Throughout my childhood I've been told over and over again in great detail about the circumstances surrounding my birth. Perhaps it is because I'm the eldest that my parents remember the details so well and are so keen to tell me about them.
"It was snowing when you were born. You didn't want to come out. I was in labour for thirteen hours but the doctor and I agreed that a Caesarean would not be right, you should come out when you wanted to," my mother said, her eyes lighting up at the memory.
"Didn't I hurt you?" I asked.
"No. I just said to you, 'Baby, it's now time to come out to the world, come on out, baby,'" she said, "and then you came out, and you were such a good-looking baby! Your dad had been saying we wanted a 'white bean' baby, and you were the 'white bean' baby."
"Why a white bean
?" I asked, puzzled.
"Because white beans are the best beans. You make tofu with white beans," she said. So the 'white bean' baby was born.
I was told by my dad that I was born in C. hospital in Seoul, Korea.
"Look, that's where you were born," my dad would say, every time we passed by the hospital on our way to and from the airport. "You were delivered by my friend. He's still there as the head of the department."
I fantasised about walking into the hospital one day, just to see where I had been born.
In filling out various application forms for the visa to the States, I asked my sister to bring me a copy of my family's register. In Korea this is considered the equivalent to one's birth certificate possibly because it is easier to obtain. Imagine how shocked I was when I read my entry in the family register saying that my place of birth was not C. hospital
. I called my dad.
"Dad, didn't you say I was born in Seoul?"I asked him.
"You were. You were born in C. hospital, don't you remember the name?" he said.
"Well then why aren't I in the family register as being born in C. hospital?" I asked.
"That's just tradition. You're registered as being born closer to the family grounds," he said.
"Well why didn't you tell me this before? I've had my passport and everything saying that my place of birth is Seoul, not this random place in the countryside that I've never been to!" I said.
"Have them all changed, then," he said.
I was stunned. What was I going to do? I called the British consulate in Hong Kong. The adviser on the other end of the line was amused, shocked and concerned all at once. He gave me a long list of documents I should fax urgently to the British authorities and wished me good luck. He also told me that this is the first time he's come across something like this. I put the phone down and looked at the list. The list was just too long. There had to be another way.
I called C. hospital.
"Hello?" An older nurse answered the phone.
"Hi, I'm wondering if I can get a birth certificate issued from you. I was born in your hospital," I said, feeling foolish and wondering if this would work. I gave her my birthday and my parents' names.
"Let's take a look at the records," the nurse said. She made me wait for five minutes while she went off to a computer. I held my breath the whole time.
"Hello?" She was back.
"Yes?" I said.
"We do have your birth record here. We can issue you a birth certificate in English if you like," the nurse said.
"Oh thank you. That's so great," I said, feeling that I could hug the woman to bits. So I am
the 'white bean' baby born in C. hospital, Seoul, Korea, afterall. Thank Heaven.