Chae's sister, Eun Jung, told them to wait in the alley. She would knock on their father's door and lead him outside. "You'll get to see him but not meet him," she said in rough English. Chae and Greg huddled together, hoping they wouldn't get spotted. They wondered what would happen if a cop approached or a neighbor came outside and found these two Westerners standing in an alley, peeping in on a man they had never met.

This second trip to Korea in May 2011 had been a gamble. Chae's handlers at GOA'L had warned her against staying with her family. Cultural differences often mean such trips end in disaster. But Chae and Greg decided to stay at Eun Jung and her husband's three-bedroom apartment in Seoul anyway. "Here we are, and she's been waiting 33 years," Greg recalls. "Let's get to know them as much as possible."

Chae and Greg had arrived earlier that day, and while out to dinner, Chae's sister proposed the clandestine trip to see Dad. He was a gruff man, she was warned, and would be angry if he learned about Chae. Now they found themselves peering at a stranger in a dark alley.

Korean Social Services director Choon Hee Kim, at right, took Chae through the orphanage where Chae was sent after being given up for adoption.
Courtesy of Chae Haile
Korean Social Services director Choon Hee Kim, at right, took Chae through the orphanage where Chae was sent after being given up for adoption.
Chae visits the Gyeongbokgung Palace during her first trip to Korea.
Courtesy of Chae Haile
Chae visits the Gyeongbokgung Palace during her first trip to Korea.

They stood there in the light rain, listening to Eun Jung and her father talk in Korean. Chae had begun to pick up some of the language during her regular video conversations via Skype with her family. But her father and sister spoke too quickly.

"It was exciting," Chae says. "It was like a stakeout. We were standing there in the shadows and hoping he didn't see us and say, 'Who are those people over there?' "

Chae studied his face. He looked far younger than 74, with a strong chin and a friendly smile. He was trim and a sharp dresser. She figured this was all she'd see of him.

On the third day of the trip, Chae's mom told her she had decided to tell him. Moon Ja said she didn't care if he became angry. She was tired of feeling ashamed about what she had done. "Really? My daughter?" he said on the phone. "I want to meet her."

So they returned to the alley and stood in the same spot. It was raining, and they clutched umbrellas as they waited for him to come out. Her mom and her sisters had all warned that he is reserved, even though Koreans are known for being up-front with their emotions.

Su Hong exited his courtyard wearing a dark-blue suit and tie. He began by shaking Chae's hand as if on a business meeting. But then he held on to it. He smiled, a wide grin that pushed up the center of his eyebrows. He let Chae go only long enough to shake Greg's hand. They continued to hold hands as they walked down the alley and then onto the main drag. They continued that way, unable to share a word, all the way to the restaurant.

Over lunch, Su Hong asked Chae and Greg questions through a translator. With reading glasses propped on his nose, he dutifully wrote down the answers in a notebook. They sat long after the plates were cleared, drinking barley water as her father noted the details of her life.

The meeting was indicative of their second trip to Chae's home country. Things they had heard of Koreans — that they didn't like black men, that they disapproved of interracial marriages, that they would look down on adoptees — seemed like fiction. Eun Jung gave them the master bedroom in her small apartment. Her husband cooked them barbecued pork belly on a gas grill set up in the living room as streams of cousins and aunts and uncles came by. And her mother introduced her to more and more of their family. Chae recalls, "I think they were just interested in meeting this family they had in America. They were all so curious about it."

They also learned that Moon Ja had a plan to make them feel more at home in this foreign country. On the day before they were to leave, Chae and Greg were taken to a traditional Korean temple and sent to separate rooms to be dressed. A team of women fidgeted over each of them. They wrapped Greg in a pink corset and matching pants. They draped him in a flowing violet robe with a white collar and embroidered images of birds and flowers on the back and front. They spoke in Korean he couldn't understand as they sealed him up in an intricate metal belt. On his head, they placed a black hat that looked like a giant thimble with butterfly wings. Outside, they led him to the pony he would ride for what was to come. Greg took it all without judgment, nodding to and shaking hands with a stream of relatives, answering "OK" in English as he was introduced.

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 embroidered in yellow stitching, the colors of the Green Bay Packers. Behind her head, a short curtain rod jutted out, holding what looked like a table runner, black and gold with multicolored polka dots in the center. 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 did it all without a word of dissent, even when she had to bend in half to squeeze into the box.

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7 comments
Jmagg23
Jmagg23

Great job Eric! Reading it brought tears to my eyes! An amazing story involving some amazing people.

Momolovely2000
Momolovely2000

This is the most sad, happy, determined, funny, loving story I have ever heard. Thank god that I am a part of this family:)....

Sister of Greg

tiggyfooo
tiggyfooo

I never really even thought about it like that before dude. Makes sense.www.Total-Privacy dot US

David Gross
David Gross

this is an extremely wonderful story which bring tears to my eyes, I know that my own step sister Kara would love for this to be able to happen for her as she is adopted she is african american and I love her deeply and I know she loves me too it just goes to show that race means nothing when you love the other.

FQS9000
FQS9000

Life is hard and if you are very, very lucky, you find someone who loves you, in spite of all your flaws.

David Gross
David Gross

 There arew many adoptees whose records are sealed and therefore are unable to find out who they really are and who their bith parents were. My sister Kara's records are permanently sealed she has asked for them to be unsealed but the state of Indiana has refused because she does not have "a pressing medical need for them" It is a cruel thing when you are denied being able to find out where you came from and who your bith parents are.

Omniogignes
Omniogignes

It is innate in humans to search for their own personal special life story. It is always marvelous when others have the courage to share their story with others.

 
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