Sunday, January 21, 2018

The (Almost) Four Market Loop

Myeongdong Market
Yesterday we planned to make a subway loop that would include four of the most famous street markets in Seoul. We began our day much later than usual and regretted it when we reached our hotel's restaurant. Before that morning we had not waited a single minute to be seated, but at 9 am on Saturday, this was not the case. After breakfast, we went back to our room to gather our things for the day ahead, then headed to the subway.

Our first stop was a return visit to Namdaemun to take a better look at the children's section of the market. I could have spent days there, pouring through shop after shop of adorable kiddo clothes and shoes. Unfortunately for me, and fortunately for my bank account, my boys were not having it. We did spend a considerable amount of time sorting through the shops looking for some special items.

*I have already let Joe know that when I return for custody, I will be purchasing a great deal more, so he is prepared.

After Namdaemun, we decided to walk to Myeongdong. Namdaemun is a traditional street market, with a lot of street vendors, street food, and transitional/handmade items. Myeongdong is quite the opposite. It is more of a modern, outdoor mall. There are still some street vendors and some street food options, however, most are indoors and the items to buy are mostly clothing and skincare products. We walked through the market for a bit, but many of the shops repeat, so it didn't take us long to decide it was time to move on.

Before leaving, we did find a candy store, which the boys had been searching  and they did find some Kogo (Korean corn dogs). Liam got one filled with cheese and Nolan picked a sausage with a crunchy outer coating. We also had to get Oreo churros to share- obviously not Korean, but delicious just the same. Our next stop, Dongdaemun, which was too far to walk, so we hoped back on the subway.

We noticed that the last two stops before Dongdaemun were pretty close together, so we got off the subway a stop early to get a little extra walking in. We came out of the subway station to find ourselves surrounded by the Dongdaemun History and Culture Park. The architecture was amazing and we found several fun things to stop and look at.

After a bit of exploring in this area, we started walking in the direction of Dongdaemun. We noticed one particular street, where both sides of the street were lined with vendors. We walked up one side, then walked back down the other. This is where I found my second favorite pair of shoes for Maylee. We continued on toward our destination, stopping at a vendor with the most delicious peanut shaped deliciousness.
Toy Alley!

We were now on the hunt for the elusive "Toy Alley". According to others who have been there, Toy Alley is the best place to go to find fun things for your children. The boys have spent the last week begging to find it. It took some time, but we found it. Boy, did it ever live up to it's name! Toys everywhere! The prices were not overly low, but they were at least typical for US prices and the boys had waited so long, that we let them each pick two things. We made it less than halfway down the alley, when they had both decided on their chosen items.

We were still planning to make it back to Insadong, but we were all so hungry and exhausted that we decided to put it off a day. I'm glad that we did, because by the time we ate dinner and got pjs on, we were all out pretty quickly. All that walking wore us out!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Tour Guide Named Hubert

Outside the palace walls
So beautiful!
As part of the travel fee for the Holt Korea program, a guided tour is offered to each of the families while they are in Korea for court. Our tour was yesterday. We were scheduled to meet our tour guide in the lobby of our hotel at 9:30, so we took the morning slow. As soon as we exited the elevator in our lobby a young man walked up to us, asking for Joseph Oliver (I love that they use our middle names). After introductions, we headed down to the subway and from there to the Gyeongbokgung Palace.

A history lesson
It was a beautiful, beautiful place. Nestled right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city is the most peaceful and ancient set of buildings and grounds. Our guide knew so much about this history of site and the people who spent time there. Although he tried very hard to keep the attention of the boys, and sometimes did, he continued to share important facts and events with Joe and I as we wandered from building to building. 

