Category Archives: birthfamily

ROC national day

Taiwan, The Republic of China (ROC), celebrates National Day, otherwise known as Double Ten Day, on October 10th every year. Taipei, Taiwan, is my place of birth. I was adopted as an infant by an American family, and consequently, lost all connection to Taiwan and my first/birth family. That changed, however, over the Lunar New Year of 2012, at which time I traveled to Taipei to reunite with my first family including my two older sisters and brother, my uncle, niece and nephew, and close family friends. Sadly, I know very little about Taiwan’s history and had even less knowledge of Double Ten Day . So I messaged my oldest sister to learn more about its significance. I’m so glad I did, and my sister seemed pleased that I wanted to know more about Taiwan’s history. So I share what I learned now with my fellow Taiwanese adoptees.

Double Day Ten in Mandarin is 雙十節. means double or two; means ten; means day. Here is the history of Double Ten that my sister shared with me:

The Wuchang Uprising in China occurred at the beginning of the Revolution of 1911, and the Qing Dynasty, China’s last imperial dynasty, was overthrown by Chinese revolutionaries. The Republic of China was subsequently established on January 1, 1912. Since the first day of the Wuchang Uprising occurred on October 10, 1911, October 10 is commemorated as the anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China. My sister shared that there is not as much importance attached to Double Ten Day as in years past. She remembers that, at one time, there were many activities on National Day, and the whole country was joyous. The national flag was flown all over the sky, and national flags were placed everywhere on the streets and lanes, fluttering beautifully. There was a flag-raising ceremony at the Presidential Plaza at six o’clock in the morning, and during the day, the heads of state, officials from various ministries, and invited international guests gathered in the stands to watch a military parade. The Air Force and Army presented majestic shows. It was a very popular holiday, and there were numerous performances by various groups celebrating various folk customs. What everyone looked forward to most was the fireworks at night. Colorful fireworks were placed in the square in front of the Presidential Palace, bringing on cheers and applause. Everyone enthusiastically participated in the parade, holding a small flag and walking around for a long time following the performances. My sister said that In recent years, there have been firework displays at Taipei 101 and Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. She shared that these are the memories of older generations, and the jubilance once felt as a nation on this day has diminished. Now there are different kinds of activities on Double Ten in Taiwan but it is just a holiday without the same jubilance, and few young people pay attention to its meaning.

I asked about the Double Ten flag and Taiwan’s national flag. My sister explained, our national flag is based on the blue sky with a white sun created by the revolutionary martyr, Lu Haodong, and the founding father, Sun Yat-sen, with red as the background color. The 12 rays of light on the sun represent the 12 months of the year and the 12 traditional Chinese hours in a day (each ray equals two hours). In 1928, the red and blue flag with the white sun officially became the national flag of the Republic of China. The white flag with the double ten red Chinese characters is the flag that represents Double Ten Day.

I appreciate this history lesson about Taiwan from my sister. I hope it has meaning for you, too. There is still so much to learn and know. Incidentally, my daughter’s birthday is on October 10, to which my sister said, she has lucky blessing!

ivory

Mrs. Guinn placed the clunky brown headphones snuggly over my head, the giant earpieces squeezed my temples. A long, coiled cord snaked across the shaggy green carpet to a stereo where she stood, ready to drop the needle. I had no idea what I was in for. Mrs. Guinn had never offered to play music for me at any of my other piano lessons. Mandi, my friend next door, and I took weekly lessons at Mrs. Guinn’s home. I loved going to Mrs. Guinn’s for my piano lessons and looked forward to them every week. She lived in a quiet neighborhood in Shady Grove and was a white, 30-something year old woman. She had short brown hair in a long pixie style, a pretty face, and was always dressed in jeans and a nice top. Mrs. Guinn was married to an officer in the Air Force. I remember her as having a quiet and gentle demeanor. She reminded me of Toni Tennille of Captain and Tenille. The front living room where Mrs. Guinn taught had an upright piano on one wall and an organ against another, a large window overlooked the street. Her house was always meticulously clean and smelled good. “I have something I want you to listen to today,” she said as she guided me into the den. The headphones felt heavy against my ears as she adjusted them. I sat silently and settled into Mrs. Guinn’s plush black couch, waiting for the music to begin playing.

