Megan Tan 00:02
It's Thursday morning, and I'm doing something I don't usually do. Convincing my dad to put on his shoes. It's not that my dad hates putting on his shoes. It's just that shoes mean we're going outside. [to her dad] You okay? Which may mean we're gonna get into a car, which may lead to us going to the doctor. [to her dad] We're gonna go this way, Dad. In this case, that is exactly what we're doing. And my dad hates going to the doctor. Maybe it's a dad thing. Maybe it's a my dad thing. Either way, I have some theories. [original music begins] [to her dad] We're gonna go down this way. Number one, [music with horns and piano] he came to the US alone from Singapore in 1968, survived on his own. When it comes to health stuff, he's just like, I'm gonna do it by myself. Number two, [horns and piano] all they want is your money. He's not not wrong. Number three, [horns and piano] he's afraid of what the doctor will tell him once he steps into the room. [sounds of people talking in doctor's office] He's afraid of what they'll find. He's afraid of opening his own Pandora's Box. [music out] Pandora's box can look like a lot of things. Checking your bank account and seeing how much money you have versus how much money you think you have, looking up your ex on Instagram. For others, it may be reading words they've been avoiding. [original music] Do you mind if we read the description of it together?
Abby Davis 01:53
Sure. I should admit that this is only the second time I'm reading what the book's actually about. [laughing]
Megan Tan 02:03
I say let's take a chance. You never know where it'll take you. [Theme music begins] You're listening to Snooze. A show about things people put off, how they conquer them, but more importantly, how they conquer themselves. And I'm Megan Tan. Let's go! [theme music out] Abby and I are technically not supposed to be friends. [to Abby] That's how you and I met.
Abby Davis 02:48
Megan Tan 02:48
I was like, I was like you're from where? Michigan? [to listener] I'm from Ohio. And for those who know, know... [Ohio vs. Michigan soundbite] Receive be where your feet are. We're at Michigan. Ohio State in... There's a bit of a rivalry between Michigan and Ohio that dates back to 1897, which is why when I first met Abby, I said: Oh, we're not supposed to like each other but we're going to. [Abby laughing]
Abby Davis 03:15
We of course love each other.
Megan Tan 03:17
We met at a documentary film festival in 2016. After an after after- party. We're driving back to our hotel and we play a song I'll never forget. [MT and AD singing "All My Life" by KCi&Jojo] [lots of laughing] ...and I hope that you feel the same way too... In addition to our love for KCi&Jojo, Abby and I have a lot of things in common. Both producers, same industry, and Asians who grew up in the Midwest. But I grew up with a mom who's white and a father who's Chinese Singaporean. I'm technically Wasian... and Abby was born in Korea. [ambient airport sounds from home video] [music] On a shaky handheld home video, a crowd gathers at an airport gate. The camera closes in on a white couple. A woman with curly hair and a man with a blue sweater, who is slightly balding. People are holding a sign that says "It's a girl." [Home video soundbite: Woman asks, "You have a nice trip?"] Three minutes later... [Home video continues: Woman exclaims, "Ohhh how beautiful! Isn't she beautiful!"] A baby comes off the plane. The family crowds. The man wearing a blue sweater sweeps the baby into his arms and welcomes her into the family. [Home video continues: Much laughter and talking. Woman says, "Oh, look at this hair!"] [music out]
Abby Davis 05:21
I always forget that I'm adopted. But my parents always made it a point to not only tell me that I was adopted, but it's something to be proud of. It's a very special thing that happened to me in my life and to them. I think they really tried very hard to get me to open up to my Korean culture. Um you know, not only talking about it all the time, but you know, sending me to Korean camp in the summer when I was little, which I hated.
Megan Tan 05:52
So tell us about this. Tell us about this.
Abby Davis 05:54
Oh my gosh girl, Korean camp. Like, God love the people who make Korean camp, right? [MT laughing] I don't even know the right word. But it's like, oh, they're Korean. So let's teach them about Tae Kwon Do. Oh, they're Korean. Let's give them kimchi. Oh, they're Korean. Let's show them what K-pop is. And at the time again, like, I didn't know shit about Korea. So like, at the time, I was just like, well, why in the middle of June and I go into this Korean camp when all my friends from school are going to like soccer camp. They're swimming in pools together. They're just hangin' summer style. And I got to go to Korean camp?
