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

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