A Travellerspoint blog



This morning I got a call from Morgan telling me that she'd just been notified that her Korean father has been located and that he is anxious to hear from her. The same Mrs. Kim from the Eastern adoption agency that we met with while in Korea has spoken with Morgan's father. When meeting with Mrs. Kim earlier, Morgan had given her a photo album of her growing up. That photo album is now enroute to her father.

The rest of the story is Morgan's.

Posted by tcsmiles 08:02 Comments (2)

Final Musings, Thoughts and Observations

I arrived home safely and on time, but not so for my luggage. Fortunately, it caught up with me the next day. I’m working on getting back into Eastern Daylight Savings Time, but find myself napping (or wanting to) at very odd times. Then again, napping is my hobby so maybe I am back on track! Everyone was glad to have me back, and I was happy, too.

A few more closing observations have come to mind:

1. 1n the US, we pronounce the capital of Korea as “sole”, but in Korea they turn it into two syllables: “sow-el”.

2. To check for the weather while in Korea, I’d enter “seoul weather” in Google and a graphic 4-day forecast would show up. Didn’t really need to, though as all the days were hot and humid in a way that I have never before experienced.

3. Some blog readers have questioned the number of children we have as I only mention nine of them. The nine girls were our original family, but in the early to mid-1990s we also adopted three grandchildren. Jasmine, Tevin and Sean are now all in their teens and are still at home. Just for the record, I have been attending parent-teacher conferences (as a parent) for 28 years. Only four to go as our youngest will be a high school freshman in September!

4. The adoptees in our Tour were all women and ranged in age from 21 to mid-50s. For all of them, this was their first trip back to Korea since having been adopted to the States. Most were adopted as infants, but others were adopted as toddlers and school-aged. They are all extraordinary people who, despite their very humble beginnings, are marking their place in the world in wonderful ways.

5. After two weeks in Korea and trying hard not to point after learning it is considered very impolite, I find I’m doing pretty well in using the accepted gestures, except now I don’t have use them since I’m back among pointers!

For being such a remarkable trip, I find it difficult to put the experience into words. If I had to sum up my trip, I’d have to say that all in all, the palaces were gorgeous, the history impressive, the food fabulous, the sights/sounds/smells were out of this world, and the inside look at the adoption situation was fascinating. But these were not reasons I went. I went to be whatever Courtney and Morgan needed: a shoulder, an ear, a hug, a look, a heart. And, if I could be that to other adoptees on the trip too, that was a bonus. I hope I did my job.

Posted by tcsmiles 20:05 Comments (5)

Last Full Day in Korea

It is hard to believe that this was our last full day in Korea. It feels like we just got here yesterday, yet I’m feeling ready to go home. Today was the first day that we experienced the rain of the monsoon season, but there were sunny skies by the afternoon

Judy met us for breakfast, then after she did some translating work for one of the adoptees, she and I went off to find a bookstore. It was the one last thing I wanted to do while in Korea. I picked up a Korean copy of Where the Wild Things Are and Charlotte’s Web in addition to a few other children’s books in Korean. I also wanted to experience the Seoul subway so Judy and I took that back to our hotel. We said our good-byes and Judy headed back home and I went to the hotel for some more packing.

A bit later in the afternoon I took one final stroll down Insadong and picked up a few last-minute gifts and took in the sights. When I returned, another mom on the Tour, Vickie, invited me to go up to the rooftop with her. Since we had not done that the night before, I went. I could now kick myself for not going up there for a bit every day while I was here! It is gorgeously landscaped, with walkways, seating areas, a pool and Jacuzzi. Next time!

This evening we all met in the lobby at 6:50 to go to dinner and a performance at Korea House http://www.kous.or.kr/foreign/eng/koreahouse01.htm. The girls who had purchased them all wore their hanboks, traditional Korean gowns. They looked so wonderful!!

