Korean Killdeers

I was reared on a small dairy farm that rested on the edge of the Red River Valley on the Minnesota side. I grew up in a rural farming community that was filled with a lush green forest of corn, amber waves of grain and intermittent dots of farm homesteads covered with thick deciduous trees. On these vast plains lived a curious little bird, in scientific terms, called a Charadrius vociferous. These small insignificant brown birds with long thin spindly legs made their nests on the ground in the fields and shoreline all over North America. The locals, where I grew up, name this bird by the falsetto cry it makes … kill deer, kill deer. I am certain, if birds could speak, they would poke fun at the killdeer’s pencil-thin legs and scrawny body.

What makes this benign lusterless outward appearance memorable are the bird’s acting abilities. This bird pretends to have a broken wing to draw predators and trespassers such as a curious dog or small children away from their precious eggs. It’s amazing to observe these birds screaming around and flapping their wings and then dart away when you get near them. The birds deserve an Emmy Award for their dramatic performances. I have fond childhood memories of chasing these small feathered friends and was tricked into believing they needed medical attention. I never located the bird’s eggs but remember seeing fluffy plumed chicks darting about like a group of frolicking school children on the playgrounds.

In my studies I learned that the killdeer birds were aboriginal to North America, so I was dumbfounded to see similar antics during my travels to Korea. At first, I thought the kids waving at the soldiers were the average child as we passed in our armored track vehicles. Moments later, I realized these masqueraders were actually professionals pulling a scam. These acting children reminded me of the pretentious wounded Killdeers back home on the Minnesota prairies. Like the birds, they played wounded. Instead of broken wings, they acted out with alligator tears and pouting faces. The familiar killdeer, killdeer cries of distress were replaced with childish voices begging for items, “M.R.E., M.R.E.,” “GI gimme M.R.E.!” The children were asking for prepackaged Army food called Meals Ready to Eat or MRE’s for short. I eyed the children with caution and was disrupted from my stare by my friend.

“Hey, Hansen! I ate part of my lunch during our drive and I’m gonna give the rest of my meal. Watcha think?” “I don’t care,” I answered. I deliberated for a second and focused the children back into view. “Hmmm, to be honest, I really don’t think they want your leftovers.” Barrick jumped off the vehicle before I could finish my reply. Barrick seemed like a towering giant compared to the two little girls and it was comical to see him trying to speak Korean with them. I watched with amusement as the little girls refused his opened MRE package. They gestured that they wanted whole MRE packages that lay on top of my armored personnel carrier. Barrick insisted that the items inside the familiar brown plastic bag were indeed still good. “See,” he contended as he held the sealed crackers in the air and made facial gestures that the items were delicious.

I could tell that the eldest girl who was around 8 years old, was getting annoyed. She huffed several times and then blatantly refused the offer by waving her hands for him to get lost. As he made his final offer, the older girl stuck her fist in the air and gave Barrick the bird!

Barrick turned to me in shock and asked in disbelief, “Did you see that? She stuck up her middle finger!” Barrick took a few steps back toward the track vehicle and looked back once more to watch the little girl stick out her tongue at him. He shook his head in disbelief and said, “Just to think, I felt sorry for her!”

Another soldier walked up to the small children and handed the youngest some candy, she appeared to be about 5 years old. The tiny fingers clutched the pieces of hard candy and she began to place a piece inside her mouth. Then fast as lightning, the eldest child struck the littlest one with candy in the face. She landed a couple of hard blows to the small cheeks with her open palms. The eldest child’s face filled with rage. Then as punishment, the larger of the girls pulled the thinning mittens off the smaller one and stuffed them inside her coat pockets.

We all stared at the scene with horror and disbelief. I asked my KATUSA (Korean Augmentee to the US Army), a Korean National soldier who was attached to our unit, to come with me and translate for me. I kneeled in the snow and gingerly grasped the eldest girl by the shoulders and asked her why she was hitting her sister. The girl pulled away from me and put her back towards my face. I got up and walked in front of her and kneeled. This time I asked her if she loved her younger sister and if so why she had hit her in the face. The KATUSA again translated my message, and after a few minutes of questioning the eldest girl’s strong cold glare dissipated and she began to sob in my arms.

The crying girl blurted out a stream of words and left my hug to embrace her little sister. After a short conversation, I learned that the children were forced to stand outside in the twenty degrees below temperature to beg for MRE’s from the passing US Soldiers that trained near her home. Her parents were poor farmers and they supplemented their meager income by selling the Army rations on the black market. As I was listening to her story I started to see the telltale signs of neglect. I noticed that the exposed fingers were red and swollen from mild frostbite and the cheeks chapped from exposure. The hair was matted and dull flakes of dandruff were present in their hair and the horribly tight clothes barely kept them warm from the chilling mountainous winds of Korea.

