. The excessive drinking continued. How greatly this effected his children’s welfare is uncertain. What we do know, is that he was neglecting them. Someone reported small naked and dirty children running around unattended and the government stepped in.
Mark and his siblings were taken to several different orphanages. According to his cousins, one day their father took them to Mark’s father’s house. They asked him where his kids were. He just said, “They’re gone.” It took years before the cousins found out that the kids were put up for adoption and living in America somewhere.
The kids were put in a Korean orphanage. Mark remembers nothing of this. His earliest memory is of being in a house with pet rabbits in Tennessee. He and his siblings ended up in the US foster care system. A couple had adopted them from Korea, brought them to the states, then got a divorce putting the kids back up for adoption. They would be placed with one more family before finding their final home.
Michelle is a woman with a big heart. She had opened her home to help some Vietnamese teenagers in the past, but by 1988 they were all grown up. She thought about adopting some kids of her own. There was an adoption agency helping her to bring over a pair of sisters from Korea.
However, this adoption fell through. It turned out that the mother who put her kids into the orphanage was visiting them every weekend. The man she married didn’t want the children from her previous marriage around. Unsure if the kids were truly being given up, the agency decided that they couldn’t proceed with the adoption.
Then one day the agency called Michelle to tell her about some kids that were already in the states. They needed a home right away. The agency wanted to know if she would be willing to take them. She wanted two girls, but would she take two boys and a girl instead?
On April 12, 1988 Michelle and her family went to the airport to pick the kids up. Mark says he didn’t really understand what was happening that day. He thought they were just going to another home to live for a short time. Michelle said that the kids kept asking questions like, “How long will we stay?” And, when they did something bad, they thought they would be sent away.
Mark’s sister, was upset when they were officially adopted. She thought that if her name changed her father would never find them. She thought her dad was still looking for them, but her memories of her father and Korea were fading. Eventually, she would hardly remember anything about Korea.
After college Mark decided to spend some time traveling before entering the work force. Since he was born in Korea, the easiest country for him to get a visa for was Korea. So that’s where he went. He found a nice school to work for and signed a one year contract.
Once in Korea he started the process to get an Alien Registration Card with his F4 visa. This is a type of visa given only to foreign nationals who were born in Korea or children of Korean parents. During this process Mark was asked if he wanted help with finding his birth parents.
Although he set out to live in the country of his birth, it never occurred to him to look for his biological parents. He turned down this offer of help. He spent two years living in Korea and never gave another thought to finding his Korean family.
Mark eventually moved to Japan. He entered Japan on a tourist visa and then found a job there. To change from a tourist visa to a work visa he had to leave the country. Since it was just a boat ride away, Mark headed for Korea.
Mark was not sure how long he would live in Japan. Since he was in Korea anyway he decided to renew his F4 visa. As with most things, it’s easier to renew a valid visa than to apply for a new one. If for any reason he decided to go back to Korea, having an F4 visa already would make it easier for Mark to find a job. He went down to the government office to renew his visa and get a new Alien Registration Card.
This time he did ask for help finding his parents. He wasn’t sure they could be found. He was always told that someone had dropped him and his siblings off at an orphanage. The three of them had pieces of paper with their names and birthdays pinned to their shirts. He was told that no one knew where they came from. Mark didn’t even know what town in Korea he was from. He had always guessed Busan, but he didn’t know for sure.
They gave him the name and address of his last orphanage. It was in Seoul. The next day he went there and walked up to the front desk. The clerk told him that he would only be given his biological parents’ information if the parents were also looking for him.
Mark thought that he had found a dead-end. Obviously, no one would be looking for him because as far as Mark knew he and his siblings were abandoned. The clerk looked through some files. He was just about to send Mark away when something caught the clerk’s eye.
People were looking for him. “Who?” Mark thought. A few years ago a cousin came to the orphanage. She had been looking for the kids for years. She traced them from the orphanage in Busan to other orphanages throughout the country and then to the one in Seoul. But, there wasn’t much she could do other than put in a request to find the kids and hope that one day they would look for her too.
But there was more… The father had also been looking for the kids. He too had put in a request. He went to Seoul years after his kids had left Korea. He was told that they were living in America. The kids were about 8 to 12-years-old and he was not allowed to contact them. He would have to wait until they started to look for him.
In December 2010 Mark started to look for his Korean family before going back to Japan. Things started rolling. The cousins were contacted and given the phone number to Mark’s sister in the states. The two Korean sisters talked to one of their long-lost cousins for the first time in years. Neither spoke the other’s language and relied on translators.
A reunion was planned for the following year. It would take place in July 2012 in the states at Michelle’s home in Michigan. The cousins, their kids, and Mark’s dad would all go to America to see the adopted kids. They would meet Michelle, Mark, Mark’s brother and sister, and Mark’s sister’s kids. They would also meet Michelle’s brothers and their families.
Still, none of the Koreans spoke English and none of the Americans spoke Korean. A friend from Michelle’s church helped with the translating some of the time. They had to use Google.Translate the rest of the time.
They stayed up late almost every night trying to make up for all the time apart. The cousins tried to tell the kids what they could remember of their pasts. They even brought photos of the time when everyone lived on the island, but nothing looked familiar to the adopted kids. They were all so young back then.