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Friday, September 23, 2011

Denouement

We traveled back to the states without issue.  Jaelee was better than ever could have expected, especially considering all she had been through as well as having to endure a 14 hour flight to the United States.  She has become more and more comfortable with us with each passing moment, but she is still tentative/anxious when we leave the room. 

When we arrived at the airport in Minneapolis at 2:10pm with enough baggage to break a camel's back,  I had Jaelee in a back carrier, and all our extra carry-ons and luggage. We limped through our last airport and were greeted by Rhonda's mom Pat, her sister Brenda, but the first to run up to us was our daughter Isabella, wide eyed and smiling.  I bent down on one knee and turned to to my side saying to her, "wanta meet your baby sister?"  Soon we were surrounded by our family and a permanent smile played across my face, we were home.

Fatigue was abated by recanting our tale to our family as we drove to St. Cloud and our house by the Mississippi River.   Little Jaelee sat next her sister the whole way home, smiling.  Saying in the sweetest voice, "anyo" (big sister in Korean).  Isabella gave her a little doll and she went fast asleep on the ride to her new home.


Our last trial came as we lugged all our belongings into our house...the dog!  As most of you know, we have an overactive Yorkshire Terrier named Pippin.  Rhonda and I had talked quite often about our concern(s) over Jaelee's first meeting with this furry devil, but as yet another of a long list of surprises was granted to us.  Pippin was cautious of Jaelee and did not overwhelm her as he does to nearly everyone else.  It was as if he could sense she was someone special. 

So ends this chapter of what will be the start of a wonderful adventure.  Thanks to all who took the journey will us in prayer and spirit.  Special thanks to our Australian friends:  Miles & Shelly, Jack & Kate, Charlie & Donna, Peter & Jocelyn, Michael & Susan, Malcolm & Karen and all of your wonderful children for being like family when we were at the ESWS in Korea.  You represented Australia proper!

I will be adding more pictures and cleaning up my hasty words and typos of the past posts to make this a monumental story for our family and especially Jaelee.

Comments welcome.

fin

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Prayer & Send off

As I'm sure all of you can imagine--neither of us slept well due to the anticipation of the big day.  As we awoke this morning, it's been nothing but a roller-coaster of emotions--anticipation, excitement, nervousness, delight, concerned, wonder, and joy to just name a few.  We paced, we cleaned, we began to pack, and we went to get a few basics from the store (yoghurt, water, etc).

We went to meet with the Social Worker at 3pm (1am your time) to finalize a few things, then off to spend a little short visit with Jaelee prior to the send off.  The ceremonial prayer by Dr. Kim began at 4pm.  It was wonderful (from what I can remember) and then it happened, the foster mother & father gave us her personal items: formula, picture album, clothing, and favorite toys. handed Jaelee over, and we all began to cry with joy and sadness.  









We began to walk back to the hostel and the rest was history.  We got lots of great pictures of this event thanks to one of the Australian couples (Charlie & Donna) who offered to take pics and video tape the prayer for us so we could stay focused on what was happening.

video

We brought her to the common area for all to see (this made her smile and helped with Jaelee's transition). 



So this may very well be our last blog until we return as we will be very busy the rest of this evening playing, crying, laughing, crying again, packing, and probably not getting much sleep this evening.   We will be off bright and early Wednesday at 8am to head off to the plane for our 11am flight. 

We'll see you all soon!!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Exploration of Korean Culture

We began with a slower start to our day today (Monday) as we prepare to have lunch with Dr. Kim, Jin Sook at 11:30am.  We were not sure what to expect, but we knew that some of the other Aussie families were also having this lunch with her today as well.

