Kacey Vu Shap had no desire to return to the Vietnamese orphanage of his youth. As a child, whenever he told people he was adopted, he would say that he came “premade” — that he spontaneously appeared one day at the Baltimore airport, greeted by a new family bearing flowers and kisses. “It was easier to sanitize my story by speaking only of my life as Kacey, who was loved and wanted, than to tell people of my life as Vu, who was abandoned and undesired,” Kacey wrote in his Modern Love essay. Nearly 25 years later, Kacey found himself back at the orphanage with his three best friends and a newfound understanding of what form love can take.
You can find more info on today's episode here.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Now that I love you, I love you and when the New York Times I'm dyin jones- and I merely this- is the modern love podcast. Today's. Say comes from a writer named Casey Boo Shop story. First came in. Immediately taken by the power of it, it was clearly the most important story. in his life and it wasn't about additional romantic love, but more about self acceptance through friendship. I was struck by his bravery in sharing it and just kind of the beauty of his ability to. Access the trauma he experience childhood
a really positive place. It's called. Why did she leave me there? It's written by Casey Food Shop and it's red by Kang. The gate to the orphanage was smaller than I remembered. Nearly twenty five years had passed since I live there. I wondered if coming back was a good idea, my best friends Fu Francis will had planned this trip to Vietnam and invited me to come. I met them. Fifteen years earlier when I was in high school there in college and had started a support group for young gay asian men at the time. I was right in blonde highlights blue contacts and Abercrombie and Fitch T shirts, with baggy ripped jeans FU in Francis thought. I was trying.
Too hard, but they let me tag along now. They had become my over protective brothers nagging me about everything. My friends knew I lived in an orphanage near HO, CHI Minh City. They suggested that we try to visit as part of our trip and they wanted to do a kickstarter campaign to raise money for the orphans who now live there That was crazy. We were set to leave in a week and I had no desire to return to a place. I had spent most of my life trying to forget. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Francis said you won't be alone, will be with you They were able to talk me into it. Within days we had raised more than five thousand dollars to buy clothes, toys and other essentials. The next week we were greeted by tiny faces,
bony outstretched hands as we unloaded the donations from a rented truck. We made our way inside the orphanage. How odd that I once had been among those scared excited faces vying for attention from a stranger like me back then the big building was dilapidated, the White paint covered in dirt in the walls battered the orphanage had since been fixed up and expanded. But one thing remained: think odour of baby powder, sweat, urine decay, hopelessness and despair. I was five when I arrived at the orphanage
too small to quarter with the older children, but too big to be with the babies, so they put me with those with deformities missing limbs or mental illnesses These came. Rushing back as my friends and I walked inside my eyes began to swell my pound it in my anxiety, kicked in Before long I was fleeing to the gated entrance, my friends calling after me as a child. Whenever I told people I was adopted to say I came pre made. I simply appeared on one summer night at the Baltimore Airport to be we buy my mom dad and sister who were bearing candies flowers and kisses. It was easier to sanitize my
story by speaking. Only of my life is Casey, who is loved and wanted than to tell people of my life is vu It was abandoned and undesired. I never knew my birth mother. She died when was two in the delivery room along with my brother. I hardly knew my birth father. He was a migrant worker, who's never around. When I was five, my older sister dry, in a river near my grandmother's home. I watched ten feet away as she thrashed and then disappeared in the murky water. I had pleaded with her to play in the river with the other children. Despite my mother forbidding us from going when she wasn't around we should have been me who drowned that day.
Then it was just my grandmother, nine living together in a poor farming village in southern Vietnam My grandmother were a cat. I her tail, because wherever she went, I followed I being near her in the kitchen exhaust. Spices, mingling with season meat and fresh herbs, would cocoon us. In there listen. Brace is I pepper. My grandmother with questions about our favorite subject, my mother grandma, you have my eyes. My nose and my cheeks, I said: do you think my mother also look like me: of course. Silly who do you think gave you and your mother such handsome features she beamed her toothless, grin then she stopped chopping vegetables and Can I tell you a big secret? Your mother was my favorite of all my children.