Once back at the hotel, we decided to meet one last time all together, so after an unsuccessful attempt at meeting on the now-closed roof area, we ended up in the breakfast room. There was such heart-felt sharing of what this Tour has meant to these young women. There was talk of joys and fears when past and the future rub noses. After tearful thanks and good-byes, it was time to go. They may not be together in person again for a long while, but they will hold each other in their hearts forever.

And there’s always Facebook!

for today's photos click here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=193587&id=667527023&l=2c6b7674e2

Posted by tcsmiles 08:58 Comments (2)

Sunday, Sunday

While some Tour members chose to attend "St. Mattress of the Springs" this morning, a fair number of us decided to attend the 9AM service at the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul. It is the largest Protestant church in the world with 830,000+ members. For each of the seven Sunday services, the church fills to capacity which is about 30,000 people. If you are not Korean-speaking, headphones are available in the seven most popular languages. This video clip will give you an idea: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kC1RWCXu9sc&feature=related

Morgan and I, instead, took a cab and attended the 9AM mass at the Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul. The 9AM Sunday mass is the English mass. I am quite certain I heard an unusual blend of Korean/Irish?/Scotch? while we were there. The cathedral, built in the late 1890s, was the first brick-laid Gothic building ever built in Korea. Twenty types of bricks in two colors, red and gray, were used in the construction of this unique structure. Take a look at the website; it is gorgeous! http://www.mdsd.or.kr/pilgrim/eng/default.htm We liked the cathedral gift shop, too!

Following our last lunch together as a group, some of us went to a baseball game while others continued shopping, packing and resting. The baseball game, the Doosan Bears from Seoul against the Hanhwa Eagles from Daejon, was held at the Jamsil Sports Complex in Seoul http://stadium.seoul.go.kr/stadium_eng/new/02.html= which was part of the 1988 Olympic complex. By the way, the Bears won!

In addition, two of our Tour members traveled to their birth mothers’ homes today to be with their newly-found extended families.

Rumor has it that we all end up on the hotel rooftop yet this evening for some poolside drinks and some last times together.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Korea. We have a free day, but will meet for one last dinner together .

Time to start packing for home!

for today's photos click here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=193213&id=667527023

Posted by tcsmiles 04:57 Comments (2)

Shopping and a River Cruise

After the past two very emotional days, today was for fun! We all decided to scrap the original cultural outing for the morning and opted for a day of shopping. Our first stop was Itewon. As one website puts it, Itewon “is considered to be an international borough beckoning travelers and expat residents to its shopping, restaurants, and vibrant nightlife. It is home to about 22,000 people, however, between 4000-5000 reportedly visit the commercial district daily. Itaewon is thick with people of various nationalities, as well as large numbers of US military personnel from the nearby Yongsan Garrison. Due to the area's ethnic diversity, Itaewon is home to restaurants serving cuisine from many parts of the world, including India, Thailand, and Mexico, cuisines which are not common in Korea.” We were told that it would be more expensive, but that there were some specialty shops not to be missed.

Our next shopping venture was to NamDaeMun Market, one of Korea's largest wholesale markets covering over 10 acres. It is filled with over 1,000 shops, stalls, retailers, street vendors, and has several department stores nearby. Here you can find clothes, shoes, fabrics, tableware, flowers, vegetables, ginseng products, toys, watches, not to mention souvenirs galore . Walking through this market is an experience in itself and is not for the faint-hearted. Imagine a single traffic lane full of cars and people and store fronts, with many other similar lanes intersecting one another. Add to that the sounds, the smells, the colors, the signs. My words cannot adequately describe the scene. Hopefully, the photos will.

With the wonderful shopping area of Insadong just outside our hotel as well as the many shopping trips to trips to the trendy Myeong-dong market made by the younger set on this Tour, we’ve all been spoiled with the quality and quantity shopping opportunities.

