Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Stroller Decision

After realizing that waiting til we get to Europe to buy a stroller may cost us significant bucks (the kind I like is over 500 Euro and the exchange rate takes that up to $660) I found an almost identical stroller on ebay for $279+shipping. It's a BeBeLove Dual Shock Z all-terrain stroller and it looks great. Unlike a jogging stroller, with one fixed front wheel that can make it hard to steer, this one has a pivoting double front wheel. And who knows, we could sell it before we leave Europe and make a profit...bonus! British Airways will allow us to gate-check it. It's got room for groceries underneath, it folds down for storage and has a huge canopy for sun and rain. Behold...the school bus!

One week til departure

We are getting excited because in about a week, it's time to go to Antwerp. I just looked at information about British Airways' baggage and check-in policies and found some really promising information. Because we are traveling with children under age 11, we will be able to find out our seat assignments three days in advance. I hope we get a bulkhead row so I don't have to keep nagging the girls not to kick the seats in front of us. Yeah, I know this is partly done so BA can isolate the screamers in one area of the airplane, but I still appreciate it.

The other thing I liked is that we can request kid-friendly airline meals that come with little amusements for the girls. We do have high hopes that they will of course sleep the whole way over, but I've been around enough to know that hoping is nice and all but not nearly as valuable as having a plan B and C and D. And not looking at people who are staring at you while your four year old has a fit. Not that she will. (please!)

We had an unanticipated dry run yesterday because our ex-cat Morty, whose personal hygiene declined along with his overall health, left us with some lovely fleas when he departed this life, may he rest in peace. So we decided to "bug bomb" the house and head to friends' in Williamsburg. The girls traveled very well in the car both ways. This morning we strolled around Colonial Williamsburg looking at the lovely holiday decorations. The girls did a lot of walking with very little complaining and their big fascinations were the crushed oyster shells that covered the paths, as well as the horse poop on the roads. On the way back to the car, though, JieJie reminded me of the importance of being prepared at all times with a little something to eat, drink, and do. She started complaining of hunger, and was soon chanting a mantra as we walked down Duke of Gloucester Street: "HUNGRY THIRSTY TIRED! HUNGRY THIRSTY TIRED! HUNGRY THIRSTY TIIIIIIIIIIIRED!"

Note to self: snack, small bottle of water, stroller!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Question of Car Seats

One of the practical considerations when traveling with small children is, what the heck do we do about car safety seats? What are the laws in Europe? Granted, most of the time we'll be traveling by train or bus, but we are planning to rent a car at the Malaga airport, so for that we'll definitely need them. The last time we trusted a car rental company to provide suitable car seats (Alamo rental at the Tucson, AZ airport) we learned an important lesson: take care of this detail yourself if you want any control over the quality of the seat!

Anyway, back to the law. I asked my friend M from The Netherlands what the law is. She said in The Netherlands, both of my girls would need to be in car seats, at least a booster for JieJie (almost 5) and a full-fledged restraint for MeiMei, who is still wearing size 2T at age 3 1/2. But, she said, who knows about other countries as there is no EU-wide law as of yet.

I did a little scouting around and found which has a handy compilation of the car seat laws all over Europe. Basically we need to have car seats for the girls unless we are in a taxi.

Usually I like to travel as light as possible, but we're really going to need their seats with get to the airport, to get from the Brussels airport to Antwerp by van, and in the Costa del Sol definitely. Looks like we're checking two car seats. M offered to find some second-hand, but we'll need them before we see her, so best to bring ours.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Preparing the Girls p.1

If you have (or have had) the pleasure of living day-to-day with preschool children, you know that the routine is crucial. Disrupt it at your peril. Of course, that's exactly what we're about to do, over and over again, for the next five months. Still, there are ways to soften the jolt. Here's what we've done so far:

1. Talk about living in Belgium in very concrete ways. JieJie loves cheese, and MeiMei loves chocolate. We talk about how many delicious things they will be able to taste in Belgium. We talk about the different languages that we will hear. Antwerp is a Flemish-speaking area; JieJie calls it "Belgium language." "How do you say hello in Belgium language?"--"Hallo." Sometimes when we are driving to school we talk about how we will take them to school in Belgium: by bicycle, by bus, or walking, as we will not have a car. Who knows how much of this they're taking in, but we make the effort. Maybe it helps us too.

We have also talked about the things that they may at times find uncomfortable. What it means to live in an apartment instead of a house; the fact that restaurants in Antwerp are not as likely to welcome children so their table manners need to be tip-top; that we will not be able to bring everything with us that we might miss (certain toys, etc).

2. Use visual aids. We have had an Amsterdam calendar in our kitchen for the past year and occasionally we point out the buildings, cars, and different things that we will see when we visit our friends in Mijdrecht, The Netherlands. We have a few Belgium / Low Countries guides with photos that we've left around the house (one that's reachable while on the potty, even!) for perusing. The university has also provided us with a guide to the program that includes many pictures of our apartment. They were very interested to see their bedroom. Since they are used to sharing a room here, it should be comforting to do the same in Antwerp.

3. Find a new routine. The more we thought about the implications of staying in a 750 square foot apartment on cold, dim, rainy days (Antwerp is about the same latitude as Nova Scotia, after all), the more it made sense to try to find a preschool that might take the girls during the week, since we will mostly be in Antwerp with only a couple of side trips out of town. At first we worried that our request for enrollment might be denied, or worse, that it would be accepted but that our schedule would be disruptive to the school and we might seem like "those kind of Americans." Luckily, through the amazing internet, I was able to find a fantastic preschool which is also a Montessori school. JieJie and MeiMei are both in a Montessori school here. It's perfect, because no matter where you go, all Montessori classrooms are set up in basically the same way with the same materials and methods. JieJie's teacher said she has seen children come from another country and language into her Montessori classroom and just breathe a sigh of relief when they see the familiar things around them, like "oh! I can DO this!" The hours are the same, just morning thru lunch, and the people at the school have been very welcoming. The students there wear uniforms, which I'm a fan of (wish they'd do it here) and we made a big deal of getting new black school shoes with some Christmas money. We are going to go visit a few days after arriving in Antwerp just to say hi and show the girls around, then we'll try having them stay maybe an hour the next day, and then we'll try to jump in for a whole morning the next week (I'm prepared to stay in the office reading a book for several days, if needed, until they adjust).

Other than that, who knows what we will do? And for that matter,
who knows if ANY of this will even work?
But it's all worth a try.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

wiring deposits overseas

So you might be wondering: if Louise is in the USA, how does she pay to rent a townhouse in Spain, owned by someone in the UK? I couldn't use a credit card or PayPal because the owner prefers a wire transfer. I have done wire transfers before with our China adoptions, as our adoption agency preferred to prepay some of the fees in China that way, so I knew it wasn't a big deal.

I corresponded with the owner, David, for about a week, clarifying dates, cost, how to get the key, which airport he recommends (Malaga, not Gibraltar b/c of the customs hassles) etc. Somewhere during this conversation my parents decided to come along too, which changed our dates slightly. So David and I agreed upon a deposit amount (he took a significant amount off the price since we're staying two weeks--thanks!) and exhanged the information necessary for me to do an international wire transfer from my bank account to his, taking into consideration the current exchange rate from dollars to pounds. I sort of expected to use Euros, but he preferred pounds, so that's how it went.

The wire transfer went through without a hitch, was received on his end, and an information packet is on its way to me as I type this. I've decided to get the key and other information once we're in Antwerp. One less thing to worry about forgetting when we pack.

I continue to marvel at the internet's ability to turn the globe into one great big small town.

You may be wondering why I'm not stressed about packing for a family of four. That's because I'm stressing about grading 62 final exams first! Better stop procrastinating. Argh.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006 ROCKS MY WORLD

OMG - the most amazing opportunity just came our way via the miraculous internet. We never would have found this place otherwise. I was looking on AAA Travel at their villas, many of which are certainly great-looking, but I just had this feeling that if I looked a bit deeper into the web, I'd find a much more personal, perhaps more cost-effective way to book a place for two weeks on the Costa del Sol in May.

And there it was: I Googled "costa del sol villa rental" and up came a GREAT site, which has properties all over Europe that you can rent directly from the owners, as the site's title suggests. I have never been to the Costa del Sol before but looked around at some different properties. Then, there it was: a lovely, white-stucco rowhouse in Estepona, Spain, with flowers in the windowboxes, grillwork around the windows, and what looked to be a roof terrace for enjoying the sunshine. I read further...4 minutes' walk from Mediterranean beaches, in a neighborhood where we can stroll old Andalucian streets, troll for goodies in markets, and enjoy the shade and aroma of the orange trees planted along the avenues. As for the house itself: totally updated, 2BR's, and yes, it was a roof terrace I saw--WITH ITS OWN KITCHEN UP THERE. I have visions of plates of olives, bottles of wine, a lovely loaf of local bread, fresh fish sizzling on the grill. What an amazing place to enjoy sunrises, sunsets, and siesta with a good book.

And book I did--the villa, that is. A few quick email exchanges with the owner and I'm preparing to wire the deposit tomorrow. That's it! I'm still pinching myself. And since my parents hadn't settled on their plans yet, they've decided to join us too. My dad will love the marina, my mom will love the shopping, and my girls will love having Grampa and Gramma along.

Estepona is supposed to be a more typically Spanish town, closer to Gibraltar than Malaga, a "year-round" town as opposed to an in-season tourist trap. We can see The Alhambra from there as it's day-trippable, and hubby has plans to try going to Morocco via Gibraltar if time permits. Who knows what other adventures await us in beautiful Estepona?

All this for WAY less than we'd spend for a week in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Airline Tickets are Booked

We're a little over a month away from our Antwerp Adventure. Our tickets have been booked, so it's official: we leave January 8th from Dulles on British Airways and will have a brief layover at London-Heathrow before continuing on to Brussels. Once we arrive there, no doubt dragging and cranky (and I'm not just talking about the kids...hope they sleep all the way over) we will be picked up by Jim, who is going to be helping facilitate a great deal of the Antwerp program for us and for our university students.

Jim will ferry us in a van to our Antwerp apartment, and we'll settle in for a few days, take the girls to their new school for a quick "happy visit" and then spend the weekend in Amsterdam with friends before going back to Antwerp for our first full week.

The program ends April 27th, but our return flight to Dulles isn't til May 12th. We are researching various options for the intervening time, but it's looking like we'll spend a few days in Amsterdam for the big tulip festival and May Day, then depart for the Mediterranean on May 2nd. We are debating whether to go to the Costa del Sol in Spain, the French Riviera, Sardinia, or perhaps one of the Greek islands. If you have any suggestions, we're all ears!

Thanks for reading - more later.
Louise Globetrekker

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Hallo Antwerp

So the Antwerp story begins. We leave about two months from today!

John and I both work at James Madison University. He's in the Department of History and I'm in the School of Theatre and Dance. John applied to be the FMIR (Faculty Member in Residence) at JMU's Semester in Antwerp program for spring 2007 and we were accepted. We leave sometime this January for our 750 square foot apartment near the University of Antwerp, where we will spend the next four months with 30 JMU students in our College of Business, there to study European Business. The semester will include side trips to France, England, Germany, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. After the program ends, we plan to go to the Costa del Sol or somewhere warm and Mediterranean. I'm sure the time will fly.

The girls will go to a preschool in Antwerp...wonder how quickly they'll be correcting our Flemish. JieJie will turn 5 while we're over there and we have already picked out the party location, a place called Pirateneiland (Pirate Island). Should be a blast. We have traveled a lot with them in anticipation of this semester, and of course the first thing we ever did with each of them was to travel all over China, so we're quite comfortable handling child care on the road. I still remember mixing formula, combining piping hot thermos water and cool bottled water, with the Avent bottle balanced between my knees as our coach bus rattled down the road, parents passing Cheerios and toys from seat to seat as needed.