She always tried to make everyone laugh. I want you to be good. Like your mother, yes, okay, I said. After my sister died, I learned that my father had died too. And it wasn't long before my grandmother told me to pack my things for a trip. I was delighted. Having never been on a trip before. Eventually we arrived at a big white building full of children. After touring the place, my grandmother seemed reluctant to leave Finally, she bent down and said-
going home, but you are staying here. I stood there frozen. My grandmother cut my cheeks with her leathery hands and directed my face too hers her normally fierce eyes filled with sadness, She took a floral pattern handkerchief from her neck, and acted around mine. It was your favorite. used with her familiar scent. Then she stood up and walked away without looking back I tried to follow, but strong hands gripped me the. I screamed from my grandmother begging her to take me home after she left.
I waited for days at the gated entrance, hoping for her return. Some months later, a jewish couple and Northern Virginia was in the final stages of an adoption that fell through. They were devastated and verge of giving up when they received my photo from the adoption agency. They decided they wanted me as their child. It was a difficult process that took two years. I was entirely unaware of my adoption. Until the day I was taken to the airport, I would learn that of the hundreds of children at the orphanage only a handful.
Made it to America most were babies. I was seven a quarter century has passed since my grandmother left me that day, I still carry her handkerchief safely, tucked away with me. However, I go, but. And his since faded. There are so many things that have one to share with her of my american life, my loving parents, friends dog. LOS Angeles apartment in freshly minted Phd in social psychology. There are also so many questions I have wanted to ask her.
Whenever I told people I was adopted, I didn't tell them about the I was abandoned or I fear that my friends and family would discover that I had been worthless enough to deserve that now. My friends had seen it. They knew. When they came out and found me by the gate. They asked why I had left so abruptly. I knew that once you saw my orphanage, I said You think less of me and wouldn't want to be my friends anymore. Seriously. Fu said we traveled across the globe covered in mosquito bites Soaked in sweat and you're worried, we might think less of you, we've been subjected to worse Casey who's, always late Casey with a big. Head in Casey who chases after emotionally.
available men. If all that didn't scare us off, nothing will. My friends surrounded me. Wrapping me in their warm embrace your family. Francis says we love you. Besides, being friends with you is like catching Herpes, it's very contagious, easily treatable but impossible to get rid of, and we ve been treating it for over fifteen. There's. No then we'll said, and maybe your grandmother did love you may be letting go of. He was her final act of love so that you could have a chance of a better life. It's something I had long wondered. Had she left me because I was a burden or to spare me from a brutal life of poverty.
My friends then told me that, while I was outside, they had been able to find My grandmother's last known address in the orphanages records there was a chance. She still might be there only thirty minutes away if my grandmother were still living there. I could have my answer. I thought about that, and also about the love and support of my friends, family and others who had made this possible the no I said I need to know her address. We can go now for once.
I could choose not to be defined by my abandonment with that. the orphanage and spilled out into Ho Chi Minh City. The the sweet scent of sizzling pork mingled with the laughter of children chasing each other, as if it's street we're one giant playground the
case, if you shall is a writer researcher and social on Japan, in LOS Angeles after the Break Casey talks with his friends Frances. And well I love spelling my boyfriend and I often
play spelling bee together by together I mean sitting next to each other playing individually and not cheating. Sometimes when I open up spelling bee- and I see that you have completed a few words on your own, I feel a little betrayed in sorry that may have happened. I have one friend I will send screenshots from spelling bee of inappropriate words that I always get nervous. I sent it to my parents or something like me and my dad. We like this Sunday together and I wish weather out it. K, P, o t, Panic now run nice I'm same as earth's the digital puzzles editor for the New York Times. You can try spelling bee and all our games at N times, dot com, slash games. To have
Francis thing. Well, welcome, a high long, Let's see, I'm looking forward to talking about our favorite topic in the yeah love it. I wanted to kind of start with like a origin story like who you is like, how do we meet each other full? You can start. First, we met at a youth pride day at Aqua Booth, which is asian, queer United for action. Then, just like you know, sums friendship over time. This is Frances. Ah I remember meeting Casey a few years after you- and I did it- was this eighteen in the club shouldn T see. then Les Casey showed up and like or some there was a sense of effervescence about you. You were just like bouncy and light uniform