We were there for what seemed like an hour, but what was really two and a half. No wonder we were all starving! Hubert then took us to the restaurant right outside the palace walls, where we had traditional Korean meal which used some of the same recipes eaten by the ancient kings who lived in the palace. It was delicious! Our tour guide suggested I try the bibimbap. I have had this before in the U.S., but it has never tasted this good. Liam had his favorite, Japchae and Joe and Nolan shared a beef stake with a rice cake and veggies. Everyone loved what they had and we ended our meal with a dessert waffle with chocolate sauce, some sort of fruit sauce, honey and frozen blueberries on top. 
While eating lunch, Hubert, Joe and I had a great conversation about the political struggles that Korea and the US are facing in the coming years. Since we discussed our shared concerns, Hubert decided to take us to Gwanghwamun Plaza. According to Hubert, this is where all political action by Korean citizens begins. This is where historical protests have been and where the charge to impeach their last president began. 

While there, we also saw the huge statue of King Sejong the Great and Hubert taught us (I use the word taught very loosely) the Korean alphabet. It was incredibly interesting to be on this square as it was the only area in which we have seen a huge police presence. There were dozens of them lining a building with a large wall and barbed wire. On the ally way next to the building, were several police buses. We later found out that this building was the US embassy and that this police presence is a typical occurrence- thank goodness.

On that note, we have never felt safer than here in Seoul. In the last week, we have only seen a handful of police officers and have not had a single moment of being uncomfortable- unless you count when older women and men insist on touching our children, especially the older gentleman that picked Nolan up and put him on his lap on the subway. Otherwise, we feel totally secure walking the streets of every area, at every time of day. It is so refreshing!

After visiting the square, it was time to head back to our hotel and say goodbye to Hubert. Before he left, we gave him a bag full of items from Oregon as a thank you gift. He was extremely thankful that we had thought of him and given him a gift. We took several photos together and he headed down to the subway, as we headed back to our room.
View from the pool
After resting for a bit, the boys talked us into another visit to the pool. Guess what?! Purple caps! I actually got a picture this time. The boys swam for a bit, then we decided to get ready for dinner. Once again we headed down to the mall for a quick and easy dinner. We love our hotel and we wish that there were more authentic Korean restaurants near by. There is a huge selection in the mall, delicious room service and a few other choices within walking distance, but we are so tired by dinner time and tend to not have the energy or patience to explore.

Today, we planned to make want we called "The Market Loop". Four markets in one day! We almost made it, but I will tell you all about that later.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Our Day In Court

Yesterday was a nerve-wracking, terrifying and amazing day. We all slept in- I made it to 5:30 and the boys were 7. We are finally finding our internal clocks here in Seoul. We knew we had all morning, so we didn't rush anything. We relaxed in bed, watching cartoons, took long showers and headed up to breakfast around 8:30- the latest we have gone since arriving. The restaurant was far more crowded at this time, but we still had no problem being seated right away.
Court ready!

After breakfast we went back to our room. We still had about two hours before we needed to head to Holt, so we continued being lazy. But this is when my nerves began to kick in. We were going to court. We were going to meet the judge who ultimately gets to decide if we are the right family for our sweet girl. She would ask us questions, to which we had some idea, but there were so many possibilities that it would be impossible to have prepared answers for all of them.

I quickly realized that, to get through today, I would have to find a way to stay busy. So I shifted my focus to getting ready. After I was ready to go, it was time for the boys. Baths, dressing, combing and bow ties later, they were ready as well. Just in time to head down to meet our taxi.

The ride to Holt offered a great, yet horrifying distraction. Although it is law here that children under 6 be in a car seat, apparently that is in no way enforced, so since arriving in Seoul the boys have just been sitting in the regular car seats with the regular seat belt to keep them safe. Obviously, not my favorite. I sit between then with my arms acting as a second seat belt on every car ride. This drive was so much worse than any other we have experienced here. The driver was the worst! He almost side-swiped other drivers several times, was driving 40 in a 70 speed zone and crossed lanes of traffic in a straight line- like we were perpendicular to the cars on either side of us. Eek! So scary.

