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Depressed adoptee dies alone after failed quest for parents

Jan 04,2018
A 45-year-old Korean adoptee was found dead late December in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang, after a five year quest to find his birth parents. He never did and died of over-drinking as a result of depression.

The body is currently in a Gimhae hospital, as, ironically, Korean authorities are having an equally fruitless search for his adopted family in Norway, according to Korea Adoption Services Tuesday.

Korean-born Chae Sung-woo was adopted by a Norwegian couple in 1980 at the age of eight. In 2013, he left Norway and a job coaching volleyball to students to track down his birth parents.

For the next five years, Chae travelled back and forth between Seoul and Gimhae, where he had spent his early years in Korea, but failed to find any information about his Korean family.

He spent his last few months depressed and alcoholic, barely leaving a one-room studio he rented in Gimhae.

On Dec. 21, a concerned building staff found Chae dead on his bed around 10:50 a.m. after forcing the door open to check on him, according to the Gimhae Jungbu police. Police found Chae’s heavily decomposed body among bottles of alcohol and garbage.

They concluded that he died 7 to 10 days prior to the discovery of his body. An autopsy conducted by the National Forensic Service suggested that Chae most likely died from a combination of diabetes and liver complications from excessive alcohol intake.

Chae’s quest seemed promising at the start. With the help of Korea Adoption Services, Chae discovered that he had been adopted through Holt International Children’s Services and that the orphanage he lived in prior to adoption was in Gimhae.

Hoping that memories from childhood would return if he stayed in Gimhae, Chae rented a room there and attended Korean language classes at a nearby university.

In Korea, Chae also made frequent visits to Seoul to seek the help of KoRoot, a self-described “guesthouse for returning overseas Korean adoptees” located in Jongno District, central Seoul. As an NGO, KoRoot provides accommodation, counseling and translation services to help adoptees adjust to life in Korea.

“Chae often traveled the country with his camera to take pictures,” recounted Rev. Kim Do-hyun, director of KoRoot. “From 2015, however, his visits to Seoul became less frequent. Chae began leading a life of solitude.”

Chae drank and gained a lot of weight, neighbors told police. Last April, he even went to the Seoul Red Cross Hospital for treatment for depression and a liver condition with the help of Korea Adoption Services.

Chae did not work here, according to the Korea Adoption Services and KoRoot. He covered living expenses with the welfare benefits he qualified for as a Norwegian citizen, which totaled over 2 million won ($1,880) a month.

No funeral has been held because Korean authorities could not reach his family in Norway. “Chae’s body is currently being held in a hospital in Gimhae,” explained a policeman. “If his family doesn’t get in touch, the city will hold a funeral for him.”

“We relayed all information regarding Chae to the Norwegian embassy immediately after his death,” said Korea Adoption Services. “Though we were informed that Chae’s child and adoptive mother are still in Norway, we have not heard from them through the embassy.”

Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, 170,000 children born in Korea were adopted and sent abroad. An average of 2,000 overseas adoptees return to Korea every year to find their birth parents.

BY WEE SUNG-WOOK, KIM EUN-JIN [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]