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It all began when design student Anas Bordier viewed a YouTube video and saw her own face staring back. After some research, Anas found that the Los Angeles actress Samantha Futerman was born in a South Korean port city called Busan on November 19, 1987-the exact same location and day that Anas was born. This propelled her to make contact-via Facebook. One message later, both girls wondered: Could they be twins? Thus begins their remarkable journey to build a relationship as sisters, continents apart. Over Facebook, Twitter, and Skype, they learned that they shared much more than a strikingly similar appearance. Eventually, they traveled to Korea together to discover more about the land of their separation. Separated @ Birth is a story that spans the world and peels back some of the complex and emotional layers of foreign adoption.
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Anas Bordier graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design in London with a degree in fashion design. She lives in Paris, where she works as a leather-goods designer for Gerard Darel.
Samantha Futerman lives in Los Angeles, where she is pursuing a career as an actress. Her credits include the film Memoirs of a Geisha and the television series Suburgatory and Up All Night.
Emily Woo Zeller's multilingual, multicultural framework led to a natural fit as an audiobook narrator. While she specializes in Asian American narratives, Emily's work spans a broad spectrum, including young adult fiction. She won an AudioFile Earphones Award for her narration of Gulp by Mary Roach.
the first time
i caught a glimpse of her
Saturday, December 15, 2012, was the most incredible day of my life. On this day, while sitting on a double-decker bus near Oxford Circus, shivering from the winter rain and rushing to the warmth of my shared flat in Finsbury Park, I discovered there was a young woman in America who looked exactly like me! Her image, a screenshot from a YouTube video, had been sent to my cell phone by a friend. The young Asian woman so closely resembled me that she had to be my double!
The day had started out like any other: an early morning wake-up followed by two cups of strong French coffee and a few bites of a croissant. I wanted to stay in bed and out of the rain, but I had an important mission—to find fabrics for my designs that I would be presenting in the Central Saint Martins graduate fashion show in the spring. All final-year students at the University of London’s Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design would be presenting six pieces in May, and in ninety seconds, each of our collections, which had taken an entire final year’s worth of energy, would be up and down the catwalk. But when this requisite was behind me, I would receive a master’s degree in fashion design from one of the top fashion schools in the world. Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, and Stella McCartney were among its distinguished alumni.
I was well on my way to having the drawings/design portion of my portfolio ready, so I could now start collecting my fabrics. Christmas break was looming, however, and I had a lot to do. After breakfast, I went to Soho and looked over the excellent inventories at my three favorite fabric stores, secured a few swatches that I really liked, and was settling myself on the bus back to my flat when my cell phone buzzed. It was a notification from Facebook, alerting me that a friend, Kelsang, had posted something on my wall. I opened my Facebook wall immediately, only to have my breath taken away. There in front of my eyes was a screen shot of a presumed stranger, but whoever she was, she had the same eyes, the same skin, the same hair length and color, the same nose, and the same smile as me.
My Internet connection on the bus was really bad, so I couldn’t do any more investigating until I got home, still twenty minutes away. I was in complete disbelief. I was adopted from South Korea as an infant and raised in France, so all my life, I had wondered if there were people out there who looked like me. The girl grinning back at me on my Samsung Galaxy looked so much like me that I thought one of my artistic friends might be pranking me. They were all very creative, and could manipulate images with ease, and they all loved a good laugh, so it was reasonable to think this could be a joke. Every possibility of who this girl might be consumed me for the remainder of the ride. Was she a doppelgänger? Was she a relative? Was she real? Was she an impostor? Did she know about me?
When I finally got home, I ran straight to my computer. It turned out Kelsang had been surfing through YouTube videos when he had stumbled upon my look-alike. She was an actress in a short video called “High School Virgin,” a staged comic piece where she was playing the role of a teenage tease. The entire video was only four minutes long. My “double” had a forty-second speaking part, but as none of the four actors was credited, I didn’t have her name. The more I watched the video, the more I thought I was looking at myself, except for the American-accented English. (When I speak English, I do so with a British accent.) But other than the accent, I could not find a single difference that would distinguish one of us from the other. All I could find were the similarities. Who was she? I knew I needed to find her.
I got in touch with Kelsang as fast as I could and asked him how he had come across the video. He told me he had been doing some research, and it had popped up on the right side of his computer screen. The female character had looked so much like me that he had posted her picture to my Facebook wall for me to see. I didn’t ask him what he was researching that would bring up a title called “High School Virgin,” because that was his business, but I was thankful that he had. I love everything about Kelsang. He and I have been friends since my second year at Central Saint Martins. He is Tibetan, came to school with more experience in fashion than I did, and is always teaching me personal fashion tricks.