Once we arrived at Holt, and took big sighs of relief that we had made it, we walked to a McDonald's which is a couple of blocks away. This was an important day, and we wanted to help the boys to behave at their best throughout it. The number one thing that affects Nolan is a hungry tummy, so we knew eating just before leaving for court would be very helpful.

After eating we headed to Holt to meet the other families also attending court. The lobby filled up quickly with the six families that were meeting at Holt to ride to court together. Three other families would meet us at the court house, as their hotels were close. The drive to court was faster than we had expected and playing an "I Spy" game with Nolan helped to pass the time.

When we got to court we were told to take out our passports and were ushered through metal detectors, then into an elevator. After finding our floor, we were told to take a seat in a hallway with chairs lining it. I am so thankful for the other families waiting with us, because our conversations before entering court made time go by without too many nerves hitting. But then, we were told we would be next.

As we entered the courtroom, an overwhelming feeling of calm came over me. We have been waiting for this day for 14 months, and it was here. As we sat down, Nolan noticed a computer and the microphone. He spent the entire meeting trying to touch them. No one seemed to mind and the judge began asking us questions immediately. Some were ones we had prepared for, a couple we had not expected, but were easily answered. Then the judge directed a question to the boys. "Are you ready to welcome a sister?" Liam's response was wonderful! "Yes, but I am a little afraid of dolls, so kind of."

The judge and translator laughed at his answer and then went right back to questioning us. It lasted maybe five minutes and we were asked 8-9 questions. As the judge asked the last question, we could tell in her tone that the mood had changed a bit. The translator began, "Up until this point, everything looks good and in order........" - cue long, ominous pause. My heart rate sped up. Then she continued, "The judge wants to know that she will not be abandoned again, so she needs you to swear that you will love and care for her forever. We both answered, "Absolutely" and that was that. It was a painless process and the judge was professional and warm. We shouldn't have worried about this piece for a second.
The Court Crew

We walked out into the hallway, surrounded by other families who, although there for their own court appearance, for that moment were there for us. There is no feeling in the world like being surrounded by people who feel every single thing you feel, as the exact same moment. It is strange and incredible how quickly these bonds are made and how tight they hold.

Although we were the third family to go out of nine and we were told we could leave after our appearance, we opted to wait and support our friends as they went before the judge. When we had all finished, we had a very quick question and answer session with our Holt chaperone/translator/goddess. At this point we were told that custody would be around four weeks from court, if there would be no public notice and six weeks from court if there was. We are so hoping for four weeks!

We all left the courthouse together, walked to nearest subway station, and all piled on the same train. Once back at our hotel, we needed a long rest. Although we didn't DO much, it was yet another emotionally draining experience. Joe and I reflected on the questions asked, our answers, how amazing our boys had been the entire day, and our overall experience.

After a bit, we decided to celebrate making it through our biggest outing in Seoul with another round of Korean BBQ. We were told of a place right across the entrance of our hotel, so wandered that way, got lost, found it, and were then promptly told they only take reservations. We then headed down to the mall to find something else, because it was far too cold to wander the streets and we were all too hungry to wait. We found a Korean BBQ restaurant in the mall. It was good, but nothing like the real things we had experienced the day before.
Round Two: Korean BBQ

With court behind us, today we get to enjoy a guided tour of Seoul. This tour will be led by a student volunteer (usually in their early twenties) who wants to practice their English. This will be the first time we will have access to someone who knows the city very well, and can easily communicate with us, so we know it will be a wonderful way to experience Seoul.

Korean BBQ and Namdaemun Market

Nolan loved his salad
Liam loved it all!
After seeing our sweet girl for the second time, we met us with two other families who are here to meet their babies as well. We went to a Korean BBQ restaurant that was absolutely amazing! The waitresses brought over side dish, after side dish of yummy things to try. Then came the hot coals and a bit later, the meat to cook on them.

