2.28.2014

Our Korean adventure, Part II: Toddler travel in Korea

Well, we were all kinds of concerned about bringing Little Man on this trip, but I can honestly say that we'd do it again! Some of the most powerful moments for us came from watching him experience Korea, a place we've read and talked about often. He was an incredible traveler and exceeded all our expectations which was a really happy discovery.

We had talked a lot about the trip and what he would see at each step, and he had it all memorized. When we got on the plane he marched on, buckled his seat belt and never looked back. He only had a hard time about six hours into the flight when he was exhausted and couldn't fall asleep. The tears lasted about 30-seconds and he was done. Other than that, for both flights, he watched the televisions, played a little iPad, and we only opened about 2-3 of the activities I had planned for him in either direction.

When we finally arrived Friday night in Korea we were totally wiped out. Another traveling family whom I had connected with through my Facebook adoption group were sweet enough to meet us at the bus stop when we came in, carried luggage and walked us to our hotel. No thinking required! Yay!

Jet lag was a bit of an issue for us the first few days. We had a hotel with a kitchenette which was a lifesaver. Little Man was usually up about 3 a.m. Sometimes we could get him back to bed until 4:30 a.m., but a typical day had us up around 4 a.m. and making macaroni and cheese for breakfast. The bummer with this was that we spent a lot of hours hanging in our hotel room because nothing was open yet.

We kept most of our days really light. Traveling with a toddler means you take things slow...painfully slow. We would head out in the morning, do or see something, return to the hotel for naptime, and then venture out again in the afternoon. I wish that we could have visited more cultural sites while there, but because of our schedules with Little Brother, that just didn't fit into our days.

Our first day in Korea we stayed close to the hotel. We checked out the Buddhist temple Bongeunsa which was beautiful and so peaceful! Because of our difficult schedule, it was also one of the few places we went where Little Man would experience traditional architecture. After the afternoon nap we hit the aquarium at Coex, a giant mall one subway stop from our hotel.

Sunday we ventured further from the hotel, heading about 45 minutes away to Seoul Tower and Namsan, which Little Man loved. It's wooded and beautiful but it was really foggy, so we couldn't see much. We walked about 30 minutes up to Namsan with Little Man in a backpack. After than, we splurged and took the cable car to the top. It was a fun ride but would have been amazing if it were a clear day.

Seoul Tower has a tradition of people placing locks on the fences and other areas to proclaim everlasting love. This tradition seems to be a Korean thing as there are places near the North/South Korea border where people have done the same thing. In 2011 we put a lock for Little Man up, but an entire fence line of locks had been removed, including ours. Totally a bummer.

This time we brought a brass lock, which The Man had engraved all of our names onto. We searched for a good place to put it where we hoped it wouldn't be removed. Who knows if it will last an eternity, but it was fun doing it.

One thing many of our friends have asked us about was how the Korean people responded to Little Man. We often get double takes here in the states, and in Korea, it was the same. People would see him and smile at him, then I'd watch their eyes travel up to look at us. Some people went out of their way to smile and nod at us. Some of the older people would seem to have a look of disdain or anger on their faces. Not sure if they always looked like that or if it was a reflection of how they felt about Westerners adopting Korean children.

Overwhelmingly though, the interactions were on the positive. People treated us as they treated others with young children, standing up to give us a seat on the subway, etc. Many people asked us if he was Korean. Then they wanted to know if he was 100% Korean. And many asked if we were his parents. Even if they couldn't speak English, we got questions when they would point to him, and then point to us questioningly.

One thing Little Man struggled with was that Koreans tend to be touch and feel children, even when they don't know the child. Americans are a bit more reserved in this. A stranger might reach out to pet Little Man's arm if they are talking to us about him, but Koreans just got right in his face. They would touch his hair or tickle his cheek. Some people whom we had just met actually wanted to take him from our arms and hold him. He doesn't like people being in his space so he usually turned away or refused to look at them. I don't blame him.

The other thing I found really funny was Koreans CANNOT HANDLE A CRYING CHILD. Seriously. They lose their minds when a baby or kid is crying. Several times in our trip Little Man would cry if he was tired, but usually as a result of me telling him he couldn't do something. Women would then run over to us, saying oh-gee-mah (which means don't cry) and start giving him things. While we were visiting the sister of our Korean teacher (here in Wisconsin), Little Man started crying and she dug in her purse and handed him a Lego watch (which we later saw in the store for $30!!). I thought she was just entertaining him but she refused to take it back! A stranger gave him a fresh roll of vitamin drops after he threw a fit about wearing a hanbok. The flight attendant gave him a bunch of stickers when he fussed because he couldn't have a third brownie during the flight. The list goes on and on. Our boy is smart enough to come up with tactical plans that benefit him, so I'm sure if we lived there he'd be throwing fits in public all the time. Eek.

One of the most emotional and beautiful things about our trip was visiting with Little Man's foster parents. We have not been in contact with them since Little Man came home. I had sent back a book and USB drive with videos, and written them letters, but hadn't had any response from them. I wasn't sure if they were interested in seeing him or not, but contacted our agency and asked them to let the foster family know that Little Man would be with us on the trip and if they wanted to meet, we'd love to.

Happily, they said yes! They live about an hour outside of Seoul and our visit with them happened on our last day there. It was so great to see them! They arrived with a 3 1/2 year old boy and I thought it was another foster. But it ends up that after Little Man left Korea they were really heartbroken. He was their 5th foster and they decided they couldn't do it anymore.

They had done special needs placements and when a baby was relinquished with severe special needs, the agency had called them for an emergency placement until a foster home could be found. They took the sweet boy, and ADOPTED HIM!! The Foster Mother apologized over and again for not staying in touch or responding to any of our letters, but explained they had been very busy with multiple surgeries and doctor's appointments caring for their new son. Really, I didn't expect them to respond, I just wanted them to know that Little Man was OK!

They couldn't get over how grown Little Man is and thought he was even cuter now that he speaks English. Ha! They were surprised to see how he continued to eat through our entire meeting and expressed concern that he might get fat. That totally cracked us up. This child doesn't know how to sit still for a minute and he burns calories faster than he can get them in. And, I think it's a funny insight into Korean culture that they are worried about his weight!

They shared that the family used to call him "inhyung" which means "doll" because Little Man was such a pretty baby. They miss him a lot and said the entire family will gather to watch the videos we send on the USB, and often cry. They are so happy he is doing well and pleased that he is learning Korean and exposed to Korean culture.

Little Man and their son got on well and Little Man was so sweet in sharing his toys and snacks. Their son is basically blind, having only limited vision from the corner of his eye, if things are about 2  inches away. This was hard for Little Man to understand, but he was incredibly kind to him. We were proud.

I gave them a website where we load photos and videos so they can see him anytime they want. And they were thrilled to know that we plan on returning with both boys in the years ahead. They also gifted Little Man with an AMAZING hanbok. The first hanbok they sent him home with three years ago still fits, but just barely! We've received so many compliments on it because it's very high quality silk and embroidery. His new one is just as gorgeous and should fit him until he's 6-7 (unless he gets fat, ha!). We agreed to keep writing letters and to try and stay in touch.

After a huge photo session, Little Man showered them with hugs and kisses (he had been restrained until then). Foster Mom got teary holding him again and said it felt so good to have him back in her arms. We were all crying by that point. It's just so amazing to know how deeply these children are loved by their foster parents before they leave. Little Man was only with them four months but they have enough love for him for his lifetime! It's really a powerful thing. By far, one of the most amazing moments of our trip.

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