If you deliver half my family to one place and half to another once, then shame on you. If you do it twice, then shame on me, in the sense of "everyone will blame me even though it totally wasn't my fault."
Wednesday was our scheduled tour of the facilities of Holt, the agency through which we adopted all three kids. A volunteer guide arranged by Holt met us at our hotel and instructed the two taxi drivers where to go. Both drivers were familiar with Holt. Unfortunately one was familiar with the business center and one with the reception center, and we wound up at different places, with staff at each center giving contradictory reports on where we were supposed to be. Hilarity did not ensue.
But it all turned out in the end. A Holt administrator showed us the various departments at the business center — where they process adoption applications, and where Holt's doctors do well-baby checkups — and then walked us down a back street, past highly questionable-looking restaurants, to the reception center, where they keep some of the babies. Abby and Elaina were delighted to meet babies, and both got to hold an infant. We watched Elaina really quite closely, inasmuch as her conception of "gentle" does not coincide with that of society at large. I got to remember how light and manageable infants are:
We also got to see, and congratulate, a family leaving with their first child. They looked frightened. But not frightened enough.
Most Holt babies are with dedicated foster families; many such families host scores of babies over the years. Only a dozen or so babies are at the Holt reception center, usually because they have medical needs. Evan came home to us at 4.5 months and Abby at 5.5 months; now most of the babies are adopted at closer to a year. This actually represents a victory for Holt, which has helped Korea move closer to its goal of phasing out international adoption altogether by 2015. Holt's first choice for a child is family preservation — keeping the child with its birth family, nuclear or extended. It's second choice is in-country adoption. International adoption is a last resort — and to be clear, it was even before they had heard of me. Korea's made great strides towards increasing domestic adoption, which in the past has carried a strong stigma. That stigma, combined with the strong stigma against single mothers, has driven international adoption in the past.
Having annoyed the babies enough, we headed off to Itaewon. There we did something embarrassing. Before you judge me, remember we have three kids with us, and one of them was pitching a fit. Yes, we went to Outback:
The food was fine, if slightly odd, and substantially more expensive than Korean food. Afterward, we boarded a bus to Seoul Tower. Why a bus? I mean, I'm really not that green or anything. Well, I think we wanted to explore just how clean, efficient, and useful the public transit is. And our guide suggested it. Ultimately, though, it's a bus, laboring up a mountain.
The bus deposited us at the base of a steep hill. As we walked up it, I attempted with some success to convince Evan that we'd have to climb stairs all the way up Seoul Tower. "All the way?" he asks. "Well, except for the part that has ladders," I say. He was unsure. The key to being able to sell your kids on bizarre claims is to do bizarre things with some regularity, so very little seems beyond the realm of possibility.
We did, in fact, take an elevator to the top of Seoul Tower. The view was impressive in every direction, even though it was foggy.
It was also deafening up there. Several schools had sent tours, and the kids were yelling, and the place echoed something fierce. They all seemed to have cell phones and were using them to take pictures. In fact, everyone here seems to have a cell phone. I know that in America they seem ubiquitous, but here in Seoul they are much more noticeably omnipresent. Dignified elders cart them around and permit them to play pop ring tones so insipid they'd make a twelve-year-old blush.
Back in the plaza below, the kids watched a presentation of traditional dance and martial arts:
The kids also conned Katrina into getting me to buy them ice cream. They got Coldstone Creamery, which has recently opened in Korea. I felt less bad about this than about Outback, because, to indulge in biased American exceptionalism, America's high-fat treat culture is simply superior. No one ever screamed for gelatinous semi-sweet rice cakes. That may explain why I still wasn't seeing any obese people.
We skipped the whimsically located Teddy Bear Museum, inasmuch as it appeared to devote insufficient attention to how much of a badass Teddy Roosevelt was.
Afterward we took the cable car down to Namsan. The first time we were here, when we picked up Evan in 2001, we took the cable car up to the tower, and then my father (who had accompanied us, his first trip to Korea since one courtesy of the U.S. government circa 1959) insisted that we walk back down the hill again. On the day we were getting on a 13-hour plane flight back with a baby. Katrina is still talking about that one. And, for the record, dad required a triple bypass about four weeks after insisting on that walk, which I remind myself on the occasions he sees fit to question my judgment.
We took a taxi back to the hotel. A note about taxis: they are clean and cheap, but my God, the traffic here sucks. Take the worst rush hour in the worst big city and you'll get a sense of it.
Next up: a trip to an aquarium shouldn't involve hedgehogs, and yet it does.
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