Travelogue from China
by Luana Rubin©
March 29, 2003
Our flight to China was smooth and comfortable. We went on China Eastern Airlines and arrived in Beijing as the sun was setting. A travel representative met us at the airport and took us through the heart of Beijing to our hotel. We are staying at a "5-Star" hotel across from the ancient Observatory that was set on the outer wall of the Forbidden City. This 500 year old tower actually looks like a stone fortress, and has large metal (iron?) astronomy instruments on the top of the tower that look like some form of sextant and concentric circles. We are hoping to visit this tower before our stay here is over.
It is early Spring here, and there is a misty haze in the sky 24 hours a day. It reminds me of Blade Runner, as we drive through the city at night seeing spectacular examples of modern Asian architecture jutting into the mist, spaced out at majestic intervals and stretching into the distance, with giant neon signs pulsing on top or along their sides. I am told this haze is a combination of fog, and the dust storm that blows in from Mongolia every March/April. There is a short article about this yearly dust storm in the beginning of the current National Geographic.
We have three full days to tour in Beijing, and are sleeping here 4 nights before traveling to Hefei to pick up Sophie. On our first day we had a buffet breakfast at the hotel, which attempted to approximate a Western style breakfast but even though this is a 5 star hotel, there were a few things that made us smile. Plenty of Germans all around us, which I have found to be true in Asia throughout all my years of travel here. Usually where there are German tourists in Asia, there are Japanese tourists too, but I have not seen or heard any Japanese tourists yet. But we are going to the Great Wall today, so perhaps we will see more of an international mix at this "must see" tourist attraction.
Anyway, we spent the morning on a Pedicab tour of the Hotung neighborhoods in the Shishahai Lake area. This is like a rickshaw with a bicycle rider pulling you through the narrow ancient streets. We climbed the Emperor's Bell Tower built in 1279, visited the home of a Hotung resident and chatted about their daily way of life, and visited the elegant gardens and teahouse of the Prince Gong Mansion - who was by the way "executed to death" for his corruption. A group of charming young women in red cheongsams did a tea ceremony for us in the old teahouse, and we sampled several varieties of special Chinese teas. I believe the tour guide said that 50% of the city's population lives in the Hotungs, but because they are ancient one-story buildings, they are slowly being torn down to make way for more efficient residential high-rises. These ancient dwellings can be a couple hundred or a thousand years old, and you can only see them in the pedicab because the alleyways are so narrow.
After our tour, our guide took us to a Hong Kong style restaurant for lunch,
which made me feel right at home! We had a fabulous vegetarian tofu curry,
and some udon noodles. Our guide Richard moved from Hong Kong to Beijing
about the same time that I left HK. He said he much prefers living in
Beijing because even though it is a big city, it is a much more peaceful
place to live and work and drive. He says that in HK people are in too big
of a rush, and all they think about is money, food and work. I found his
comments very interesting.
After lunch Richard took us on a tour around Tianamen Square, which we will visit on a tour tomorrow on the way to the Forbidden City and Summer Palace. We saw the fortress towers, the big red wall with the portrait of Mao, and the temple where Mao's body is embalmed and on display. (but we did not go in) Rather eerie to see the actual place where so many important events have taken place... and surreal to see the vast public space which cannot be captured on a tv screen.
In the afternoon we got real brave and went to the huge Hong Chow market, with several floors of Chinese and Western merchandise. I got some of those really cute silk jacket and pantsuits for Sophie... for a song. A silk batik kimono and cloisonné "pearl" necklace. Oh yes, and a beautiful doll of a Chinese girl playing a musical instrument. Then we went next door to the toy building and Mason was in heaven. Caught a taxi and had another interesting drive through town back to our hotel.
In the early evening we went to a Chinese acrobatic show, with a troupe of about 25 kids and young adults who did aerial acrobatics, juggling, balancing and unicycle tricks that made us gasp. The contortionists left our jaws hanging. My friends Marie and Steve suggested that we HAD to see this and they were right!
