Archive for July, 2013

Les Adventures d’Alice au pays des merveilles (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) was the first book I read in French.

I had headache  reading the first page, I had headache and felt nauseous on each page, but I read it entirely without skipping a word.

I only understood a few words such as “lapin (rabbit)” , “roi (king)” and “reine (queen)” throughout the book.

French was then my second language.

International adoption is the loss of culture,  the loss of mother tongue and the loss of country, in addition to all other losses.

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The first book I read was when I was at St. Paul’s orphanage. Until then I had been able to read only newspapers and school books.

I had found it on the shelf of a cabinet. It belonged to Mrs. Choi, our housemother.  It  didn’t  cross my mind to borrow it, so I read it between mealtimes standing in front of the cabinet and I finished it in three days.  I’m sure that our housemother would have found  more books to read for me, if I had told her. But it didn’t cross my mind that I could read more books. I hadn’t realized yet that I loved reading.

It was a novel about a young girl who lived  in the moutains in a foreign country, drinking goat milk and eating cheese.

I recognized the story  in the anime series Heidi  which was aired in the 1980s in Quebec a few years after my adoption.

The only word I remember of the novel is the word 치즈 which  means cheese and is  the same as in English.


The second book I read was a parting gift from Mrs. Choi when I left the orphanage.

The second book I read in my former first language

The second book I read in my former first language

I read it shortly after my arrival to the USA.

I only had this  book to read, so I read it a few times.

My adoptive parents had many books – I had never seen so many in a house before – but they were all in English or in French which were foreign languages to me.

I don’t remember what the book was about. I remember the words  꽃 and 사람  in the title respectively mean “flower” and “person” . Google translator gives “Those who wear flowers” for the title.


I got another book  a few weeks after my arrival.

My adoptive parents had called a Korean American woman and her daughter to talk to me because they had noticed that I was sad after trying to leave their house.  Instead of asking me why I was sad, the woman  lectured me about the love of my American parents for me. I was sad because I wanted to go back home (Korea). They didn’t even give me a chance to talk, but a few days later they sent me Korean food, a homework book and a story book.

I saw them again only once,  but I wasn’t able to speak with them.

 The homework book was two levels above me. I started reading the story book the moment I got it.

The third book I read in my former first language

The last book I read in my former first language.

Reading was a comfort  while living in en environment where nobody spoke my language.

Six months after my arrrival, my adoptive parents moved to their homeland, Quebec, so that I could speak their first  language. Just when I had learned to say a few words in English, I was moved from an environment of foreign language to another environment of another foreign language.

I stopped reading the book I got from Mrs. Choi as it  became too difficult. But I read the one I got from the Korean Americans again and again  and again for almost two years.

Once, on my second year in Canada, I brought it to school. I hadn’t read it since a while  but I wanted to show my classmates that I could read in another language than French and that I wouldn’t have been an illiterate if I had stayed in Korea.  I had thought that they were my friends because they had stopped laughing of my  eyes. I was wrong. I heard them all laughing and saying things such as, “Chinese” – “Ching-chung-chung” – “She reads in Chinese”. I never showed anyone this book again.

The book contains many stories from different countries. I only remember the story about how the sea water became salty which was my favorite story.

It is the last book I read in my first lanaugage – I should say  my former  first  language.

My first language became a foreign language and a foreign language became my first language.

I remember the story that I had read may times in Korean, but I remember it as if I had read it in French.

I’ve re-learned that the words 옛날 and 이야기 in the title   mean respectively “once” and “story”.

Korean was once my first language. It’s a mental torture to raise a 9 year-old Korean child in an environment where nobody speak Korean and nobody look like a Korean. It’s a soul torture to recycle a Korean child to a white Canadian child.

It’s a mental torture to raise a  child in an environment where nobody speak his/her language and nobody looks like him/her. It’s child recycling, it’s soul torture.

This a story of transracial adoption. This is my story.

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When I remember my first year of school, I see the Hangul ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ … written on the blackboard, I hear the teacher saying, gieuk, nieun, dieut, rieul, mieum, bieup, …  pointing them  with a wooden stick which was also used  to discipline us, I hear the pupils repeating after her. I see myself being bored…

I was bored because I already knew the Hangul.

It seems that reading came naturally to me long before starting school.  I remember reading quietly the front page of a  newspaper which was left on the floor by my brother-in-law. I never told anyone and nobody ever noticed that I could read. I had no book to read. (Notice that only rich people or people living in rich countries can afford books. For the poor books are luxury goods, especially children’s books.)

When I entered first grade, I had only the school book as reading book. I remember the word 국어 was written on its cover.

My elder sister was rich. My nephew received a bag full  of books when he was only three or four years old.  They were  for babies with lot of images and not much text. It didn’ t take me long to read them. I liked to smell them.

I didn’t like nor dislike reading, but I would read anything that could be read. I  read my brother-in-law’s newpapers. The articles were beyond my comprehension.  I called them “newspapers for adults”, because the texts were scattered with Chinese characters.  I had heard that only intelligent people who have studied alot could read Chinese, so I admired my brother-in-law.  My mom was intelligent too; she had taught me to write my name in Chinese.

Unlike French reading which was forced upon me at the age of 10, I had learned reading Korean without effort  just like babies learn their first language without effort through natural steps.

Following the forced assimilation, my first language has became a foreign language and a foreign language  has became my first language.

I can still read Korean but  I don’t understand anything. I remember gieuk, nieun, dieut, rieul, mieumbieup  and a few other words and sentences. When I re-learn a word, I forget it soon after. I remember my  Korean life  as if I had lived it in a French language environment. My language  is a high barrier between my siblings and me. The Koreans assume that I’m a Chinese or Japanese.  The French-speaking Quebecers asked me where I came from or what is my nationality; some compliment me for speaking well their language; others speak to me aloud and slowly so that I can undertand them. Many speak to me English. Yet my spoken English is pitiful; I pronounce words with a French-Quebec accent and I’m told by English-speaking people that they don’t understand me.

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