We all loved the experience of sitting on the floor, having the food cooked on the table in front of us, and creating our own lettuce wraps full of yummy things from all over the table. The food was delicious, and we had a wonderful time visiting with other families who "get" all that we are feeling, and processing, and hoping for.
Friends bonded through babies
and Korean BBQ

When we finished up, we headed back to the hotel for a rest. Everyone was exhausted from another busy morning. After resting for a bit, we decided to head to Namdaemun Market- another thing at the top of our "To Do" list. We packed up and headed to the subway.

Namdaemun is amazing! Alley, after alley, after alley of things to purchase and eat. Although it was an overwhelming sight, we were not at all overwhelmed by the market. I'm sure watching so many YouTube videos about the places we are visiting has helped us to feel more comfortable and confident in our ability to find our way.

Within steps of the subway station, we found our first snack, tteok-bokki- rice cakes in a spicy sauce. So yummy! As we walked around the first few stalls, we found a great deal of bulk items- chopsticks, magnets, dolls, key chains, etc. We continued into a section with a lot of fabrics and some warmer winter clothing. There were sections for spices, kitchenware, stationary, seafood, etc. The items seemed endless.
Korean Pancake!

We found more yummy snacks like Korean Pancakes filled with sugar, cinnamon and nuts, and Kogo (Korean corn dog). Within feet, we found a lovely smelling bakery stall and we couldn't pass up the donuts. We continued wandering the aisles, looking for hidden gems. Although we found many items, we have already planned to do a "Market Tour" on Saturday, so we held off buying anything (other than food).
More Namdaemun

At this point, the boys were so tired they could barely walk, so we decided to head back toward the subway. About halfway there we found one of my must-tries, egg bread! Of course we had to get one. It was the absolute best thing I have eaten since coming to Korea. I'm drooling just thinking about it!

Right before getting back to the subway entrance, we noticed that we had found the children's clothing area. Maylee's FM had mentioned that she is in need of bigger shoes at our last meeting and had requested that we bring her some on Monday, when we have our last visit.

Korean Donut
Egg Bread Heaven!
At our very first stop we found a super cute, warm pair of boots. We got them for 8,000 won, less than $8! As we made the loop back to the subway station, I found many, many more items that I need to get before we head home. So many cute things for our littles!

We made it back to our hotel, got a pizza, and went to bed early. We knew that the next day would be a busy, important, and draining day, so we knew we would need all the rest we could get.
Maylee's new boots

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Making Steps

Yesterday was the best day we've had in Korea, so far!

We woke up, me early, but the boys were able to sleep in a bit. We went up to breakfast, then got ready for our second meeting with Maylee. I was bit nervous, because I have heard from several families who have been her, in this place in the adoption process, who have said that meeting #2 was harder than the first. That their children realized something was happening and fought against it and them. When we got to our meeting place, Maylee wasn't there yet, but her little sister and foster dad were. This too made us a tad worried. Where were they?

A few minutes later she and her foster mom stepped off the elevator. She smiled and waved at us right away, but then cowered and snuggled FM when we all reciprocated. We followed them into the same playgroup room as Maylee's FD and sister. We started by giving her a bag we had gotten her a Lotte World. Her FM had told us in our previous meeting that she loves to fill bags with toys and carry them around. At first she wanted nothing to do with it, but then picked it up and put the toy phone she brought with her into it and carried it away.

I followed her to a shelf filled with toys and tried my best to interact with her while she picked them out. All the while, the boys had found a giant MegaBrick fort and were playing quietly. They would come over periodically to check in and attempt play, but Maylee is very independent and tends to shrug them off. Although this kept happening, both boys were so understanding and patient.

Just a few minutes into our meeting, a member of Holt staff came in to tell us that Maylee was diagnosed with the flu and that we need to try to keep the boys away from her, so they don't get sick. Then she told us that they didn't want Maylee to get anyone else sick, so we would need to go back to the Holt building, so we could visit alone. We walked the couple blocks back, with Maylee's coat's bunny ears flopping adorably as she walked.

