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!).

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