“Da-da-da-DUM.” “Da-da-da-DUM!” Those first four notes of Beethoven’s all too famous Fifth Symphony bellowed in my ears. The music seemed to accelerate, and I became completely enraptured, magically swept away. The pulse of the bass vibrated in my chest. I was only 9-years old at the time, and yet that was such a defining moment in my life. The rest of the world fell away in those brief eight minutes or so of that first movement. I was an extremely shy, introverted kid, but at my lesson the following week, I mustered the courage to ask Mrs. Guinn if I could listen to that recording again. Of course, she obliged. Little did Mrs. Guinn know how much that recording influenced me. I discovered I had a love for classical music. One of the other things I enjoyed while taking lessons from Mrs. Guin was the monthly gatherings she held at her home where all her students performed. The best part was when she performed for us on her organ. I loved watching her feet fly across the pedals. It was certainly a treat.

Mrs. Guinn was a member of the National Federation of Music and entered me into my first music festival where students performed and were adjudicated. I received a superior + and was selected to perform in the Honors Recital with many other students. Kabelevsky’s, The Clown, Op. 39, No. 2, was my first performance piece ever. As I climbed the stairs the night of the recital towards the concert grand piano, it felt as though I were having an out of body experience. Somehow, I got through my piece without any fumbles and took my bow to the applause of the audience. I would perform in many other recitals, each one causing more anxiety than the last. It was something I continuously struggled with.

Mrs. Guinn moved within a year or two. I was deeply saddened when she told me her husband had received a military transfer to Texas, as I had become quite attached to her. It was very hard to say goodbye, and I remember having a hard time sleeping the night before my last lesson. I probably shed a few tears, too.

My mom found a new teacher, and I began taking lessons from Mrs. Ellis, whom I didn’t like very much. The music she gave me to play was “old” and not very fun. Mrs. Ellis was older than Mrs. Guinn and had short, reddish hair and a southern drawl. I didn’t feel the same connection with her as I had with Mrs. Guinn and dreaded going to my lessons where very often, her daughter, about my age, invited me to play while I waited for the kid’s lesson before me to end. She had what seemed like a million trophies from beauty pageants stacked in her room, and I remember jumping on the trampoline with her in the backyard. I felt awkward next to her, as she seemed so accomplished for a kid our age. Eventually, I moved on and studied with Mr. Robert Buckner during my high school years. Mr. Buckner lived in Shreveport and was quite a colorful character. He had a piano studio behind his house and a dachshund named Angie. Mr. Buckner’s gray hair was always disheveled and seemed to stand on end to one side. I began every lesson with major and minor scales to warm-up, or Hanon exercises. I felt comfortable with his teaching style and sense of humor. Mr. Buckner was bit of a stout man with a laugh that welled up from his belly, which was quite infectious. A couple of times, I caught Mr. Buckner sleeping while I played. His snores always gave him away.

I decided to major in music and attended Centenary College of Louisiana where I studied piano performance, primarily because it meant I didn’t have to take a single, damn math class. I was beyond horrible in math or anything that had to do with numbers. Initially, I felt terribly inadequate compared to my peers who seemed to have much better training musically than I did. I struggled with ear training and theory and loathed sight singing, but loved composition and piano literature. It wasn’t that I couldn’t sing, it’s just that I had never been taught sight singing, and it terrified me, especially when made to sight sing in front of all my peers. That was a very joyless experience. I studied with Constance Knox Carroll and absolutely adored her. She was an inspiring teacher and incredible pianist. I’m sure, however, that I was one of her least favorite students, as I was not very disciplined and did not practice as I should have, especially during my senior year when it was expected to perform a solo recital of full repertoire. I got distracted with theatre and dance and remember her scolding me at one particular lesson for my lack of practice. I hadn’t memorized all of my pieces, and my recital loomed near. I just sat there unable to say a thing. No doubt, part of her concern was that a poor performance would reflect badly on her. She said that it seemed like I liked theatre and dance better. She was right. What did I know at that age? Not a whole lot, except there was much less pressure when you were having fun, for God’s sake.