While the market time was fun, I found myself realizing that unlike the earlier picture I had in my head, THIS was the kind of market in which some of our children had been abandoned. At one point during the afternoon, I found myself separated from my two faithful, fellow-parent traveling companions and momentarily felt a rush of panic come over me. While I found my friends immediately, I tried to think of what it could have been like for a 2-, 4-, or 6-year old to be in that same situation, but with no familiar face around again -- ever. Very humbling.

The bus got us back to the hotel about 4:30 where we rested and readied ourselves for the evening dinner cruise on the Han River. The cruise was a relaxing, fun way to end a wonderful day. The food was excellent, the fireworks on the river were lovely, and the company was delightful.

I’ve come to realize that these Korean-born women I am with on this Tour are all part of a very exclusive sorority. The entrance requirements are very stiff, but the sisterhood is powerful and, I believe, long-lasting. I am blessed to be among them and lucky enough to feel like a housemother.

Photos here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=196940&id=667527023&l=766d3f8492

Posted by tcsmiles 06:03 Comments (0)

Search Day

Today was the first day that our group split up and went in many, but meaningful directions. A few of the young women traveled (with translators) to their home towns to see places significant to their past. A few others traveled back to Ilsan and Molly Holt for a memorial service in honor of the death of Molly’s mother, one of the founders of Holt. Others went to their original Korean adoption agencies to review file material on their own adoptions, and in some cases to meet with birth families and foster mothers. Others still had no more information than when they arrived in Korea. It had all the makings of a very emotional day.

With Courtney assisting some of those who returned to the Holt office, Morgan and I and another family (mom, dad, Korean-born daughter) with whom we’ve become closer as each day goes by, went to the Eastern adoption office with Sandy, the other co-coordinator of this Tour. We all met with the president of Eastern Social Welfare Services, Dr. Kim, and she graciously did her best to explain the history of Korea and how it resulted in intercountry adoption for its children. She was genuinely pleased to see the two girls who had come through her agency. We also received a tour of the facilities, which very much like Holt’s earlier in the week included a medical clinic and a baby home. The number of small babies was surprising, as was the realization that while they are well cared for, there are just not enough hands to do all the loving that babies so desperately need. With the new Korea adoption law that all children available for adoption need to be considered for domestic adoption first and can only be made available for intercountry adoption after a period of five months. With domestic Korean adoption rates remaining very low (due to the continued emphasis on maintaining pure bloodlines), it means that many more children will wait.

The Eastern staff provided us a wonderful lunch in their dining area and we were joined by Eastern’s chief financial officer who had a long history working there in various capacities over the years. His stories of adoption over the years was fascinating.

Following lunch, because there was no new news in Morgan’s case, I made some purchases in the gift shop and we returned to our hotel. Morgan took off shopping and after resting a bit, I did the same.

As the other adoptees started drifting back the stories started being shared. One learned that much information that had been included in her Korean documentation had not been translated as part of her English documentation. She learned more about the specific situation that lead to her relinquishment. Another met with the woman who was her foster mother when she was an infant and learned that as her first foster child she had remained in her thoughts all these years. Another met her birth mother and an older brother and had a joyful reunion that will be continued with even more family members in a few days. It was a day of tears and smiles. No one is quite sure what next steps will be, but for many this trip has resulted in knowing at least a little bit more about who they are and where they came from.

Courtney was not able to go with us this evening, but Morgan and I attended the “Summer Classics” concert of the Seoul Metropolitan Youth Orchestra. As one website stated, Founded in 1984, the orchestra is now made up of 120 young musicians chosen via a tough selection procedure. The Seoul Metropolitan Youth Orchestra has in the meantime served as a significant springboard for more than 600 musicians, who now play an important role in the musical life of Korea both at home and abroad. Since 1987, concert tours have taken the orchestra to Hawaii, New York and Japan; chief conductor of the ensemble since the year 2000 is Tae-Young Park. Courtney’s friend, Ji-Young, is the principal bassoonist of this orchestra. The program was a familiar one and included Gershwin, Tchaikovsky, Puccini, Verdi, but my most favorite piece was Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra----with Korean narration! It was delightfully captivating!

