Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Last Days in China - Twenty Two to Twenty Four

Most of that last week in Guangzhou is a blur.  This is partly because it rained a lot –really rained, like in a tropical climate.  So, while the mornings were nice, we were stuck inside most afternoons.  Another reason was that Bill was working almost non-stop to prepare for yet another government audit of his work records.  We didn’t mind him working because most of the family was wiped out, so sitting in the hotel room was not so bad, but it doesn’t make for great blogging.

On Tuesday, we went to a shopping center near the coast and The White Swan Hotel (just about every adoptive family stays there while in Guangzhou).  It is being refurbished, so we were at a local Marriott, but we could visit the shopping centers!  The whole complex is on an island that was once occupied by Great Britain and the stores all had plaques explaining the year they were built (early 1900’s) and their original purpose (banks, embassies etc.).  It was interesting, but our kids had no intention of letting us hang out and read plaques.  Reilly and Sharon were there with one purpose:  to prepare for tea time.  We left China with four distinct Chinese tea sets (four girls, four tea sets) and seven Chinese dresses, each a different size (to account for the neighbors).  Everything was so cheap, it was hard to say, “no.” 

On Wednesday, the whole crew from our hotel went to the “Oath-Taking Ceremony” at the American Consulate.   About a dozen families from our hotel crammed into a bus and drove to the embassy together.  Now that we had both QingBei and ZiXuan, there were eight in our family and we took up the whole back of the bus.  Therefore, I couldn’t really hear the interpreter all that well.  She had a soft voice and despite the microphone, it was a lost cause.  Even the parents in the middle of the bus were making eye contact, trying to see if anyone else knew what she was saying.  I finally just stopped listening, figuring that eventually I’d get the information I needed. …This was a mistake. 

The American Consulate was on the fourth floor of a huge building in downtown Guangzhou.  Our interpreter started collecting everyone’s bags in the first floor lobby, so my kids handed over their backpacks etc. and I thought all was well.  What I didn’t hear on the bus was that we couldn’t take ANYTHING into the Consulate besides our passport and one bottle/diaper per child.  When I got to the metal detector/scanner on the fourth floor and handed over my fanny pack, the whole operation came to a grinding halt.  Bill ended up collecting my phone, fanny pack and another couples things (who, it’s only fair to note, were sitting in the front of the bus) and running back to the first floor to find our interpreter and  have her hold it all.  Of course, he couldn’t find her and ended up going to a bank and paying them $20 to hold everything behind their counter.   Then, since he wasn’t with our group anymore and didn’t have an interpreter, the Chinese who were guarding the elevator wouldn’t let him back onto the fourth floor without a considerably heated conversation.   

He finally found us, only to realize that he was better off in the lobby.  For reasons which are still unclear, the American officials crammed all of us into a small waiting room for about half an hour.  Just as the noise was becoming intolerable, an adolescent American came over to the bullet proof window and had all of us raise our right hand and swear that all the information on our paperwork was true to the best of our knowledge.   That was the Oath-Taking Ceremony.  I’m afraid I laughed out loud over this. We’ve been handing them money and paperwork for over 15 months now and signing the same oath at the end of every document.  If we were going to lie….oh, never mind.  We got our kids Visa packets and headed back to the hotel. 

On Thursday, we went to a huge park right across the street.  The middle of the park was the center of the original city.  There was a huge central building/temple and parts of the original city wall.  Inside the building there was a museum including a map of the city with different city walls outlined in lights showing the city growth over the centuries.  It was really cool.  It would have been a great morning if it wasn’t for the Chinese staring at my kids.  

At one point, I was planning to climb to the top of yet another tower with Bill.  We left the kids at the bottom of some outside stairs and thought we’d just run to the top of the tower and get some pictures.  At the landing, just outside the entrance, I turned around to check on them.  They were all huddled in a corner of the stair way and there were three Chinese men standing well within their personal space and staring at my kids as though they held some life-changing truth within their eyes.  I rushed back down the stairs and got between the men and my kids and got them to back off.    They went to the other side of the stair way, but they were still staring at us for the next several minutes and even followed us as we walked to the park exit. 

I’m afraid this left us all pretty jaded.  They had used up our last bit of patience with staring Chinese.  So, a few minutes later, when a different Chinese man started walking much too close, all I wanted to do was dump the full measure of my wrath right on his head.  I glanced over at him and gave him a mean look, but he just kept coming closer.  Just as I was about to say something really terrible, since he couldn’t understand me anyway, he stepped in front of me to catch my eyes and said to me in English, “You care for Chinese children.  You kind person.”   