Megan Tan 06:33
Abby's parents were well meaning. They sent their Korean daughter to Korean camp so she could learn about where she was born. Because to the local eye, she wasn't from from Michigan.
Abby Davis 06:48
I think I was maybe in the first grade or kindergarten. And I came home from school. And so I told my mom, what happened that day. And I was like, yeah, like, this kid in class, pulled his eyes back at me and started laughing. And I just like, didn't know what that meant. [laughs] And my mom immediately looked at me, and she's like, what happened? [soft music plays] Tell me again. And I told her again, and she grabbed my hand, and she put me in the car, drove me down to the elementary school, which at, was at the end of our street. And she like stalked her way in there into the principal's office and was like, um excuse me, and she just let the principal know. Looking back on it. That was her way of showing me not only that she loves me, but that I matter. Even though I don't understand what just happened to me, she certainly did. And she wasn't going to allow that to happen on her watch.
Megan Tan 07:59
But Abby's mom wasn't going to be at school with her every day. So Abby created her own survival skills.
Abby Davis 08:07
Like you have to let me sit at the table if I'm head of the class. You have to accept me into the circle if I'm the most involved person in the school. If I perform, then I'm allowed to be here. [music out]
Megan Tan 08:24
By the time she got to high school, Abby did theater, yearbook, and debate. Was on the pompom team, wrote for the school's newspaper, ran track and cross country, was a part of student assembly, class council, and the National Honor Society. Abby used her status in school as currency. And to be honest, I did that too. When you're a kid, who's Asian, who isn't surrounded by a bunch of other Asians, you get singled out and you learn very quickly about the Asian stereotypes. People expect you to play piano, violin, be good at math, be submissive. And you try to fight those stereotypes every day.
Abby Davis 09:11
I was the person in my AP Calc class, not knowing dick about math, but like everyone was like, Hey, can I like copy off your paper? And I'm just like, No, we should go copy off of that nerdy white kid's paper in the corner. I mean, it's just, it's embarrassing to talk about now because it's just so one dimensional and basic, but that was my view of other Asian people. And that was, when I was conscious of it, how I thought people were judging me.
Megan Tan 09:43
Mmm. That's so interesting, because it's like, people have this stereotype of you that you're trying to defer.
Abby Davis 09:52
Megan Tan 09:52
But you also can't help but have that stereotype of other Asians.
Abby Davis 09:58
Right, because I still was in this thought process, this mindset of, I'm not like you.
Megan Tan 10:05
So Abby blended in, which works when you're surviving high school. But as you get older, it becomes more complicated.
Abby Davis 10:15
One of my friends looks at me and says, What have you been in denial about Abby? I was just like, I don't know, I guess I thought I was white until I was 25 years old. And it kind of just hung in the air [laughing] and everyone started laughing.
Megan Tan 10:32
Around this time, Abby had to tell herself
Abby Davis 10:35
Hey, just want to let you know Abby, like, you're not white. And you're never gonna benefit from being white, even though you identify with that. And also, in addition to that, um even though you look Korean, you're not culturally Korean. And so you don't belong in that space either. So then, where do you belong? On an island by yourself? I don't know.
Megan Tan 10:57
For the past few years, Abby has become a collector of books, articles, think pieces about being Korean American, about being a Korean adoptee. But she buys the books and doesn't read them. She emails herself the articles, but doesn't open them. But now Abby's thinking about having a baby.
Abby Davis 11:22
All of those things have been creating a sense of urgency around figuring out more of who I am. I don't know what it is other than just fear of the unknown. Why I haven't been able to crack open the book. [original music plays] [reading from book jacket] From childhood, Nicole Chung heard the story of her adoption as a comforting prepackaged myth. She believed that her Korean immigrant parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope of giving her a better life.
Megan Tan 11:57
Abby has been putting off this book called, All You Can Ever Know by the author Nicole Chung for two and a half years.