Once we got back to the hotel, the adoptees were gathering for another night on the town. After their day today, they deserved it!

Tomorrow is a free day most all day until we all meet at 5:00pm for a dinner cruise on the Han River. Time is running out -- time to finish the shopping!

Photos here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=192927&id=667527023&l=1886c91a5a

Posted by tcsmiles 07:11 Comments (2)

Another Perspective

After writing my entry on the unwed mothers' home, I had to share with you all, one of the adoptees perspective on the same visit. You can see Shannon's blog at [url:http://seoultrip.weebly.com/]

Suwon Goundeul - one of five Holt houses for unwed and pregnant women. We arrived there around 10:30 this morning. The center's focus is school for the mothers, pre and post-birth therapy and career education. Up to 29 women can live there, women there range from 13 to their mid-30s. The center is supported by government subsidy and donations. Sandra pointed out that if/when there is interaction between the biological and adoptive mothers it is an interaction of trusting and gaining trust. I agree with her that when adoptive parents are afraid of biological parents and minimize their presence, it is like saying a part of me doesn't exist. Support of a child's curiosity for their culture and biological family is a significant part of who the child is and will be.

After we met with the director and staff we headed upstairs. We met with the women living there to talk and answer questions we had. We sat on the floor with the groups facing one another in the main common space. They offered us some OJ, bananas and moonpies. Jennifer was back as our tour guide for the day, and also translated.

A young woman in a black jumper and a white shirt with an abstract red heart across the front asked us a question. Sam began to answer and got choked up. I think we collectively felt what she did too. For me, this was the first time I'd talked with women who were facing the same questions my birth mom had. Their present choice was a thought my mother had at a point in the past. Even in a foreign tongue, the emotion and gamut of conflicting thoughts in their heads and hearts was apparent.

Jennifer's translation was an act to be witnessed. She was in the most emotional position out of all of us! She not only heard and understood the words, but them had to recite them again. As someone's daughter and a mother herself, it was easy to understand why she had to stop many times to collect her composure before she could finish.

A vital part of what we said today came from the adoptive parents on the trip. Susan shared that she celebrates her children's biological mothers on Mother's Day. David spoke about the gift Lauren's mom provided to them, her decision gave them a family and Lauren.

One of the women who'd given birth recently had her baby there with us. When he started to cry I thought about how I'd feel if that was my baby and I knew he was only with me for a while longer. It hurt my heart and I started crying. How impossible it has to be for her, knowing she would be separated from him soon. I had to write what I wanted to communicate on a piece of paper because at that point I don't think I could have made it through a full sentence. My piece was that I'd never been angry, just felt lucky. I told them I thought they were brave and strong and thanked them for being here and sharing with us. After we wrapped up we took a group photo with everyone.

As the group stood up, a girl came up to me. She looked me in the eye and just wrapped me in a hug. I held up my camera to ask if we could take a picture. Her name is Chang Eun and that is her and me above[photo on her blog page]. The brief, wordless experience changed me quite deeply. Our combined experiences bridge my past and her present. Without any words, that full circle moment became a part of my memory I might not ever forget.

Posted by tcsmiles 05:58 Comments (1)

Mothers: Unwed and Renegade (and an Update)

Knowing that this morning’s activity would be one of the most painful part of our time in Korea, a number of adoptees opted out of going to Goundeul, one of Holt’s homes for unwed mothers. This particular facility, which is at least an hour away from Seoul, houses a maximum of 29 woman. On the day of our visit they were at capacity.

Unwed mothers in Korea are held in great shame, not only to themselves, but to their families. These girls are often disowned by their families and have no where to go. Unmarried pregnant women without partners are forced to choose between giving up their children or having difficult lives with them. In many ways, these unwed mothers are viewed and treated the way unwed mothers in the U.S. were treated some 60-70 years ago.