I was so surprised by this, I became totally tongue tied.  Looking back, I should have said plenty.  I know that what he said was a statement, but he meant it as a question.  I could tell by the tone of his voice.  And, here’s the thing;  I’m a Jesus Freak.  There is a very specific reason why I care for Chinese children and it is NOT because I am a kind person.  In fact, what seems like an act of kindness to the outside world is really an act of selfishness on my part, but I don’t have much success convincing people of this.  I care for Chinese children because the same God who created the universe and sent His only Son to atone for my sins is, occasionally, very clear about how I might bring Him glory.  At the moment, my brain was reeling over the fact that bringing God glory does not include mouthing off to innocent Chinese who are so surprised by what they perceive as selfless love, they will follow a family across a city park to try to understand more.  I was having a really hard time switching gears.  I knew what NOT to say, which is pretty good for me, but I didn’t have any idea what I should say.  We talked for a minute about how he learned such good English and how we will fix QingBei’s face, then we parted ways.  …I missed my chance.  I’m still annoyed with myself over this.

Anyway, we walked well over three miles that morning, all of it uphill, and took the subway back to the hotel.  Everyone collapsed that afternoon and we spent the evening packing for the trip home on Friday. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

China Day Twenty and Twenty One - Photos of China

We are exactly 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time here.   As I write this it is 5am, Tuesday morning, but it’s 5pm, Monday afternoon at home.   We have three more days here (T, W and Th).  Friday, we fly to Beijing and then to Dulles (in VA).  Because of the time zones, that last flight will take approximately one hour, since we will leave Beijing at 7pm China time and arrive in the states at 8pm EST on that same Friday  (oh, the complications of living on a sphere).

Anyway, when we adopted in Costa Rica and Ukraine, everything was topsy turvy.  You never knew what was going to happen next.  We planned to stay for about two weeks in each country and we were in Costa Rica for a month and in Ukraine for two months.  At any time, an official may or may not want to meet this week, or show up for his/her appointment, or sign your adoption papers etc. etc.  Here in China, we are enjoying the opposite experience.  Everything is happening according to an iron-clad agenda.  There are Americans everywhere, all adopting Chinese kids and all going through the same assembly-line-type week.  We’ve made friends with a bunch of families who are not even using the same adoption agency or staying in the same hotel as us, but we see them everywhere since everyone’s on the same schedule.   

All the days here are essentially the same.  We wake early and send Bill off to exercise.  Then we all hit the breakfast buffet in the hotel (and try not to stuff ourselves) and meet about five other families for morning touring.  We come back about noon for lunch in our hotel room and naptime, then we wander around the city looking for a restaurant that is both clean and affordable for dinner.  By the time we get back to our hotel, it’s usually time for bed.  The few variations that get thrown in here are Bill lugging me along to exercise with him, trips to wal-mart, swimming in the hotel pool or doing laundry in the hotel bathtub. 

On Sunday, our tour was to a local Buddhist temple. It was a 500 year old temple made of four large buildings surrounding a well-kept courtyard.  It was essentially a tourist trap.  Each building held a different kind of Chinese craft for sale: calligraphy, silk, embroidery, jewelry, painted bowls etc. etc.  It was a comical mix of old architecture and new capitalism. 

This was my favorite photo of the day. It’s a soda machine that is at the end of a corridor between two of the buildings. Such scenes make me happy. I don’t know why. 

After the temple, we hit a sort of shopping mall that sold jewelry.  It was huge, four stories high and just rows and rows of jewelry.  I’m not into jewelry, so we went to McDonalds.

This is just one wall of a pearl store.  It had three walls like this and there were at least twenty similar stores.
On Monday, we went to another Buddhist temple that was actually a temple.  I didn’t know this, but there are many Buddahs, each with his own purpose, so this was many buildings filled with many different Buddahs.   

At the last building, there was a Buddhist priest available to bless the children.  We declined.   I can’t help getting annoyed at stuff like this.  Buddhism is the largest religion in China and these people are the ones who were planning to essentially neglect my babies during their formative years, if not longer, and you think I want a religious leader from such a culture to give my child a blessing? 

After that, we went to a spice market.  This was also huge, but rather than a multi-story mall, it was just rows and rows of city streets filled with little shops of spices and pots and …bugs. 

We spent the morning looking for a deep fried scorpion for Paul to eat (I’m going to spare you my thoughts on the Bucket lists of 14 year old boys).   We failed at this.  All we found were live scorpions.  ZiXuan, who wanted me to carry her the whole time, saw a huge vat of scorpions and wanted down.  She went right over to them.  If I hadn’t grabbed her, I think she would have put her hand right into the bowl. 


Both days, we came back to the hotel about 1:00 and napped until dinner time.  The heat here just sucks the life out of us.  It’s in the 90’s which wouldn’t be horrible, but the humidity is stifling and by the time we get back to the hotel, everyone hits the hay for at least two hours. 