We filed into a small auditorium, like a small classroom with several chairs all facing a pull down screen.  The power point slide show started and was very professionally done.  All about the Eastern Social Welfare Society (ESWS) and its founder, Dr. Kim Duk Hwang, who past away in May, 2011.  His daughter, who spoke next, talked in English and spoke about how dedicated and driven her father had been, having started this agency in 1971 and built it to what it was today.  She told us how each day he would hike up a near by mountain to a temple and pray for the children each day.  When he retired in 2008, he would do this twice a day.  This agency dispite its location in South Korea was much like Opportunity Manor in Saint Cloud, Minnesota.  Providing for old, cognitively delayed, and disabled Korean people.  Of course its primary difference was its service to single mothers and adoption.  When the presentation/lecture was concluded, we were all invited upstairs to the 5th floor cafeteria for a traditional Korean lunch.
After lunch, we decided to tackle the subway system yet again (not like we have much of a choice)--we had 2 things left to purchase as well as to tour/see the Gyeongbokung Palace prior to attending the Korea House this evening at 5:30pm for a night of Royal Cuisine and Dance.


The palace was exquisite and was a site to see.  It is considered the most impressive palace of Seoul--it has a beautiful pavilion and acres of land.  It once contained over 300 buildings and it is over 600 years old.  Traditionally dressed guards marched to a driving drum beat as we explored the many buildings within the courtyard of the castle.

To end our day out and about, we went to the Korea House at 5:30pm for a night of Royal Cuisine and Dance.  We are thankful to Sherry (one of the Australian couples) for knowing how to speak some Korean as we needed to make reservations to attend and our attempt at doing this was not successful.  When we arrive, we are brought to the one of the Royal rooms where we sit on the floor and are served about 15 courses; from snails to Ox soup to eel and rice souffle.  In all honesty, I would have to say that I was pretty daring throughout considering the texture issues I have when it comes to food.  In the beginning, I would look to Jon to see if he thought I could eat it.  We got to these sugarlike snails and he said it was pretty good.  So, I dive in & pop it in my mouth.  To my surprise, I was having difficulty consuming it. I pulled the chopstick back up to my mouth in an attempt to take it out and of course i missed, so it when tumbling out and onto my plate.  Now, as this happened, I had looked up out of the left corner of my eye and saw a middle aged gentleman (who was sitting kitty corner of our table) who got a big smile on his face and then I am positive he was telling the woman he was sitting with all  about it.  She even looked back at me herself one time.  From then on, I could just see that he was watching me as I continued to put things in my mouth one by one and he would grin in delight to watch my facial expressions as I tried many things.  At the end, he stood up and as he left, he looked at me one more time and placed a final grin on his face as if to thank me for the additional entertainment he received during his meal.

We then moved on to the traditional Korean folk dance, this was incredible and consisted of a variety of entertainment; such as the Korean fan dance; O-gu-mu--Five Drum E-dance; Pungmul Nori--Instrumental Play; and The Grand Concert of Drums.  Of course we took many pictures and flip videoed the entire performance.


After the Korea House, we headed back to the Hostel and spent a couple hours in the common area with all the couples from Australia.  And yes, if we didn't mention it, yet another couple had arrived the night before, but were catching up on sleep and so we met them this morning during the meeting with the President.  They were from, you guessed it, Australia!

Tomorrow is the big day...at 4pm our time (2am your time) we will meet with the social worker, have a prayer done for Jaelee, and head back to the Hostel with our new little girl.  Excitement is mounting...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday was NOT a day of rest

Today, Sunday the 18th, we got up early in the attempts to get a head start on our shopping excursion to the Namdaemun Market, where they say if you can't find it here, it probably doesn't exist!!

Although we feel we have started to get a good understanding of the subway system, we become flawed in our ability to get in and out of it via our card.  Jon decided to place his card on the left side (vs the right) which then allowed another lady to get through & he could not.  I was already through and walking when I heard the guy in charge start to yell--I turned back and there was Jon looking at this guy who was speaking in Korean trying to tell Jon what he had done wrong.  The lady he accidentally let in went back to use her card to let Jon out, but it wouldn't work and the guy in charge continued to speak loudly at Jon and finally waved him over to the area Jon now calls 'the idiot gate' to let him through.  We are pretty sure he may have used a few additional Korean words that weren't nice.

