After 14 years, lots to catch up on

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After 14 years, lots to catch up on

Last week, the JoongAng Daily wrote about the Whartons, Americans who arrived June 24 for a 16-day Korea Homeland tour. The family visited Korea’s largest adoption agency, Holt, to learn more about their adopted Korean children, Melanie and Curtis. Though Melanie’s foster mother was found, the Whartons had difficulty locating Curtis’s. But their fortunes turned on the 13th day.
For Curtis, 14, it was surprising but wonderful news to learn he would meet his foster mother before leaving Korea. He had traveled thousands of miles from Maryland, in the United States, to see the woman who had cared for him from birth to four and a half months of age and was his link to Korea.
“I’m really excited,” beams Curtis, appearing much happier than 10 days ago when he was told he could not meet her. His mother, Rhonda Wharton, says, “This puts perfect closure to our trip ― meeting Curtis’s foster mom.”
The family arrives at Holt Children’s Services, in Seoul’s Mapo district, at 10 a.m. Shortly, an older woman in a bright pink suit walks past them and enters the office. Yang Hye-sun, a Holt employee, wastes little time before offering introductions. “This is Curtis’s foster mother,” he says, introducing Moon Bong-shim, who is 69.
Curtis, shy, sits awkwardly while his parents urge him to hug his foster mother. After a spell, the two eventually embrace. The group then heads to a meeting room downstairs where gifts and more kind words are exchanged. Asked if she remembers anything about Curtis as an infant, Ms. Moon smiles. “Not much,” she admits. “I’ve taken care of more than 150 children in 25 years. I can’t remember them all.”
They hug once again, while Melanie, Mrs. Wharton and her husband Allen document them with cameras and camcorders. Ms. Moon pats Curtis on the back and caresses his hands. “I hope you grow up to be a good man,” she says.
The children’s birth mothers were not available ― and neither Curtis nor Melanie, fearing rejection, wanted to push for a meeting. “I may do that when I’m older,” Melanie says.
The Whartons’ weeklong trip across the countryside, from Mount Seorak in the north to Busan and Gyeongju in the south, has offered Curtis a new perspective on Korea.
“It’s clean and fresh and the people are friendly,” he says of his newly discovered homeland. His mother couldn’t agree more, saying, “The people are so nice; everyone has been extremely helpful.” Adds Melanie: “It’s been fun. It’s very colorful.”
The family concurs that tasting local delicacies in the Mount Seorak area ranked as the most peculiar experience. “We had raw fish, sea urchins and octopus pieces that were still moving,” Mr. Wharton relates. His wife squints, noting that she did not have the courage to indulge in the squirming seafood.
“The food was a little too interesting for my taste,” Curtis says with a wry smile. Mrs. Wharton’s most memorable moment was watching the percussion troupe Nanta.
The tour ended Tuesday, and the family returned to the United States. For Curtis, “It was a very special experience.”

by Choi Jie-ho
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