THIS THING OF OURS-ADOPTION
My name is Don Gordon BELL and I am one of the earliest of the first generation of KAD's (Korean ADoptees). The Korean War had been settled by Armistice three years before I left war-torn Seoul, Korea, on May 21, 1956. It was the first plane of twelve 'war babies' processed thru the Harry Holt Adoption Program. Read more of MY STORY on My Pages.
I grew up in a typical middle-class family of English-Scottish roots in greater Los Angeles, Ca, USA. Memories faded, Korean language was 'lost' and I did not know anything about the country of my birth until I met Korean Marines in Vietnam while serving with the US Marines. It was my first exposure to real Korean people. I was not completely aware of how prejudiced most Koreans thought towards a Half-Breed like me. I learned what "Tuigi" meant, a Korean word for a "Child of a Foreign devil". Oh, wonderful.
All my life I always had to answer the question: "What ARE you?" and I simply would tell 'my story'. It was not a big deal for me, for my Adoptive Parents had taught me that being an American meant that WE were from many countries. I never 'wished to be White' and just learned to stand up for my own identity. MY Identity was as an American, with mixed heritage. I did not know what being "Korean" meant but often wondered about my roots, and what my birth father's ethnicity. Mexican, Native Americans, and Spanish people would tell me that I had their 'genes' for sure. Little did I know they were right!
After college, I traveled to Manila and for ten years I lived in the Philippines. I was excepted as a 'mestizo' and fit into the former Spanish colony. I was a B-movie Character Actor, working on international and local films, enjoying a 'crazy and wild' abandonment. Then a life changing experience gave me faith in a personal Higher Being. After walking away from the film business, I lived back in the USA, not sure of my direction in life finding work in construction, finish carpentry, door hanging, and many other jobs I'd like to forget.
In 1991, at 38, I attended a Holt Heritage Camp that was a great experience and really began my own journey of Adoption Identity search. I had never thought much of my Korean culture, though I always felt proud of being "HALF-Korean" and "half-Something".
In 1994 I came back to Seoul, Korea, with my church Vineyard Christian Fellowship, and was invited to stay with a church in East Seoul, for one year. I have lived here since late 1995- re-discovering my "Korean-ness", teaching English and telling my Adoption Story to thousands of Korean students of all ages, helping their understanding of Korean Adoptees. It is one of the issues that Korea is now facing, even for its own secretly adopted children, those who were adopted IN-Country by Koreans who desired a family but due to problems with Infertility secretly adopt.
I was a charter member in 1997 (first dozen members) of GOA'L (Global Overseas Adoptees' Link, founded by Ami Nafzger) and continue to be involved with the complex issues of This Thing of Ours-Adoption. Thousands of KADs have visited Korea over the years, searching for their culture and Some search for birth family. Seventy-five thousand have come, yet only 2,400 plus have found Reunion with Birth family, often with varying results. There are many complexities, many don't want to search concerned about offending their Adoptive Families. Each KAD must decide what they want to do, when to do it, etc.
At 61, I am still 'working thru' my Adoption Identity. Each of YOU need to 'work through' your own understanding and hopefully find forgiveness and healing. Read many different accounts and compare before coming to conclusions. I hope that you will learn what IS happening NOW, in the land of your birth, the Rep. of Korea (South Korea). (See Report Links).
Times are changing, the reasons for 'relinquishment for adoption' have shifted, but there continues to be a need for a multi-tiered approach and understanding of Adoption issues. Slowly, attitudes of Korean society ARE changing for the better. But, the majority continue to feel embarrassment and shame. Thus, Adoption is still shrouded in secrecy even for those who are adopted In-country. There ARE positive signs and movements of NGO's and KAD groups are advocating for the Unwed Mothers. However, two-thirds of pregnant women each year, continue to give up their babies for adoption. One out of four are sent overseas, YET three are secretly adopted in-country. The Myth that "Koreans don't adopt" is false, but they need to open up and hopefully change their shame to pride.
This blog is for EVERYONE, whether you are an Adoptee, Adoptive Family, Birth Family or involved in Adoption in ANY way as a professional, social worker, official, etc, from Korea or the world. We examine the complex issues and personal journeys that we, domestic and overseas adoptees, have to face and sort out in This Thing of Ours-Adoption. (Use the Ligit Search function (Left Column) to check for Posts on various topics, TransRacial, TranCultural, MultiCultural families, Domestic, Civil Code Law Adoptions, InterCountry Adoption, etc.)