Oh, so that's how we met initially when I met Francis at a party, This is will, by the way, pronouns. the all you know what's funny now that I think about it. We kind of founded. when we were all just trying to come out. Yeah like you found Casey I felt when they found each other when we were just trying to come out. Yeah yeah. I think when I first met you, you were struggling yeah, so beautiful to see how much you've evolved from that dark space that you're at to where you are now. Thank you I yeah. I I want to talk more about our trip to the orphanage and like how they came to be so. What was the? What was your impetus for wanting to go to? Asia will write you and me it was we wanted to do a Asia birthday trip yet was like hey? Let's do it
am I really wanted us to go to. The orphanage was late. He said the way you're fondest memory of being in the open. It is when you change, would come and give you guess and on an you light up when you say that and on my intention was: oh, my god, like you know, even though it was a dark time for you, you found beauty beauty. In that moment you know, and if we could be there for those kids and give that scene hope to those children Why not yeah like like look look? What hot liquid look where you are now like? We will never know, what's going to happen to those kids, but hopefully what we did spark some kind of like you know, same feelings that you have and you held onto those memories. Well, as I was grateful that you said yes, you know, I know it wasn't easy, but yeah. That was just what what
it all started. I think yeah. They just remember as writing to the orphanage, and you know like my first thought- was just gratitude like you. He walked by my side and we will explore the orphan scheller and it was just do you saw the ugliest part of my life, but yet you still didn't care, and I thus one was too much. I I totally I other. Can you imagine if we left him, I'm just you know where I was just by was away. I would in fact it's getting better a heap over guide my favorite moment. I had to be like when they found your photo in the records, because we were all just going to holding our breath like we hope. Like. Oh he's still, there
and I remember they kept flipping through it out. I was hoping to lie. I think we were all hoping that we would find your photo yeah and at the time the has managed by a cushion none like crew and then, when I last had transferred to the vietnamese government and it's been twenty plus years and the records pause to be there and as we kept flipping through the the pictures, and they recognized some of the kids as like. Oh they wouldn't my village. They came with me and we flipped through, like oh, I used to hang out with this kid and then you know when they flipped over and I see this vacant I stared back at me and then it was, I guess: yeah everyone was so happy to have found it the
Woo we're just so happy for you like there. You are yeah, it was beautiful yeah. He was amazing. He was like seeing my phone the day with validation that I didn't make all this up. That I was there like. I was there and it was just you guys seen there with me. It was just it's just that was the day I was abandoned and it was just I dunno how I'd describe the feeling of worthlessness but then knows the feeling of Gratitude NASA the feeling they of love all in one place and yeah. It was just me being there seeing that photo It is seeing you guys and we're all just like this. You were here with you like you're, not alone, and it like that. Okay. I remember we ended that with like a nice lunch and you know we went to that.
Restaurant and like FU's uncle was like you know, which we to you remember that in foods. Uncle is like right now, Casey the happiest man in the world, I don't like oh like this. So true like yeah, you know, but for U K C? What about you? How has that trip transform you? You know afterward. I felt like I became better friend like I didn't know what it was like to be there for other people and the way you guys with me like And I I looked at how you guys were treating me and then how I want to treat you guys, and I just ended lots of therapy and, like I'm so proud, just that can talk about it,
I could then don't buy them. The machine that I can tell you about my emotions or another shame about my past and know like it's just it. It's so greasy, because I couldn't get there without having you guys along with me in the journey. I am so glad I took it because you like, I took the chance with the fear that you guys might leave me, but you guys did and then you just like realized like I was never abandoned. I was just loved all along. You know. Different people loved me differently and it is an honor to feel that you know we're all part of something larger and that people care about us. I mean that's why I had to write the story and it's really. I wanted to write a story, the honored, the
friends and people in my life and like that who I am today it's a composite of there. There was some in the laws in the China Sand and twelve like honoring the most meaningful way, and that trip to me was like life changing naps. Snaps naps so good. It have no idea like to be on the receiving end of that, like you have no idea. So thank you for that too. You can touch. Thank hazy. Yeah hm Oh fine! Well, I really appreciate your time for this and you know like thank you so much for her just being here with me, and dissecting the story with each other. Again,
occasionally I love you. Thank you, love you. modern love, is produced by Julia with help from HANS Peter. It's edited by Wendy Door, music by Dan Powell. This episode was mixed by Korea shrapnel. This week's essay was written by Casey Casey Through and and read by concept, special thanks to FOO when Frances Libre- Well, a Scot Lew and Kaycee Boucher, and also to I'm in making such a body Bonnie worth I'm on your streaming, SAM Dolnick, Seeker and Ryan Wagner at autumn, I'm Dan Jones,
and I merely we'll be back next week with more stories for modern love. Thanks for listening.
Transcript generated on 2022-04-15.