Four men in white robes and wearing tiny straw hats picked up the handles on the box and carried Chae off. Greg clacked next to her on the pony. They traveled to the front of the temple, Chae's family members struggling under the weight of the box. Greg dismounted, and Chae squirmed her way out of the box. Inside, her father waited at the front. Her mother sat nearby wearing a flowing pink dress.

A translator walked Greg through a series of confusing steps. He walked down the stairs of the temple while covering his face with a silk shield. He bowed in front of his father-in-law. He put a couple of wooden ducks on an altar and then bowed to the floor. They led him to a chair at the side of a stage. He understood none of it.

Then Chae entered, two women making sure she didn't trip on her robes as she walked the stairs to the stage. They sat her at a chair facing Greg. Then Chae and Greg stood, bowing to each other over and over. From a table set up nearby, they ate from bowls of plain white rice. They poured soju, a Korean rice liquor, from vessels that looked like a flower vase and then took shots of it. Their movements were awkward, translated poorly, and often forced by a handler pushing them in some direction. Family members in the audience couldn't help but occasionally giggle.

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.

Finally, they walked to the edge of the stage, turned to the audience, and bowed deeply. Chae and Greg were now, according to an old and rarely used Korean wedding tradition, declared man and wife.

In attendance that day were about 50 of Chae's extended family. By then, they had all heard about the adoptee from America and her black husband. Greg and Chae and her mother and sisters expected some of them to greet them coolly. Nobody did. Instead, they posed for photos with their long-lost family member. They marveled at the costumes and spoke to them in Korean that they didn't understand. "Oh, OK," Greg took to answering, smiling and nodding at the lineup of strangers.

At the reception that followed, Chae and Greg sat on pillows arranged in front of low tables. Servers covered every inch in front of them with bowls of Korean condiments, hot plates full of grilled pork, and large leaves of lettuce to wrap it all.

Greg turned the video camera toward the bump in Chae's stomach. "That's you," he said. "We don't have a name yet." They had decided that these videos would be important some day for their first child, due to be born in about five months. After all those years of trying, Chae found out she was pregnant not long after her first trip to Korea.

Moon Ja, sitting across from them during the meal, figured the baby was an omen. She knew what she had to do to make up for the lost time with her daughter.


Moon Ja darted around Chae and Greg's large dining-room table, carefully placing a fork on the left and a knife on the right at each station for the visitors. Then she came back with spoons. In the center of the table that night in early February, she placed a feast: chicken Parmesan, spaghetti with marinara, and bread salad with balsamic vinegar and tomatoes. Chae had cooked, a rarity since Mom had arrived.

At the beginning, it was seaweed soup as a side item to almost every meal. Chae had given birth to daughter Hadley two days after her mother arrived in October. Moon Ja got to work on the soup right away and hoped that Chae would follow the Korean tradition of new mothers lying in bed for six weeks or so as grandmothers fuss over the baby.

"No more seaweed soup," Chae said after a month of it. A large shopping bag of seaweed that Moon Ja had stashed in the spare bedroom's closet would go unused. Instead, she made a marinated barbecue beef dish called bulgogi, fried rice, and over-hard eggs for breakfast. She jarred her own kimchee, setting it out in the sun on the kitchen counter to ferment.

Chae didn't stick to the bed rest long, but she had a house full of guests. Her adoptive mother, who now lives in Arizona, had arrived, as had Greg's parents from Virginia. So now the home was filled with a Korean woman who spoke no English, a white woman from South Dakota, and a black couple from the South. It was hectic at first, but when most of them left, Greg and Chae now had to figure out how to communicate with a house guest who spoke little English.

They expected it to be uncomfortable. But about halfway through the four-month visit, Chae was watching her mother hold Hadley on the sunny deck out back of their home. Moon Ja was cradling her granddaughter and whispering to her in Korean. It occurred to Chae how normal it had all seemed.

"I looked outside and they were sitting in the sun. It was my birth mother and my daughter. I just had never pictured any of this happening," Chae says.

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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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