The second blunder of our day with these subway cards was myself when we were getting back and for some reason the card didn't register and I thought that the beep I heard was mine, but obviously with what occured next, I was wrong and it wasn't mine that beeped.  I begin to walk through and the red light comes on and as I continued to go through and just before I am through, these 2 small elevator like doors close in front of me and wouldn't allow me to go through. So, I begin to back up and the same occurs behind me and as it closes behind me, the front again opens, and as I move forward again, it begins to close.  It was like being stuck in the "London Bridges" game or one of those carnival games where you shoot the duck and then it turns to go the other way and then you shoot the duck on the other side and it turns again. Finally, a man came over and i placed my card on his hand held scanner and he reset it or something and then it worked and I was able to exit the subway.  I am really not sure why you have to scan to get out, but that's how it works I guess.

Got lost on the way to the market, asking directions was an exercise in futility as the people either shyed away or didn't speak English well enough to understand/give directions.  Out of sheer luck we stumbled upon this market which stretched on for literally 6 to 7 city blocks!  Once inside, we were surrounded by everything imaginable that you could possibly want to buy:  exotic food, clothing, furniture, toys, electronics, and art.  It was dizzying as you wandered through this labyrinth of goods with cat calls to purchase and throngs of people shuffling in and out.  To give you examples of how purchasing went, I (Jon) was making my way through and as I maneuvered to pass a slow moving group of ladies a man tugged on my sleeve.  I turned to see a small shop that had a variety of nice suits that were packed up into the rafters.  One man ushered me in from behind while another coaxed me forward with beckoning gestures and broken english:  "Best Suit, you buy two."  Before I knew it they had measured and produced one of the best suits I'd ever worn.  The price started at 590,000 WON (roughly $550).  With every attempt I made to leave the shop, it dropped, and before I finally escaped it was down to 180,000WON for 2 suits. This was a pretty typical encounter, and I'd be lying if I told you we were always successful at shrugging off their sales techniques.

So, with all that being said, we continue to strive forward with the challenge of being in someone else's world where we are the minority and very few know our language (or so they say!)

To cap off our evening, we went out to yet another Korean Barbeque (they are all slightly different) with Miles, Shelly, and their 2 children, who are yes, yet another wonderful Aussie family. We probably didn't mention yesterday, but 2 other families came in and guess where both were from?  Yes, it would be Australia.  So, that would be 5 families from Australia now, in case you are trying to keep track.  Following the Barbeque, Jon & I skated/sprinted off to Insa-Dong to pick up a special gift for Isabella.

In the end, after a very tiring and busy day of subways, lots of walking, and a few minor mishaps, we were successful with our mission of purchasing gifts and future Birthday items for Jaelee.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Streets of Seoul

After an unrestful evening of (waking up at 1:30, 3:30, 4:30--thinking it was time to get up) sleep that  must be associated with the time change,we finally got out and about for a second attempt to use the subway system--we managed to make our way over to the Dongdaemun market where they had a variety of things to look at.

We approached a shoe shop where I was successful in finding a great couple pair of shoes.  I only purchased one, thinking I would get back to it to purchase the other pair later.  As I looked up, I saw the most shoe shops that I have ever seen in my life--it was over a block long of just SHOES!! It was amazing and boy was I in heaven.  Due to my small feet, I knew that coming to Seoul had the added benefit of me having a good chance of buying shoes that would fit AND would be adult like. 

Jon was thankful to leave the shoe vortex and make for some landmarks and then on to some local Korean Barbeque.  It is remarkable how the crowds increased during the weekend.  The subways had standing room only, and we were stuffed into the subway cars like sardines.  The smell of Kimchee sweat was thick in the air.

At the Korean Barbeque, our first time ordering without help of the Aussies, we talked into the night surrounded by these remarkable Korean people. A loud drumming and chanting closed in on us from the open seating and we saw a long line of Korean Musicians dressed all in white hammering away at drums, carrying banners that later we found out identified the school they represented and their philosophy of excellence through persistence.  
video

Later it was on to a pub and then back to talk with our Australia friends. 

Our excitement is building as Tuesday approaches and Jaelee will stay with us as our daughter thereafter...more about our thoughts and feelings later.

Friday, September 16, 2011

First Tour of Seoul

After we shared all the wonderful and intricate details of our first 'play date' with Jaelee to our friends from 'down under' and expressed all of our overwhelming excitement that we  will get to see Jaelee and 'officially' get her on Tuesday afternoon.  We decided to attempt our sense of direction skills and meander out in the heart of Seoul.  One of the couples were leaving today, so they we nice enough to give us a few navigating tips and get us started on our way (thanks Peter & Jocelyn and their children Chris & Aimee).

We began to walk the town, as I looked around, it was difficult to know where we were as the signs are written in Korean, with the pronunciation below.   It was a challenge to remember the names of where you were going (example:  Insedong vs. Insesung).

We kept walking in the hopes that we would be able to find our way back (and I wasn't too sure at this point).  We have now entered the subway system and this is where I became quite uncertain about this adventure (yes, even though I am quite directionally literate) and questioned our ability to find our way back without assistance.  This family began speaking of all eight of the subway lines and how they were color coded and tried to explain to us how to got to Insa-Dong (which is the traditional Korean shopping area) & Gyeongbokgung Palace which are near one another and the two places we wanted to visit today.  They showed us how to purchase a refillable subway card and then we said our 'goodbyes' and went our separate ways.  They walked away, Jon & I went down a short ways, stopped and looked at one another and he stated, 'Do you know where to go?' and to his utter surprise, I responded 'No', but we pushed on and began to walk.

After taking the 'green line' to the 'blue line' and then getting off at Jongno 3 (sam)-ga, which was right before getting on the 'orange line' we exited out of the subway and of course were again very disoriented to our whereabouts and which direction to go.  We headed on down the street in search of a street called Insadong-gil street.  On our way, we passed Tapgol Park which in the end helped us to find this Insadong-gil street.  At last, we found the shopping area.  They had great things to look at and ranged in cost between W3000 and W180000.   The money over here is in Won (pronounced Wan) and to give you an idea of the exchange rate, just drop 3 of the zeros and that would be the American cost, approximately or in other words a $10 bill is equivalent to about $1.  After about a 3 hour walk of shopping, we decided to tempt fate and try to navigate our way back.  In all honesty, I was feeling much better after using it the first time and had confidence that we would be able to make our way back and we did.

We met up with one of the other couples from Australia (Kate & Jack) and they were going out to dinner to a place called Buglogi (which was recommended by a social worker) and we decided to join them.  Off we went down the streets again and upon arriving, we realized that a meal ran anywhere between W68000 & W110000 ($68-$110) a person and we found it to be a little on the expensive side as did they (considering they had 3 children as well).  We went on our journey and found a traditional Korean Barbeque to attend, where the meat is cooked in a hole in the table by yourselves along with a few other sides to add to the meat.  We had a combination of beef and pork along with some Souju (rice liquor) and Cass Beer.  We then walked the nightlife for a smidgen and proceeded back to the hostel to call it a night.

Tomorrow is a day of exploration and shopping for the future birthdays of little Jaelee as well as some keepsakes for ourselves and Isabella.  Missing you all, and hope all is well in the states.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

At Last We Meet

With a dry mouth and a lump the size of Buddha's belly in my throat, I rode the elevator to the 1st floor, met with Mrs. Kim, Soo Jin. The doors broke open with an audible clank and a hallway was visible across an open room.  I wandered forward, each step was a step towards a room and my new daughter.  Nervously I chatter with my wife about how exciting this is, but really, I'm thinking:  "Will she like me?,  Could this all go terribly wrong?  How audacious a plan we had hatched,. perhaps too much so.  How arrogant to believe that we could reach 1/2 way around the world...."


