Today after our morning calm, we stroll up to Hapjeong. We eat lunch in a little fish restaurant at the end of a row of little restaurants in an underground alley in the Mecenatpolis Mall. Carson gets a whole grilled mackerel and a simmered mackerel kimchi soup, and despite the intimidation involved in eating something that is watching you, it is one of the best meals we’ve had. Among the side dishes here they serve us miso soup, and you know you’re in a strange land when miso soup tastes like comfort food.
Brady and Olivia have a meeting with their foster families, so we spend an hour and a half in a small meeting room with them. Carson and I spend most of that time playing with one of the little girls Olivia’s foster parents currently have, a darling little thing, eighteen months old, in pink ruffles and tulle with a pink ribbon in her straight black hair. She’s not much for smiles or chatter, but she lets me hold her and she bows to Carson when he gives her a chip, and we fall a little bit in love.
It’s clear both families still love Brady and Olivia; having seen her only a few days past, Olivia’s are less emotional this time, but Brady’s Omma sits clutching her phone with tears in her eyes. Among all the chatter and pictures and asking the children if they remember this and that, I think there is a moment when their real mother wants to remind them all that these are her babies now and it may not be in their best interests to tear them open with memories of things lost, but she does not. She remains gracious and is only rather tired once it is over. But I think most touching of all is the boy who was Brady’s brother. He’s fourteen years old now, tall and thin and quiet. They’re eight years apart and, brothers of the age they were when they parted not being usually inclined to have many deep conversations, it is rather difficult for them to reconnect in a room full of people and little time. Mostly he just looks from his phone to Brady and back again, sitting a little hunched up, occasionally asking a quiet question to someone sitting close. When the time comes to go the foster brothers hug, the tall one folding up his lanky frame to squeeze the small one tightly. And I think that adoption, like every other great and powerful thing we humans do, has its layers of heartache as well as joy.
There’s a little alley close to Sangsu Station that looks as though it leads to a restaurant and nothing else, but if you walk down it, you find yourself in a glorious maze of streets closely lined with more restaurants, coffee shops, and small boutiques. Some of the streets are sloping, most are narrow, and all hold more pedestrians than cars. This is where we wandered on our double date, and this is where we eat tonight, next to an open window in a place called Little Papa Pho. I find the pho pretty enjoyable, and Carson finds the pad thai pretty deadly. It makes his throat swell, but after a little panic he survives. Then he takes another bite to make sure it was the pad thai that caused it.
Frozen Greek yoghurt tastes better than I would have guessed, and nitro cold-brew coffee tastes worse, despite how cool it looks. We sit on the patio outside a gelati shop for a long while, because there is perfection in the air. The temperature is balmy to the point of being neutral, and around us lights grow brighter as night falls and the sky turns to black velvet. No stars are there in the city. Music slips around us, everything from Disney to ABBA to Rihanna to something Korean, depending where you listen to, and there is an edge of cigarette smoke in the air of the evening street. Across the way there is a second-story coffee shop all in white with green plants and a friendly lady barista, and a little further down there are people sitting in an open-windowed Korean barbecue restaurant, grilling in the centers of their tables. The proprietor of the gelati shop asks me if I am a traveler.
We walk home slowly, pausing often to look and linger and photograph. It’s a beautiful night, a beautiful city. We’re going to miss this.