We've had two meetings with the students so far and will have one more before we see them overseas. Hard to tell much from first impressions. Definitely no bad first impressions at all. As an avid people watcher I have hypotheses about one or two of them...I wonder if the young woman whose brow was furrowed through the entire second meeting is chronically anxious, or if her brow just likes to furrow. I wonder if the young man who asked a question that had just been answered a moment before will be high maintenance. Other than those two fleeting thoughts, I got nothin'. Based on how much I enjoyed the dozen students we spent the summer in Florence program with ten years ago, I anticipate a very pleasant experience with the obligatory Ugly American in the mix (like the guy in our Florence group who compared everything to "the way they do it in New York" to the point that several of us said not so quietly that perhaps he would like to take the next flight...). The students do have to compete to make it into the program. I like that.

Tonight we went to dinner with a couple who've been to Antwerp twice with this program, and they were very helpful about some of the questions we had. At this point I can't wait to get there, settle into our little apartment, get to know the neighborhood, get the girls settled into their school and just fall in love with a new city. We've been to Belgium before: Brussels and Brugge, though, not Antwerp. Antwerp is in the Flemish (as in Dutch) speaking part of the country, though I've been told we will have few opportunities to practice Flemish since so many people there are fluent in English and just switch to that if you seem to be having any difficulty.

Having the girls along may mean that whoever's not chaperoning the group of JMU students will be on a parallel excursion that is more kid-friendly. I plan to get a few guides to traveling in Europe with kids to get some ideas, since I've never been any of the places we're going on my own, much less with preschoolers in tow.

So I'm going to list my imaginings about Antwerp. When I think of it, I picture (in no particular order) cobblestones, chocolate, cheese, rain, stone buildings, small cars, reserved but helpful people, speculaas cookies (YUM), narrow streets, adorable kids' clothing, electric trams, traveling by train, trying new foods, a small refrigerator in our kitchen and daily trips to quaint markets, JieJie and MeiMei complaining about all the walking (which they do here too but they can still walk a fair piece considering their ages).

And I picture romantic mornings over coffee and pastries with my husband after we drop the girls off at preschool. We have been so caught up in the day-to-day at home, our work schedules, the girls' schedules...I picture this time as a time together set apart from the routine, a second honeymoon, a chance to reacquaint ourselves with one another's dreams and desires. I love being parents together, but I miss those quiet mornings with coffee and the newspaper and just being quiet together.

This is going to be a lovely trip.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Guangzhou to Dulles


First of all, thanks to everyone who helped JieJie get through the last two weeks by sending stickers, letters, cards, you-name-it through the mail. Our mailman was nice enough to bring things addressed to JieJie since technically we hadn't stopped her mail! Well, we had a great last day and night on Shamian Island. Thursday was mostly shop-til-you-drop, and that night we ate croissants and slices of cheese from the Deli Shop at the White Swan Hotel before turning in early.

Friday morning bright and early Richard met several of us in the lobby to get on a bus bound for Guangzhou Airport. We got to the airport and there was a long line for the flight that seemed to be moving swiftly. We were waved to an agent who must've gone through training the night before...he kept looking at the computer and the boarding pass printer as though they were going to magically conjure up the right things...finally, after 45 minutes of nonsense, watching the entire rest of the line come and go, we asked for a manager, got everything straightened out and were on our way. Four and a half hours later (MeiMei slept two of them) we landed in Tokyo. We had a little bit of time to let MeiMei stretch her legs before boarding the747-400 for the long leg from Tokyo-Minneapolis. MeiMei was good for most of the flight but thank goodness we bought her her own seats all the way home because I can't imagine what it would've been like to try to hold her on our laps all that time - even with her own seat she found it frustrating to sit that long (didn't we all??). There were probably a dozen families with babies on that flight, maybe more. We landed at Minneapolis, went through customs (MeiMei is now officially an American citizen--yay!) followed my aunt Kathy's directions to the guest access area of the airport and sure enough there was my mom's sister Jeanne waiting to meet MeiMei. We were bummed Kathy couldn't make it (flat tire, grr) but we'll see her soon I think. Jeanne, John, MeiMei and I sat at the Starbucks and had some coffee and cookies and MeiMei took to Jeanne right away (smart kid). It was so great to see her. We got to Washington-Dulles, were met by John's sister Kathy and got in the car to head home. When my mom answered the door, her face was covered with return address stickers--Mom was trying anything to keep JieJie occupied while they waited for us. It was so great to see JieJie - we had a big long hug, and then John walked in with MeiMei. He said "do you know who this is, JieJie?" and at that, Big Sister squealed, jumped up and down and said "Mei-Mei!" which so overwhelmed MeiMei that she started her little Tarzan yell crying. We all laughed at the contrast. JieJie was so sweet to her little sister, cooing at her, touching her gently, saying "nice to meet you!" and then of course having the occasional meltdown because Life Has Changed. We said goodbye to Mom and Dad yesterday (not to mention Thank You a million times--mom lost 15 pounds running after JieJie and Dad painted the entire back fence!) and started settling into some type of a routine.

Only hitch was, we let MeiMei sleep too long yesterday afternoon and she woke up at 2am for the day. Oh well! We took some cute photos of JieJie giving MeiMei a bottle - will post soon. The main project right now is just easing MeiMei from all-bottle nutrition to mostly-solids nutrition. At almost 17 months old, she has had so little experience with solid food that she tries to cram it all in and has choked a couple of times...a bit scary, but we know better now, and she's getting better about chewing too. As far as the walking, coordination and all those things, she's making leaps every day and ever since she saw her big sister running all over the place, she wants to walk more than crawl and she's getting better at it. Language-wise, we're not pushing things right now. Her brain has to back up, turn around and head in a totally new direction from Chinese to English and it will happen all in good time. She babbles a lot so we're not worried. JieJie has had a bit of a learning curve in terms of how to play gently with a baby, but MeiMei doesn't seem too hair-trigger sensitive so that helps. JieJie has already learned that if you take a toy from MeiMei, it's best to give her something as a substitute. Hey Debby - thanks for the bears and JMU gear - hoping to takea picture soon and will send it to you!Thanks everyone - and it's ok to call now. Just not after 8pm - we might be asleep.


Louise, John, JieJie and MeiMei

Guangzhou 2004 deja vu

Sorry for the long pause between messages - I'll catch you up in a moment. First the big news: About ten minutes ago, about twoblocks from where I'm now sitting with a cup of mint tea listening to Chinese soft rock, John and MeiMei and JieJie and I became a forever family. It's so quick but acutely emotional. You wait a few minutes in a very unceremonious looking U.S. Consulate waiting room here on Shamian Island, then a casually dressed official comes out and asks if you swear that all the information you have given is true and accurate, we raise our right hands and say "I do", and they say congratulations, you're done!

The wave of relief that spreads throughout the room is palpable. Many hugs and congratulations followed, and then we left with Alexa, Richard's wife. She stopped briefly outside to give us our schedule for tomorrow (Safari Zoo inthe morning, get baby's visa in the afternoon) and thanked us several times for coming to China to adopt these babies. Hey, it's our pleasure.

So let me catch you up on what's happened the last couple of days. Uneventful flight from Chongqing to Guangzhou (after that earlier flight from Tokyo, that's not just a chatty statement!). We settled into our room at the lovely White Swan hotel, this time with a crib in our room. That first night we went to a Thai restaurant and had some really great food, including deep fried pumpkin with a sweet dipping sauce. MeiMei charmed the hostess out of a little jingle bell toy. She has learned that her smiling and waving and "bababa" works magic. She also loves to feel the wind (a new sensation) and holds her hands up to wave them in the Guangzhou breezes. She woke up a little scared the first night but we assured her we weren't going anywhere, and she settled back down to sleep. Last night she slept through the night. She continues to be a very even-tempered, sweet baby.

Tuesday morning we went to the pearl shop we discovered the last time and picked up a few items (I'd tell you but, Christmas, you know). Tuesday afternoon was the medical exam that's required in order to get a visa for MeiMei. It's not much of a medical exam -my shorthand for it is "ding-ding! honk-honk! Ok, baby can hear, goodbye!" The nurses who weighed and measured MeiMei (21 pounds, so she's already put on a little weight!) remarked to Richard how beautiful MeiMei is, and she certainly behaved herself too. JieJie was the same way, pretty calm and matter of fact about everything. Last night we ate traditional Chinese food at the Victory Hotel dining room here on Shamian Island. Guangzhou is famous for its restaurants, and there are a number of good ones on this little bit of land. We had lotus root stir fried with other vegetables, garlic broccoli, sesame-cashew beef, lemon chicken and some Singapore style spicy noodles with little shrimp. It was delicious.

Richard told us a joke today that reinforced the Guangzhou-as-restaurant-town idea (I might add that the Chinese equivalent of American "priest-rabbi-minister" joke seems to have three cities and their stereotypes). It goes like this: a new object is discovered and nobody knows exactly what it is, whether it's an animal, vegetable, mineral, or what. The man from Beijing says "we will study it thoroughly and classify all of its characteristics!" The man from Shanghai says "we will put it in an exhibition hall and sell tickets to see it and make lots of money!" and the man from Guangzhou says "I will figure out how to cook it!"

Just the same, I had a little indigestion this morning, maybe all the different foods that have made their way through my body in the past two weeks...John went out to get me some Pepto Bismol (we never used it last time so didn't even pack it) and came back with Chinese indigestion medicine that has a trumpet on the package. Think about that one for a moment. Anyway, I looked at the active ingredient: CREOSOTE. I'm not kidding, like the stuff they use to keep railroad ties from rotting. I still took it, and it worked pretty quickly so who am I to question medical uses of chemical wood preservatives??

Today we went to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall which is a beautiful 4,000 seat opera house-style facility. It used to house meetings of the Kuomintang party congress and later some communist party meetings, but today is mostly home to ballet, opera and musical performances. The architecture was a beautiful mix of traditional and modern, with elements that reminded me of some famous buildings we saw in Beijing (Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City). MeiMei slept in a front-pack the whole time. We continue to be amazed that this child can fall asleep on a bus instead of screaming for 2 hours solid (we love you JieJie but sheesh!). The White Swan hotel is such a beautiful and yet totally weird place to be. Everywhere, and I mean everywhere, there are couples (mostly white, some Asian) with their new babies, all talking about how last night went, how their baby is eating, what cute outfits they found down the street, how their last trip compared to this one...and at breakfast, babies at half the tables in the huge dining room. When we were in Chongqing with our little group of 9 families, it was easy to think of ourselves as the only ones doing this. Hardly! To give you a sense of the numbers, the White Swan apparently has about 150 cribs, and often runs short, in which case they strap two armchairs together and set it up as a bed.

Oh - and we got our "Going Home Barbie" yesterday, with a Chinese baby where the purse or random fashion accessory usually is...nice thought, but pretty crass, Mattel! To the people who expend energy being offended that a toy company would try to claim a market niche in this way, I say Sell Your Barbie On Ebay. Anwyay, it's here on Shamian Island that you really get a sense of the scope of this international adoption phenomenon. The year we adopted JieJie was the first year that more than 5,000 Chinese babies were adopted byAmericans (don't forget that there are also Dutch, French, Canadian, British, Swedish, and Italian families and of course also Chinese families who adopt children here) and this year it may be close to 7,000. What will these girls have to say about all of this when they get older? Guess we'll find out!

And growing out of this trip, another adoption is already in the works. The H3s, who are in our travel group, brought a friend along, and this friend and her husband have been talking by phone about adoption--especially after we visited the orphanage and she saw how many babies are still waiting. Of course, what motivates families to adopt is hardly to complete some humanitarian mission. All of us wanted to start or add to our families. Some of us had difficulty doing it the old fashioned way. Some of us already had "homemade" children but only had boys and wanted a girl, or have philosophical reasons why they wanted to enlarge their family through adoption (why add to the world's population when there are already children here who need a family, people say).