I personally have come to a compromised, nuanced position on this thing of ours-adoption. I advocate a Multi-tiered Plan that tries to be balanced, realistic, fair to all.
UPDATE: Living in the Philippines since 2010, at first teaching students from several countries as an Online Tutor, based in Makati, Metro Manila. I was working on a Digital Library for Online Tutoring or ELearning; developing an agritourism farm; and Overseas Retirement Care for foreigners needing 24/7 health care.
Then some 18 months ago, in July of 2012 I met with Andrew Leavold, a crazy film obsessed Aussie who helped "pull me back into film making".
WHEW! Lot on my plate. I have also been learning much about the Filipino society's very different viewpoints on unwed motherhood and adoption.
Latest: As of Sept. 2012, I worked on an Indie Film, "Baybayin, the Palawan Script", directed by Auraeus Solito, and international award winning Filipino director. I had a role in the film and explored my hobby as a STILLS Photographer. Currently I have quit all teaching, co-writing on an international film that will be done in 3D and CGI effects. I am back in the film-making business and I love it.
Adoption Discourse needs to hear YOUR VOICE. Every opinion, even opposing viewpoints will be posted and interaction invited by email and Comments have been activated again with spam filters!). Welcome, come learn, and share your thoughts.
June 6, 2009
Tale of Two Women
After Vietnam fell in 1975 to the Communists, Vietnamese from the South fled into the South China Sea. They were called Boat People and they risked life and limb to escape from the Communists. Anyone who had worked with the US were rounded up and put into “re-education camps”. They were attacked by pirates, raped, robbed, and left adrift at sea in overcrowded leaking craft. Thousands found themselves in the Vietnamese Refugee camps in the Philippines, Thailand, even Hong Kong. They were hired as extras on “Apocalypse Now”, earning $25 for children under 12 and $50 for above per day. They were protraying usually the victorious communists. It would be like people from the defeated South, acting like the Union soldiers in a documentary on the Civil War.
I worked on the Local Casting under Ken Metcalfe, at that time I was in charge of all the many Foreigners who were from all over the world. I had to get them up in the morning, get them to the set, into uniforms, issued gear, props, weapons, even watch over them during the night. I worked under 2nd Assistant Director Larry Franco to set up all extras for the various shots, giving each person guidelines for 'crisscrossing the background' or activities to do during each "Shot". A Vietnamese leader, a full Colonel in the Vietnamese Air Force, was my main translator for the Vietnamese extras. The Colonel related to me over some drinks how incredible it was to him, how life was treating him. I agreed and told him how much I regretted how our government had shamefully left the Vietnamese people cut off from support.
Then I reminded him that each day, seven days a week, each of his twenty-odd family members earned cold hard cash, in dollars. I told him that America would be difficult but they would have a chance there. I suggested that his wife start a noodle shop since she was such as good cook. He did, called it Pho Hoa, which actually started in a Food Court near the Intercontinental Hotel, Makati, Metro Manila back in 1977. They made it in the land of opportunity. We even have many Pho Hoa's now in Korea.
One of those beautiful Vietnamese women, Quan, lived with me for three months and I planned to marry her. While I was ‘on location’, on a new film, “Boys of Company C”, she finally got through by phone to tell me that she had suddenly received her visa to Paris, France. She was told that she must leave right away. I rushed back to Manila but too late, she had left the day before. I found her letter promising to write from France. Quan’s first letter gave me a shock, she was pregnant with my child. I had to decide if I would ‘do the right thing and go to France’.
I wrote her that I would be willing to do that, then her next letter arrived the day after I put mine in the mailbox. Quan had found a job with the French government helping other Vietnamese. Oh, and by the way, she had met a rich French businessman who spoke perfect Vietnamese…Yes, they married and the last letter I received contained a photo, asking my written permission for monsieur to adopt my son! I wrote back back, “Oui, oui, but of course”, with mixed feelings of relief and guilt. I have unfortunately lost contact with my Vietnamese son over the years but Quan promised that he would grow up knowing my name. My hope is that one day he will search for me on the internet and make contact.
