"I think I remember your mother coming in with four girls," the doctor told her. All the children were very pretty. Chae's sisters had begged their mother: "Let's take the baby."

Then again, maybe that didn't happen. The doctor was old, and it might have been another family.

"Thirty-three years ago?" Greg asked from behind his video camera.

Korean Social Services director Choon Hee Kim (standing) took Chae through the orphanage where she had been sent after being given up for adoption.
Courtesy of Chae Haile
Korean Social Services director Choon Hee Kim (standing) took Chae through the orphanage where she had been sent after being given up for adoption.

The doctor shook her head. She couldn't be sure. And with that, it appeared they had reached another dead end.

In the two years since that meeting, Chae and Greg would test their detective skills and their willingness to trust strangers. They would find themselves on the doorstep of a random home in Texas. They'd creep down a dark alley in Seoul. And to end it all, they'd take an unexpected guest into their Miami Shores home.

Moon Ja Park was volunteering at church when her phone rang again. She had just finished making a soup of soybean paste and baby cabbage, part of a meal that's traditional after Friday-night services in Korea. The call came from the same strange number that had been trying her all week. She had a break before serving the soup, so she decided to answer it.

Orphanage director Choon Hee Kim was on the other end. She told Moon Ja that her daughter was in Korea looking for her. But Moon Ja wasn't ready to say yes to a meeting. Shame and guilt gripped her. "Let me think about it and get back to you." Afraid to tell anyone her secret, she spent the night quietly serving soup.

Moon Ja had worried about her adopted daughter for years. Now she was here, wanting to meet.

On Monday, she called back and told the orphanage director, as if admitting to a crime: "Yes, I'm the person you're looking for." By then, Chae and Greg had flown back to Florida. Moon Ja got Chae's contact information, but still, she wasn't ready. She decided to tell her daughters first.

Ten days after the Miami Shores couple returned home, Chae received an email with the subject line: "Your sister in Korea." It began, "Dear my lovely sister Yoon Jung. I can speak English a little." Eun Jung was sure they were sisters. Chae, it turns out, had been born Yoon Jung Chae, meaning the first name given to her by her adoptive mother was actually the family's surname. "You are a certain my sister. You look like us. Very sorry and sad but you look like growed very well you are very pretty and bright."

Chae began a daily email exchange with Eun Jung. There was some uncertainty, but soon everyone agreed to a DNA test, which confirmed they were related. Then the sisters told Chae about how she could meet her mother.

Coincidentally, Moon Ja worked as a nanny and was planning to visit the United States to help a friend who had just given birth in Houston. Chae and Greg decided to fly there. They didn't speak Korean, and Moon Ja spoke little English, so the couple reached out to a Korean-American organization for help.

In January 2011, Greg and Chae drove to a stately brick home in the suburbs. Before pressing the doorbell, Chae looked back at the entourage in tow. Greg was there, holding the video camera as usual, as was a translator and a videographer team.

The door opened, and her mother was there almost immediately, arms outstretched. Her right arm went around Chae's neck and her left under her arm. She pulled Chae into the house while making cooing noises as if for a baby. She whispered words in Korean that Chae couldn't understand. Never known to cry easily, Chae joined her in tears. Her mother put both hands on the sides of Chae's face to take a first look at her daughter as an adult before embracing her again.

"It was unbelievable," Chae recalls. "But at the same time, I was just at a loss for words. We sat there, and we were both just struggling with what to say."

During their four days together in Houston, Moon Ja stayed in a hotel suite with Chae and Greg. Through a translator, Moon Ja explained what happened when Chae was born. Moon Ja had been poor then. Chae's sisters had been older — 8, 10, 12, and 13. Things had become so desperate that Moon Ja once asked two of her daughters if they'd like to be put up for adoption and sent to America for a better life; they declined. So after giving birth, Moon Ja asked the doctor about adoption, and she was given a pamphlet for Korean Social Services.

The doctor had been wrong about the pretty sisters wanting to keep the baby. Moon Ja had told her family that Chae had died during birth. Not even Chae's father knew. Moon Ja had stashed the adoption papers in an old book.

Moon Ja didn't think about it much until she began going to church in 1995. Then guilt overtook her. Had Chae gotten an education? Married a good man? She figured Chae was somewhere in Korea, perhaps married to a distant drunk like Chae's father. They had separated after the girls were raised. Moon Ja looked for the book with the papers and realized it had been lost during a move.

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13 comments
draven512
draven512

I am looking for information regarding the charity that flies adoptees back to Korea to find their birth families, or see their birth home. Can anyone help me??? My mother in law was in an orphanage in Seoul, Korea in 1958 and has no information at all regarding her birth family. I would like to know if the charity organization is still around!

yu_bruce
yu_bruce

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Font

The writer of this story sadly misses a wonderful opportunity to point out what an amazing mother the "white woman from South Dakota" must have been. She raised Chae as a single mother and saw to it that her daughter obtained a Master's Degree from NYU. If I were the "white woman from South Dakota" I couldn't help but be saddened by the passing reference.

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Mickimoon
Mickimoon

The last line of this article is what i would like to comment on.... This is a wonderful story but many Americans do not know that Adopted people in America do not have access to who they are... Our original(yes we have two ) birth certificates are sealed and we are denied access to them... We pay taxes, we vote, we have children, we participate in his society an yet we are treated like perpetual children without rights. I am a mother of four and would like to "know who i am" and have my medical history but the state of Florida denies me that access daily.

Drake Mallard
Drake Mallard

This story will make you cry

home is where you make it

Holly LaClair-Bogedain
Holly LaClair-Bogedain

Love this article! My three children were adopted through KSS. I sat in that very nursery pictured in the article playing with my son. I hope my children can go back as adults someday. I hope that KSS is still there - they closed their adoption program in 2011 shortly after we came home.

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clmmiami
clmmiami

@draven512 Look me up on LinkedIn and send me a message through there. I can give you information about the organization I went with in the article. Chae Haile

 
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