Whatever our motivation, we always share a knowing smile when someone says "oh bless your hearts, you are so kind to do that for a child" or some other kind of nonsense. We know that it is the children who truly bless our hearts. We are so lucky to have them in our lives. Well, this is probably my last post from China because tomorrow is our last day here and we have lots of shopping to do (bargaining is the order of the day and some consider it a sport, or perhaps even an art form). I cannot wait to hold JieJie again - we have missed her so much, but have not doubted our decision for a moment. Mom says JieJie is worried that MeiMei might not like her, and that MeiMei might take her toys. Mom told her not to worry about that first part but that she will have to share her least a few of them...

Thanks for following the unfolding story of little MeiMei. I'll write again when we get home and get settled. For those of you in Minnesota, we'd love to see you at the airport 11/19 between 11 am and 1pm (we'll be coming out of customs). For those of you inVirginia, feel free to give us a call anytime the 20th or after about stopping by for a moment, but forgive us if we are completely incoherent! Wish us luck on the long flights - tsai jien (bye-bye),

MeiMei and JieJie's mom

P.S. CORRECTION: My friend Heather tells me that "ke ren" doesn't mean sick person, just guest. She pointed out that the airline probably wouldn't have said "thanks for being patient while that guy nearly died back there and that other guy spewed all over the seat."

Last night in Chongqing

Today was a day to rest after our big trip to Liangping yesterday. We woke up at 8am, the latest we've slept here. Wandered down to breakfast and decided to try John's breakfast, since I've tried American, European, Chinese and Japanese breakfast. John has bacon, fried noodles and lots of stir-fried green beans. It was delicious! I also like to get a plate of "dragon fruit" (like a mild kiwi, white with seeds throughout) with some homemade yogurt and crushed walnuts on top. I swear, you could eat breakfast here for a couple of months before you repeated yourself exactly. After breakfast we went with the H2's, a family who lives in HongKong doing mission-related work, to the Metropolitan Plaza mall (our third trip there). We returned some booties that are too small for MeiMei and then we went to a big store called Children's World. It's several floors of clothes, books and toys for infants-kids and it's so much fun to shop there. We got JieJie some special treats and got some simple "books" for MeiMei to look at on plane flights. We wandered back through Liberation Square, a huge pedestrian mall that would be like if you closed New York's Times Square to traffic. Lots of people stopped to look at these two families with their three Chinese children, and we continued to hear people say "hao guai zi" as they chucked MeiMei on the cheeks (very beautiful!). We had some time to kill before the Holiday Inn shuttle bus arrived, so we went to a food court and got ice cream and egg rolls, also I got a coffee drink that had some cocunut ice cream floating in it. Yum. Within sight of the food court: an ice skating rink! I promised MeiMei I'd teach her and JieJie how to skate when they get older.

The shuttle bus arrived and we hopped on. Dad asked tonight on the phone whether we have child seats when we get driven places. No. We hold MeiMei on our laps and hope the driver knows what he's doing. It doesn't bother me. I do remember though how hard it was to get JieJie into her car seat when we came home in 2002 - she was so used to being held in our laps and didn't like the restraints.

This afternoon we had a paperwork meeting in our facilitator's room. There are a number of documents required to apply for MeiMei's visa from the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, and now that we have MeiMei's Chinese passport, we had all the ingredients we needed to fill out all that paper. We were so out of it by the end, the liquid paper was flowing. You fill out that many forms, you forget your name after a while. At one point, we had a break and several of us discussed the conditions at the orphanage yesterday. We agreed that it was, for all its spartan-ness, homey and cozy in the important ways. We were all glad we went, and for some people pieces of their personal puzzles were provided, just things about their babies that they got some context for.

We finished paperworkand made final plans for tomorrow, when we check out of the hotel and fly to Guangzhou, the first plane flight for our new daughters. Tomorrow night we'll be back at the White Swan - it seems like forever since we left--weird, because when you think about it, MeiMei was spending her last night in Liangping a week ago tonight. Well, MeiMei continued her mission today: working on walking. For days she has been driven to push herself to standing and try to get around on two feet holding onto people, walls, tables, or whatever else will stand still and hold her up. We walked around the mall,we walked in the hotel lobby, we walked around the restaurant at dinner tonight. When we got back from dinner, she was playing with a few "toys" - a spoon, an empty water bottle, some plastic keys...and she decided she wanted to bring me the spoon. SHE WALKED IT OVER TO ME!!! It was about four tentative feet, but these were her first real steps. John came out to the sitting room to watch this amazing development and then she did some real showing off -she walked about 10 feet, from our bathroom door to the couch. She was so thrilled with herself she just beamed, and then she clapped for herself. We thought she'd be walking soon, just didn't realize it would be today. I'm so so excited that we didn't miss that milestone.

She's also starting to "talk" quite a bit - besides "ba ba ba" she clucks her tongue (a common noise adults use to play with babies here) and does funny little tongue-wiggling sounds that sound like "ligaligaligaliga" or "zigazigaziga". She also understands a few of the things we say to her already, and when we say "where's Mommy" or "where's Daddy" she points to the right person, or more accurately she waves. Her wave is so cute - she opens her whole hand, holds her fingers still and pivots her wrist. She has charmed many a stranger with that little move.

Mom and Dad called tonight and it's clear they are all aware they're in the home stretch. JieJie had a couple of rough days, really missing us, and we really really miss her too - can't wait to get our whole family together and go onward and upward. We'll be with her Friday, and after the shopping spree we're planning for Guangzhou we'll have plenty of treats to dole out between now and Lunar New Year. For the record, we're still Carry On Only travelers, though we plan to buy a cheap suitcase in Guangzhou for the treasures we find there.

Uncle Jim - you asked last time if I would write more about China, not just about babies - you must plan a trip's just so indescribable. I have really grown to love China in so many ways. We're looking forward to coming back with our girls when they're older, and will probably come here periodically for the rest of our lives. You know, the thing is, you can see China from the glass half-empty or half-full perspective. Even within our group of families on this trip we have seen stark differences in perspective. You can probably tell which way I look at it because I haven't been dwelling on the very real "half-empty" part that is not hard to find...yes, there is poverty and pollution. Environmentally, things are aboutwhere the U.S. was in the 1950's when the U.S. was just beginning to wake up to the need to regulate pollution from factories and farms and increasing consumption, though there has recently been an emphasis on improving air quality and we have seen a dramatic decrease in air pollution since our last trip.

Economically, many people still scrape by but ingenuity is definitely rewarded. When we were out walking the other day in a newly affluent shopping district, there was a man with one arm and one leg who seemed to be paralyzed, and he was earning money by writing Chinese calligraphy with several brushes strapped to a hat that was strapped to his head. I wondered what had happened to him, perhaps some factory accident or construction site mishap. For him, and for unknown numbers of people who have little or no safety net if something bad happens, there's not much to be excited about.

What impresses me most about China in the two visits we've made here though is just the sense offorward momentum, drive, striving, endless possibility you see everywhere here. It is really exciting to dive into. That's all for tonight - will write again in a couple of days fromShamian Island.

Liangping Orphanage Visit

dear family and friends, today was a hard, good day. excuse the lack of caps but I'm on a laptop which only occasionally cooperates...anyway this morning we got up early to make sure we had time to eat breakfast before departing on the bus at 8:30 for Liangping. we drove northeast through miles and miles of terraced hills and brick farmers' homes, every yard of cultivatable land filled with crops in various stages of growth. Unfortunately it was rainy and foggy and cool, so we couldn't film through the foggy windows of the bus, and we couldn't open the windows to film either. we arrived in Liangping about 11am and met the orphanage director and some staff in a conference room. all of the families went on the trip, so we were quite a large group today. after a brief welcome from the director, we toured the facility, both the rooms where the babies lived and the outside areas where the babies were taken to play outside.

the details of the day belong to MeiMei first, but in generalities I can tell you that the babies in Liangping were lovingly cared for by the staff. the facility is over100 years old and has been serving as a welfare institute for the very young and the very old for a very long time. we met MeiMei's nanny, saw where our daughter slept, and got a feel for the place. we were then invited to have lunch in the staff lunchroom, with food prepared by the staff. all of us were served delicious pork dumplings, some fried yam or taro (couldn't tell what it was but it was good) and a glass of milk. then we took a tour of the garden/play area which was really beautiful. we saw the place where some of MeiMei's referral photos were taken and we took a family photo against the same background, sort of bringing things full circle.

there were so many emotions flying around today. All of us were glad we went to see where our babies spent the early months of their lives. In lieu of individual nanny gifts, our group collected donations for the orphanage and we were able to buy them three new washing machines as well as some formula, rice cereal and vitamins for the babies. I think this is a much better use of families' gift-giving resources than so many individual tokens which don't benefit the facility as much. we were glad to give something to the orphanage that genuinely improves conditions there. by the way, if any of this has inspired you to give to charities that help orphanages in China, check outHalf the sky Foundation and americans adopting orphans charitable initiatives. the last thing we did before leaving Liangping was to drive around the city a little bit. it's a pretty town, very clean and prosperous looking, not as big a city as Fuling. There's a mixture of brand new apartment buildings and age-old brick courtyard style homes with tile roofs. we look forward to visiting again when our girls are older. I wished we had time to take a walking tour, it really was a nice town. It was a hard, good day.

Eling Park, Chongqing

Wow, what a wonderful day we've had. We woke up refreshed this morning, having slept til about 7am. MeiMei never wakes up in the middle of the night needing to be fed or changed so we are all getting plenty of rest. Some other families with younger babies are a bit more fatigued in the morning but everyone (knock on wood) is still healthy and doing well.

We met Richard in the lobby this morning at 10am for the day's outing. Seven of the nine families went on this trip to Eling Park. From our hotel window we can see the tall pagoda of Eling Park, which is lit up beautifully at night. The park is mostly impressive formations of potted chrysanthemums in many different colors, plus permanent plantings of bamboo and trees. Some plants have been shaped to look like dragons or fountains - so beautiful and festive. There is also a pond and some interconnected pavilions - it would be a peaceful place to read or just sit and think. MeiMei thought it was a perfect place to take a nap in my arms - not that I minded!

From the park's edges, which skirt a cliff overlooking the Jialing River, we were able to see everything from traditional-style courtyard houses (many of which are falling down and won't be repaired, certainly a high-rise apartment building will soon take their place) to riverboats and across the river construction, construction, construction. The manager of our hotel thinks that the next population count may list Chongqing as the largest city in China. I'd believe it. At Eling Park, I heard a little boy say to his grandmother "Ni kan! Waiguoren!" (look, foreigners!) and then in a proud voice, with his grandmother watching, he said "Hello!" and we said hello back. Heand his two little friends got very interested in MeiMei and were asking whether she was a boy or a girl (her short hair has caused many people to ask this question - I've learned to listen for it) along with some other things. We asked them to sit with us for a photo. Then we came to a courtyard where people were drinking tea, children from a kindergarten were having a picnic lunch outside on some stone tables, old folks were playing mah jongg, and a tour group of older Chinese people was strolling along. When the tourists saw MeiMei and the other babies in our group, they were so excited and all started playing with the babies, chucking them under the chin and talking to them, clapping their hands. I let one woman hold MeiMei for a little while. In China, people frequently ask to hold or play with your baby and while last time around it took some getting used to, now I look forward to the opportunity to share goodwill this way.

We came back to the hotel and sacked out. Before we knew it, our friend Can's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Deng, arrived from Chengdu. They had driven four hours to have dinner with us - we were so glad to see them and so happy they were able to make the trip. Their driver actually hired a taxi to lead their car to the hotel because the city has changed so much, they didn't want to get lost. We exchanged gifts in our hotel room before going across the street to the Yangtze Island Club for the most delicious dinner we've had since coming here. Our facilitator, Richard, had agreed to translate--totally above and beyond the call of duty. Mr. Deng asked the restaurant to seat us in a private room, so we had our own beautifully appointed dining room and our own waitresses for the evening. We had so much food - two different beef dishes, lobster,shrimp, a cold chicken plate, fried chicken knuckles (like crunchy buffalo wings), pig ears and vegetables (tastes like bacon), bokchoi, greens, broccoli, peanuts, spicy tofu, chicken and rice soup, pickles, cucumbers, and a big platter of fruit for dessert, with the rind of the watermelon shaped to look like a swan.

Then Can's dad broke out the bai jiu (white liquor) which is strong tasting stuff served in little shotglass size cups. We toasted to China, we toasted to friendship, we toasted to Can, we toasted to their return to visit us in Virginia, we toasted to our someday visiting Chengdu...we were toasted! We had a great time with them and they were enthralled with MeiMei. She warmed up to them too and let them hold her.We said goodnight and promised to keep in touch. Can, your parents say hello. Just think, MeiMei met your parents before she met you! When we got back to our room, my folks called and JieJie got to talkto MeiMei, who pretty much still just says "ba" but it's the thought that counts. JieJie's doing ok but definitely misses us and I'm glad we'll be home a week from today.

Tomorrow we will go to Liangping and see the orphanage as well as the town/city and some of the surrounding area. We should have alot to say about that - it's one of the most important days of the trip. Some people wonder whether it's a good idea to take the babies along when visiting the orphanage - they're fine. They knowwho their parents are by this time, they don't get confused ordistressed. With JieJie her response was "yeah, I know this place, so what?" As Richard said, yes, you could go back later in the child's life, but the facility may have moved, the director and staff could be is the time to take pictures, meet administrators and caregivers, take pictures of finding locations (we will try to visit as many as possible) and get a feel for the place. There were a couple of families who earlier in the week were a bit leery of making the trip but I think everyone is going to go, and I know they'll be glad they did. This whole issue of how these girls came to be our daughters is a complicated one, and tomorrow we will have that much more of an understanding of some of the circumstances.

Richard says the Chinese talk about "yuan" which is kind of like fate or destiny but he says there's really no English equivalent. He said it's like when you meet your spouse, out of all the people in the world you somehow find that one person, maybe you didn't even know that's who you were looking for, and then you fall in love and are married and it's yuan. He said "out of all the things that have happened to you and to your daughter in her life so far, you are together now and she is your daughter, not any other baby but this baby. And that's yuan."

More tomorrow after Liangping,



MeiMei continues to amaze us. She is very good natured, even tempered and quiet. Nothing really seems to faze her much. In China, children are viewed as community property. People feel very free to come up and touch the baby and offer suggestions on what we should be doing. None of this bothers her. She is a very easy baby to deal with and appears to be the Yang to her older sister's Yin. Yesterday we visited Chiqikou, a former village that has been swallowed by the vast sprawl of Chongqing. Chiqikou is now a tourist stop that depicts traditional village life. Narrow streets, lots and lots and lots of vendors, and a spectacular Buddhist temple overlooking the Jialing (the main tributary to the Yangtze).

We returned at 1 and once MeiMei went to sleep we had a masseuse come to the room--about 2 hours later, both of us were kink-free after a pretty intensive Chinese massage. Today we are off to the Chiang K'ai-shek museum here. I'll beinterested to see what the museum has to say about him. Chongqing continues to amaze us. Its listed population is about 7 million, but we've heard from our guide and the hotel manager that the estimate is an old one and that the urban population now may be closer to 20 million. It is a huge, bustling place. Ths skyscapers just go for miles and miles. Well, I need to freshen up for the day's events. All is well here and we wish all of you the best.

I Like Her A Lot

Well, it's been a couple of days of sightseeing and more to come. Why are we still in CQ, you ask? Well, we have to wait until the notaries are finished making multiple copies of several important booklets that we need to bring to Guangzhou in order to complete the adoption. The notary books will include the official birth certificate, adoption certificate and finally the certificate of abandonment, which certifies that an attempt was made to find the birth parents (we were given a copy of the ad that was in the newspaper).

As far as the Chinese government is concerned, the adoption was full and final as of Tuesday afternoon when we signed several forms and got our official adoption certificate (yay!). This is different from last time in that we received JieJie and did all the provincial paperwork all at once. This time, we received MeiMei at the Civil Affairs Office and returned the second day to do the paperwork. So Tuesday there we all were again in the "delivery room" where families are born, and this time the mood was much calmer. Each of the nine families had an official photo taken. Then we signed statements affirming that we intend to make our daughters permanent members of our family, that we would never abuse or mistreat them, and that we promise to provide the best education possible. If we were Chinese people, we would have a chop (like a stamp made of stone) to use for our signature, but since we didn't have that, we each dipped our thumbs in red ink and put our thumbprints over our signatures to make things official. MeiMei's index finger is also stamped on the document (her first attempt got a little smeared so it's on there twice just to be sure).

We gave a small gift to the notaries (some parents started this tradition years ago and now it's considered de rigeur), two nice pens with American flags on them, and they gave MeiMei a glass sculpture that says "Hometown Chongqing" on it. Then we got our leather-bound adoption certificate and we were on our way to do some more sightseeing. We went down to the Chaotianmen docks where the Jialing River meets the Yangtze River. We'll be there again Sunday night because Richard has planned for us to take a dinner cruise.

John told you where we were yesterday - the shopping here is so much fun. The exchange rate makes it even more enjoyable! The plan for today is to visit a traditional village to see small town Chinese life. We were going to go to Dazu today but all of us agree it's just too far (2 hours each way) with the little ones, so we're taking it a little easy. Tomorrow I don't think there's anything special on the itinerary for the group, but we're looking forward to dinner with our friend Can Deng's parents. Can (say "Tsan") is a JMU graduate who came to play with JieJie once a week, only in Chinese, for over a year and we are very fond of her. When she graduated from JMU her parents came, we met them and they said tolook them up if we were near Chengdu, Sichuan where they live. That's about 3 hours from here. They're going to meet us for dinner here and Richard agreed to translate - above and beyond his responsibilities, so we are very thankful. Saturday we go to Liangping to visit the orphanage. Sunday night is the dinner cruise, Monday we leave, Tuesday medical exam, Wednesday consulate appointment, Thursday get MeiMei's visa, Friday we leave. It's going so fast and I know I'm not going to want to leave China.

Well the big news this morning is that MeiMei did not cry when John went to get her out of her crib - YAAAAAYYYY! She let him give her a bottle and just seems a lot more comfortable around him. Our photos show her crying when he holds her until the last photo taken this morning of her in his lap having someformula. She is such a wonderful little girl. She's very alert, has a sweet disposition, very easy going, is good on the bus rides (a new experience for us) and likes to snuggle. She's made up a game where she says "Ba" and we say "Ba" and we go back and forth like that for a long time. She thinks it's great that she can get us to respond. She is also right on the cusp of walking. She tried this morning to walk from Daddy to me and fell down but got up again, no tears. She is determined. She's a good sleeper, sleeps through the night. We want her to drink more water/juice but that'll come. The other eight families are doing very well too - all of the babies were so healthy, nobody got sick this time around. Some of the babies have taken longer to warm up to one or both parents but there's nothing truly worrisome going on, and experience tells us it will get better every day.

Well, better go - can't wait to tell you about our trip today - by the way,two years ago we got a lot more stares when we were out in public,by ourselves or with the baby. It seems there have been many more foreigners visiting since then, and we are not such a big deal. Liangping will probably be another story. For background, read themessage from our last trip about Hechuan. Have a great day, Mom hug JieJie for me! Louise

News from Chongqing

A post from the proud papa:

We've had MeiMei for about 48 hours now and are beginning to see what a sweet little girl she is. Her personality appears to be a perfect complement to JieJie's. MeiMei is very easy going, and even tempered. She loves to say "ba, ba" to us and have us return the "ba ba" so we spent much of our morning alternately talking baba with her. She is becoming very attached to her mom, and while she occasionally cries when her dad walks into the room, she seems to like him pretty well most of the time. (To add insult to injury,when we called JieJie this morning, I said "good evening" and JieJie's reply was "Where's mommy? I want to talk to mommy.")

MeiMei has a good appetite and seems willing to eat most anything we offer her. She also was a very good sport during her bath this morning, but looked puzzled when we pulled the plug and the water ran out of the tub. Today is a pretty lazy day, drizzly and cool. We took a short shopping trip downtown and picked up a few items for the girls (it still feels funny to say that), but returned at 1 with nothing else on the day's agenda. MeiMei is upstairs sleeping and Louise was headed in that direction when I came down to type this message.

Tonight we'll again visit the restaurant across the street. It is reputed to be one of the finest in Chongqing, its parking area lined with luxury cars each night. And since a really terrific meal only costs about $3.50 in US currency, the price is tough to beat too. Tomorrow we'll have a brief tour of a traditional village about 30 minutes away. It should be interesting and quite a contrast from Chongqing, most of which is breathtakingly modern.

She is Here!!!

Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. Wow. Did I say wow? We have been blessed for the second time with a perfectly beautiful, awe-inspiring little girl and what a day it has been. After breakfast today, several families took taxis to a downtown CQ shopping district. We found a "Goodbaby" store and an OshKosh store where we found some outfits (all pink) and then we found a great children's book/clothing/toy/etc. store not far away where we scoped out a few ideas for big sister presents and I got some barettes. Some of the other families found a traditional market and bought beautiful dolls, shoes and clothing for their babies. We were all so excited for this afternoon but knew that we needed to do something to stay busy or we would go nuts. After a midday rest, we met in the lobby of our hotel and boarded a bus with our facilitator Richard. There are nine families in our group, all such nice people, and many of them have brought friends, children, or grandparents to share this amazing experience.

On the way to our first stop (shopping for essentials) Richard gave us a briefing of sorts. He reminded us that we are not here as tourists and to make sure we always take care of our own and our baby's health first rather than try to do too much sightseeing or be too adventurous. He also reminded us that from our baby's perspective, today might be a little scary. New faces, new smells and sounds, and the loss of everything they have known up to this point...for the parents, it's so happy and such a dream come true - he just wanted to prepare people for a tougher adjustment if that's how things turned out. He then taught us a saying that I'd like to share with you. Chinese people say "When you go to Beijing, you know you are not powerful. When you go to Guangzhou, you know you are not rich. When you go to Chongqing, you know you got married too early." Richard says girls from this region are known as the most beautiful in all of China (we hardly disagree!).

We did our shopping at a Carrefour store, which is a French chain of department stores. It looked kind of like Wal-Mart on speed. Busy, colorful, crowded, full of people checking out the latest whatever. We bought matching big sister-little sister outfits, and then our facilitator Richard helped us find the right diapers, wipes, formula, baby food, etc. so we had some supplies to get started with. We went back on the bus and drove a short distance to the Civil Affairs Bureau, which says "Bureau of Sino-American Marriage and Adoption" on the front. Several of us who've done this before recognized the building and the excitement was building as the bus stopped in the parking space.

I felt so calm though - kept waiting to feel what I felt last time but I felt so much less overwhelmed by the whole experience. TodayI found myself interested in not only what we were doing but what all the families were going through, to really get a feel for the whole event and not just our small part of it. We took a picture ofourselves as we waited for the elevator to come and take us to the 4th floor. Last time we were at this point we were practically vibrating with anxiety, and last time we got off the elevator and immediately saw our daughter JieJie in the Civil Affairs office. How would it be this time?

When we got off the elevator, we walked into the big room with traditional red decorations, a long counter for paperwork processing and several notary officials. Families who had just completed the paperwork for adoptions from Fuling (JieJie's hometown) were filing out with their new babies, and then who should come out but DirectorYang from Fuling! I had heard she would be there and brought photos of JieJie to give to her. We talked through our facilitator for a moment to say how glad we were to see her and promised that when JieJie was older we'd certainly visit Fuling again. We got her on video saying "Ni Hao, Fu De Quan!" (Hello, JieJie!)

We were told that the babies from Liangping (that's MeiMei's orphanage) were still en route. Some of the first-time moms were already crying from the overwhelming feelings swirling around in the room...excitement, fear, the name it. Then just a few minutes later in came nine babies, carried by seven caregivers. The babies were all dressed in identical bright pink outfits of quilted fleece, festooned with ribbon roses and little doll-like things on the jacket pockets. John picked MeiMei out immediately. I didn't think it was her - I honestly was looking from baby to baby trying to figure out which one was ours because I didn't see any that looked the way I was picturing MeiMei. Soon Richard called our name, and there we were, just shy of two years after we went through this the first time, in the same room, receiving a beautiful baby. A man placed her in my arms as John filmed with the videocamera. (For the rest of my life, she will have that to hang over my head, that I didn't know her when she was brought in!!) [actually, later viewings of the video show that we were both wrong].

John soon put down the camera so we could check out this little one. She is so healthy, no congestion, no rash, a full head of soft black hair, very alert and calm. She didn't cry when we held her, only when the flashbulb went off on a family photo. Within minutes, she leaned her cheek against mine and really seemed to hug me, grabbing my upper arm with one hand and putting her other arm around my neck. She goes to John easily too. Other families in the room were going through a variety of reactions, as every baby deals with things differently. Some tears, some almost nonreactions...we know from last time that all of these babies will seem like different people a week from today. Until then, though, there are some challenging days ahead for all of us.

Maybe that's why I didn't cry or get emotional today...I am waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. We had a chance to ask some questions of the orphanage officials (if we forget anything, we have another chance to talk with them tomorrow and also Saturday when we go to Liangping). We asked her nickname, what the nannies called her, and it is indeed "You-You"! We then asked about potty logistics and were told that she's used to diapers. Finally I asked whether anything special would have been done on MeiMei's first birthday, which was last June 29th. They said they don't have a party or anything (not that I thought they would) but they would give her extra attention that day, tell her it was her special day, maybe give her special food or extra food. Before we knew it it was time to go back on the bus and get back to the hotel. We ordered room service dinner (steak, fries, veggies) and fed MeiMei some strained peas which she liked, though she had to consider it for a moment first. She didn't want the bottle we made -will have to try again tomorrow to make the right mix of rice cereal, formula and right temperature of water to please her. Then we spent about an hour just playing. She took a set of plastic keys and just sort of banged it on different things, listening to the sounds. She crawled. She got herself standing up and then plopped down on her butt on the floor again. She pulled herself up on the cabinets and pulled herself along them. She's not walking independently yet but we're thinking it's going to be any day now because everything's in place, she just needs to get the hang of it. She played peekaboo with me and John, smiled so many times, cracked herself up and laughed the cutest little laugh. She is (so far) really mellow and agreeable. This will work well with JieJie's take-charge nature!! Better that than two alpha females in the same house...this is looking very workable. Time will tell.

We tried to put her down to sleep in her crib but she cried pretty hard (mouth open wide, eyes closed, no sound came out) so we scooped her up and laid down with her on the bed. She had her head on my tummy. Heavy sigh, a rub of the eyes, and her eyes fluttered closed. It's indescribable how perfectly beautiful she was, lying there, rosy-cheeked and sleeping peacefully. I had been waiting for screams and fighting, but this unexpected peace surprised me and I heard a little "tap" as a big fat tear hit the down comforter on our bed. John picked her up, she woke up briefly, but he laid her down in the crib and she fell asleep again.

And then BOOM! A blast of dynamite from the construction site next to the hotel. Don't worry, she didn't wake up. Good thing, because all around the hotel, all around the city, people are building, building, building, 24 hours aday, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, pounding, blasting, welding, pouring concrete...I can't think of anywhere in North America you could go to see such a building boom. Guess you'll just have to see China for yourself. Well, it's 10:20pm Monday night in Chongqing (9:20am where you are unless you're my friend Helen in Australia or our friends in The Netherlands) so I'd better stop now and go to sleep. We are just so thankful.

Today's the Day!

Well, today is it. Our group will gather at 2, do some shopping and then be off to the Civil Affairs Office to meet MeiMei. This is sure to be an emotional scene, as it is such an important event in our lives, and is also the same place where JieJie joined our family two years ago. We can't wait.

We had aninteresting day yesterday. Having visited Chongqing before,we felt a bit more adventuresome this time and made our way to the Joe Stilwell Museum and the Red Cliffs Village Museum about 1 1/2miles away. The Stilwell Museum is primarily for US visitors and designed to highlight the good will and relations between China and the US. The Red Cliffs Village attracts a local clientele. It is a spectacular monument to the Chinese Communists of the region with special attention to Zhou Enlai, who spent considerable time living in Red Cliffs during the Second World War.

Every bit as interesting was our cab ride. Because of traffic, our cabbie had to take the long way home (he wasn't soaking us for a fare, it really was impossible to get to the main bridge across the Yangtze due to traffic and construction.) It took us past the new retractable dome Olympic stadium and arena which are due to open any day. All is hustle and bustle here--literally hundreds of high rise cranes working round the clock (the high rise construction site outside of our hotel was using dynamite at 4 this morning!).

Despite having been here 2 years ago, much of the skyline has changed. As one of our group observed last night "Boy, this is a lot bigger than LA." We had a group dinner last evening. This is a wonderful group and we are looking forward to spending the next couple of weeks with them. The highlight of our day was our evening conversation with JieJie. She was very excited to talk with us, wanting us to know if we'd gotten MeiMei yet, when we were coming home, and that 'Kip had given her candy at the football game. (Thanks 'Kip.) We are off to do some shopping this morning to pick up a few odds and ends. And then this afternoon the big event. Stay tuned.

Saxophones and Trombones

Good morning from Chongqing. I am in the business center of the hotel where we will spend the next week or so, the Holiday Inn Yangtze Chongqing. We arrived at the Chongqing airport yesterday about 4pm, no illness aboard the plane, no problems with the flight whatsoever. A car was waiting to take us to the hotel. We arrived around 5pm. We were stunned to see how things have changed even in the two years since we were here last. The skyline is different, they are demolishing the tunnel we came through from the Yangtze bridge to our hotel last time, and there are buildings everywhere with cranes on top, in the process of being built. The air is also much cleaner. There has been a major initiative to improve the environment in anticipation of an upcoming World Expo in Shanghai and also of course for the 2008 Olympics, which should bring a lot of tourists to many parts of China. Yes, it's still too polluted, but our eyes didn't sting and our throats didn't burn - did we bring our cough drops for nothing?

Still, when we got to the hotel, John said "it's as though we never left". We recognized the neighborhood and knew where we were before we could see the hotel. It was so odd in a way to feel so at home here when on our last trip everything was so new. Our room is SO nice. We splurged on a two-room suite and it's a corner room, with windows that take up two walls of the bedroom from halfway up the wall all the way to the ceiling. The view? Downtown Chongqing and the Yangtze River, which is absolutely spectacular at night, all neon and spotlights. It's like having a view of Manhattan across the Hudson, only more impressive. The bedroom has a crib in it already - Mom, please tell JieJie that the little cat she picked out for MeiMei is in the crib waiting for a hug. The sitting room has a sectional-style couch, tv, fridge, dining table and long buffet-style cabinet/counter.Yesterday when we arrived, as we stepped off the elevator we waded into a sea of parents and babies/toddlers. Turns out they were a group from The Netherlands. I recognized a pair of pink pajamas that one little girl was wearing- they were the same pj's our Dutch friends sent to JieJie two years ago.

Last night around dinnertime we wandered down to the lobby and met the K's, from South Carolina. They are in our travel group and(small world) they know the H1's, a family we were here with two years ago! Then we met the H2's who are here from Hong Kong with a 3-year-old daughter and grandparents to lend helping hands.

The H2's wereplanning to go to dinner so we joined them. Wild taxi ride (if someone's in the lane ahead and the driver wants to pass, they just drive on the wrong side of the road for a while) down to a neon-lit strip by the river. We sat outside and had a delicious dinner of soups, stir-fried dishes and noodles, ate our fill for 140RMB for all six of us--that's about $3/person. During dinner a lot of strolling musicians came by and wanted us to pay them to serenade us. One guy had a Kenny G style soprano sax and he played really loudly right by our table and then said "Saxophone!" Mr. H2 said "yes, apparently!" Then we started talking about the English words that are put onto clothing for decoration, much in the way we put Chinese characters onto things to make them look cool, never mind what theymight mean or whether it's even grammatical. I saw a man on one of our flights whose jacket said "Kids Whenever Original Jacket" on the back, and on the front pocket it said "Authentic Trombone". We got back to the hotel, talked briefly with JieJie and my mom by phone before falling fast asleep.

JieJie is fine - mom says she understands "the deal" and is being very cooperative and upbeat. Today John and I will take a taxi to the General Stillwell Museum here in Chongqing. It's the headquarters of American General "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell. Should be interesting. We may also see Red Cliff Village - more about that after we've seen it. Tonight I guess we'll go for a group dinner on Gotcha Eve. Hoping to go to downtown CQ and the huge pedestrian area that's lit up like Times Square at night. Tomorrow we go shopping for diapers and all that stuff, and then at 4:30 we are scheduled to go to the Civil Affairs Office and meet our little MeiMei for the first time. We are really excited, as you might guess!Have a great day, Mom give JieJie hugs and kisses from us,

Louise & John

Unwind Yourself Now

We made it! I am writing to you on FREE internet access from the Blenz coffee shop on Shamian Island, Guangzhou, China. What a trip over we had! The events thus far: Thanks to our friend David for driving us up to the Amerisuites Chantilly where we stayed the night before our early flight out of Washington-Dulles Airport. JieJie was surprisingly okay when we left. After weeks of hypervigilant behavior that culminated in a week of checking our room at 3am to make sure we were still there, she didn't even cry when we hugged her goodbye and put her in her grandparents' arms. She saw our suitcases, looked at us questioningly, and I said "it's time for Mommy and Daddy to go get MeiMei." We packed the little yellow cat that JieJie is giving to MeiMei into the suitcase, kissed and hugged, and left, and Mom said last time we talked that it's going fine. What a relief! Because JieJie would have been in a tiny little straitjacket by now if she'd experienced the last 36 hours with us. Read on.

Flight from Dulles to Detroit left a bit late, otherwise smooth sailing. Layover at Detroit, lunch. Left on Northwest Airlines Detroit-Tokyo a bit late. Huge plane - 747-400, two aisles, 3-4-3 seating. Coach is tight!! I quickly realized I was not going to get any sleep on the 12+ hour flight. John catnapped here and there, probably got 2 hours total. Movies were "Raising Helen"(skip it), "Spiderman 2" (eye candy and noise) and "The Notebook"(see it soon w/a huge box of tissues at the ready--SO good and heartwarming!) Funny - last trip one of the movies was "Spiderman 1". About "The Notebook" - this was one of the times John was sleeping. At the end of the movie, I was totally bawling and I looked over at the elderly Korean man next to John, and he was wiping his eyes about once a minute for the whole end of the movie.

Layover at Tokyo-Narita was SHORT - just enough time to take a bus to the terminal, go through security and run to our gate for the next flight. Got on the next plane for the 4+ hour flight to Guangzhou, and just as we were beginning to taxi toward the runway, a man signaled that his (father?) seatmate was sick, that he had high blood pressure. Hard to know what happened, whether the man passed out or what, but soon there were flight attendants with oxygen tanks helping the man come to, and then he used several airsick bags (eww). We were glad he was ok but the flight crew chief called an ambulance and wanted to get the man some medical attention.