We usually eat out at a local restaurant.  Sunday night, we hit a popular Chinese spot.  It was jam packed and, honestly, the food was great, but the staring at QingBei is just so hard to endure, we went to an American Coffee Shop Monday night.  This is ZiXuan, discovering ketchup. 


That is pretty much our days here.  Three more, and then we head home. 

China Day Nineteen - First Full Day in Guangzhou

We are in another ridiculously opulent five star hotel.  I just have to say a few words about this place, because it begs for commentary.  Many of the hotels we stay at have been near shopping malls.  This one is on top of its own shopping mall and that is on top of a subway station.  I say, “it’s own mall” because all of the walls in this hotel are marble and the walls of the adjoining mall are matching marble.  Plus, there are advertisements and signs pointing to the different stores/restaurants between the mall and the hotel.  This place is so fancy, it’s laughable.  It’s like some wealthy benefactor had nothing better to do with his money so he stopped by one day and vomited opulence twenty stories high.  Everything is either marble, or glass, or mirrored or carved. 

The best part is the hotel room itself.  The bathroom has NO WALLS.  It’s all glass windows.  I can stand at my bed and look through a glass window into the bathtub/shower, through another glass wall into the sink/toilet area (am I the only person in China who feels a need for bran cereal and a little bit of drywall?) .  Even better, there is a blind that comes down (remote control) on the outside of the glass window—the bedroom side.  It took my kids five minutes to figure out how to lower the blinds and three milliseconds to figure out how to push the blinds aside and void any thought of privacy for the next week. 

Saturday morning, we took the clan down to the second floor for the plethora of breakfast items in the next buffet.  This one covers about twice the square feet of last weeks buffet, but I couldn’t see too much of it because I was covered in children.  QingBei now insists on sitting next to me at meals and ZiXuan is in my lap almost all the time.  I realize this is ridiculous, but everything in their little lives is so unstable right now, there is no way I am going to add to their stress.  This is the third hotel we have been in with QingBei and the second with ZiXuan.  The upshot was that I sat with the girls and my other kids brought us breakfast items and tried to describe, with wild eyes, the choices they were forced to make that morning (we make them finish their plates, so they have to be prudent). 

After breakfast, we met three other adoptive families to get our Chinese babies a medical checkup for the American Consulate.  Every Saturday, at this same medical center, they have a sort of all-day clinic for adoptive parents.  There must have been fifty families there, all hugging terrified Chinese toddlers and going from station to station to get their babies checked out.  It was essentially un-eventful, except that both QingBei and ZiXuan wanted me to hold them, which was a little tricky, and the last station required a blood sample.    
Of course, the Chinese would not let the parents go into the room while they took the sample, so we had to hand them off to perfect strangers and stand outside a closed, locked door and listen to the screams.  It was awful.  We had to wait in line for about thirty minutes and each child that went in that room came out traumatized and crying.  My girls were terrified and the closer we got to the door, the closer they wanted to be held.   I finally just sat down on the floor for the last ten minutes while I drilled my tour guide about all the different ways/reasons they might let me go in that room with my babies so I wouldn’t have to send them in alone.  This was pointless.  There was no way they were going to let me in that room.  ZiXuan came out crying and QingBei was just hysterical. 

After the clinic, the rest of our tour group went to Wal Mart, but I took the girls back to our hotel for a nap. 

The morning was awful, but the evening was wonderful.  A few years ago, we were a host family for a Chinese college student named Luyi.  She didn’t live with us, but we met her often throughout the year and we love her!  At the end of the year, she moved back to China and is now married and working in Hong Kong.  She and her husband, Lu, came to visit and we had a wonderful time!   After three weeks being surrounded by strangers, I was surprised at how comforting it was to see a familiar face!  They showered us with traditional Chinese presents.  They brought a bunch of traditional toys for the kids, a beautiful set of celadon bowls from their wedding and some traditional Chinese snack food.  ZiXuan went right for the dried shredded squid and QingBei was right behind her. 

We were all sitting in our hotel room, enjoying each-others company, when QingBei suddenly took a good look at them, realized they were Chinese and had a total melt down.  She has no “roof” to her mouth and her mouth/lip muscles are not really functional, so it is hard to understand her speech, but Lu was able to glean that she was saying, “I want to stay.”  Poor Baby, somehow she had the idea that because they are Chinese, they were here to take her away.  I was glad that she was sad at the thought of leaving us, but it did make the evening a little tricky, because she had me in an unrelenting vice grip for the next five hours.  Luckily, ZiXuan, who will not go anywhere near Bill or Matt, went right over to Lu!  So, he carried ZiXuan and I carried QingBei for the rest of the evening. 