As we arrived at the facility, we were ushered to what looked like a little classroom where the director of the home explained the plight of the women living there. She told us that some of the women have decided on adoption for their babies and some have made the difficult decision of keeping them. Another group of women have still not made decisions. Afterwards, we moved to another area and our group met with the unwed mothers in large open area with us all sitting on the floor in a big oval. There was an awkward silence, but our wonderful Korean translator, who goes by the name Jennifer when she is translating, got the ball rolling along with the director of the home.

The young adoptees wanted the birth mothers to know that they had good lives and were happy, but that they still think about their birth mothers. The unwed mothers were eager to learn if the adoptees were angry with their birth mothers for relinquishing them; none were. As one of the four adoptive parents in attendance I told the young mothers that in America we have a special day just for mothers, but on that day, in my heart I celebrate my children’s birth mothers. The young mothers were cautiously curious if we are happy if our children want to find their birth mothers and, to their relief, all four parents at once smiled and said yes. The young mothers also asked questions about racial differences, but the adoptees were able to voice their experiences. It seems very hard for the birth mothers to understand the “melting pot” concept of America since Koreans believe so strictly in blood lines. As questions were asked and answered, the boxes of Kleenex that had been on the floor were passed all around as the tears flowed freely.

Our adoptees were eloquent in telling the young mothers how thankful they were to their birth mothers for allowing them to have the life they have had. Some of the adoptees in attendance will be meeting birth mothers within the next few days making today’s meeting a look into their own past. Jennifer, our adept translator, had never before translated a session between adoptees and birth mothers. She would often choke up and tear up, both in Korean and in English.

When the session was over, we broke for lunch at a local Korean restaurant--again with some great new Korean food!

Afterwards, the three adoptive moms in the group decided to go renegade and split from the group to head back to the hotel for some shopping while the rest of the group went on to visit the Hwaseong Fortress (http://www.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264204) at Suwon. But first, we first wanted to go back to the unwed mothers’ home to purchase some of their lovely homemade items as gifts and souvenirs. This was quite the adventure as none of us spoke Korean and the women at the home spoke very little English! Nonetheless, we shopped well! The staff there hailed us a cab that took us back to Seoul. We took a little shopping trip through Insadong upon our return.

The adoptees had their second hanbok fitting at 6:30 tonight in preparation for our final dinner together in a few days. I decided not to go to the fitting appointment so that I can be delightfully surprised at our special dinner.

We learned tonight that police were able to locate two men in Korea with the same name as Morgan’s birth father. As Korea has recently changed their national ID program and there are problems with the transfer of old ID numbers, one of the leads resulted in a phone number to what is now a business and not a person. The other lead is still in question as the woman who answered the phone at that number said that it is not her husband. The police are trying to locate and question the man himself for verification. So, we still wait. In any case, the man does not live in Jeun Ju as he used to. With that news, Morgan needs to decide if it is important to her to go see Jeun Ju.

Tomorrow begins the city visits for adoptees. Some of them will be meeting birth families or foster mothers while others will be traveling to places that are significant to their pasts.

Photos here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=192649&id=667527023&l=a6d0c86b01

Posted by tcsmiles 05:23 Comments (3)


Several members of the Tour joined a larger group of tourists on a day trip to the DMZ, the Korean Demilitarized Zone. It is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. It is approximately 160 miles long and about 2.5 miles wide. It is most heavily militarized border in the world. With the Berlin Wall a thing of the past, the DMZ is the last remaining structure in the world that divides a country.

A the end of the Second World War, after the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule, the country was divided into two zones along the 38th Parallel: the industrialized north under Soviet occupation, the south under the Americans.