While we were waiting for that ambulance to arrive, people were quiet and patient. All of a sudden in the row right behind us, it sounded like these people were arguing or something. Then they started getting louder and more frantic. I turned around and thought I saw a man pushing his wife. It took me a moment to realize that he had collapsed against her and was having what looked to be a heart attack or a stroke. His eyes were rolling back into his head, his lips and fingernails were turning blue, and he was drooling and bleeding from his mouth. The whole right side of his face was straining back toward his right ear. His wife was crying and screaming. We immediately signaled to the flight crew for help -they seemed confused but soon more oxygen masks arrived and the man started coming around thank goodness. There was a doctor on the flight, I think she was Japanese, and she took the man's blood pressure. Both John and I had thought we were going to witness the worst. The man's son came back from his seat at the front of the plane and dropped to his knees at the sight of his father in trouble. It took forever for the ambulance to get there, and while the flight crew saved the man's life with their quick thinking, the paramedics might as well have been the Keystone Kops. They started this extensive conversation with the doctor and the flight crew instead of getting the poor passengers off the plane and to the hospital. 45 minutes later the captain came back and said "we need to get these people off the plane now so they can get help and we can go." The paramedics were (understandably) confused that there were two different people in need of help, and they had a long conversation about which one should get off the plane first. It started to become almost comical (or perhaps we just needed something to release the adrenaline) to the point that when the sick passengers were finally off the plane, there was scattered laughter all over the plane. I wouldn't swear to it but I thought I detected some Chinese-speaking passengers making jokes about the Japanese ambulance workers and there was much laughter all around the plane. John wanted me to put in the message that the paramedics' lack of decisiveness was like "watching two monkeys try to f*** a football". I added a new phrase to my Chinese vocabulary: ke ren, or sick person [actually "guest"].

So two hours after our scheduled departure time (hoping and prayingthat both sick passengers would be ok) we took off for GZ. Both of us got about two hours' sleep on that flight. Got to the airport, sped through customs and quarantine (you have to promise, among other things, that you are not psychotic) and a Mercedes Benz from the White Swan Hotel was waiting for us, with three smartly dressed porters to handle our two small carry-on bags. The airport at Guangzhou is brand new and absolutely beautiful, a cathedral of glass and girders. How different from the old airport, which was like several interconnected train or bus depots. The highway from the airport to central GZ is brand new too, signs in Chinese and English. Got to the White Swan Hotel, checked into our room, ate the chocolates they leave by the bed, and were soon sleeping horizontally for the first time in about 30 hours. Woke up on our own this morning at 7am, tired but NO JET LAG - what a miracle! Had a nice buffet breakfast of fruit, yogurt, steamed pork buns, steamed shrimp buns, smoked salmon, noodles, french toast...there's so much good food on that buffet, you just have to use JieJie's phrase "I have this one tomodow" which is what she says whenever she wants something but can't have it right away.

It was so peaceful sitting there by the Pearl River, watching boats go by, watching a few people swimming in the river for morning exercise. After breakfast, I headed out to find cheap internet access and John went to get a neck and head massage at the hotel fitness center. On the way to the fitness center is a sign for the hotel's lounge/game room that says "Unwind Yourself Now." I am only too happy to oblige, after all the racing around we've done for the past two months to get ready for this trip! Of course, this being the White Swan, there are families with babies everywhere and it's making us pretty excited for Monday. In the meantime however, it's like a second honeymoon for us. We are going to enjoy having a few days all to ourselves. We check out of White Swan in about 45 minutes, take the shuttle out to the airport and get on a 2pm flight to Chongqing, henceforth to be referred to as CQ.

2004 adoption trip part 1

*reposting details of our 2004 adoption trip on the second anniversary of our trip*

Dear family and friends,

This is the last time I'm going to post before we take off Wednesdayafternoon for the AmeriSuites Dulles. We take off on Northwest Airlines Thursday morning. I probably won't be writing again untilwe arrive in Chongqing, so check back Saturday morning for a "we made it" message from the Holiday Inn Yangtze Chongqing. I am REALLY looking forward to spending Friday night at the White Swan and even more to the World's Most Stupendous Breakfast Buffet the next morning! Our agency's travel coordinator said that arriving in China at night is great protection against jet lag because you can immediately get some sleep and wake up (hopefully) refreshed.

JieJie's Halloween was a blast! She was a kitty cat complete with ears, whiskers and a tail and even though we only went to 8 houses, by the end of the evening she had accumulated half a plastic pumpkin's worth of candy, a stuffed animal, necklace, book and "magic towel" to use in the bathtub. After trick-or-treating she helped give out candy. Not so sure about those scary kids, but she gave them candy anyway. She got so excited about giving candy away, she'd yell down the street "HEEEEYYY! We got CAAAANNNNDDDYYYYYYY HEEEEEEERRRRE!"

My parents arrived Friday afternoon (the day MeiMei turned 16mos old) and as soon as she finished dancing around and screaming "Geema! Geepa!" JieJie looked at me and John and said "buh-bye, MommyDaddy." So she knows what's up. In fact she spent a couple of nights getting up at 3am just to make sure we were still there. It'll be hard for her while we're gone but she'll be fine and so will Mom and Dad. The three of them clearly adore one another. The rest is just details, which they'll figure out. John had a lot of little projects to get squared away before we go and he seems happy with the progress he's made, so that's a little less stress to deal with. All of our classes are covered, bags are packed, mail is stopped, etc....all that's left to do now is GO.

Our travel facilitator gave us an idea of some other parts of ouritinerary: daytrips to Liangping orphanage and a tourist attraction called the Bigfoot Buddha, plus a dinner cruise on the Yangtze River. Sounds great! All contingent on health and emotional stateof the babies of course. we go!

Louise & John

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Guangzhou 2002 redux

This is the only post from Guangzhou 2002 -- I remember having written an expansive email all about Shamian Island from the White Swan business center only to lose the entire post (still had to pay like $25 for the session...argh!)


Wow, can it be that we are really heading back to the US tomorrow?? I was so bummed that the message I wrote the other night got lost but I am finally at the cheapo internet place on Shamian Island -only 20RMB/hour (like $2.50). So the last time I wrote we had just gone to Dazu and had an adventure with JieJie and some 800 year old stone carvings - suffice to say we laid very low on Sunday and got her back on her schedule.

Our last night in Chongqing we returned to the restaurant that had become our usual spot. The wait staff was wonderful to the babies and very patient with all of us juggling babies and chopsticks and just-enough-to-get-by Chinese. We really enjoyed their food and it always ended up to be about $5/person to eat our fill of delicious noodles, vegetables and meats in wonderful sauces and soups. We said goodbye to the waitstaff and headed back to the Holiday Inn Yangtze Chongqing to pack. Because we had used much of the baby stuff and given many of the gifts we brought, the new things we bought didn't overfill the suitcases and our luggage was not overweight.

Monday morning we all got up early to get ready to go to the airport. Dr. Chen and Michael accompanied us to the airport and checked all 10 families in en masse (they didn't even weigh our suitcases - we've heard Dr. Chen has connections and we definitely saw evidence of it at the airport). And all of a sudden we reached the security checkpoint and realized (I was surprised actually) oh my gosh - Dr. Chen and Michael aren't coming with us and this is goodbye!!! They both went through this incredible experience with us and now we were going our separate ways. Dr. Chen got very teary-eyed and said goodbye to each baby and each parent - lots of us got weepy just seeing Dr. Chen being so emotional. After all, he was the one who placed each baby in the arms of each family and he saw us all at our most vulnerable. I hope he likes his wind chimes fromVirginia - we heard he likes to garden.

So JieJie was VERY good on the flight to Guangzhou! Encouraging!!! We had a bottle ready for the pressure change and she barely seemed to notice it. We gave her some rice from our in-flight meal, and the inside of a roll, and she behaved herself, seemed quite contented. We landed in Guangzhou after a pretty short flight and the Americans Adopting Orphans Guangzhou staff were there to meet us. Their English names are Richard and Alexa. They got us and all our luggage to the White Swan Hotel and we checked in.

The White Swan Hotel is on Shamian Island and the island itself is only maybe 20 square blocks in size. It has a central promenade where people do tai chi or scarf dances in the morning, and the other day a group of school children were running for physical education. The child in front would yell "Yi! Er! San! Si!" and the group would respond "YI ER SAN SI" just like in the military. As they rounded the corner and saw all of us Americans with babies, the leader proudly changed to English: "One! Two! Three! Four!" and the group echoed ONE TWO THREE FOUR! with much smiling and giggling as they ran. Chinese children wear uniforms but they are kind of like the warmup suits that many Americans wear, not so formal looking. And Shamian Island is also very different from many places we've been so far. Architecturally the difference is clear and immediate - this place was the only place where Westerners were allowed back when Guangzhou was called Canton and it was an official treaty port where West traded with East. The Europeans who lived here built the kinds of buildings they knew how to build and were used to seeing, so walking around here is a bit like being back in Italy or maybe The Netherlands. Except for all the signs in Chinese of course...anyway we're hoping to do a nice long walk around the place today, having opted out of the bus trip to the zoo. Can you guess why?????

The White Swan Hotel is a fine, fine hotel. The lobby has a man-made mountain with a pagoda on top and a waterfall running down into a pool with beautiful goldfish swimming around. And because it's December, there are Christmas decorations everywhere, a huge tree and other decorations all over the place. The waitresses at thebreakfast buffet even wear little Santa's Little Helper dresses and hats. China is starting to celebrate Christmas nationwide, though certainly not in much of a religious sense. Our guides tell us it's become a time when corporations entertain clients and colleagues with elaborate office parties. It's not a family holiday. Still, Christmas music and decorations are everywhere. It's kind of nice actually. The aesthetic here is neon, neon, neon so it's already very festive!

So the reason I've barely written in Guangzhou is twofold: first, we've all gotten to like one another so much (all the families that is) that we've always got something going - dinner, an excursion of some sort...and second, we have had lots of paperwork to do here. One afternoon we filled out forms for a couple of hours. Boy, that was a blast. John estimates that this paperwork was like 10 house closings. But all you have to do is look at JieJie and know that not only was it worth it, it seems like a breeze in retrospect now that we have our little family together.

When we first had JieJie with us, we of course had no way of knowing what would be usual or normal for her because the transition from orphanage to us meant that she wouldn't really be herself for a little while. Now that we've been with her for a little over a week, we can start to see some improvement already - miraculous how resilient all these babies are. None of our families has had any problems so far. For example, JieJie used to go much deeper when she got upset, and she went much more inside herself too. Anything she cried over, if not attended to quickly, would lead to screaming, coughing, hair pulling, scratching at herself or anyone who got close, and just general inconsolability. Now she seems to be starting to trust that we will meet her needs, so when she cries it is not so general "to the universe" but more to us as communication and when we change her, feed her or hold her, she calms down and cheers up. She smiles at us frequently and is generally charming (not that we're biased...). We know that she may go through some of the same stuff when we get home to all the foreign sights, sounds and smells but perhaps because of what we've accomplished here, it won't be to the same degree.

So yesterday was hilarious...we got on the bus to go to a local tourist site, the Chen Clan Temple, a large folk arts museum. JieJie was fussing and we thought maybe she was wet. We undid the diaper and WHOOSH - pee all over John and the baby. What a scene. John decided to bag the trip but let me go on ahead with the group. I commented that I felt bad that that had happened and an experienced Dad in the group said "don't worry, she'll do it to you too." So I went on the trip, which was very nice - they also took us shopping to a Chinese department store and I picked up another outfit for the baby as well as a little feeding set for her - a teacup, rice bowl and soup spoon and her own little chopsticks. I got back and heard the rest of the saga - the hotel was doing some laundry for us and the baby was taking her morning nap (we swear she did it on purpose as soon as she realized she was on a bus!!!).

Yesterday afternoon was THE BIG DAY - our U.S. Consulate appointment. We went through rigorous security checks - no diaper bags, only a see-through ziploc bag with a diaper/wipe were allowed, and filed into a waiting room, kind of a DMV-style waiting area. It was packed with adoptive families and everyone was waiting anxiously for the big moment. And it was a very American moment. No pomp and circumstance and no long winded speeches - just the head of the visa office coming out and congratulating us on completing all that #$%& paperwork (expletives added) and making it to this moment. Then he had us raise our right hands (as a group) and swear that all the information we had provided was true. Then he wished us a good trip home and that was it! A huge cheer went up from the crowd and much applause and hugs and kisses and dancing around followed. Some people cried with relief - now there was nothing that could separate us from these babies and we were officially granted permission to bring them home for good. What a great, great feeling.

We all said "let's get champagne!" but instead some of us went to the Hard Rock Cafe Guangzhou. Originally I had turned up my nose at the thought (this was before we left) but somehow it felt like the right place to be after going through the American part of this process. I had a cheeseburger and fries (hey - I've tried snake so don't tell me I've been a wimp!). Lots of other families were celebrating too and each of us got a souvenir coloring book and a little stuffed animal.

