It was in 1977 that Park Yung Min was found in a cardboard box, standing in front of the city hall of Daegu, South Korea. Terre des Hommes brought the infant to Germany where a family adopted her and expanded name to Miriam Yung Min Stein. The practice of international adoption of children, although common until today, has long been a taboo in Korea. For some years, however, stories of Korean adoptees that were brought to Europe and America and, having grown up, struggle with their "hybrid identity," regularly pop up in newspapers and on the Internet -- there is even a TV show that reunites Korea's "lost children" with their biological parents.
Miriam Yung Min Stein chose another way to deal with her unknown provenance: Using a wired glove to pile up pictures on a screen she presents her research live on stage. "Black Tie," thus the title of the stunning performance lecture, premiered last week at the Berlin theater "Hebbel am Ufer." The evening was very informative, yet deeply touching and at the same time critical towards "easy solutions" like the aforementioned TV reunions.
"Some children come from the belly and some come with the airplane," Stein's adoptive mother once said to her. The feeling of being different accompanied her since early childhood. Browsing through family photos that show the little "Asian" girl between her blond siblings and adoption forms that describe her character as a one-year-old, she vividly remembers an evening at a Chinese restaurant, where "everybody was trying so hard to pretend they like it."
To attain clarity about her past, Stein takes various courses: First, she inscribes her personal story in the history of modern Korea. Her adoption is the last link in a chain of events that includes Japanese colonisation, the Korean War, Harry Holt, who organized the first adoptions of South Korean war orphans, and the dictatorial Park Chung-hee regime during which thousands of homeless babies were sent abroad.
She also imagines an alternative biography that later turns out to belong to her friend Hye-Jin Choi, who appears on stage as a counterpart to the restless Miriam. Choi came to Germany eight years ago to finish her studies. She is working in politics now and has a picture of her family hanging on the wall. She tries to teach Korean to her friend and puts some of her rather stereotypical views on Korea into perspective.
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After her return to Germany [from visiting Korea], she approached her roots by means that appear less random at first sight: She ordered personal DNA analysis from biotech companies in California and Iceland to find out more about the traits her parents passed onto her. But the results are scarce -- besides the fact that she is not genetically related to Bono, Stein learned about a slight risk of prostate cancer as wells as Alzheimer's disease.
In the end, the "black ties" that link Miriam Yung Min Stein to her origin remain in the dark. In the theater, however, the lights turned bright after her last words on memory loss and shyly she accepted much applause from the sold out auditorium.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Review of a one-woman show by a Korean adoptee, "Black Ties," in Germany: