04 Mar Journey to Gideon – Part 1
After 10 long months of waiting and dreaming about this day, we are finally here in Korea to meet our son! The past two weeks have been a blur of buying plane tickets, planning our itinerary, learning a few Korean words, and getting Gideon’s nursery (almost) finished. We went from being a “waiting family” to being a “family with a court date” literally overnight, and the shift emotionally and practically has been much more of a jump than we expected! Lots of people have asked us how we are feeling, and even now – 5 days into our trip – it’s hard to put into words what is happening in our hearts. To finally be here, on the other side of the world, within hours of holding our little boy, is completely surreal.
Being a waiting family came with the deepest emotions I’ve ever felt. As I described to a friend about to embark on the adoption process, our adoption process has been our highest highs and our lowest lows, our best days and our worst days, all wrapped up into 13 incredibly hard but incredibly beautiful months.
But being an about-to-travel family (and now a traveling family) has been such a whirlwind, I’m not sure we’ve had time or space to process our many emotions at all! So far, it’s exciting and scary and just a tiny bit overwhelming. Add in jet lag and having to pay extra close attention to everything because some things are in English and some are not, and our hearts haven’t quite caught up to our brains. I did, however, cry about 12 times on the plane to Korea, so I think my heart is well on its way to finally being back in the same hemisphere for the first time in over a year!
We were so hoping to blog every day, but jet lag has been intense. So let’s catch you up!
DAY ONE (TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 27)
We flew out of Louisville at 8:15am and made a quick stop in Atlanta, where we hustled to the complete opposite side of the airport and checked in with our parents one last time before leaving the United States. I cried as we walked down the jetway, and then again as we waited to find our seats. Annnnd then I cried a third time as we settled in for the 14 hour and 27 minute flight from Atlanta to Korea. I mean, this was it! We were finally en-route to our baby boy!
Our flight path took us over most of the United States, then followed the curve of the Earth over Alaska. We briefly crossed the ocean before dipping down into Russia. Finally, the plane took one last big swing out – almost over China – to avoid North Korea, and before we knew it, we were saying anyeonghaseyo (“hello”) to Incheon, South Korea!
We made our way to customs through the cleanest and most organized airport I have ever seen! You guys, you could just about eat off the floor anywhere in Korea, it’s just that clean. Even the bathrooms and trash cans are immaculate. As Brian likes to tease me for noticing, literally even the trash in Korea is clean, haha.
After a little bit of a struggle (we’ll blame it on the jetlag instead of our atrocious sense of direction and being in the entirely wrong terminal), we called the shuttle to our hotel, aptly called the Incheon Airportel. Our driver had already checked us in, so we headed straight for the 11th floor.
Our hotel room for the night was cozy and comfortable (except the mattress, which was evidently made of concrete). You don’t wear shoes inside living spaces in Korea, which makes me exceedingly happy, as we don’t allow shoes in our house either! Even in hotel rooms, you’ll find slippers by the door and an expectation to remove shoes before entering. Our bathroom had a bidet, which is pretty standard for Korea, though I still wasn’t brave enough to try it (I did, however, almost unintentionally try it on my face, as I was about 2 seconds away from mistaking the bidet button for the button to flush, haha). So far, the décor in Korea has been clean and simple, which means it felt right at home for both of us!
We were so tired, Brian and I texted our family back home and fell asleep almost immediately!
DAY TWO (THURSDAY, MARCH 1…yep, we crossed the date line and skipped a day!)
I was literally just telling our friend Kelli the other day that Brian and I really don’t get jetlag, but we woke up at 3:00 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep! So we organized the photos we took yesterday and headed outside for a walk. Our walk turned out to be even shorter than expected, however, as it was 20 degrees, windy, and, even with two coats, uncomfortably cold. So we made it once around the block and headed back upstairs to pack for the airport.
It took us a while to get checked in for our flight, so we grabbed a quick bowl of pho, bought a Soohorang Winter Olympics tiger for Gideon, and boarded the plane for Taiwan!
Taiwan. As many of you know, we started our adoption journey last January fully expecting to adopt from Home of God’s Love in Taiwan. In fact, we felt completely certain God had spent the three years we waited to start the adoption process preparing us very, very specifically for Taiwan, so when we called All Blessings to find out that particular program in Taiwan had just closed (like within weeks before I called), I was completely devastated. I spent most of that week calling every last agency in the US who facilitates adoptions from Taiwan, and on the very last call, a lady from WACAP told me kindly but firmly we wouldn’t find what we were looking for in Taiwan. That’s when I had called All Blessings again, knew we were in the right place, and let them (and God) lead us to South Korea.
But still, something in our hearts keeps coming back to Taiwan, so we promised our friends Josh and Jessica Williamson – and their daughter Hosanna – that we would come visit, and we set aside the money before we even signed the adoption application for Korea, just to make sure we made it happen when we finally traveled to meet Gideon!
We wrote more about this back in the second post ever on our blog, but we met Josh and Jessica “by chance” just after college, at a dinner we had been invited to “by chance” the morning of and almost didn’t attend. “By chance” the four of us were seated at the same table, and we ended up connecting over the fact that we, by some crazy “coincidence,” wanted to adopt from Home of God’s Love in Taiwan, and they were soon to move to Taiwan indefinitely with an organization called One Mission Society (the organization which, as God would have it, runs Home of God’s Love, a big factor in our love for that program).
Since then, we have absolutely fallen in love with their hearts and their passion for children and young adults on the edges of the culture in Taiwan – those who don’t have families (or have unstable families), who are at risk of being overlooked by society, and especially those who have special needs. They were such a huge support for us when we found out about Gideon’s delays and possible diagnosis, and we also think they are just really awesome people to spend time with! So needless to say, we were more than a little excited to be on our way to the 3 Williamsons!
We landed in Taiwan after an uneventful 3-hour flight, made our way through customs again, and then met Josh to take a 3-hour subway/train ride back to their home in Hualien! This was the first time Brian and I had been on a train for the purpose of actually getting to a destination, and now I kinda want to take trains everywhere! The 3-hour journey turned out to be a really fun way to see the countryside between Taipei and Hualien and also enjoy our first Taiwanese meal (a “box lunch” purchased from the appropriately-named No. 2 Box Lunch Store, which consisted of rice, pork, greens, and a tea egg).
We had our first encounter with a tea egg in Singapore last year, but I was too intimated by the fact that it looked suspiciously like it was rotting that I couldn’t actually bring myself to try a bite. But our first day in Taiwan I talked myself into trying my first tea egg, and I’m now a big fan! Tea eggs are basically just hardboiled eggs, but instead of water, the eggs are boiled in a tea/soy sauce mixture that somehow manages to remove all “egginess” of the egg and leave a really nice, slightly salty taste. They are easy to spot in the various food stands around Hualien, as well as in all 7-Elevens, which are apparently as big here as they were in Malaysia!
We arrived in Hualien and found Jessica and Hosanna, then we went back for a short visit at Josh and Jessica’s house before dinner. We’re staying at the OMS guest house, which is super nice and just one floor below their apartment!
Dinner was in downtown Hualien, just a five-minute drive from the guest house. We enjoyed Wang’s Tea House – our first Taiwanese bubble tea! – and then explored the downtown area just a bit before Brian and I could barely stay awake any longer. Chinese lanterns still hang across the main streets from Chinese New Year/Lunar New Year, and they make the streets so colorful! The Lantern Festival is happening this weekend, and we can’t wait to see what the celebrations look like here!
DAY THREE (FRIDAY, MARCH 2)
We woke up at 4:00 this morning, proud to have at least slept past 3:00, and opened our curtains to find the most amazing view! It was hazy when we arrived last night, so we couldn’t see anything, but Jessica had told us how incredible the mountains were. Even still, we had no idea they were so close! Taiwan is even more beautiful than I imagined!
Josh, Brian, Hosanna, and I started our day with breakfast and the morning market. We tried four different types of traditional Chinese breakfast foods, which Josh all affectionately called “fried bread,” because Brian and I couldn’t keep up with the names, haha. The flat bread reminded me so much of roti in Malaysia, except it was even better here, because they fried it up with egg. Holy cow, it was amazing!
The morning market in Taiwan isn’t so much official as it is familiar. At some point, food vendors just started setting up their fruit, vegetable, and meat stalls in the middle of one of the main streets through town, and it just sort of stuck. So every morning, before noon, the street unofficially closes for the market, and every afternoon the road reopens for driving.
We got to see many different fruits and vegetables I had never seen before, and we tried jujubes and bell fruit as well!! I had forgotten how shocking it is to see entire chickens and pig snouts and lots of various parts of animals we generally don’t eat hanging up for sale, but it was super interesting to see how the market comes together! You might have whole plucked chickens (oh, fun fact, many farmers here in the US sell “a fourth of a cow” or “a half of a cow;” well, at the morning market, you could buy a fourth of a chicken, which was literally a raw chicken cut directly into fourths!) right next to textiles, right next to spices, right next to fruits and vegetables. But everything is super clean, and the meat and produce are picked or prepared that same morning before market.
After breakfast, we dropped Jessica and Hosanna off at the hospital for Hosanna’s routine evaluation, then Josh took Brian and me to get tea from Ding Go! Tea is big in Taiwan, including cold teas made with real fruit, and we had at least 10 kinds of tea in the 3 days we were here. I’m definitely going to miss teas when we head home, because they are delicious and super cheap (usually less than $1)! We took a beautiful walk along the ocean before heading back to the hospital.
Everyone in Taiwan (including those who have been on a resident visa more than 6 months) has a medical card, which holds your health insurance and health record. So you simply go into the hospital, insert your medical card, and all of your appointments and health records pull up on the screen. You see your provider for the day, and then you head to check out, where you pay your bills and pick up your medicine, all at the same time.
We found Jessica and Hosanna, and then the 5 of us made a quick stop by a few food stalls to pick up food for a picnic by the beach! Anyone up for some pig snout, intestines, or heart? Josh ordered us tofu, sweet potato greens, and “baozi” (prounounced like bow-zit, but without the “t” on the end), which were dumpling-looking puffs of amazing. Baozi has a light, fluffy dough on the outside and delicious meat on the inside, and Brian says I only ate 5, but I definitely think it was closer to double-digits because they were just that good.
We enjoyed our beach picnic, complete with gorgeous blue water, 77-degree sunshine, and a bunch of monks in sandals enjoying the beach too.
We returned to the guest house while Hosanna napped, and then we set out to see a temple with the Williamsons’ Chinese teacher and friend Achilles. This particular temple, like most temples in Taiwan, was a Daoist/Buddhist temple, which combines elements of both religions plus ancestor worship. Religion in Taiwan is a hodgepodge of peaceful Buddha and his (her?) bodhisattvas, mean-looking Daoist gods to protect the bodhisattvas, and rituals that honor ancestors and prevent them from being “wandering souls.”
After the temple, we tried mochi for the first time! And also happened to see the biggest geode basically ever. Mochi is basically very sticky rice with filling on the inside. We had peanut mochi, which meant the filling was just very finely chopped peanuts!
For dinner, we enjoyed an all-you-can-eat-in-two-hours meal! The table had a hot pot and a built-in grill, and the staff kept the meat and vegetables coming for two full hours. We kept grilling and boiling and eating until our two hours ticked out.
We ended our night at the “night market,” which actually happens every night, but it was especially big this particular night because it was the start of the lantern festival. The lantern festival itself, at least traditionally, is a time to light and release lanterns so that the “wandering souls” of your ancestors can follow the lights and find their way back. Because actually releasing a bunch of lanterns is a massive fire hazard, most of the festival decorations now center around hanging red paper lanterns that made everything so colorful during our visit!
I can’t remember what the deliciousness in the above middle photo is called, but it’s basically a crepe with ice cream and super, super finely crushed peanuts inside, which makes it essentially an ice cream burrito. I may not remember the name, but I remember it was ah-mazing! A not-so-delicious delicacy we didn’t end up trying was “stinky tofu” (doufu), because we could pretty much imagine what it might taste like (absolutely dreadful) from the smell that periodically graced the night air. And yes, that girl in the right photo above is holding cotton candy, and yes, we did watch the guy in the booth behind her make it by hand. What a treat!
Once again, we nearly fell asleep standing up, so after the night market, we headed back to our room and crashed hard.
DAY FOUR (SATURDAY, MARCH 3)
We woke up finally feeling like we had bested our jet leg, so we set out with Josh and Jessica for more “fried bread” and a trip to Taroko National Park!
We took a photo in front of the entrance to Taroko, which I think makes us officially part of the Taiwanese culture now, haha. Taroko is one of nine National Parks in Taiwan and, at 1000 feet deep, is the world’s deepest marble canyon. Marble is huge in Taiwan, and the Taroko gorge was absolutely incredible to see (and also slightly terrifying, because #fearofheights).
I may or may not have braved a suspension bridge out over the gorge. I also may or may not have only made it 30 feet before turning around and running back like my life depended on it. Guess you’ll never know.
On the far side of the gorge, there is a tiny village with a temple, which we explored a bit before Brian and Josh were recruited to help move a large pedestal by one of the temple workers. She even made them take off their shoes to prevent defiling the temple!
We ate lunch in the same little village. We had rice cooked in bamboo and sausage (both tribal foods), and then fried rice, Taiwanese cabbage, and dumplings, which were all SO good! The dumplings had both soup and meat inside, so to eat these particular dumplings, you just barely took a bite out of the side, then drank the soup out, and then finally finished the whole delicious thing!
We rounded out our time in Taroko enjoying the sites on the way out of the gorge, and then we returned to Hualien, where we walked up and down the shop-lined streets and purchased some last-minute gifts. Oh, and we drank more tea because it’s Taiwan and we love us some super cheap fruit tea.
Our afternoon consisted of playing Sushi Go, catching up on life, and learning more about the Willamsons’ ministry here in Taiwan. We don’t have any photos, but those were some of my favorite moments of the trip!
Dinner was a traditional Chinese meal, presented family-style on a table with an enormous Lazy Susan, which allows you to spin the dishes from person to person instead of picking them up to pass. Sweet and sour pork, cashew chicken, white rice, spinach, bread, and hot tea rounded out our last big meal in Taiwan.
We visited one last night market before heading home and enjoying a few hours of Sushi Go, which might be my new favorite game. We then soaked up a last few hours of talking and sharing life before we fell asleep for the last time in Hualien!
DAY FIVE (SUNDAY, MARCH 5)
We spent our last morning in Taiwan saying goodbye to three of our favorite people, then Josh took us all the way back to the airport so we wouldn’t get lost. The Williamsons are wonderful hosts, y’all, and they know us too well, haha.
We ate a super crowded lunch before boarding the plane back to Korea. I spent the last flight till Gideon writing a letter to his foster mom, which meant I spent basically the whole flight with tears streaming down my face. I think that was the moment everything started to sink in. This is real. We are back in Korea. And in 36 hours, we will meet our sweet, handsome, precious, wonderful little boy! Even our Arrival Card said we were officially here for our boy!
(Fun side note: We saw the American Paralympics team at baggage claim.)
We unpacked our suitcases in our teeny tiny AirBNB, and then we enjoyed a quick dinner in Jongnu-go (complete with the most perfect kimchi I’ve ever tasted).
We prepared all of our gifts for Giddy’s foster parents and social workers, and then we braved the strange washer/dryer combo, which was quite the experience. If you missed our video, check it out over on our secret Facebook page (or message me to be added).
And now, adoption tribe, it’s time for sleep! Just one more day until our lives change forever. Mommy and Daddy are so close to giving you the biggest hug ever, Giddy Jae.