Abby Davis 12:07
[continuing to read from book jacket] But as Chung grew older, facing prejudice her white family couldn't see, finding her identity as an Asian American and as a writer and eventually becoming pregnant with her first child. [reacting to what she has read] Damn, I missed that part last time. Whoa, okay. Okay. [continuing to read from book jacket] She wondered if the story she'd been told was the whole truth. All You Can Ever Know is a profound moving chronicle of surprising connections, the search for lost roots and the repercussions of unearthing painful family secrets. Vital reading for anyone who has ever struggled to figure out where they belong. [to Megan] [music out] Oh, damn, reading that out loud was like, whoa. That's a lot.
Megan Tan 12:07
It is a lot! It is a lot. And I wanted you to read it out loud because I wanted to validate why this would be scary.
Abby Davis 13:00
Megan Tan 13:01
You know, and then becoming pregnant. Yeah, I was like, wow, this is Abby. In a book. Does it feel like Pandora's box a little bit?
Abby Davis 13:11
Yeah, definitely. I'm trying to be aware and sensitive to the fact that like, I might read some shit that kind of fucks me up a little bit.
Megan Tan 13:23
It's understandable that Abby's afraid of a book that may encourage her not to like the idea of white Americans adopting Korean babies, a book that may argue against her whole upbringing, against her own relationship with her own parents. For Abby, getting closer to understanding herself by vicariously living through Nicole Chung's experience. [soft original music] It may cost her.
Abby Davis 13:52
I think it's hard for me to talk to my parents about the identity stuff. I don't want to be ever a source of sadness or heartache for them. And so they've just been through a lot. That's I think unconsciously why I just decided to talk about other things.
Megan Tan 14:14
But she still really wants to read the book, because it might just be the Pandora's Box she's been looking for this whole time. [horns from theme music]
Marina Peña 14:36
Snooze, will be back after this break. [music out] [break] Now back to the show.
Megan Tan 14:43
I think we should just go over the schedule. Not even talk about the book right now.
Abby Davis 14:46
Oh, okay. Cool.
Megan Tan 14:48
The plan is to finish reading the book in a month. And I'm going to do what I do - check in regularly. And that's important because Abby is stressed.
Abby Davis 15:00
Okay. It's Abby, November 19th. It's 2:08. I'm in Los Angeles. I am in a fucking mood right now. But I felt like it would [laughs] be important [sighs] to do a voice memo before and after reading the first 15 pages. I've been on edge all day. So I don't know if that's because I knew I'd have to read this or because people are dumb. Probably a little bit of both. Um, [laughing] but yeah, I'm about to dive in. I'm ready.
Megan Tan 15:34
I try to tell Abby she's just reading a book, not looking into her future. But then something starts happening. Like on page 16... [sound of a page turning]
Abby Davis 15:46
[original piano music] [reading from book] The strange thing was that inside, I always felt I was the same as everyone around me. When I was young, I certainly felt more like a white girl than an Asian one. And sometimes it was shocking to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Why hadn't my adoption transformed me into the person I felt I was. [sound of another page turning] [piano music out] I just read this and felt like I should comment on it immediately. [sighing] I've just never heard it explained in that way before?
Megan Tan 16:28
And on page 17...
Abby Davis 16:29
[sound of page turning] [reading from book] [original piano music] Wouldn't it be wonderful to look at your face in the mirror and know you would always belong? [another page turning] [piano music out] I just love eeehhhh, these moments while reading this book, where I feel like Nicole is giving me the words um to describe a lot of just how I felt in the past.
Megan Tan 16:53
And on page 27...
Abby Davis 16:56
I underlined [laughing softly] in the description - [page turning] [piano music] They thought their daughter was just beautiful with her dark, dark eyes and bump of a nose. [page turning] [music out] My parents oftentimes when they describe my adoption story, or when I was a baby, just how beautiful I was. And you know, that little bump of a nose that I had. It's very relatable.
Megan Tan 17:24
I'm starting to notice a shift. [upbeat music] At least once a week, Abby sends me a voice memo.
Abby Davis 17:32
Hey, girl. It is Friday, December 3rd, Wednesday, December 15th, Tuesday, December 16th - 3:50 central time. Comin' at you from Chicago, Los Angeles, Nevada.
Megan Tan 17:47
And I can tell she's no longer afraid of Nicole's book.
Abby Davis 17:51
I'm glad that I am about to totally switch gears and get into some self-discovery therapeutic state. So I can stop feeling anxiety. [laughs]
Megan Tan 18:03
In fact, she looks forward to it.