On the way home we stopped at what was supposedly the biggest and most modern Western-style department store. I happily trotted off to the ladies room, thinking that surely here there would be a Western style toilet. Nope. A ceramic-lined hole in the floor with two raised footprints so one can squat and .... well you get the picture. Outside it was all Rolex and Samsung and Gucci and Estee Lauder as far as the eye could see. What a combination!
We had a late night dinner which had very interesting renditions of pizza and spaghetti ... they didn't really have a good vegetarian Chinese dish for us .... and fell asleep dreaming of flying colors and sparkling lights in the mist.
I will continue to send these travelogues to Paul so he can post them on our China Travel Page. I will also send photos when I can - in between our busy tour schedule. In a few days we will meet Sophie! Everywhere we go, I see the beautiful Chinese children who are obviously so loved by their parents. Even in the poorer parts of town, they dress up their children in bright and decorative outfits, and they all seem to have the most adorable hats!
Ok, we are off to breakfast and the Great Wall now!
March 30, 2003
On our 2nd day in Beijing we met a small tour bus at 7:45 am, and after picking up a few more tourists (from Denmark and Thailand) we set off to the Great Wall. Except that they forgot to tell us about the stop at the Jade Factory, the Ming Tombs and the restaurant at the Friendship Store. Never mind! We happily shopped and ate our way north towards the Great Wall.
The Jade Factory was huge - and their showroom/museum in a large warehouse type structure was gigantic. First we saw the craftsmen sitting at their machines, drilling carving and polishing jade jewelry and figurines. Then we had a detailed description of how to identify real jade. We were shown several methods of identifying real jade, including a comparison of temperature (jade feels cooler than glass or marble), translucence, the high-pitched chiming sound, and how the higher quality of jade (jadeite) cuts glass.
Then we walked out into the showroom, which has the most incredible exhibit of large jade carvings I have seen since I was in the National Museum in Taipei. There was a jade boat as big as a yacht! - several life size carved jade animals, a giant carp and beautiful dragon - a translucent green jade filigree screen 9' x 12' - and other incredible museum quality pieces.
Then we picked our jaws up off the floor and walked into the jewelry showrooms, the rows and rows of carved figurines, and a small boutique of antique jade in the back. I was drawn to a couple beautiful jade pieces from the Ching Dynasty (about 100 yrs old) that were very reasonably priced. Mason picked out a little frog, and we got a carved jade horse for Sophie.
Next we set off for the Ming Tombs. These are the Imperial Tombs that lie north of the city, on the way to the Great Wall. These huge red temple-like structures have ceramic tile roofs and lots of painted ornamentation, plus endless carved stone bas relief marble in the balustrades and stairways. There were also exhibits of what they call "cultural relics" - historic artifacts relating to the emperors who are buried there. The tombs are placed in an auspicious valley surrounded by a Tiger Mountain, Dragon Mountain and Longevity Mountain. The placement of the tombs and all the architectural and color details are supposed to be a supreme example of feng shui. You have probably seen photos of the giant stone animals at the front gates - we drove by these but did not stop.
As we exited the Ming Tombs, we made a supposedly brief stop at a school of Chinese Medicine. After a quick look around the ground floor with some acupuncture charts and Chinese herbs, we were invited to go upstairs to hear a speaker. A woman gave us an introduction to Chinese medicine, but unfortunately her English pronunciation made it very difficult and sometimes humorous to follow what was being said. But she was very knowledgeable and confident. Then some pretty young nurses dressed in pink nurse dresses and hats came in, followed by the two doctors in white coats, who took our pulses, identified our physical and energetic imbalances, and made suggestions for Chinese herbal medicine tonics. We were told that the Chinese government wants to introduce foreign visitors to the concept of Chinese medicine, which is thousands of years old. Since I go to a Chinese Medicine doctor for acupuncture and herbal medicines regularly, I was happy to meet the local practitioners.