You can't imagine how many adoptive families can be smushed into one place until you've been to Shamian Island - one agency alone has 80 families in the hotel! You literally cannot get on an elevator without seeing another adoptive family. Breakfast is wild too - at every other table there is a high chair. What a place.

Finally - we heard about this incredible wholesale pearl market in Guangzhou and I went to check it out yesterday - we're going back today for more. Incredible, incredible prices and beautiful pearls. Tomorrow we don't check out of the hotel til 5pm and our flight is at 9pm. 12 hours to LAX, then one night in a hotel there, then Saturday the 7th we take the 8am on United landing at Washington Dulles at 3:34pm. We're meeting mom and dad down by the baggage claim and if anyone from the DC area wants to come by and meet the baby, you just come right on over! We can't wait to see you and tell you all the things we've seen and done that never made it into an email. It has been so great writing to you when we can - these messages will serve as our travel diary for posterity. Well - gotta go get another carry-on for the nice souvenirs we don't want to check. It will probably cost about 60RMB (about $7!).

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Chongqing 2002 Redux

Message archive from November 2002 in Chongqing--this is the part of the trip where we completed the China part of JieJie's adoption.


Hi everyone, First, I hope you will not be too disappointed to hear that this message is not about the baby yet. We had hoped to receive JieJie this afternoon but we have been told that because it is not a workday, we will not meet the babies (sounds like a tv show, Meet The Babies) until tomorrow. I know, aaawwwwwgggghhhh! But actually we got over our initial disappointment fairly quickly. So M, tell R&C that the baby call will not come until Monday morning and that it may be as early as 8am (sorry C but I figure you won't mind waking up early in this case).

Yesterday we woke up around 7:30, had our last breakfast in the Novotel Peace Hotel Beijing and got everything packed. The lock on the hard-sided suitcase we borrowed doesn't work (sorry Arthurs!) soI went down to the Dong An Plaza shopping mall to find something to secure it. This mall is absolutely immense - six floors of shops and several six-story department stores anchoring the corners. I didn't find a luggage store so decided to try a department store. "Luggage strap" is pretty specific vocabulary so I didn't bother to see if I could find it in a phrasebook...after some pantomime and yes/no, the salesladies and I were able to understand each other just fine.

Nancy arrived at the hotel at noon and we went back to the Sichuan Restaurant where we had eaten that first night. This time - finally - she agreed to join us for lunch. Every other meal, she and Mr. Yan went into another room where guides and drivers eat while their clients dine in the dining room. We got used to it, but it always felt kind of funny being so friendly with them and then being segregated at meals. We gave Nancy a JMU book bag, some chocolate and a red envelope with her tip. Mr. Yan also got a red envelope (the traditional way for Chinese people to give money is in a red envelope and it's done especially at Chinese New Year). Surprise - she had a gift for us too! She had gotten us a little red knotted tassel with a Chinese opera mask on it, and also a beautiful Cloissone egg and a little wooden stand to put it on.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch - John LOVED the spicy noodles we had - and left for the airport. Our luggage was a little over the weight limit so we had to pay extra but that should be the only time that happens since the heaviest things in the luggage are jars of baby food and cans of formula, things that will be used this week (yay!). We said goodbye to Nancy, hugs all around, and promised to keep in touch by email. She was so great and we hope to see her again someday. She is hoping to study abroad very soon, perhaps in New Zealand.

Our flight was fine - John and I couldn't sit together because the plane was very full and we didn't get seat assignments in time, but no matter. Behind me was Kathleen, who is in our adoption group. This was the first sign that we were entering the adoption-specific phase of the trip and leaving the tourism behind. Next, Sho came back to the back of the plane. He and his wife Harriet, both from the Seattle area, had almost missed the plane! Harriet was up in first class enjoying the star treatment (it was the only seat left but she didn't seem to mind!).

We landed at dusk in heavy fog - Chongqing is at the confluence ofthe Jialing and Yangtze Rivers and it is in a bowl-shaped area just east of some high mountain plateaus, so it has a tendency to be very foggy like San Francisco. Our luggage arrived again (3 for 3!) and the five of us exited the baggage claim and there were Dr. Chen and Michael. Dr. Chen works for Americans Adopting Orphans. He is from Chengdu, Sichuan and helps the families who adopt from this region as they go through the paperwork and their first days of parenthood. Michael is our translator. He is a senior at Sichuan International University and he immediately struck up a conversation with John because he studied American history, so those two chatted away about books and different things all the way to the Holiday Inn Chongqing. Kathleen, Harriet and I were each presented with beautiful bouquets of carnations, daisies and roses and Dr. Chen took both video and still photos of our arrival. This was another sign that something special is getting ready to happen.

So you're reading this saying "duh, why do you think you're in China,you dork? Of COURSE something special is getting ready to happen!"So I must tell you that part of me is still in denial. We have been looking forward to this for two years and I'm really good at waiting and being patient, and there's a corner of my brain that keeps saying "you know this isn't really going to happen - you don't get to be a mom - but you'll have a nice trip anyway." This is why when they told us the babies wouldn't come til tomorrow, I went "of course not, because we must wait. It's what we always do." John doesn't feel this way at all! He says we've paid our dues and it's really going to happen, and then he does the baby dance. I'm beginning to believe him. And you know, our room looks like the room of two people about to become parents. There's a crib in there with a little pillow and quilt (but you see it's empty, which supports my theory), there are bottles, cans of formula, baby clothes, diapers and wipes, and even the little chop (signature stamp) that says our daughter's name in Chinese characters. This is so JieJie can sign her Christmas cards this year. So maybe she's really coming. I'll let you know. And there were good omens everywhere in Beijing - you see, Fu, the first character in JieJie's name, means Happiness and Good Luck and it's ubiquitous on signs and names of products all over the place. When we went to the Lamaa Temple, I looked down on the stone courtyard and there was a red square of paper with a Fu on it. It must have fallen off a pillar somewhere. I picked it up and put it in my pocket. Nancy told me that Chinese people hang the Fu upside down because "upside down" in Chinese sounds like "is coming" so Fu upside down means "Happiness is coming".

Fu is coming.

JieJie is coming.


Yaaaaaaayyyyyy!!!!! What a day it has been. John is upstairs right now with our DAUGHTER (!) who has had most of a bottle and is fading fast. It's about 7:30pm Monday Chongqing time. So here's what happened: We got up at about 6:30am, both up as soon as the alarm went off but luckily we slept very soundly for perhaps the last time in a while (guess we'll find out more about that tonight...). We had breakfast and then went up to get everything ready - diaper bag, bottles and liners, paperwork, travelers' checks, videocamera, etc. We went down to the lobby about 9am. Michael and Dr. Chen told us that the babies would be at the hotel about 1pm and that we would spend the morning changing travelers' checks and doing some sightseeing that might be harder post-baby due to chilly weather. We were all trying to figure out what things we needed to bring. At one point they told us we might not return to the hotel because if the babies weren't ready in time (changed, dressed etc) we might just go straight to the Civil Affairs Office. So we went to get everything we'd need after meeting JieJie. But then they said on second thought we probably will be back after all, so we just brought the camcorder. We went to Bank of China and 10 families walked out of there with cash for the orphanage donation and other fees and back on the bus.

Lest you think we were absolutely crazy, let me tell you that I feel so very safe here - we walked around on our own yesterday and while people certainly stare a great deal, they are friendly andcaring and I've never felt uneasy. So we all got back on the bus. Michael announced that while the Chongqing and Hechuan babies would arrive at the hotel at 1pm, the Fuling baby (that's us) would arrive at noon. Bonus! So it was about 11am and we went to the Chaotianmen Docks. This is at the confluence of the Jialing and Yangtze Rivers and it is quite a sight - something to remember after the Three Gorges Dam changes this area forever. Right now the rivers are fairly low and there are exposed mud flats you walk across to get out to the many riverboats that sail the river. So we walked around there - not too chilly but very foggy/smoggy so visibility left a lot to be desired. Also as this is a popular tourist attraction, we were back to the Hello people, this time wanting to sell maps and clean shoes, but not quite as aggressive as we saw in Beijing.

BY THE WAY - we were so spoiled in Beijing with all the English speaking!!! Chongqing is far more remote feeling and the extremes of poverty are greater. This city is undergoing a great deal of change very quickly and the ubiquitous dust that covers everything comes from thousands upon thousands of sizeable construction sites.

It was getting very close to noon so we all got back into the bus andwent back to the hotel. We were so excited, counting the minutes, wondering if JieJie were perhaps already waiting in the lobby! I had the camcorder at the ready, so aware that we need to capture that moment when we first see her in person. We got off the bus, I looked around the lobby - no babies. That's ok - we were told to go up to our rooms and wait for a phone call. Waiting - hey, I can do that! So we went up there, no tv, we couldn't concentrate enough and didn't care enough to turn it on - had a heart to heart instead. No phone ring - I heard some other families talking in the hall and went out to say "what's up" and was told that a bunch of people were waiting in the lobby. We got our stuff and went down.

Dr. Chen told Michael something and then Michael turned to us and said No Time for Babies To Come To Hotel - we should all prepare to go to the Civil Affairs Office and meet them there. Great - we got our stuff (forgot the diaper bag in our panic but no big deal - one family forgot their money!!) and got back on the bus. We drove back downtown, the bus parked, and the camcorder went on. We went in a very nondescript looking doorway to the end of a hallway where there were two elevators. All of us piled onto the two elevators and went up to the4th floor, where the office is that handles marriage and adoption certificates. Camcorder still on. Elevator doors opened and we all came out at once and into a large, nicely decorated room with some couches and chairs, red decorations, and a long counter behind which there were civil affairs officials. I assumed more waiting was to follow. Standing at the counter was a woman holding a baby who looked very familiar (the baby, not the woman!). Indeed, it was our JieJie! We recognized her immediately. I thrust the camcorder intosomeone else's hands and said "please hold this" and we rushed to JieJie. Dr. Chen held her for what seemed like an eternity (I'm sure he loves this part of his job, being the baby presenter!) and talked to her and then gave her to me and John and I were just in awe. Sheis so beautiful! She was in a really mellow mood too, which seems to be her default so far...John held her next and we were just laughing and laughing.

All around us people were receiving their babies -like a mass birth all around the room! Standing off to the side were the nannies and foster mothers who have taken care of these children for many months and to whom we are all so very grateful - we brought special gifts for them to thank them. Soon the nannies were talking with the parents through the interpreter to tell them things that would help them begin to care for their daughters. JieJie's caregiver wasn't there but we are going to Fuling Thursday so we hope to meet her then. Fu De Quan (that's our girl!) was wearing a thick pink polar-fleece material outfit with a white collar. It had bears on the jacket and the buttons say 2008, presumably for the Olympics. Lots of the babies from Chongqing orphanage had entire outfits decorated with Olympics-related logos and pictures.

JieJie was also wearing the cutest little shoes with bears and bows on the toes. She was so warm. She initially seemed more comfortable with me and fussed a little when John was holding her so we went and sat down on the couch and sort of gradually moved her from my lap to his and this time she was fine. He played with her, made her laugh, and now she lights up when he comes into view. She has smiled and laughed for both of us several times already today. We had to hang out there for a while, give our fingerprints, give the orphanage donation and pay for JieJie's Chinese passport, have our first family portrait taken, and were given a CD (don't know what's on it - it's a data CD so guess we'll find out when we get home) and a beautiful glass sculpture that says "Hometown Chongqing" on it.

Some babies were crying but JieJie was either hanging out or smiling,babbling (Ah-Da-Da-Da is her favorite thing to say so far) or looking us in the eyes. She is very social and alert. Mr. Pan, the assistant director of the Fuling orphanage was there. We met him, took some pictures and gave him a gift (some homemade chocolates from Dayton, VA). He gave us a bottle for JieJie and talked to her a little. She had a little of the bottle while we were there. I gave her a hug and a squeeze and she settled right down for a nap on my chest. She slept on me all the way back on the bus--big day for her, including a 2-hour bus ride from Fuling.