Abby Davis 18:06
I'm taking a break from work to do my reading for tomorrow. I have nothing else to share. [laughs] See you soon. [music out]
Megan Tan 18:22
But as Abby continues reading and gets deeper into the book, the relationship between her and Nicole starts to shift.
Abby Davis 18:30
I didn't really understand what she meant um at the end of this paragraph. [sound of page turning] [piano music] [reading from book] I did not want her to imagine that I had her only because I'd been given up, that I expected her to live out her life with us the way I might have with my original family. She wasn't here to make me complete or make up for the choices of others. She was here because we loved her. [page turning] [piano music out] I just immediately thought she was there because we loved her. Well. I mean, our parents adopted us because they loved us, too. And I would argue that the love that our parents had for us is far different because we were chosen. They didn't have to adopt us. There are moments when I read some of her thoughts and I get very defensive and almost angry or mad at her for for feeling that way. I don't really know why. I think sometimes it's like me naturally feeling like I need to defend my parents, which is just a funny thing to experience when reading someone else's story.
Megan Tan 19:46
The lines between Nicole's stories and Abby's stories are blurring more and more.
Abby Davis 19:53
[page turning] [piano music] [reading from book] By the time they brought me home, someone else had changed my first diaper, caught my first funny stares and smiles, taught me to drink from a bottle. How long it had taken for them to feel like my real parents, question mark. [page turning] [piano music out] I don't know. I just like, I don't fuck with this idea of real parents. [laughing] I just like don't subscribe to that at all. It's just like, yes, what she's saying is true. Um, I'm sure that my parents felt a loss or grieved that they weren't there when I was first born and wondered, you know what happened in those three months, of course. [soothing music] But they've been there for the 34 years and nine months of my life.
Marina Peña 20:41
[theme music horns] Snooze will be back after this break. [break] Now, back to the show.
Megan Tan 21:06
As I'm listening to Abby read, I'm reminded of something we talked about at the beginning, before Abby opened the book. [to Abby] Also, this is not you. Right. You know what I mean?
Abby Davis 21:18
Megan Tan 21:20
Similar, interesting parallels-
Abby Davis 21:22
Megan Tan 21:23
But you, Abby, are Abby.
Abby Davis 21:25
Megan Tan 21:26
This whole time. I'm also reading the book. And I'm a little ahead of Abby. It's clear to me that she and Nicole don't share the same perspective, let alone the same experience. But I'm not sure Abby is thinking about the differences.
Abby Davis 21:46
Okay, so now we're moving into [laughing] when Nicole um, was pregnant for the first time. Oh my gosh, I literally said whoa, out loud when I realized she named her daughter Abigail. Abby. I was like, that is just-- weird. [lauging] So weird. So weird. So weird. Um... [page turning] [piano music] She asked, she's the nurse. [reading] She asked if I knew how old my mother, sorry your birth mother, was when I was born. I shook my head. How about the birth itself? Did I have any record of how it went? I told her about my premature arrival, the two and a half months I spent in the hospital. When I said a little panic crowding my words together that I didn't know about any pregnancy complications or illnesses that ran in the family, didn't even know what had caused my mother's early la- labor, the midwife looked up from her clipboard with a gentle smile. When it came to pregnancy, she said some things could be hereditary. Knowing how it went for my mother might help us guess how things would go for me, but if I didn't have that information that was fine. We'd just make do without it. [page turning] [music out] I was so relieved-- to read that. [emotion in her voice] Yeah, I haven't thought about these questions before. I just assumed that the fact that you know, I don't really know anything about my genetic history would be a problem, but like a problem that we would have to just ignore. You know? You know how you just have to accept things sometimes. And so just to hear that [crying] that when it came to pregnancy some things could be hereditary. Knowing how it went for my mother might help us guess how things would go for me, but if I didn't have that information that was fine. It just made me feel a lot better. [sighing with relief] [crying] Sorry, I don't know. I didn't expect to get this -- [laughing nervously] upset. Sorry, this next part is not going to be any easier. [laughing] In the section where she's talking about hearing her daughter's heartbeat for the first time, I underlined the line that said um, all I wanted was to hear it again. After she heard her heartbeat for the first -- [pause] [sniffling] I think I'm, I think I'm crying because-- I just desire to be a mom so much. And the moment that I realized that if I am blessed enough to have a biological child, that that will be the first time I'll know what it looks like to look like somebody in my family. It's just added an immense amount of pressure [crying] to getting pregnant. And I'm a type A person, [laughing] very goal oriented. So I know that families don't start with a heartbeat, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that, like, I just want to know what that's like. For me.