AND THEN THE DOOR OPENS


My heart melted as I saw this cute little girl with pig tails (she was wearing the green dress we had sent).  She was with her foster mother sitting on the floor of a play room.  She was shy of us for the first 1/2 hour.  As Rhonda fired questions at the Social Worker who intern would interpret to the foster mother, I scooched forward little by little playing with the various toys in the room and gathering little Jaelee's attention.  Then it just happened, Jaelee's shyness vanished and she was playing and smiling at us.  It seemed like a blink of an eye and it was time for her to go back to the foster home.  We presented a gift to the foster mother, performing the appropriate gestures of thanks, and said our goodbye to little Jaelee. 
We are overwhelmed at how smart and beautiful our daughter is, and can not wait to introduce her to all of you, especially you Isabella.  (See Pictures on left side column & video below)
video

Luckily we were promised another visit which will occur this next Tuesday and she will get to stay the entire night with us at the hotel. 

Arrival in Seoul

We are officially here in Seoul, Korea!  After a short 14 hour flight, we arrived at 4pm on September 15th (which would be 2am your time). It was a 5 star airline, upon departure we were given headsets, slippers, and then right before it was time to eat, we were given hot towels to wash up.  Of course, Jon had opened the towel and placed in on his face (as if to simulate Adam Sandler in 'The Wedding Singer') and then proceeded to wash his hands.  After being on the plane for over 1/2 a day, we celebrated when the pilot told us we were beginning our final approach.

Talk about feeling out of our element when we arrived, it's hard to describe--it was a combination of the jet-lag and the unfamiliar environment in not being able to understand or read the language.  You should have watched us blunder with the Korean ATM!

We were thankful that we didn't have to navigate ourselves on the road, I do not believe we would have been able to find the agency.

Once we arrived at the Eastern Social Welfare Agency (6pm Seoul time, 4am USA time) we met two other couples.  They were back visiting the agency with much older children.  Both of the couples were from Australia, and they were a wealth of information.  We plan on celebrating with them tomorrow after our first meeting with little Jaelee.

Our new friends from down under suggested us visiting the local markets, Gyonqduk Palace, and the War Museum.  They also gave us some insider tips on how to be traditionally respectful and treat Jaelee's foster mom. 

As we begin to acclimate ourselves to not only the time change, but also the lay of the land, we will keep you updated.  As it is 11:25pm, we will have to bid you goodnight as we attempt to get some rest before the big day of our first 'play date' with Jaelee.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Journey Begins

Made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare (very uncharacteristic of us, I know). We both couldn't sleep a wink last night. Spent our time triple checking our packing lists, itinerary, and lamenting about the trials and tribulations of the last two years. Check in went smooth. Our plane takes off at 9am, then on to Chicago-OHare & then a quick 14 hours to Seoul!
It is hard to describe the excitement we are feeling. To be new parents again is a dream come true.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Prolog

Hello from the Sargeants,
We thought that starting a blog would help our extended family to share this experience with us as we venture half way around the world to meet and bring home our little girl, Jaelee.   As I am a hopeless romantic with a flare for imagination and fantasy, I named our story, Quest for the Rose.

A Little History
Let me get you all up to speed.  During the romancing period in Rhonda's and my relationship, we talked extensively, especially about adoption.  At that time we wanted biological children as well, but were enamored by the notion that family was a state of mind.  So with the additional idea of helping a child in need, we kept tucked away in our hearts this philosophy and intent.

In 2008, we pushed to make this a reality by involving ourselves with Children's Home Society & Family Services.  After multiple classes on attachment, parenting and being a multicultural family, we were set to receive referrals from our unanimous international choice of South Korea.  
I would like to tell you that all went smoothly and without tears, but that isn't the real world.  Waiting was definitely the most difficult for all of us.  Every night when I would put Isabella to bed, she would ask:  "When am I going to be a big sister".  If that wasn't enough of a reminder, pictures were sent by the agency to show us this beautiful little girl.  All we wanted was to make her part of our family as soon as possible.

At the end of August we received the most important call of all our lives to date.  Jaelee was ready to fly!