A 23andMe surprise

A while ago my brother and sister-in-law gifted me a 23andMe kit (for my birthday? Christmas? I can’t even remember). To be honest, the kit sat there for a while. When I finally did it, I did it incorrectly. Luckily they allowed me one free do-over.

I sort of assumed I’d screw it up again, and that would be it. But I got a few emails saying they were processing my results so at least I had spit into the tube the right way (by the way, it was A LOT of spit). Then this weekend, I got my results — and I was SHOCKED.

It was early Sunday morning. My friend Ellen was visiting and asleep in the next room while I lay in bed checking my email. That’s when I saw I had gotten my 23andMe results. I was delighted. Even when spitting correctly, I knew not getting any results was a possibility. So I was happy to get anything.

I went to the site and opened my ancestry report. The first thing I saw was that I’m 78% Chinese. Huh? Only that much? What else am I? I scrolled down farther and saw: 15.5% Korean.

“WHAT?” I said aloud.

I jumped out of bed to tell Ellen, but of course she was still asleep. Instead I texted my brother in L.A., although I knew I wouldn’t hear back from him for a few hours. I just kept staring at my results with my head spinning. Here are more details:

To those who aren’t Asian, you might not understand. Chinese, Korean, what’s the difference? Number one, HUGE, and number two, don’t be racist. Different countries, different languages, different cultures. Sometimes at odds with one another. To spend my entire life thinking I’m simply Chinese and learning I’m more than 15% Korean was a very big deal to me.

At 10 I woke Ellen to tell her I was going (I had a work event), and that’s when I said, “I know you just woke up but can I tell you one thing?” So I told her and she was also surprised. By then my brother had written back and was like, “Whoa! Did you tell Mom?” I didn’t have time that day but would later.

Yesterday I dug a little deeper into the DNA findings. I had assumed my Korean part came from my father’s side in Dongbei province in northeast China (where he’s from), which borders North Korea. However, the report says my Korean ancestors are from SOUTH Korea, specifically Seoul and Chungcheong-do. Those parts are directly across from, guess where, Shandong Province, which is where my mother’s family is from. Not just Shandong I should say, but Weihai, a port city very close to South Korea.

I looked up the history of Koreans living in China, and according to Wikipedia, Koreans have been immigrating to China since the 1880s, many of them coming to Shandong. According to 23andMe, I:

most likely had a great-grandparent, second-great-grandparent, or third-great-grandparent who was 100% Korean. This person was likely born between 1820 and 1880

So my maternal grandfather or grandmother could have been as much as half Korean.

I like that 23andMe says that my Chinese and Korean parts are both “Highly Likely Matches.” I’ve read that these tests can be inaccurate, but that gives me confidence those parts are right. When I tried to explain this to my mother, saying that one of her parents could be as much as half Korean, she was like, “That’s wrong.” Don’t harsh my buzz, woman! I thought she might agree to do the 23andMe, but now it might take some convincing.

An interesting thing my mother told me was that her mother often mentioned the Korean people in her village. They were called bang ren, or something like that, “hitting people,” because they liked to fight with sticks. Little did Puo-puo know she was probably part Korean herself.

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