Pia nicknamed Mina
My name is Mina 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 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 Pia and nicknamed me Mina.
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 Mina 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.
5 Replies to “A Thai Adoption Story”
Thank you very much for writing this my wife and I have just been approved to adopt from Thailand and your story has really helped put somethings into perspective for me.
Hello, thank you so much for sharing your story with me. I’m an adoptee from China. It was nice to get to know your story. You can check out my story on my blog.
Hi. I really enjoyed your story. I think often adoption stories tend to be framed as either all bad or all good when in reality it is an extremely nuanced and individual life long journey and as it is for most of humanity contains both positives and negatives. I do think that the adoption of older children needs more thought given to aiding the transition as I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to face that sort of change when you are a small powerless child. Firstly I think adoption agencies and adoptive parents need to listen to adult adoptees in an open and non judgemental manner and accept their opinions and thoughts as valid. I myself, in general, have not had an issue with being an inter country adoptee and am close to my family (adoptive) and have not felt the need to search for my origins. I am married to an Aussie and have two children and am pretty content with my life. The two things I tend to dislike regarding adoption narratives is the “you are so lucky/you should be grateful” theme and the colourblind/denial of racism comments (read up about the effects of micro aggressions.) My advice to any adoptive parent would be to first realise their child is an individual and accept and respect them for who they genuinely are and
secondly really listen to them in an open and non judgemental way so that they can feel safe and able to share whatever feelings/experiences/thoughts they have with you. Many adoptees can feel burdened by believing that they need to be “good” in order to be deserving of love. All children should be entitled to unconditional love and the fact that some children have ended up unable to be cared for by their biological family shouldn’t change that. I don’t know if there are others like me who don’t feel the need to discover or explore their origins but that is just how I am and I don’t feel I should have to conform to how other people think I should be. Like all people I have had challenges and difficulties in my life but overall I feel happy with where I am at and who I am. Best of luck to everyone.
Hi, thank you for sharing your story that I only just stumbled upon today. I am an adoptive mum. My son was 12 months of age when we met him at Pakkred babies home in Nonthaburi. He is now 6.5yo. We travel to Thailand every year. We were actually travelling through Khon Kaen over Songkran a few years ago! This year we have come to live and work in Thailand. I am a kindergarten teacher at a fantastic school in Phuket and my children attend the same school. It is a private Thai school for pre K (3yo) to Matayom 6 (18yo). Half the teachers are Thai and half of native English origins. The children cover the syllabus in both Thai and in English. You would very easily get a paid job teaching at our school if you were interested! We are learning to read, write, speak and understand Thai with a private tutor. Hearing the language in our everyday life helps a lot. One of our reasons for deciding to do this is because we were very fortunate to have been able to connect with 3 generations of our son’s birth family from 6 months after he came home with us. If I had my time again I would have reunited him with his birth family at that point and focused on supporting the family to stay together but it was not a thought that entered my head until later down the track once he was well settled with us. We have a very open, relaxed relationship with his birth mother. We are friends on facebook and chat regularly as well as all get together at least annually. So anyway, feel free to contact me if you want more information about our school! My email is my school address so you can look up their website. Phuket is a long way from KK though. Perhaps there are similar schools in Bangkok or KK, I don’t know. All the best. I wish every adoptees birth family search turned out as positive as our son’s has.
hi, you have exactly same story than me. Me too, i don’t know my birth date , family, nothing! I’m thailand too and i was adopted at the age 5! Maybe i have sister or brother ! I would like to do test dna ( adn in french). I’m sorry i’m french my english is so bad but i understand when i read.