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Feature

Roots-finding in Taiwan

Emma's Story: Surprising Encounters, Painful Departures

2018/05/16 , Voices
Maureen Welscher
Photo Credit: Emma courtesy of Maureen Welscher
Maureen Welscher
Maureen Welscher (1966) is a Dutch journalist who writes human interest stories for consumer magazines about health, pregnancy and childlessness. She is a specialist in adoption. and wrote three books about this subject: In conversation with adopted adolescents, Round trip ticket to your roots and Home in two countries. She and her husband adopted two children from Taiwan: Luc (15) and Annemei (18).

This is a story from our feature series "Roots-finding in Taiwan". The full series can be viewed here.

Interview conducted by Maureen Welscher

I've never been so busy with my biological family in Taiwan.

But not so long ago, I just felt purely Dutch. I have a home here, I thought, so why go to Taiwan? Then, around my 16th birthday, I met some other Taiwanese adolescent adoptees with the help of our Dutch adoption association, Meiling.

Some had already traveled to Taiwan. They told me what a cool country it was and how special it had been meeting their biological family.

I couldn’t help but be curious about the experience and what it might mean to me – I knew that I had two older sisters and that my parents had to relinquish me for adoption because I was born prematurely. I'd heard I had to stay in an incubator to survive, but my parents had no hospital insurance – that was about all I knew.

Emma's journey

On my 20th birthday, I finally went to Taiwan with three adopted friends (whom you can see in the cover photo).

I stayed for two weeks at Cathwel (天主教福利會) children’s home, where I took on some voluntary work and met my family.

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Photo Credit: Emma courtesy of Maureen Welscher
Emma with a boy who lives at Cathwel whom she met while working there as a volunteer.

Just before the meeting, I heard that my biological father had died years ago, and I would only meet my mother and two sisters.

I immediately clicked with my sisters but the connection with my mother took a while longer. She wanted everything to go perfectly, and so came across as very nervous.

Frankly, I totally understood as I felt exactly the same. We spoke about our daily activities, work and what I was doing with my life.

Of course, I asked about the past and learned that my biological mother worked hard and that both my sisters had completed their university studies in Taipei.

We talked about food, naturally. The purpose was to get to know one another, our habits and how I had been raised. They were very glad that we had finally met and that “they found me in the end.” Our family is complete!

The return

Back in the Netherlands, I fell into a deep hole. I had never had trouble with my adoption before, but I suddenly realized what it meant to be given away. I had very mixed feelings.

I recognized that my biological family had no choice other than to have me adopted – I would probably not have survived the first months after my birth as an incubator baby otherwise.

But at the same time, I realized that in another life I could have grown up with my sisters in Taiwan. Which country was really mine? It took me almost a year to process everything.

The following year, I started studying Mandarin language at the University of Taipei (臺北市立大學). I lived on campus and met my family once a week. Now, I visit my Taiwanese family every year.

My biological mother feels very guilty for giving me away. I get the feeling that she wants to make up for lost time. She says that I must brush my teeth or put on a vest because it is chilly. But she cannot be my mother; I already have a mother back in the Netherlands.

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Photo Credit: Emma courtesy of Maureen Welscher
Emma with another boy living at Cathwel. These children were not adopted and will stay at the adoption center until they are 18.

I find the difference in cultures difficult, too. My Taiwanese family does not understand that I have my own apartment in the Netherlands; I know it's different because for them – usually only when you get married will you move out of your parents’ house in Taiwan.

Taiwanese customs are different. Having said that, I’ve picked up some habits from my family. For example, now when I enter my house I always put my shoes out, and I will also always put my bag on a chair rather than the floor.

Nowadays, my biological family and I are very easy going, and I pick up on things in their nature that I notice in myself as well. Those similarities come more to the fore as we get older and share more time together.

For example, my birth mom and I both really care about family events. Sunday is a day where family comes first. Funny thing is, when I am in Holland, I often ask my adoptive parents to have dinner with me on Sunday. It's standard that Sunday evening is a family evening.

My birth mother, my sisters and I also share a passion for food. We all love to eat and try different things. I noticed that my birth mother really loves Taiwanese food. As for me, even after seven years I am still not familiar with all the Taiwanese dishes.

But my birth mom knows my favorite dishes, so whenever I visit she will cook that specific dish. Food is the center of this culture. Dutch people cook exactly for the number of people dining, but in Taiwan there are always leftovers.

I'm almost done with my dentistry studies. Hopefully, my Taiwanese family will join me at my graduation ceremony here in the Netherlands; they are very proud of me.

The meetings in Taiwan have shaped me into the person I am today. I feel stronger; my personality and character have changed in a positive sense. I feel loved from two sides. Saying goodbye remains difficult. I feel that I leave a part of me behind in Taiwan every time I come back.

Read Next: Rianne's Story: Finding Unconditional Love

Content has been edited for clarity

Editor: David Green


Roots-finding in Taiwan:

Taiwanese kids have been adopted by Dutch families since 1989, most between 1993 and 2000, when 317 children found a new home in the Holland. Now in early adulthood, many are seeking to meet their biological parents and find their Taiwanese roots. Last year, the Dutch journalist and mother Maureen Welscher made a so-called “roots-finding” trip with her two adopted children from Taiwan, aged 14 and 17. What follows is a series of testimonies of those involved in the roots-finding experience, starting with Maureen and moving on to two young women who were adopted from Taiwan, Emma and Rianne.

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