I wasn’t exactly lazy, but discipline was not my strong suit. Practicing was such an isolating, arduous endeavor, and yet in those days, I didn’t always mind it. I typically hit the practice room four hours a day, sometimes six on the rare occasion that I was super inspired. There were times when it was such a rewarding experience to sit at the keyboard and just play without anyone listening. The freedom from judgment or making mistakes, the connection to the music; it was magical. Those were the times when I performed the best. But in front of an audience, I lost all sense of composure. Performance anxiety plagued me. I could not control my hands; they became leaden.  Adrenaline rendered me helpless, and memory slips haunted me. On one occasion, several students were to perform with the Shreveport Symphony in a special recital. I was performing the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A, K414. I can’t describe how exhilarating it was to perform with a live orchestra. Connection to other musicians performing together was something I had never experienced. It was like flying, but without the motion sickness. Unfortunately, performance anxiety got the best of me, and my memory lapsed somewhere during the development. The orchestra continued to play as if nothing happened while I sat frozen, paralyzed. Eventually, I wove my way back in, but the damage had been done. I barely made it through the cadenza. Instead of enjoying such a performance, I was relieved when it was over. My legs were so shaky afterwards, I could barely stand.

After graduating college, I taught piano for a brief time at St. Mark’s Episcopal in Shreveport and another Christian school before moving to Florida. I didn’t touch a keyboard for nearly 20 years after that. The trauma of it all prevented me. I deeply regret that now. One day, my mom asked if I wanted my baby grand piano, the one they bought me when I first started taking lessons. Of course I did, and a couple of months later, my baby grand arrived at our tiny condo in California. It took up an entire room. I started teaching piano thereafter at a Christian elementary school in Mission Viejo, CA, and eventually taught privately on and off until 2013. My piano skills were sadly more than a little rusty, and I lamented the loss. I attempted to take piano lessons a couple of different times, but just didn’t have the time to commit to practicing with family responsibilities and work. I stopped teaching altogether in 2013 when I went back to school to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work.

I have now had my baby grand since 1999. It has moved with us many different times in the last several years. It’s sitting in our family room in need of a little TLC – or a lot actually. Every once in awhile, I sit down to play when things are quiet and I can get away with it. Recently, I felt moved to find Mrs. Guinn and searched for her via Google. Amazingly, I found her, and she wrote back to me immediately. She continues to teach, perform at churches, and accompany choirs in Nebraska. Although she only vaguely remembered me, she said that she looked up old recital programs and located one dated May 23, 1976, that I performed in. She said I played a Schaum arrangement of Yankee Doodle as a solo and again in a trio performance with Mandi, my friend, and another student named Kelly Scott. I was so happy to hear from Mrs. Guinn and that she continues to teach and play.

I trained in piano for many, many years. I wish that I’d continued to play, but there was a part of me that felt my skills were inadequate, so I didn’t play for years. When I decided to study music therapy in 2006, that passion for music rushed back. And now, I long for my piano to be more than just a pretty conversation piece in my living room. One of these days, and hopefully not too long from now, I will get back to playing, perhaps a little at a time. Sometimes, it’s hard to play because I inevitably begin to compare my current level of skill to that of when I played daily for very long hours. People tend to tell me, “you should just play for yourself.” Well, it’s easier said than done. Nevertheless, music is truly part of my fabric. I can’t think of anything more powerful and transformative than music.

So, for your listening pleasure, here is one of my favorite pianists, Murrah Perahia, at the keyboard performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K. 414. It always makes me happy to listen to this beautiful piece of music. 

To Mrs. Carroll, who inspired me to be a better pianist:

Pictured above: My childhood friend, Mandi, and yep, that’s me.

My memoir!

Cover

Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity is now live! If you have not yet purchased your copy, don’t delay. I have a few books left, and signed copies can be purchased right here on my website.  Just click on Shop to order. Kindle and hardcover editions are available via my author page at Amazon, and you can also find the book at Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.org.

If you enjoyed reading the book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon, or wherever you purchased your copy. Unfortunately, I am unable to ship internationally; however, those copies can be ordered through Amazon and Barnes & Noble online. To learn more about the book and to read an excerpt, click here, and to read reviews, click here. Thank you for supporting Beyond Two Worlds.

Happy reading!

Pre-Order Your Book

Hello out there! I’m very happy to announce that you can now pre-order your copy of my new book, Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity. Please spread the word and encourage your friends and family to purchase their book on the Beyond Two Worlds website. Just click on the “Shop” tab above, which will direct you to PayPal. All books purchased through my website will be signed and autographed.