Megan Tan 26:03
[phone ringing] Oh, what's up, girl?
Abby Davis 26:08
Hi! Am I allowed to drink wine during this?
Megan Tan 26:11
Abby Davis 26:13
Cuz that's what I'm gonna do.
Megan Tan 26:15
At this point, I decided to give Abby a call. [to Abby] Um, you said on page one, 137, that describing her daughter for the first time and how she went through all of this turmoil, um and that you like really celebrated that moment with her. [to listener] Because this is clearly about something more than her getting too invested in a story. [to Abby] I don't know if you like if you lived vicariously through that moment. And like what you may experience as a mother in the future.
Abby Davis 26:46
I definitely live vicariously because I'm just like, oh, like, I hope that I get to have that moment too. And then the immediate voice after that is like, freaking out about potentially maybe not being able to have a biological child. [original music]
Megan Tan 27:08
Abby has unearthed one of her biggest fears. She's reading Nicole Chung's book because she wants to have a baby. But simultaneously planning for a world where she can't have a baby naturally. If Abby can't have a baby naturally, then in family photos, there won't be someone who shares her same nose.
Abby Davis 27:29
[reading] They thought their daughter was just beautiful with her dark, dark eyes and bump of a nose.
Megan Tan 27:36
When she goes to the doctor's office, there won't be anyone attached to her medical history. And she won't share the complexities of living between two worlds with another member in her family. She'd still be alone.
Abby Davis 27:51
Underline the word island because oftentimes, that is how I describe myself. [music out] I go back and forth in reading Nicole's story, where I yearn for what she's experienced. But I'm also trying to like, in a way convince her that like, that's not the only way. It's so like, meta in a weird way, because it's like, I'm talking to myself almost. And I am talking to myself, my inner, that inner voice where I'm like, yes, like, wow, that would be great. And that is something that your heart desires. Like, if that doesn't happen in that way for you. Like, that's okay.
Megan Tan 28:35
I feel like that's new, though. Is that new? But like, because I know you had expressed that uh, that you were feeling like a lot of like, more pressure than usual, you know, in like having your own baby. You're gonna have a baby, you're gonna become a mom no matter what. And how that happens, well, almost- It it it just feels like you've let go a little bit.
Abby Davis 29:01
Yeah. Obviously, this book has been a journey, you know, where I've been like, right, left, up, down all around, you know, kind of sorting out how I feel about things. So it's really, that makes me feel really good to hear that that sounds like a a variation, new information to you...
Megan Tan 29:22
Abby Davis 29:22
...since we've been talking.
Megan Tan 29:25
And just just like, Abby, has has a doctor or anyone told you you can't have kids?
Abby Davis 29:33
Megan Tan 29:33
Oh, okay. I just wanted to know that [laughing hard] so like, okay, well, then, as a friend, I'm just gonna say this as a friend? [Abby laughing hard] Girl manifest! You know what I mean, like
Abby Davis 29:50
Megan Tan 29:50
You can have a kid you know, like, no one is saying you can't. There's no one. No one, no doctor. You know what I mean? Like like, literally look at the facts, you know, and don't don't don't manifest the fears. Right? Like don't become the self-fulfilling prophecy. Everything is in your cards, everything is in your hand to have a child the natural way. No one is saying otherwise. So lean into that fact. Right?
Abby Davis 30:29
Megan Tan 30:32
On a chilly Thursday in Chicago, Abby sits down to finish the book.
Abby Davis 30:39
Hello, it's me. Um, this is the recording for my last two sections of reading. [yawning] And I feel really good about it. We've almost made it through. Um, feels like the last section of the book was just more of like a great story, rather than a lot of it really applying to my experience. But hey, I'm always down for a good story, you know. So we will see how she lands this plane. Talk to you soon. Love you.