This was not the first ‘mistake of my life’ you see. Indeed, almost a year before Quan, I had met a struggling beautiful Filipina actress. I played her boyfriend in a movie and enjoyed a fun filled Christmas holiday in her hotel room. Foolishly I ran out of ‘protection’ and did not resupply. Later, she realized she was ‘late’ and knew that I was the culprit. Then a former American who had met her before came back to Manila. He proposed to marry her, even after hearing that she had just learned that she was pregnant. I saw her at three months as she was preparing a fiancée visa for America. Obviously with child, I immediately asked her “Uh, is it mine”. "No, uh, NO", she said, trying to think. She convinced me that her boyfriend, had come back after her menstruation, so I wasn’t possibly the father. I breathed a sign of relief because I had not know my own biological father, I did not want the same thing happening to "my child".
Six months later, I was ‘shocked, yes shocked’, when I received a letter with a picture of ‘my daughter’ and a feeble explanation. The mother of our child had lied to me because she had a better deal with him, a sure thing rather than with me, a younger struggling artist and ‘we were just casual lovers, right?’ Don’t worry your daughter will know your name she promised. I had committed the very offense my ‘birth father’ had done; regardless of my attempts to ‘be careful’, I had ‘sired’ first a daughter, then a son.
Punishment to fit the Crime
Three years later I ‘punished’ myself by having a vasectomy at the age of 28 in order to prevent another bastard child by my acts of self-indulgence. Now I wouldn’t worry when a woman told me that she was pregnant, I would tell her “Not by me, I shoot blanks”. Oh, the follies of my youth! Many times I woke up after drinking all night, looked at a cute woman curled up in my bed, “Hello, uh…what’s your name? Oh Teressa! Of course, I remember”.
I actually felt a certain pride that I contracted STDs so many times the Filipino doctor warned me I would require stronger drugs. I was one of his best customers, once bringing in ‘three casual weekend lovers’ for testing, separately, throughout the day. You see three nights, three different ‘lovers’, then like a thunder clap, the symptoms hit me on the 5th day. I did not know which one had given it to me, number 1, 2, or 3. It could be anyone of them, but the others might also be infected. Now, some guys would not even tell them but I had at least some scruples. It turned out that the first two were clean but they were now all mad at me. I tell this not to boast.
As a character actor I was somewhat recognized in the Philippines, I even paid journalists monthly stipends to keep my name in the tabloids. I had a great come-on line and took advantage of that shamelessly. I confess now in order to expose my total lack of conscience back then. I was also utterly stupid, for even when early reports in the 1980’s came out on HIV/AIDS I did not take notice. Not until my surrender to God could I see how wrong I had been all my life. For years I tested my blood fearing that God was going to punish me with AIDS. Thankfully my Heavenly Father forgives sin but I know not to tempt him again! I learned that my way of seeking love was in desperation, and left behind a bitter trail of unrequited love and empty promises. I was a Jerk, big time. Women’s Lib would make me the poster boy of Jerks. I began to see women as real people, not ‘body parts’, which was Really a challenge. Still working on understanding them, though…
“You must be my Bio-Dad”
‘Life is stranger than fiction’ they say. Seven years later in 1985, as I sat in the coffee shop of Peninsula Hotel, Manila, I heard someone call my name. I was well known by then but as Don Gordon Bell when I heard “Don Bell! Is that you?” I knew that voice! Turned around and there was the Filipina mother of my 'daughter', who I recognized immediately, and beside her a seven year old girl. OUR daughter looked curiously at me and back at her mother...then smiled, “You must be my Bio-Dad” which is funny, strange but true. As you can imagine I stood there speechless and then met her adoptive father and her younger brother as they entered. Their ‘composite’ family was visiting the Philippines and staying in the hotel. OMG! I spent several days with them, making excuses and trying to explain why I had ‘not been there for her’. I explained about myself being adopted and see seemed to understand. We all agreed perhaps we could stay in touch through letters, which we have done. My daughter was mature for her 7 years, knew all about her mother and I, and she looked just like her mother, thank God. I have been fortunate in maintaining contact with my daughter. We kept in touch, at first through letters (written by hand!), now by internet. My daughter, who wants to remain anonymous until later, is now married and I am now a ‘biological granddad’ of two lovely children. Some day I hope to meet them but for now I know they are doing well.
I have made attempts through Vietnamese adoption groups to post my story on their websites and forums in the hope that my half-Vietnamese son might someday find me. That would be wonderful for me, though I think about him frequently I have to hope that HE is not angry at me. Life is full of difficulties and challenges, the mistakes we make continue to have consequences for other. Hopefully, we can learn or show others Not to make our mistakes as well. The last chapters have not yet been written...