About the Book:

Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Marijane was adopted by an American military family at four months old. She grew up in a middle class neighborhood where hers was the only Asian face amongst a majority of white.

Raised to believe she was Vietnamese and Japanese, she never doubted what her adoptive parents told her, until one day, she found her lost adoption papers. This discovery unloosed secrets that had been buried for decades, causing her to question her own identity and origins. With brave determination, Marijane set out on a journey to reconstruct her past and resurrect a birth heritage that had long been forsaken. Her journey took her halfway across the world to eventually reunite with her birth family.

Beyond Two Worlds is a poignant telling of one woman’s quest for identity and belonging despite insurmountable odds, and will be of help to those seeking connection to their original families.

Coming Summer 2017!

Read an excerpt from the book here.

a Korean adoptee’s search

Greetings from sunny Long Beach, California! Hope you’re enjoying the holiday season. This morning, I wanted to share a very touching video posted by adoptee, Brent Silkey, who was born in S. Korea and adopted by an American family. Brent is currently searching for his birth mother. I saw the video below posted on an adoptee-only Facebook group page, Adoptees from Asia, and knew I had to post it here. The video has received around 136,000 views worldwide so far and close to 3,500 shares.

Brent’s birth mom and dad met through mutual friends and started dating. They enjoyed things like camping together with their friends. After their relationship ended, Brent’s birth mom found out she was pregnant. She had no way of getting in contact with his birth father. She came from a family that didn’t have a lot of financial means and dropped out of school after her second year of middle school (the US equivalent of 8th grade). Brent believes his birth mom helped her family cleaning homes, and she was the eldest of three girls. She lived with her father and father’s parents.

When Brent was born, his birth mom was just a teenager (19 years old in Korea, which is equivalent to 18 in America). He was a full-term baby and was placed for adoption immediately.

Brent expressed: I don’t know exactly why, but I would imagine that she wanted to give me the gift of life, but knew she would have been unable to take care of me with the other demands of her life and family.

I am SO thankful for her. I love her. I want to tell her how thankful I am for giving me the opportunity to be taken care of by such a wonderful foster family and then to be adopted by my parents in America. I have had such a blessed life and I want to give my birth mom a hug and thank her for being courageous enough to have me and to give me a great opportunity to have a wonderful life.

It is my dream to meet her in person, to share with her my life’s journey, and to tell her how my life has been forever changed by the love of God through Jesus Christ.

I would be incredibly honored to introduce her to my beautiful wife and two daughters (her granddaughters!!). We would do whatever we needed to in order to have the opportunity to meet her and to have relationship with her if she would allow us to.

I have only feelings of love, respect, and gratitude toward her.

I hope she has not carried around a sense of guilt or shame for the last 30 years. That is why I want to give her a hug.

I’ve been working with my adoption agency, but we continue to hit road blocks regarding the search. Her name is a very common name and “they don’t have the man power” to search for her.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting Brent and passing this video along. I’m certain that his birth mom never forgot him.

what every adoptee longs to know

When I was growing up in Louisiana, one of the questions I was most often asked by others upon learning that I was adopted was, “so who are your ‘real’ parents?” It was fairly obvious that I was adopted, as I looked nothing like my white parents. I had straight black hair, almond shaped eyes, and skin the color of my dad’s morning cup of coffee. I was usually annoyed by the question each and every time it was asked. My typical response was, “well my parents are my real parents.” My adoptive parents were the only parents I knew. The only parents I would ever know. I have no doubt that other adoptees encounter the same question and perhaps feel the same sense of annoyance.