Once in the new room, everything calmed down quickly. With no distractions, just us, Maylee warmed up immediately. She began interacting with us as though she has known us forever (not like parents of course, but people she is comfortable with). She walked up to Joe, handed him a water bottle, and called him "appa"! This is huge! She recognized him, said it out loud, and initiated contact with him. They then began blowing bubbles together, which was the most adorable thing.

While Joe and Maylee were playing, I was chatting with FM through a Holt staff member who was translating for us. We learned that Maylee is a huge eater, is very smart, is independent, sleeps well, is very organized, and does not like to share. FM also said that Maylee had talked about us non-stop after our last meeting. Repeating "eomma, appa, oppa" over and over again. We saw a lot of these traits in out meetings. She LOVES snacks, picked up on games very quickly, but wanted to do things- even hard things, herself. She also always knew where the snacks, blocks, and bubbles were.

After a bit. I moved closer and Maylee gestured that I should hold the bubble bottle for her. We played with bubbles for quite a while, her trusting me, yet not. She squealed any time I held the bottle too long, or she felt as though I would take them away- like when the wand got close to her lips and I tried to help her bring it out a bit. That girls tasted a lot of bubble solution.

She then moved back to snack and then stacking blocks. She let Joe pick her up, so she could reach the top. Another huge step! After being a successful block-stacker, she headed back to the toy bin, where she tripped. She got stuck on her back, as only toddlers do and reached for me to help her up. She REACHED for me! She did this once in our first meeting too, but that seemed to be more out of need. I was the only one near her then. This time, foster mom was sitting next to me.

Soon our playtime was over. Our little girl had made such big strides in bonding with us. We know that we will have a very long way to go, but with having two very good meetings and making such big progress already, we are feeling so much more confident in our ability to support her during her grief and the transitions that lay ahead of all of us.

There were still no hugs and picking her up was totally on her terms only, but we feel so relieved at both of these things. We are actually so thankful that she is showing concern and not jumping right into comfort. These are signs that she would attach with anyone or no one at all. The fact that it is happening slowly is actually great. It means that she can make healthy attachments, which always take time.

After out meeting, we met with another member of Holt staff to discuss court. She told us what we will need to bring, wear, and prepared us for some questions which may come up. Nothing was a surprise to us, as we have read everything we can about this topic and asked questions of friends who have walked this path before us.

There was so much more to yesterday and I will write another post later today about or wonderful lunch with our friends and our visit to Namdaemun Market, but for now I feel the need to close my computer, review my answers for the questions that could be asked in court, and to just be.

Shockingly, I slept until 5:30 this morning, and with this post on my mind, the thoughts and nervousness of court has just hit. Yesterday was the best day ever, today I'm a nervous wreck. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Nolan's Big Birthday: Lotte World

Another day, another 4:45ish wake up. Time to tell you all about Nolan's super special fifth birthday here in Seoul:

Our day began a bit later than the days before. The boys slept in to almost seven. Huge progress! When Nolan began stirring, I quickly found all of his gifts, hidden throughout the suitcases. Once all were found, we began singing Happy Birthday and laid his gifts out on the bed. His smile was so filled with excitement and surprise, it was just the best!

After opening and playing with his new toys for a bit, we got dressed and headed down to breakfast. We ate quickly, knowing that our taxi would be arriving soon to take us to Lotte World, an indoor, children's theme park. We have been talking about visiting this place since the day we knew we would be traveling to Korea. We had no idea at the time, that the day our visit would fall on would be Nolan's big 5.

The taxi ride was longer than our others, about 45 minutes, but it was nice to be warm and know that we would make it there soon. We have made great progress with the subway, but if we are headed somewhere important, where time is of the essence, we have opted to take a cab instead.

When we entered Lotte World the boys lit up! Their eyes and smiles were twice their normal size. Coming into the main area is very surreal. It is gigantic. Aspects of it look like a mall, other parts remind me of Disneyland. All of it is pretty cool.

