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A new tack

April 8, 2011

I may have gone overboard. This is how I do. I get an idea in my head, and I cannot let it go. It must be done. I’m constantly going overboard, and pulling myself back to some approximation of normalcy. In this case, instead of starting with perhaps investigating Korean cultural groups, or a church, or buying a book, I went and found every book I could get my hands on at the NYPL, and ordered the rest from Amazon. (Who says books are dead?)

I bypassed the children’s books because I am no longer a child, but I bought all the others that seemed relevant. I bought theory books by people who are neither Korean, adopted, nor adoptive parents. I bought first-person stories by individuals. I bought collections of first-person narratives. I bought academic books by sociologists. I bought books about creating families, adoption in general, transracial adoption, Korean adoption, and adoption reunion. However, for the sake of my budget, I did draw the line at focusing on the adoptee’s perspective, so books by and for adoptive parents and birthparents are not widely represented in my new collection.

My books came in waves. I got the first batch, and then I realized there were many more to come. Another box came. Then individual books from sellers on Amazon, but not fulfilled by Amazon, landed in my mailbox. I started reading. I devoured the first book, Once They Hear My Name, first-person accounts by nine Korean adoptees. I picked up the second, After the Morning Calm, another book on the recommended reading list from Dillon. Similar to the first, the stories were much shorter. And then something happened. I got bored. The Korean adoptee story had been normalized for me. I got what I needed from that first book, and I felt the second was just piling on. Every story is different, sure, but at a certain point, it’s all different details of the same general arc.

I decided I needed a new perspective, so I picked up the newest book of the bunch, published just this year, Choosing Ethnicity, Negotiating Race. It’s an academic study about Korean American adoptees by two professors in Oregon, where Holt is based. They even give all the statistics of how they determined their sample, how they interviewed the people, and they have lots of charts and official looking graphs. Yet, it’s all very readable. It’s fascinating to read about myself through the lens of an “objective” eye. It feels a little lab-rat-ish, but its removes the emotion, which is sometimes useful.

I find myself trying on these different experiences, these different stories, as though they were blouses. How does this one fit? Is it me? Too tight in the waist, too full in the bust. Too long-waisted. Ugly neckline. Almost perfect. As though if I just read enough stories, I will find mine. I will finally see myself and understand. Am I too malleable? Do I try too hard to suck it in, to stand up straight to make it fit? Is this really my story, or is it just the one I am reading right now? Do these conclusions and generalizations apply to me and my family, or are they just that: generalizations?

Each time I have to read, process, think, consider, and then come back to a place of my own. I have to decide if it fits or not, and sometimes I can’t tell. I’ve always been horrible at shopping for clothes.


Then, yesterday, I saw this video posted on Facebook. It’s something I wouldn’t normally click on because it looks so cheesy and uplifting. Indeed, the actual sell comes around 3:30. But I did click, and I decided to effing Get Over It. Geez. Does it have to be this hard? Maybe. But can’t it also be fun and just another thing I do? I’m never going to “finish” whatever it is I’ve started here. I’m always going to have a foot in both worlds. I’m going to keep eating pasta and wiener schnitzel and kimchi. Unless I start sweating garlic, which is gross, in which case I might take it easy with the kimchi.

I’ve decided to start a new project within this bigger identity journey I find myself on. A food project! My mom gave me this book years ago:

My then-boyfriend (now husband) sweetly humored me by helping plan an elaborate Korean feast of six of the dishes in the book. We were in college and had time to be overly ambitious in the kitchen. While we had a great time cooking, we didn’t exactly plan well. We didn’t have many of the special ingredients needed, and so we substituted what we could find. While there were some tasty treats in that meal, half of the food was simply inedible. Too spicy for human consumption! For future reference, you cannot substitute Ethiopian chili pepper for Korean red pepper. I still don’t know what garlic juice looks like, or onion juice, but I don’t think it’s what we managed to eke out of the garlic and onions we used.

This experience scared me off of Korean cooking. I was quite content to pay for someone else to do it for me, thankyouverymuch. But seeing as food is my one major “in” to this other culture that is part of me, an “in” I have absolutely no qualms about embracing, enjoying, and quite literally devouring, I thought maybe I could try cooking again. With slightly less ambition, and slightly more planning. In a Julie and Julia kind of way, I’m going to try to work my way through this book (I could seek out others, but really, I think you would agree I don’t need to buy any more books at the moment) and see if I can’t create some highly edible Korean dishes. I now have access to a Korean grocery store, the luxury of privacy in my own kitchen, and no one to impress or torture but myself (and my husband, who I’m sure will very kindly try everything I make, even though his taste buds may still not be recovered from the last debacle).

[Side note: According to the book jacket, the author and her mother run a restaurant of the same name in Manhattan’s East Village. It gets mixed reviews. One of the most ridiculous non-reviews I saw focuses on how you can get much better food at better prices in Flushing. Another absurd review called it too chic for Korean food. Yet another deemed its food Americanized. Interesting. Perhaps I’ll take a chance on its cooler-than-you staff, too-chic atmosphere, and not-Korean-enough cuisine once I finish this cookbook project.]

So, I’m off to the Han Ah Reum in Korea Town. I’m going to face my fear of being an outsider, of looking like an idiot, of unintentionally buying something disgusting. I hope some of the labels will be in English, or that there will be at least one employee who can translate for me!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mom permalink
    April 8, 2011 12:02 pm

    Betsy, check out

    • April 20, 2011 4:05 pm

      YESSS MAANGCHI! I have had wonderful results from her recipes, and she’s such a firecracker!

  2. April 9, 2011 1:04 pm

    I remember eating that meal you cooked. Okay, so it some of the dishes weren’t great, but we were so touched that you prepared it and invited us.

    This is one of your finest blog entries. I love your use of clothes metaphors.


  1. Once They Hear My Name « Getting My Voice Back

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