What baffles me is that I was never curious about my birthparents or place of birth until about two years ago after finding my adoption papers, 40 years after my adoption. This ambivalence was perpetuated by the secrecy surrounding adoption at the time. My adoptive parents never ever talked about my birth heritage or birth family. Hell, I had never even heard the term, “birthfamily.” When I was placed for adoption, it was the beginning of the end of any connection to my birth country, to my birthfamily, to my cultural roots. After my adoption, all cultural ties were severed. I would never know that my birthparents were from China, but forced to leave the country and build a new life in Taiwan, that I had two older biological sisters and an older biological brother. I believe that my adoptive parents did everything possible to keep my past hidden from me, and for years, it would remain so. Then one day, the truth came out, or at least part of it. And when it did, it was the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

This afternoon, I went with some friends who are visiting from California to see a movie, “Philomena,” starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. It was a heartbreaking movie, although there was some humor between the characters that lightened things up. It is based on the true story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who, as a teenager, had a romantic fling with a boy at a carnival and became pregnant. Rejected by her own family, she is sent to a convent where she gives birth to a son, Anthony, and is forced to work with other young girls in order to work off the penance of their “sins.” The girls are allowed to see their children for only one hour a day. What is even more tragic is one day, Philomena watches helplessly as her three-year-old boy is taken away by a rich American couple without as much as a goodbye. The convent was in the business of selling babies to wealthy Americans and having the young mother’s sign contracts that they could never seek the whereabouts of their children. This abominable practice is historical, unfortunately. Fifty years later, Philomena is still tormented by the loss of her son and the desire to find him. She unwittingly connects with dejected political journalist, Martin Sixsmith, portrayed by Steve Coogan, who agrees to help her find her son, primarily for the tabloid possibilities of a human interest story. What follows is a tender story of loss, reconciliation, forgiveness, and ultimately acceptance.

I know some adoptees hated this film, but it really resonated with me, despite the creative license that was taken to make it more dramatic. The story of deep loss and grief was what hit me. The depiction of such a tremendous loss experienced by a woman whose child was taken away from her was so real. I felt the loss as if it were my own. So often adoption is portrayed as a happy event, yet rarely do we see the other side of adoption from the perspective of the birth mother who is forced to relinquish her child. One of the most memorable lines comes when Philomena decides to go to America with Martin Sixsmith in hopes of finding her son. Philomena says, “I’d like to know if Anthony ever thought of me…I’ve thought of him everyday.”

Since learning about my birthparents in Taiwan, I’ve often wondered if my birth mother ever thought of me. How can it not be so? Philomena answered this question for me. The separation between a mother who is forced to give up her child and the child who is relinquished causes a wound that is easily re-opened again and again. I will never know my birth mother. She and my biological father died before I had the chance to meet them. I have often wondered about her, like what her favorite color was, what kind of music she liked, what kind of personality she had, was she happy, did we bond at all while I was still with her? I was told by my sisters in Taiwan that she was a teacher, she enjoyed learning and classical music. Unbeknownst to her, my birth father, took me to the orphanage and relinquished me without her consent. I often wonder how it all happened, if he felt anything at all when leaving me at the orphanage to languish. My sisters tell me that our mother never talked about what happened, but it deeply affected her, emotionally and psychologically. When we met for the first time in Taipei, they gave me photos of our mother and father. I felt that there was such sadness behind my birth mother’s eyes.

Philomena eventually learns that the life her son attains after his adoption is much more affluent than anything she could have ever provided for him. She recognizes this fact and is happy that he grew up having opportunities that he would not have had otherwise. This is the reason why many adoptees are placed for adoption, including me. It’s quite the phenomenon when you are given everything you could possibly need and want, yet still feel a hole somewhere deep inside you, like there is a part of you that’s missing. It’s still there to this day. I’ve learned to accept it, or perhaps even ignore it so I can deal with life.

I think that many adoptees wonder why they were given up or abandoned. Questions like, “was it because I was unwanted, was it forced, was I ever thought of afterwards?” are not uncommon. Unfortunately, many adoptees will never know the answers because of a lack of documentation, abandonment or falsification of records. Finding my birthfamily brought me one step closer to the truth and to answering some of those questions. Yet, the whole truth is still so elusive. I will always have questions about my birthparents and my birthfamily. Answers are not so easy to come by.

In the movie, Martin Sixsmith quotes T.S. Eliot toward the end of Philomena’s journey, 

“The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” 

I thought how very apt this quote was. Philemona started her journey at the convent and, in the end, returns to it. My journey began in an orphanage in Taiwan. Two years ago, I returned to the city of my birth to be reunited with my birth/first family. I arrived at the place where it all started, yet only just began to know the place for the first time. Though I will never be able to meet my birth mother, I believe that she thought about me. There is no longer any doubt in my mind.