My Homeland Heels

Jen Kim
Jen Kim
Jul 11 · 3 min read

Could I dare to wear such shoes?

Dongdaemun Market, Seoul

II felt the eyes on my flip-flops as packs of girls clicked by in high heels, slick black hair swaying behind them.

“Go home,“ they clicked, “you’ll never be one of us.”

Inside I still felt like a white girl.

I was in the Dongdaemun area of Seoul for the first time I could remember, thrillingly lost in a maze of high-rise department stores full of more shoes than in any New Jersey mall. How was it that all the women in this city wore heels?

Along the countless aisles many vendors sold the same styles, but there was only one stall with this pair: thin patent leather straps encircling the ankle, held together with a silver ring and buckle at the toes; a little dangerous, with a hint of fetish surprising in conservative Korea.

Could I dare to wear such shoes?

The small Korean man held up a calculator with numbers we could both understand since we didn’t know the same words. I slipped them on, willing my feet to appear petite, Asian, delicate, tottering like an infant.

I felt like a baby again, as vulnerable as when I was sent away at 16 months old. Landing in JFK airport, sick with walking pneumonia, I was carried to my new family and reborn with a new name.

You don’t need to know where you came from to learn how to talk, through your hat in the air at graduation, walk down a wedding aisle, leave a divorce courtroom, or for the constant hustle in a city where people check out your shoes before your face, where the pair that you slip on your feet to deal with each day isn’t intended to be comfortable or practical.

The salesman nodded encouragingly as I towered over him. He probably just wanted the sale, but still, I was surprised to feel an acceptance I hadn’t expected to find in my homeland. At that moment I could blend in like just another local girl out shoe shopping.

And for that moment I actually felt Korean.

I didn’t find my birth family, or the orphanage that had closed long ago, but the next day I met the foster mother who had taken care of me thirty years ago. Turns out we had lived right in this area before it was a shopping center.

My foster mother in 1978 and 208

WWhen my flight touched down again back at JFK, I walked alone, but tall, my eyes clear. I had myself and that was enough. This time I knew where I came from and what I was returning to, and that someone was waiting for me again.

I changed out of my flip-flops in baggage claim and dashed over to him in the little heels, brand new and still slick on the bottom. I grabbed him gratefully, knowing that I had been missed, that someone wanted me.

And I didn’t slip at all.

Originally published on my blog and by Connect-A-Kid, a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization that provides post-adoption services and a mentorship program to adopted children and their families.

“I” and “W” drop caps by Jessica Hische of Daily Drop Cap

More stories here.

Jen Kim

Written by

Jen Kim

Film, Event and Festival Producer, Writer, Korean American Adoptee

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