We got back to the hotel, went up to our rooms and started trying to figure all this parenthood stuff out, one moment at a time. John went to get formula, JieJie got hungry and I fed her more of the bottle from Mr.Pan, and all told we got about 6 more ounces in her before she had a full enough belly to want to go to sleep. I assume that's what she's doing now. She seems in very good health - a little congestion, some boogers in the nose, the usual. Other than that she is just an amazing little person. There's that word again.

Oh and by the way - I believe it now, this baby stuff. She's real, she's here, and boy are we the two happiest people I know (except forthe other 9 families - they may argue with me on that one!). Wish us luck - we'll write again probably tomorrow. As soon as it's a human hour of the evening we'll be calling the grandparents. More later -Louise and John AND JIEJIE ARNDT! (by the way, we named her little stuffed animal/beanie baby "Dou Dou" for Nancy, since it means "little bean")


John here. Yesterday was our first full day with JieJie . We decided to join two other couples in a visit to the orphanage at Hechuan, about an hour north of here. The visit was expedited by the fact that the new superhighway between Chongqing and Hechuan had opened this past weekend. As we made our way north through the fog shrouded countryside, about the only thing we could see were all the banners on the side of the road celebrating the opening of the highway.

Hechuan was quite a trip. As soon as we got out of the minibus in Hechuan, a crowd of locals began to gather--within a few minutes, 20 or more people, mostly elderly women, surrounded us tugging at the children and basically telling us that our children needed more clothing. The habit of dressing infants here is to dress them as if they are about to go out and shovel snow in the Yukon--and its high 50s here. After the visit at the orphanage, we went to a local hotel for a grand lunch. Several courses, fish, beef, veggies, pork, etc, some bland and some very hot. From there we went down town, and while shopping at a store, we probably attracted 100 bystanders who wanted to look at the babies, lecture us on how to dress them and stare at Westerners who are few and far between in Hechuan. I winked at a little boy, who ran away, returned with two friends, and I winked at them while they blinked back.

The trip was tiring for us, esp so for JieJie, who was a bit out of sorts last evening. I finally got her settled down after about an hour, but every time she looked at Louise she'd start crying! The Dr. told us that this is often a part of the separation process and that moms are particularly vulnerable since they are female but not the primary caregiver they became accustomed to at the orphanage. Today will be low key--we'll go to get our laundry, which was supposed to be ready yesterday, which was hanging quite prominently from the front of the laundry last evening, but which we were informed was not ready. Perhaps there is status in the local laundry business in having Western clothes out front. Tomorrow we are heading east up the Yangtze to Fuling, where JieJie was kept. When we return from what will be a very full day (the recentlyfinished superhighway to Fuling will enable us to get there in about 21/2 hours), the families here plan on a big dinner some place in town. A Happy Thanksgiving indeed!

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving from China! It's 3pm on Thanksgiving Day as I write this, and John is upstairs waiting for a glycerin suppository to fix JieJie's constipation. I had heard before this trip and can attest to its truth, that a big topic of conversation among the new parents is poop. When, how much, consistency, amount, pretty much anything you could want to know about poop, we can tell you about it. And we've even learned a really effective traditional Chinese remedy for baby constipation! This morning one baby was fussing and when the parents told Dr. Chen that every time she tries to "go" she screams and cries, he mashed up a banana and brought a small saucer of sesame oil to the table. He instructed the parents to alternate spoonfuls of mashed banana with a spoonful of sesame oil. An hour later, success--we called it a "pooplosion"! Ok, enough about poop.

We were very glad yesterday that we decided just to hang out and not go to the Chongqing orphanage, though all the parents who went said it was absolutely state-of-the-art, comfy, plenty of caregivers, bright, colorful, stimulating, the whole bit. That was nice to hear and many of the parents were glad to see where their babies spent that time of their lives. This morning we were up bright and early - JieJie is starting to look at us differently, really look at us. She is smiling more, playing more. Yesterday she leaned into my kisses - that was great! For awhile there she really only looked at us long enough to discern that we were "those people who won't go away" and get upset. We figure the first day (from her perspective) we could've just been nice babysitters she was visiting, but once she started to realize that this was a permanent new situation, she began what Dr. Chen so nicely called "the period of adjustment". And really, we were well prepared to deal with this and it is going about as well as can be expected.

As John told you I had a hard time of it the first day or so after she started the transition. I know this is the best thing for her but it is just hard not to be able to give her the people who did comfort her while we wait to become the people who can comfort her. She is warming up to us a little more every day and we're being pretty patient if I do say so myself. Last night she had her first bath and that went pretty well. I got in the tub with her and we kept it short and to the point. That time post-bath and pre-bed is so wonderfully mellow. We played with some toys and hung out before putting her down about 8:30 which is what she is used to. Her paperwork from the orphanage said she sleeps from 8:30-7:30 and that's exactly what has happened so far with us.

After breakfast today we all got on the bus to go to Fuling. What a great thing that even though we are the only family with a Fuling baby, everyone else wanted to come along too! In fact the only person who stayed behind was a single mom who caught a nasty flu that's starting to make the rounds - let's hope our shots worked. It took about 2 hours to get to Fuling. On the outskirts of town it looked like a combination of the aftermath of an earthquake and a huge construction site. Because that part of Fuling will soon be under water when the dam starts to flood the Three Gorges (what an awful pity to lose that whole scenic area!), everything had to be deconstructed so that ships aren't running into submerged houses. Many thousands of people are being relocated as part of the dam project, and these areas we saw are their former neighborhoods. Fuling itself is more like a mini-Chongqing and not at all like Hechuan was the other day (thank goodness - that was not an easy day). There were tons of little shops, lots of people walking around, going about their business. I have seen maybe 2 people loitering since we landed in China on the 18th - everyone is busy, busy busy and these people work very hard. They are building superhighways and overpasses with very little heavy equipment - just wheelbarrowfuls of concrete at a time, but there are plenty of people and wheelbarrows so it all gets done.

The bus parked, we got off, and there was a curious but friendly crowd this time who definitely gave us more personal space than in Hechuan. They watched with curiosity as 9 families with Chinese babies walked down the street toward the orphanage. We have film of all this so if you want the whole story I'd be glad to show you. We got to meet Madame Yang, the Fuling orphanage director. She is a wonderful woman. We also saw Mr. Pan again, the assistant director, and we got to meet JieJie's caregiver but in all the excitement we neglected to ask her name - we will have to do that via the Internet when we get home. Madame Yang thanked us for adopting Fu De Quan and asked us if we were happy (duh!!!) and asked us to please send her photos and letters as JieJie grows up. We promised. Before we left, I asked Michael the interpreter if it would be ok to hug Madame Yang, he relayed the offer and she came to me with arms outstretched. I said 'thank you' in Chinese and she said the same (xie xie, like shyeh shyeh). JieJie was not at all bothered by being there as we had feared she might be. Quite the opposite - her legs were kicking with excitement and she smiled at everyone who came up and called her name - her nickname there was Quan Quan, pronounced like 'chuenchuen'. We are so glad we went, and we took an hour of videotape forJieJie to see whenever she wants to.

Tonight for Thanksgiving...well, we're all so tired that we decided to give in and have the Thankgsiving buffet here at the hotel. It's quite expensive, about $15/person as opposed to the less-than-$5 we're accustomed to paying for a large dinner, but it will be nice to have some familiar food. We have certainly been plenty adventurous while we're here so we don't feel too guilty...and it is Thanksgiving after all. And hey, it's American Week here at the Holiday Inn Chongqing, whose proprietor is from Hamburg, Germany and which is hosting a huge conference of Japanese businessmen!! For those of you who would like to remember us in your Thanksgiving celebrations, all you have to do is go to a Chinese restaurant and get an order of steamed or fried dumplings (jaozi) and dipping sauce or perhaps some Sichuan noodles and you'll be all set. We plan to add them to our Thanksgivings in the future to remember this incredible trip. Well, better go - by the way we finally sent some photos to be developed so look for those tomorrow morning when you sign on. I'll post them before we go to bed tonight. Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!


Well, we are finally starting to learn a little bit about JieJie's patterns of eating, sleeping, etc. so we are able to anticipate her needs and make things go a little more smoothly. So we knew what we were getting into yesterday when we got on the bus for another day trip. In preparation, we had taken Friday off and put her back on her schedule of morning nap and afternoon nap and she was much sunnier between naps. Yesterday (Saturday) morning we got on the bus and first went to the Chongqing zoo to see the pandas and tigers. She LOVED the pandas and cried when John walked her away from their pen. When she could see the pandas she would babble away and kick her feet in the carrier, smiling so big.

JieJie has some serious lungs and when she is displeased, she is LOUD. Oddly though, when she is happy, her happy sound begins as a whisper, with wide open mouth and eyes almost closed with smiling.I'm hoping perhaps her happy sounds can soon be as free and full as her upset sounds--and hoping those might diminish as she comes to trust us and get used to a dependable routine. After the zoo we headed for Dazu in northern Chongqing municipality. It was a 2-hour bus ride through some beautiful countryside with brick farmhouses and terraced fields of radishes, cabbages, and rice of course. Every so often we would see a farmer using a water buffalo to till a new rice paddy. Many times I saw children with baskets on their backs carrying produce from the field to the house, helping out with the family business. Because Chinese people build their houses according to feng shui (wind/water), the houses follow the contours of the land so beautifully. A good location for a house is one where there are mountains at the back to block the wind and a stream at the front.

When we got to Dazu we all ate at a hotel restaurant. It was pretty good - the biggest discovery was that JieJie LOVES tapioca. What we later realized was she shouldn't be eating too much of it yet! Dazu is famous for some 800-year-old stone carvings of buddhas and other well-known figures of Chinese religious belief. We saw a grotto full of beautiful stone carvings and then walked along a bluff that had amazing sculptures cut into the rock. About halfway through the tour - MELTDOWN. Inconsolable crying, thrashing, the whole nine yards. We expected it because she had barely slept either morning or afternoon (she usually has a 2-hour nap 2x/day) but while it's happening it's still rough to deal with. On top of this, she was wet and hungry. Even after we satisfied both of those needs though, she was still just frantic.

Remember the staring and the "hello" we encounter in public, especially tourist areas? Imagine what it's like to have a crying baby as you walk down the street, everyone staring, pointing, talking about the "waiguoren" (foreigner) with the "chongguoren xiao har"(Chinese baby). I am just coming off of a 3-day bout with the flu so the patience level was not high. John put me on a van to take me back to the bus with the baby and when we got there, it was hello time. "Hello ten dollars! Hello! Hello orange! Hello onedollar!" Normally I can deal but I just made a break for the bus, finally got JieJie calmed down and she fell asleep for about an hour before waking up again in hysterics. The culprit? You guessed it - constipation. Poor baby!!! Thanks to Cathy for suggesting we bring glycerin suppositories. So suffice it to say we are learning. Slowly. Half the parents are sick with this flu and on the bus you could hear a combination of babies crying and parents coughing and moaning. What a sight we must've been! They offered another outing today but almost nobody is going. Small wonder! I don't mean to diminish the majesty of Dazu and I hope if you go to China someday you will get a chance to see these amazing sculptures. Just don't forget the suppositories!!

So today is a Mellow Day. JieJie's in a fantastic mood and giggling and laughing especially when she can see herself in the mirror. She also likes rattles so we're going to find one or two new ones today. Tomorrow we fly to Guangzhou for the last leg of this trip. We have received JieJie's official notarized adoption certificate from the provincial authorities, and her Chinese passport (it's so cute!) which are the major things we need before we head to the U.S.Consulate in Guangzhou. We are very excited to see our friends from home and meet their new daughter Emily. Wow, what an adventure! I'll write next from Guangzhou - take care, Louise

You can search FTJ for past posts, e.g. China info...