We hung out with them for as long as we could, but they had to leave at 9am the next morning to catch the train back to Hong Kong.  It’s so nice to see the people I love happily married and thriving.  We will miss them!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

China Day Seventeen and Eighteen - QingBei Comes Around (phew!)

Thursday was another free day (no adoption paperwork, just hanging out).  Bill and I have walked/ran to the North, West and East of our hotel this week.  It is mostly city streets, street vendors and mopeds as far as the eye can see.  There have been a few parks, but they are so smelly, we have avoided them.  Thursday morning, our interpreter took us south of the hotel.  Not two blocks from our hotel, there is a gorgeous park that is CLEAN with a huge lake, a handful of gazebos, a playground, sand pit, roller blade park, swimming pool (not filled, but still there), amusement park (complete with carnival rides and rigged games with cheeze prizes) and a military style lazer tag set up on the top of a hill.  Plus, there are cement walkways all around the lake, plenty wide with no-cars-allowed and, it’s not stinky. 

I asked the tour guide if he could think of any other time before the last day here that he might have mentioned this.   AAAhhh!!  Honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered much because we’ve been busy most mornings and it has rained most afternoons, but still—we could have run there, rather than the city streets.  It’s just beautiful. 

I thought I should give an update on QingBei, since she was so antagonistic toward me earlier this week.   She would not come anywhere near me, wouldn’t hold my hand and would not even look at me most of the time.  We started off battling this earlier in the week by getting her UN-attached from Reilly.  Most of my kids are addicted to screens—TV screens, Nintendo DS screens, computer screens – except for Reilly, who just loves babies and toddlers.  The other kids like QingBei, but they don’t have the patience to play four-year-old games for hours on end, so they interact with her for a few minutes, until they get bored and then they ignore her. So, whenever we had free time, it was always Reilly playing with QingBei and the other kids on screens.  It was no wonder QingBei became attached to her.  I finally told Reilly that she really had to find something else to do and stop spending all her free time with QingBei.  Reilly was great about this and has really backed off.  Of course, rather than play with me, QingBei drifted toward every other family member besides me over the course of the week.  I looked for a chance to move in, but she really wanted nothing to do with me.

This changed a little when ZiXuan arrived on Monday.  QingBei started walking over to me, mostly to hand ZiXuan things, but at least she was getting close.  She also started playing with me more.  She loves to play tickle monster and hide and seek.  In fact, she is always playing tickle monster.  She greets people by tickling their belly and giving them a playful growl (we’ll work on this later).  I would try to tickle her a few times each day, but she always turned her head and pushed my hand away.  Over time, she tolerated me more and more, but didn’t really acknowledge my existence until Wednesday at the park.  As I wrote, she walked right up to me and held my hand as we were walking to the tower.  This was huge.  It was also painful, because I was carrying ZiXuan (380 steps total to the top of that stinkin tower), and there was no way I was going to let go of QingBei to switch hands.  Luckily, Matt stepped in and carried her so I could finally switch ZiXuan to my other arm.  If only there were triathlon –type sporting events involving baby-juggling, I might have a chance to place!

Sometime during that walk in the park on Thursday, something clicked and suddenly, QingBei was on me like white on rice.  It would have been wonderful, but rather than just hold my hand, she wanted me to carry her and I was already carrying ZiXuan.  The result was that I would end up finding some steps somewhere so I could hold them both on my lap until QingBei was ready to move off again, but on that day, I officially became the mother to two new babies, one that I carry and one who holds my hand as she walks. 
We spent the rest of Thursday in the hotel (essentially swimming and bickering) because of the rain and got ready to fly out on Friday. 

We had a free morning on Friday, so Bill got up early to work out at the fantastic hotel Health Center and I had the morning with QingBei and ZiXuan.  Glory of Glories, QingBei woke up calling, “ma-ma” for the first time.  She also let me take her out of the crib and stuck by me for most of the day.  When I left about 11am to go running, I had to sneak out and when I came back, she was glad to see me.  We left for the airport about 2pm and by then she had develop an almost neurotic obsession with holding my hand.   We flew out at 6:30 and landed at 7:30pm.  She sat next to me on the plane and stuck by me like glue as we drove to the hotel, checked in, and went to a local McDonalds for dinner. 

We are now in Guangzhou (at another five star hotel)  for a week to process paperwork for the American Consulate.  Now that QingBei has bonded with me, I feel like we are essentially coasting.  THANK YOU GOD--and thanks for all of you who were praying for us!  At some point, we should probaby get together and discuss the stock market.  With results like this, I feel we have a reasonable shot at a cool million.