Pakjira nicknamed Min
My name is Min and this is my adoption story. In 1991, I was found roaming the streets of Ubon Ratchithani in the North Eastern Province of Thailand. I have no birth date, no name, no family… the only detail I have was the address of the family who found me and notified the authorities. I was told the authorities tried their best to find my family, but to no avail and thus I was officially considered an orphan, eligible for adoption. I was originally placed in an orphanage in Khon Khaen and was then transferred to Udon Thani Home for Girls where I remained until I was adopted at the age of 6. The orphanage was Government funded and was more like a boarding school where I attended kindergarten everyday. It was a good orphanage and I have many fond memories. The orphanage gave me a new identity: a name, birthday and place of birth. The orphanage named me Pakjira and nicknamed me Min.
My time at the orphanage
My memories of the orphanage are still very clear and often play in my mind like a tape on repeat. I have very strong memories mainly relating to our everyday routines, for example, meals. I remember eating a boiled egg for breakfast everyday and for lunch big pot of stew with rice, veggies, and meat. We rarely had dinner and I recall being hungry now and again. Even though my orphanage was one of the “better ones” they fed us sparingly. At the orphanage, I mostly remember playing with my two best friends Bern (nicknamed Apple) and Lianne. Lianne was not available for adoption as I recall her father bringing us shaved ice when he visited. I am not sure if Bern was available for adoption, however, upon my recent visit to Thailand I was told she had special learning needs and was not adopted.
In the time leading up to my adoption, one of the teachers asked me how I would feel if I was adopted. I answered that I’d be fine mainly because I wanted to appear tough. I didn’t understand the concept of adoption – only that sometimes ‘strange’ people would come with bags of toys and take one of my classmates away. It never seemed like an unpleasant experience. Then suddenly things changed. The staff started paying me more attention. I was given English lessons learning how to write the alphabet. I was shown photos of strangers and I knew that something wasn’t quite right.
A traumatic ‘Gotcha Day’
Everything seemed to happen quickly. By the time my parents arrived I realized “sh*t, this is happening to ME!” My adoptive parents brought bags of toys for me to hand out to the other children. It wasn’t until then as I was handing out the toys out to my classmates that I started to cry hysterically. My parents were encouraged to take me out of the orphanage immediately.
My adoptive parents had married a few months before traveling to Thailand. They considered the trip to be their honeymoon. However, it was not much of a honeymoon! I screamed and cried for the entire two weeks in Thailand. I acted out and wouldn’t let them touch me. In my grief, I was constantly on high alert looking around for any reminders or associations with the orphanage and staff. Whilst in this state, I clung on to memories of the orphanage as a coping mechanism. This may be the reason why my memories are so heavily embedded today. My adoptive parents had received little to no preparation to deal with a child suffering from severe separation anxiety. At one stage they were close to returning me to the orphanage as they felt guilty to have caused my suffering. After talking to the Thai Adoption Social Worker they were advised I should settle upon arrival to Australia.
When we arrived in Australia my parents sent me to school after a couple of days. This turned out to be a good decision as school reminded me of my orphanage – a place with children. I started to understand English after a month or so, and by two months I no longer spoke Thai. After a few years I had forgotten my language. My adoptive parents did attempt to help me retain the language by having a Thai student from Bangkok tutor me however it didn’t work as she spoke a different dialect.
English was always a struggle for me and remains to be so. As a child and even now as an adult, I often make up words. As a child I constructed incomprehensible sentences and struggled with Maths and logical reasoning. In Primary School I struggled academically. I knew I was behind my classmates as I didn’t always “get” the basic ideas that were taught. Looking back I think this was due to the fact I was catching up with acquiring basic vocabulary that an average Australian 4 year old would have already learnt. Nonetheless, by High School this changed and I started to excel. I landed myself in the top 10% in Year 12 and then continued to study Psychology and Counseling at University.
During those crazy developmental years that young people go through, I had my own addition of identity and culture crisis with the added bonus of flashbacks and reminders of Thailand. Small things would act as triggers such as pictures, sounds, smells, and taste. I often tried to match, reproduce, and capture them. I replicated my taste memory through food that I had in the orphanage such as making Thai congee and desserts.
In 2013 I decided to visit Thailand after approximately 16 years of leaving. I was shocked to feel a massive disconnect with my country. I could no longer speak the language, nor did I act or dress like the locals. I was a stranger in my own country.
With the help of my wonderful friends, I visited the orphanage and reconnected with my teacher who had looked after me. The orphanage had changed quite a lot and I was unable to match my memories with what I saw. I remember feeling no emotion but numbness and disengagement. To this day I am not sad about my lack of emotion but more confused by it.
I learnt what happened to my two best friends. They both have kids and are married. When I think about it, their lives could have been my reality. In contemplating my life as an adoptee, I have no need to judge whether one situation is better than the other. I learnt that my orphanage in particular encouraged kids with potential to go to University or trade school. I know both my best friends were educated until a certain age. People usually think worse case scenarios to justify adoption. Needless to say I am happy with my life in Australia and simply want to make the best of things. I have adopted the perspective of a western culture which tells me from time-to-time that life is “better” here. However, I can’t help but wonder if I stayed in Thailand my life there may not have been all that bad. I believe its purely perspective.
As an adopted child I was told that I should be grateful for this “opportunity” that I was given. I can’t help but feel statements like these are somewhat un-empathetic. I think it’s unfair to make someone compare his or her loss of culture and identity. I believe these themes act as valid concern for current and future adoptees.
In the future I hope to go back to Thailand to visit and live as a volunteer. Perhaps I will be able to speak the language again? Perhaps I will reconnect with my culture? Perhaps I’ll find my biological family? Perhaps…?
My name is Min and I am an Australian-Asian who happens to be adopted. My adoption history is my past, my present, and my future. I am defined by it but I am not bound by it. I hope to help others grow from their own experiences and stories.