Meanwhile, Chae was being dressed in a far more elaborate costume. It began with an electric-blue dress that reached to the floor. The women added a green silk robe with yellow embroidery. They placed on her head a pushpin-looking ball the size of a large grapefruit with polka dots. From it sprouted painted chess pawns and flapping antennas. Fabric the shape of lollipops dangled in front of her eyes. Her cheeks were adorned with bright-red stick-on circles. Outside, they placed her in a wooden box. She had to bend in half to squeeze inside.

Four men in white robes and tiny straw hats gripped the handles on the box and carried Chae off. Greg clacked next to her on the pony. They traveled to the front of the temple where Greg dismounted and Chae squirmed out of the box. Inside, her father waited at the front. Her mother sat nearby wearing a flowing pink dress. About 50 family members watched.

A translator told Greg to walk down the stairs of the temple while covering his face with a silk shield. He bowed in front of his father-in-law, put a couple of wooden ducks on an altar, and then bowed to the floor. They led him to a chair at the side of a stage.

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.

Then Chae entered, two women making sure she didn't trip on her robes as she walked the stairs to the stage. They sat her on a chair facing Greg. Then the couple stood and bowed to each other over and over. From a table set up nearby, they ate from bowls of plain white rice and took shots of a Korean rice liquor. Their movements were so awkward that family members couldn't help but occasionally giggle.

Finally, they walked to the edge of the stage, turned to the audience, and bowed deeply. They were now, according to an old and rarely used Korean wedding tradition, declared man and wife.

At the reception that followed, they sat on pillows arranged in front of low tables. Servers covered every inch in front of them with bowls of Korean condiments, hot plates full of grilled pork, and large leaves of lettuce to wrap it all.

Greg turned his video camera toward the bump in Chae's stomach. "That's you," he said. "We don't have a name yet." They had decided these videos would be important some day for their first child, due to be born in about five months. After all those years of trying, Chae found out she was pregnant not long after her first trip to Korea.

Moon Ja, sitting across from them during the meal, figured the baby was an omen. She knew what she had to do to make up for the lost time with her daughter.

Moon Ja darted around Chae and Greg's large dining-room table, carefully placing a fork on the left and a knife on the right at each station for the visitors. Then she came back with spoons. In the center of the table that night in early February, she placed a feast: chicken Parmesan, spaghetti with marinara, and bread salad with balsamic vinegar and tomatoes. Chae had cooked, a rarity since Mom had arrived.

At the beginning, it was seaweed soup as a side item to almost every meal. Chae had given birth to Hadley two days after her mother arrived in October. Moon Ja got to work on the soup right away and hoped Chae would follow the Korean tradition of new mothers lying in bed for six weeks or so as grandmothers fuss over the baby.

"No more seaweed soup," Chae said after a month of it. A large shopping bag of seaweed that Moon Ja had stashed in the spare bedroom's closet would go unused. Instead, she made a marinated barbecue beef dish called bulgogi, fried rice, and over-hard eggs for breakfast. She jarred her own kimchee, setting it out in the sun on the kitchen counter to ferment.

Chae didn't stick to the bed rest long; she had a houseful of guests. Her adoptive mother, who now lives in Arizona, had arrived, as had Greg's parents from Virginia. So now the home was filled with a Korean woman who spoke no English, a white woman from South Dakota, and a black couple from the South. It was hectic at first, but when most of them left, Greg and Chae had to figure out how to communicate with a houseguest who spoke little English.

They expected it to be uncomfortable. But about halfway through the four-month visit, Chae was watching her mother hold Hadley as she sat on the sunny deck in back of their home. Moon Ja was cradling her granddaughter and whispering to her in Korean. It occurred to Chae how normal it had all seemed. "I just had never pictured any of this happening," Chae says.

Moon Ja typically woke at night when the baby needed a feeding. Sometimes Chae and Greg felt like they were taking too much from her, but Moon Ja wanted it that way.

During that dinner in February, Moon Ja explained through a translator her side of the adoption and everything since. She cleared the table and then handed out slices of tiramisu. She refilled waters and topped off wine glasses.

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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
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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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