Megan Tan 31:16
Have you talked to Dustin about it? [to listener] Dustin is her husband. [to Abby] Like, have you guys been having conversations?
Abby Davis 31:22
Do you know what I walked in on him doing the other day, like a couple of weeks ago? This is how I know this is my person, right? So we work from home and I usually work upstairs and he works downstairs. A couple weeks ago, I went downstairs and he was reading the book. And I was like, Is that my copy? Or your copy? Or like what's like? [laughing] He's like, Oh, no, it's your copy, like I'm almost done. And I was like, Oh, like I'm not even done. [laughing] Like, okay. He was like, you know, like, if you, if you're trying to learn more about you like, I want to learn more about you too. And I was just like, yeah, that makes sense. [laughing] And it was just this like-
Megan Tan 31:28
Abby Davis 32:12
very, very, very sweet um, moment. [page turning] [piano music] [reading from book] In the end, though, real growth and healing came from another kind of radical change. From finding the courage to a question, what I'd always been told to seek and discover and tell another kind of story. And I know my children will benefit from all the things I will pass on to them now. All the truths that I'm able to share. [page turning] [music] Like I totally agree with her that like, and I know my children will benefit from all the things I will pass on to them and all the truths that I'm able to share. And I totally agree with her that like this identity journey that I've been on for the last 10 years like it all started because I had to have the courage to ask, you know, like, who am I?
Megan Tan 33:34
On December 30th, two days before the New Year, Abby reads the final lines and closes Nicole Chung's book, All You Can Ever Know. [music out]
Erick Galindo 34:10
[theme music] If you have something that you've been putting off, call us, (323) 591-8159. That's (323) 591-8159. Leave us a message, and you could be on an episode of Snooze. Don't put it off. I'm talking to you...
Megan Tan 34:33
Before I give you scenes from the next episode of Snooze, I want to give a shout out to everyone who made this episode possible. This episode had a lot of help from the producers who sifted through all of the conversations between Abby and I. Thank you so much Marina Peña, and Kyle Chang. Mendy Kong also helped with selects. I wrote the episode with help from Marina Peña and Erick Galindo, who also fact checked and edited this episode. It was mixed and engineered by Donald Paz, who also contributed some original music. Jessica Pilot is our talent producer. Erick Galindo is our showrunner. I am your host. Our producers are Marina Peña and and Emma Alabaster. Our associate producer is Kyle Chang. Antonia Cereijido and Leo G are the executive producers. Our theme song is by Wayan Dopeman. Andrew Eapen wrote and composed the original music for this show. The original artwork for Snooze was created by Seonna Hong. Make sure you hit, follow, like, subscribe to Snooze wherever you get your podcasts. You can follow me on Twitter or on Instagram @meganleetan, and the show @snoozepodcast. Our website on LAist.com is designed by Andy Cheatwood, and the digital and marketing team, who also created our branding. Snooze is a production of LAist Studios. Thanks to the team over there, including Taylor Coffman, Kristen Hayford, Kristen Muller, Sabir Brara, Andy Orozco, Michael Cosentino and Leo G.
Erick Galindo 36:04
Support for this podcast is made possible by Gordon and Dona Crawford, who believe that quality journalism makes Los Angeles a better place to live. This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.
Megan Tan 36:21
If you like Snooze, rate and review us on Apple podcasts. Trust me, it really helps us out and we would love to know what you think. And if you love Snooze, and you want to shower us with appreciation, become a sustaining member of KPCC and LAist Studios by going to laist.com/memberships. Support the place that supports this work that supports people like me. [music out] What do you feel like from this book, you're going to tell your kids?
Abby Davis 37:00
I think the the best thing I'm going to be able to tell my children from the moment they're born is that they're Korean. And they're enough. And I, I just love that they're going to have that opportunity to start out from day one knowing that, because I do wonder what I would be like if I had started out in that way too.
Megan Tan 37:29
[music: Storm and Drive by Joya] On the next episode of Snooze, we help Sara become more of who she already is, in a public way, in front of her friends, and most importantly, in front of her family.
Yeah, so it's very exciting because it feels like we're finally getting stuff done with me. Something that I've been putting off for years. Um, simply posting me singing.
Megan Tan 37:54
I'm Megan Tan, and thanks for listening. [music out]