Part of my intrigue with the mysterious American stemmed from the fact that I was adopted. I don’t have any siblings and I don’t resemble anyone in my family, including my European parents, Patricia and Jacques Bordier. My mother is blond-haired and blue-eyed, and my father is as French-looking as they get. Even though there is a neighborhood in Paris with a very small Korean population, it was nowhere near Neuilly-sur-Seine, where I lived. I knew other Asians, but I didn’t look very much like them, either, although people joked that we all looked alike. A lot of French people tend to think of all Asians as Chinese.
I had one Korean friend, but she was eight years older. She had been adopted, too, and coincidentally she was also named Anais. We went to the same Catholic school in Neuilly, Institut Saint Dominique. When we had glasses on, we looked quite similar. Anais was like a big sister to me when I was growing up, protective and kind. We had become friends when I was five and my mother had come to pick me up in the schoolyard at dismissal. She called my name, so the other Anais turned around, too. Our mothers started talking, and it turned out the other Anais had also been adopted from South Korea. It was nice to have that in common with someone.
Throughout my life, I had always hoped to find someone who looked like me. I’m not sure, but it might be a common theme among adopted children to speculate on who could be in your family. Being an only child, too, I probably fantasized about these things even more. When I was very young, I had an imaginary friend I called Anne. My mum didn’t know about her until the mother of one of my school friends told her. “I didn’t know Anais had a sister,” the mother said. My mum assured her that I didn’t. A lot of only children had imaginary friends, but I was longing for a sibling, not just a best friend. I didn’t just want a permanent playdate. I wanted someone I could relate to in physical appearance. But I had never found anyone . . . until now.
I watched “High School Virgin” at least ten more times, convinced the Asian actress was somehow related to me, maybe a half sister or a cousin. When I showed Marie, my roommate, the video, she was as blown away as I had been. We both agreed that the girl looked slightly younger than me, but identical in every other way. Marie was great at computer sleuthing and tried various searches that might lead to an identification. But, like me, she came up empty.
Over the next few days, I sat at the kitchen table with my laptop open. I wanted to contact Kevin Wu, aka “KevJumba,” the Chinese-American humorist and director of the video, but I worried that a message would get lost amid the fan messages on his Facebook page, or in the comments on his YouTube videos. “High School Virgin” had more than two million views and fifteen thousand comments, so how would he see mine?
Wednesday evening, I had happened to have dinner with my friend Oliver, who claimed to be a physiognomist, someone who supposedly can assess a person’s character by his or her facial features. I was anxious to get his reaction to the mystery girl. “She has to be your sister!” he exclaimed after seeing her picture. “You look exactly the same.” He was insistent that I find a way to get in touch with KevJumba, but this kind of encouragement made me more scared than excited. Who knew what I would find out? I wasn’t ready for rejection, and I had to entertain that rejection was a possibility. This girl might not have any interest in me whatsoever.
On Thursday, I was taking the Eurostar to Paris for Christmas break. Before I headed out that morning, Marie had me pose the same way the American was postured in her screenshot, and she snapped a couple of photos of me. She wanted to create a split-screen photomontage of the two of us for comparison purposes. Even before my train pulled into Paris, her creation had been posted on my Facebook wall. Looking at us side by side, I could only be in total awe of our resemblance.
My father picked me up at Gare du Nord. Although he knew I was perfectly capable of taking the Metro the four miles home, he didn’t want to wait that long to see me. When we got to our flat, I was so anxious to show my parents Marie’s photomontage, I didn’t even stop to say hello to Eko, our American cocker spaniel, who was jumping at my legs as I raced to the dining room table to turn on my laptop. My mother was disappointed that I hadn’t given the dog a warmer greeting, but I knew she would forgive me when she saw what was so compelling. Turning my parents’ attention to the photomontage displayed on my laptop, I waited for them to react.
“So . . . what are the differences in the pictures?” I asked.
“Well . . . first, you are more tanned in one,” Mum guessed, pointing to the American girl’s photo occupying the top half of the screen. “And heuuuu . . .”
“And . . . it . . . is . . . NOT . . . ME!” I jumped in.
“Exactly what I was going to say, it’s not you in this picture!” Mum smiled. It was probably too embarrassing to admit that she wasn’t able to identify her own daughter.
