Before the couple's trip to Houston, Moon Ja had worried, How am I going to face her? But now she was learning that her daughter had earned a bachelor's degree in justice studies from Arizona State and a master's in public administration from New York University. She married well: Greg has a law degree from Columbia University and is now a vice president at Broward College.

Any issue about his race faded in the living room of that house in Houston. The only disappointment came in learning there were no surprise grandchildren. Chae and Greg had been trying for years, and just recently their doctor had told them to stop taking the fertility drugs that hadn't worked.

Soon Moon Ja had to return home. Chae and Greg went with her to see her off at the airport.

Greg, Chae, baby Hadley, and Moon Ja in their Miami Shores home.
George Martinez
Greg, Chae, baby Hadley, and Moon Ja in their Miami Shores home.
Chae never figured on finding her family, so she and husband Greg took in the sights, including a traditional wedding service at Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Courtesy of Chae Haile
Chae never figured on finding her family, so she and husband Greg took in the sights, including a traditional wedding service at Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Chae cried, in part out of happiness at finally finding her mother. She also kept thinking about what her mother must have gone through, the shame of having given up a child kept inside for three decades. "There were times in Houston," Chae remembers, "when I just felt very bad for the life they had to live."

Moon Ja didn't understand. "Don't cry," she kept saying in Korean. She went back home believing her daughter was disappointed. Moon Ja figured Chae felt abandoned and unloved, and she blamed herself for making that choice alone 33 years ago.

She knew the only answer was to have Chae return to Korea and meet the entire family. She didn't care anymore what kind of shame it brought her.

Rain had begun to fall lightly in Seoul as Chae and Greg walked down the dark-red brick alley. Along the edges, weeds crept unchecked. On each side of them, shoulder-high walls closed off the courtyards that led to modest apartments. It was late, and the only light came from porches, masking their approach.

Chae's sister Eun Jung told them to wait in the alley. She would knock on their father's door and lead him outside. "You'll get to see him but not meet him," she said in rough English. They huddled together, hoping they wouldn't be spotted. They wondered what would happen if a cop approached or a neighbor came outside and found these two Westerners standing in an alley, peeping in on a man they had never met.

This second trip to Korea in May 2011 had been a gamble. Cultural differences could mean the trip would end in disaster. But Chae and Greg decided to stay at Eun Jung and her husband's three-bedroom apartment. "Here we are, and she's been waiting 33 years," Greg recalls. "Let's get to know them as much as possible."

At dinner the first day, Chae's sister had proposed the clandestine trip to see Dad. He was a gruff man, she was warned, and would be angry if he learned about Chae.

They stood there in the light rain, listening to Eun Jung and her father talk.

"It was exciting," Chae says. "It was like a stakeout. We were standing there in the shadows and hoping he didn't see us and say, 'Who are those people over there?'"

Chae studied his face. He looked far younger than 74, with a strong chin and a friendly smile. He was trim and a sharp dresser. She figured this was all she'd see of him.

On the third day of the trip, Chae's mom decided to tell him. She was tired of feeling ashamed about what she had done.

"Really? My daughter?" he said on the phone. "I want to meet her."

So they returned to the alley and stood in the same spot. Su Hong exited his courtyard wearing a dark-blue suit and tie. He began by shaking Chae's hand as if in a business meeting. But then he held onto it. He smiled, a wide grin that pushed up the center of his eyebrows. He let Chae go only long enough to shake Greg's hand. They held hands as they walked down the alley and then onto the main drag. They continued that way, unable to share a word, all the way to a restaurant.

Over lunch, Su Hong asked Chae and Greg questions through a translator. With reading glasses propped on his nose, he dutifully wrote the answers in a notebook. They sat long after the plates were cleared, drinking barley water while her father noted the details of her life.

During the next few weeks, Eun Jung gave her new sister the master bedroom in the small apartment and her husband cooked barbecued pork belly on a gas grill in the living room. Streams of cousins and aunts and uncles came by. "They were all so curious about us," Chae recalls.

The day before they were to leave, Chae and Greg were taken to a traditional Korean temple and sent to separate rooms to be dressed. A team of women wrapped Greg in a pink corset and matching pants. They draped him in a flowing violet robe with a white collar and embroidered images of birds and flowers on the back and front. Then they sealed him in an intricate metal belt. On his head, they placed a black hat that looked like a giant thimble with butterfly wings. Outside, they led him to the pony he would ride for what was to come.

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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.

BassErik
BassErik

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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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