After this we piled on the bus again, thinking "ok NOW we are going to the Great Wall!" - but it was time for lunch. We drove a short distance to a restaurant, which happened to be fronted by a giant "friendship store" full of all kinds of Chinese arts and crafts. And they very generously allowed us plenty of time to shop after lunch. If you have never been in one of these "friendship stores", they are packed with silk pajamas and robes, embroidered tablecloths and doilies, Chinese paintings and carvings, dolls, jewelry, jade, and it is really hard not to look or buy. What is a shock for some tourists is that you are expected to bargain for all of this stuff. You can end up paying a third of the asking price, but you have to be willing to walk away before the deal is sealed. Then they come running after you and give you the price you asked. If you don't bargain they think you are just a dumb tourist.
Then - finally! - we got on the bus to drive to the Great Wall. What a thrill to drive up into the mountains, and glimpse the ancient fortress walls snaking along the top of the peaks as you speed up the new highway. We went to a very popular location called Badaling. We drove up a narrow valley called "Bears Garden" where many of the rare Asiatic bears are kept in a zoo-like environment, just next to all the souvenir booths. We were very happy to have taken the slow uphill toboggan ride up the mountain, to save our legs for the steep climb on the Wall. After climbing up and down the tops of the mountains on the top surface of the wall, our knees started to turn to jelly. The souvenir hawkers at one peak had an interesting way of getting one's attention - they would yell "Hey Look! - Pretty Model Lady!" across at us.
One thing I loved about the Wall was that there were people from all over the world, and everybody was smiling and so happy. The view was just spectacular, and it was hard not to pause in the tower windows and wonder about the ancient soldiers who watched for the Mongolian enemy from their lofty stone perch. On the way down our knees were rubber, and we were happy to climb back in the little toboggan cars that slowly made their way down the steep mountain. Our guide explained that the emperor who built most of the Wall used conscripted labor - one million workers were brought to work on the wall, and a half million died there. Those 500,000 people were buried in the foundation of the Wall, so it is a tomb as well.
Everywhere we go in Beijing, we are reminded that the Olympics will be here in 2008. The government is taking on many ambitious projects - large and small in detail - to prepare the city for it's Olympic visitors. Speedy highways, high-rise residential projects, and other changes are sweeping away the old for the new. During this process much of the ancient architecture will be replaced by modern structures, so it is a good time to see the city before those areas are gone forever. The most important historic structures will be kept of course, but much of the rustic hotung areas (mentioned in yesterday's travelogue) will be gone.
Mason and I were so exhausted by our day, that when we returned to our hotel we collapsed in our beds at 6 pm and slept until morning. Hopefully that will help with our jetlag!
March 31, 2003
Our last full day in Beijing was the most exciting for me - our visits to the ancient Imperial Palaces and Temples. We started our day at the Temple of Heaven - a complex of round temples set in square walls representing Heaven and Earth. The Supreme Alter was a multi-tiered layer cake of carved marble, and the Emperor would stand on the center stone to implore the God of Heaven for prosperity and health for the people and the kingdom. The gardens have dragon cypress trees with spiral knotted bark, aged from 100 to 300 years old, and a few up to 500 years old. The cypress trees are considered "yin" trees, so to bring the gardens into balance and harmony there are also "yang" trees interspersed. There are also ancient halls full of "cultural relics" (artifacts) such as ceremonial musical instruments, and plaques representing the various lesser gods and goddesses who were worshipped along with the Supreme God of Heaven.
the way to the Summer Palace we made a pitstop at a pearl factory outlet. These were all freshwater pearls cultured in the rivers and inland lakes. Tables and tables were laid out with strands of white, pink, purple and black pearls. Jewelry cases were loaded with every possible version of pearl earrings, rings, necklaces and bracelets. Young girls grabbed our hands and rubbed in Pearl Skin Lotion, guaranteed to make us young and beautiful. *smile* Our guide had Mason fish out a large oyster from a tank (these are NOT suitable for eating) so she could open it up and show us how the pearls are cultured. There were 20 freshwater pearls embedded in the flesh along each side! In the "boutique" they had the really huge exquisite single pearls, selling for $10,000 or more. They were absolutely gorgeous!