So many questions fill my mind as I recount this story that happened so many years ago. I wonder what asshole would teach a little girl the meaning of the middle finger. I hope I made a better impact on her and that she has learned to cherish and love her sisters, despite the burden her parents placed on her shoulders as an 8 year old. I revisit this story from time to time and ponder on how this girl is doing. Would she have been better off adopted like me and suffer like I, or was she better off to have been kept with her poor family in Korea? The “once in a lifetime” trip to see my “homeland” taught me more about myself than I imagined possible. I hope this girl has grown up to be a strong, independent woman who has nothing but happiness.

The Janus Tree

Half dead tree

I once saw a tree at a distance and it was lush and green. This deciduous plant was full of life and filled with vibrant leaves. As I passed by the tree, I noticed the other side was scarred, withered and void of life. When I questioned people who lived near the tree, “What happened?” I was told the tree was struck by lightning and that one side had caught on fire. When viewed from the side with branches sprouting rich green leaves, one could not see the death and destruction that it hid on the other side.

This tree is a symbol of my family. My sister is my biological sibling, adopted with me into the same family. We are branches that extend from the same family tree. Today, people say I am the successful one. I have multiple degrees, I have travelled the world, I have 2 gorgeous, happy and healthy kids and I am financially stable. My sister, unfortunately, did not fare so well. She became a mother in her late teens. She married young. She suffered through multiple failed relationships. She lost custody of her children and gave them to the people who abused us as children. She didn’t use her scholarship to obtain a degree and is unable to hold a job. Many individuals would call her unsuccessful.

It wasn’t always this way. If you saw us as teens, I think 99% of people would have placed their betting chips on my sister to become the successful one. My sister’s accomplishments were impressive! She was on the A honor-roll, made it to State in track, she was a beauty pageant and the “popular” one at school. I was probably considered a sure loss. I wouldn’t have placed chips on myself either. I barely graduated high school receiving a 2.1 GPA. If it weren’t for an “A” in shop, I would have had to take my Senior year all over again. As for looks, my small waifish 112-pound frame was not built for any sports and I was that guy who never had a date all through high school. I guess you might have called me lame.

So how could a branch growing so well, get stunted so quickly? It’s due to the fact that in doing so well and reaching for the stars, her branches got struck by lightning. My short branches could never attract so much power. I had to learn to weather life’s storms the hard way. Possibly the bullying, the criticism and neglect I endured in silence toughened me up? I don’t know what happened to reverse our roles and make my little sister do so poorly in life.

It is so hard to watch the people we love suffer. It hurts to see them in pain. I wish the river of tears I’ve cried for my sister would somehow flow to her and make her sprout success and wash away her pain. But it doesn’t. I cannot live for her. She has to do that for herself. As some people can find only blame, I have strived to move on with my life. To make lemonade out of lemons. Strive to do better.

We may never know why one side of the tree bore fruit as the other side remained barren. We look to the obvious. Lightning strikes can cause the tallest of giants to become weak and wither away. The tree was subjected to destructive powers which stripped the tree of its protective bark, making it more vulnerable to disease.

In adoption, these protective layers come in the form of love, peace, and acceptance. We need these along with constant cultivation to rejuvenate our broken branches. I hope I can be that constant in her life to inspire her to heal and grow. She can sprout into the great person she was destined to be – that smart, talented and beautiful girl I knew not so long ago …  Maybe it’s inevitable. It’s been said that when 2 kids are adopted, one thrives and the other fails. I hope it doesn’t have to remain that way forever!


Who Am I?


For many of us adoption is a cross we must bear alone. The deep pangs of loneliness, emptiness and sorrow lingers – even amongst the perfect backdrop of life filled with success and wealth. Even in a crowd, I can still be alone.

Who am I is not a question but rather a reoccurring nightmare that haunts me on a daily basis. No matter where I run. No matter how I hide. No matter what I do. It still remains. No matter how I change .. it has a way of finding me. It reminds me that I do not fit in. It casts shadows of self-doubt. It also fills me with shame.

I am that odd jigsaw puzzle that was placed in the wrong box. I am misplaced. Misshaped. I do not belong to the world that I was forced into and a foreigner to the world I seek to find. People call it my home land but it doesn’t feel like home to me. Strangers look at me as oddly as the place were I was raised. I look like them but looks are not everything.

They know I am different. Different language. Different mannerisms. Different smells. They know I am .. unlike them. As I pass through their space, it’s as though I am wearing a scarlet letter. During my childhood that letter is in the shape of my almond eyes, yellow complexion, and shiny black hair. I am reminded of the shame of who I am each time I stare at my own reflection. A shame for being different. Like I said. Who am I? Who am I? WHO AM I!