Over dinner, I explained that my friend Kelsang had uncovered a video with a dead ringer of me in it, then showed them the forty seconds of “High School Virgin” that featured her. They were both amused by the video, despite the abundance of American cussing. But they also came up with lots of reasons why this girl could not be my sister. My father told me about a Korean actress he was familiar with who looked just like me. He had been watching Korean movies in his free time and had come across this particular woman in several films.
“You can always find people who look similar,” he reasoned.
My father is an amazing person and incredibly smart, but in this case, I had to disagree with him. “This girl and I don’t look similar—we look exactly the same!” I insisted. I didn’t want to be talked out of my fantasy, and I wanted my parents to indulge me, not try to dissuade me, even if they were trying to protect me.
My mother explained that she had addressed the option of adopting twins when she first signed on with Holt International Children’s Services, the adoption agency that handled my case. She had told them that if twins became available, she would happily adopt both of them. That was even a question on her application: Would you take twins? She told me that there would have been no reason to separate me from a twin sister, if I had been part of a pair. They had a copy of my birth record, too. It said “single birth,” and my parents had full faith that it was correct.
My mother’s point was strong. The more I thought about it, the more I talked myself into believing that this girl was not my twin or even a relative. Any further mention of her was simply for fun and done in a joking manner. I had a doppelgänger somewhere in America, and that was that. Even so, I continued to surreptitiously check KevJumba’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, and website every day, still hoping I would come across the girl’s name.
By the end of Christmas holiday, I had stopped searching, although I still thought about her. As much as I accepted that our similarities were likely coincidences, I was still haunted that she could be someone in my birth family. What if she had already discovered me at some point and hadn’t really cared to pursue it? Maybe she knew about me, and hoped I would never know about her. I also reasoned that if I had been born a twin, I would have known it in my heart via some telepathic longing. But I had never had emotions like that . . . until now.
My curiosity was piqued enough for me to do a little research about my birthplace, Busan, a huge port in the south of Korea. With more than three million people, it was the second-largest city in South Korea, complete with an abundance of skyscrapers, plenty of seafood, and a tourism industry built around the beaches.
My parents had taken me there on a family vacation when I was seven years old, determined to show me my roots, but I was too young to really appreciate it. Now I was fascinated to learn the city had a huge Russian Mafia presence, the largest in all of Asia. I wondered if perhaps I could have some Russian blood. There was also the possibility I had American blood. Camp Hialeah, a U.S. military base in Busan until it closed in 2006, had had several hundred U.S. servicemen stationed there. It was a well-known fact that U.S. servicemen often abandoned their Korean wives and children when their tours of duty were over. Maybe I was part American, and my birth father had been in the service, then abandoned my mother? I started imagining different scenarios, but in the end, who cared if I was part Russian or American by blood? Patricia and Jacques Bordier were my parents and the only parents I cared to know.
By the time I got back to London, I had put my American “twin” to the back of my mind. When mid-February 2013 came around, I was back in full work mode. I had to get some toiling fabrics, and I was on the bus heading to Woolcrest in Hackney accompanied by Kelsang and Lucas, another friend of ours. Out of nowhere, Kelsang mentioned he had seen the “American girl” again in the trailer of a soon-to-be-released American movie called 21 & Over. I immediately typed the name of the film into my cell phone, hoping I could find her
in the cast. Sure enough, there she was. Samantha Futerman!
I was beyond excited. Now that I had her name, I Googled her, and the first thing that popped up was a link to her profile on the popular Internet movie database IMDB. The picture of her on that website looked as much like me as her cameo in “High School Virgin.” Next to her photo was the biggest shock of all—her date of birth, which was the same as mine: November 19, 1987! I froze. I thought I had probably read it wrong, transposing it in my mind to what I had hoped to see. But when I looked again, it was still reading, “November 19, 1987.”
“KELSANG!” I screamed across the bus, “the girl from the YouTube video, she was born November, 19, 1987!”
“So what?” Kelsang asked, not understanding the importance.
“So, I was born on November 19, 1987,” I explained. Could she be my twin sister? Her name was very American, “Samantha Futerman,” so she must have been adopted, too. Now that I could see her closely, I could see details that I hadn’t seen before. Mon Dieu, she even has the same freckles on her nose as I have! By the time I got off the bus, I was beginning to feel faint.
On the walk to school, I was a wreck. I called my parents to tell them what I had learned. My mother gasped when I told her about the shared birth date. “Do you think she could be your twin sister?” she asked in disbelief.
My dad called ...
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