We wandered around for a bit, taking it all in. We tried a couple of rides, but each one has it's own opening time and several were still closed. We finally came to the carousel, one of Nolan's all-time favorite rides, and hopped on. We continued to wander the massive building, finding rides and attractions hidden in corners. Everyone, except Liam, loved a ride called Sinbad's Adventure. He was not a fan of the drops or the dark. The ride was similar to Pirates of the Caribbean.

We got lunch, went on rides, saw shows, ate ice cream and did a lot of people watching. We spent all day exploring the building, spending such a great day together. We left Lotte World in the early evening, knowing that the boys' energy would be fading fast. After returning to our hotel, we unpacked from the outing and asked Nolan what we wanted for his special birthday dinner. Of course, he said Taco Bell. We have yet to find a Taco Bell here, so we talked him into the Mexican restaurant in the mall.

While at dinner, Joe and I had the realization that, although our boys have been amazing troopers for this entire trip, yesterday was by far their best behaved and happiest.

After dinner, we stopped at dessert stand and Nolan picked out a piece of cheesecake for his birthday cake. When we got back to our room, the boys ate their treats and turned on a movie. We were all happily exhausted from one of our favorite days in Seoul. While I was changing for bed in the bathroom, Liam ran to the door to tell me that fireworks were going off on the river, just below our window. While watching the spectacular show, Nolan made the comment that the fireworks must be for his birthday. We have no idea the real reason, but it was a very special coincidence, that I hope he remembers just this way forever.

"Hey, remember that really special birthday in Korea, when they did a firework show, just for me?!"

Although we loved Lotte World, there were some things we wish we would have known before going.
Here is a list of some advice/information we would like to pass on for others who may go there in the future:

1. It's cold! We all wore our lightest sweaters and T-shirts, thinking it would be nice and warm inside. The boys seemed fine, but I was freezing the entire time. I'm not sure if the reason is the massive ice rink in the middle of the park, or if they just choose not to heat the building and it's winter. Everyone else seemed to know, because they were still wearing their big winter coats while going from ride to ride.

2. Check the heights for riding before you go. We tried to do this, but were unable to track it down. Most of the rides have a height requirement of 110 cm. Nolan was just shy of that, so we were turned away from ride after ride. I was worried the second time it happened. but he took it like the big boy he is now and moved right along to the next one. Eventually, we found a map that listed all the rides and their height requirements, so that we could just avoid them all together.

3. There is a small kiddo area, but it is not consistent. Nolan could ride most of the rides in this area, but some were geared more toward toddlers, and one we were turned away from because he was still to small- in the small kid area! Like I said, he took it like a trooper, but it was hard for mom and dad to see him turned away over and over again on his special day.

4. The souvenirs are very reasonably priced! It kiddo (including Maylee) got one before we left. Liam picked out a light up sword with "battle sounds", Nolan got what looks like a light up ray gun, and I picked out a character bag for Maylee, as Foster Mom said that she loves to fill bags with toys and carry them around. Each of these were 15,000 won or less. 1,000 won equals a little less than one US dollar.

5. Be ready for your personal space to no longer be a thing. This is more a general piece of information about traveling in Korea, but it was more obvious at Lotte World. Koreans are SO polite, welcoming, and helpful, and they tend to not share our social rules when it comes to space. Waiting in lines, was full of pushing, people getting in and out of line, and even some ladies touching the boys faces.

6. Be ready to take candy from strangers. Our boys are SO loved here in Korea. We have been stopped everyday, multiple times a day, to be told how handsome they are and then they are given candy. This is the first time when we have told them, it's okay to take candy from a stranger. Ha ha ha! I think Korean women must line their pockets every morning, on the chance that they will see children to dote on.

It really was such a special day for our Teddy Bear and for our family!

Today, we see Maylee again!
The perfect ending, to a perfect day!