The 1950-1953 Korean War came to an end with the division of the country along the 38th Parallel. To the north, with the backing of communist Chinese and Soviet troops, a Stalinist state was fully established; while in the south predominantly American forces with the backing of the United Nations supported the régime there. This division, which reflected ancient factions in Korean society, helped shape geopolitics for the remainder of the twentieth century.

There are very strict rules for visiting the DMZ. In addition to the rules of no pointing, gesturing or putting hands in pockets, according to the official website [url:http://www.tourdmz.com/english/main.php], instructions to visitors include:

1. You must be ready and waiting at the designated spot 20 minutes before the departure time on the day of the tour.
2. You must have your passport with you on the tour.
3. The tour is not permitted to children of the age 11 or below.
4. No drinking of alcohol is allowed before the tour.
5. You must follow the instructions of your tour guide while on the tour.
6. Please be sure to reconfirm you reservation on the day before the tour as there can be schedule adjustments made due to the sudden scheduling of meetings, military training or VIP visits.
7. Visitors in the following type of inappropriate attire cannot enter the premises.*
8. If a part of tour schedule is cancelled by unexpected condition of Panmunjom, No refund.
9. You can bring your camera. However you are strictly asked to follow the instructions of your tour guide when and where to take a photo. (No camera with zooming capacity more than 100mm are no allowed to carry to this area)

  • Dress code : No jeans(the color has faded and torn), no leather pants,

no short pants, no sleeveless tops, no training pants, no slippers and no military style attire.

Our group was dressed appropriately, but a few other travelers on the trip were not. Fortunately, a few women shared sweaters or jackets to those who accidently were sleeveless and the bus driver offered his own shoes to a gentleman who had worn sandals.

President Clinton once described the DMZ as the “scariest place on Earth”. The place stands as a reminder just how fragile and tentative peace really is.

Courtney and I were among those not touring the DMZ today. It gave me an opportunity for some down time (my right leg is not fond of the kind and amount of walking involved in this Tour), it gave Courtney some time to catch up on some of the work involved with this Tour, and it gave us a chance to spend some time together.

Once the DMZ travelers returned, we walked to dinner as a group to a restaurant in nearby Insadong called GoGung. On the menu: bibimbap (pronounced: bee-bim-bap). Yum!

On the docket for tomorrow, a visit to the Holt-sponsored Suwon home for unwed mothers and to the Hwasung Fortress.

Photos here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=192441&id=667527023&l=54b0513f8d

Posted by tcsmiles 03:55 Comments (2)

Korean Folk Village

Imagine, if you will, a Korean version of Colonial Williamsburg and you will get an idea of what the Korean Folk Village is all about. It is an open-air living museum-type facility that is the “home of the true Korean heritage where many features of the Korean culture have been collected and preserved for succeeding generations to see and learn about.

A traditional marketplace offers the exotic flavors of Korean cuisine from various regions. Shops stock a variety of traditional handicrafts and souvenirs. “Farmers’ Music and Dance” and “Acrobatics on a Tightrope” are performed in the performing arena twice a day. In spring, autumn and on big holidays, traditional holiday customs and ceremonies of coming-of-age, marriage, funeral and ancestor memorial are recreated.”

Here is a short video clip that shows you some of the performances we saw today: [url:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3zYimDpIwU&feature=related]

Following some shopping in the Folk Village, we again boarded the bus and were taken to a restaurant for a marvelous lunch, then back to the hotel.

Once a the hotel, I had made arrangements to meet with Sarah Park who happened to be following my blog and visiting in Korea, too. Sarah, a children’s literature professor at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN, was born in the U.S. but as a child was sent to live in Korea with her Korean grandparents. Her research specialty is children’s literature for and about adopted youth in general, and transracially adopted Korean youth in particular. She used MY book in HER research! Small world! It was fun and interesting to meet her and introduce her to other adoptees and their families.

Tomorrow it is off to the Panmunjeom and the DMZ.

Photos here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=196951&id=667527023&l=5e40144c7d

Posted by tcsmiles 04:55 Comments (0)

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