Next we went to the Summer Palace. These are the Gardens and summer residence of the Imperial family next to a large manmade lake. There are several temples around the lake, including a Buddhist temple up on a hill, and a Taoist temple on an island. The bridge leading to this island was designed by Marco Polo. A large marble boat appears to float on the water, and one can go out on the water in painted dragon boats. We went to the Empress' teahouse for a tea ceremony, and walked through the Dragon Lady's personal residence courtyard, peering through the doors at the original furniture and decor. The Dragon Lady was the last Empress who ruled through several young boys who were crowned emperor, but were too young to actually control the empire. One of the beautiful parts of the palace was a long covered corridor, (they said it was the longest hallway in China) that had over 8000 individual paintings on the ceilings and overhangs - of landscapes, figures, birds and flowers. Carved and painted wood filigree lined the entire length of this walkway.
At all of these Imperial gardens we saw fantastic abstract rocks that were weathered by water and wind, mounted on carved pedestals like sculptures, or standing upright like obelisks. They are quite striking and we don't have anything quite like it in Western gardens or landscaping. These giant stones are pulled from the bottoms of lakes and rivers, and exhibited like works of art. The largest of these rocks is in the middle of the Dragon Lady's residential courtyard.
After lunch we went to our final destination - the Forbidden City - a complex of Imperial palaces, residences, towers and offices built 600 years ago. The complex is vast, with large open spaces between the buildings. If you have ever seen the movie "The Last Emperor" then you are familiar with this huge complex. Walking across the broken ancient stones in the square, crossing the Golden River on the arched carved marble bridges, walking up the Imperial Staircase to the Dragon Throne.... it was a thrill beyond words for me. One could easily spend 2 whole days exploring all there is to see there, but we had only a short time at the end of the day. But the stones literally vibrated with the voices of the past, and it was an unforgettable experience. I hope to return there some day with Sophie.
That evening we walked a few blocks from our hotel to have Thai food. On the way little girls came and begged for money. There was about one girl per block, they were 3-5 years old, and their clothes and faces were dirty as if they were living on the streets. They looked as if they were Tibetan or some other Northern minority, with round faces, colorful clothing and red cheeks. We soon figured out that their mothers were hiding, pointing out tourists and sending them out to beg us for money. It was hard to ignore these children, but we soon found that the more we gave, the more beggars began to follow us and aggressively ask for money. A difficult situation. But we did have a lovely dinner with the best Thai food I have since I left Hong Kong.
April 1, 2003 - Beijing to Hefei
On the last day in Beijing, we miraculously got all of our bags packed with their original contents plus the results of our shopping expedition, and hurried down to breakfast. We changed some money (the exchange rate is about 8 Yuan to 1 US dollar), and our tour guide took us to the airport.
On the way to the airport our guide answered many questions about the economy and political system in China. It is changing rapidly, and it seems that the outside world does not realize how modern and capitalistic China has become. There are 2 million cars on the road in Beijing, and despite the 100% tax on regular cars, and 150% luxury tax on nicer cars, the roads are clogged with Passats, Jettas, Audis and other local made cars I could not identify. They are building highways and roads as fast as possible, but they still can't keep up with the rapid expansion of private car ownership.
Our guide said that the average worker makes about US$250 a month, and their rent is US$20-30 a month. However, educated young people have to pay higher rent, and are not part of the old subsidized rent program. These educated young workers may make $800 a month, and can afford a nicer apartment and a basic car. Older workers are having to buy the apartments they live in - they are given a pension for their years of service which is then applied as a payment on their apartment. The remaining amount is put into a mortgage and the monthly payment is similar to the subsidized rent payment they had paid before.
We made our way through the large Beijing airport with the help of our guide, and had to check in a larger carryon suitcase that we had brought on board for the trans-Pacific flight. We had no overweight charges even when we checked 3 bags, but when we met our adoption group later many of them had to pay overweight charges for their baggage on a domestic China flight.
Our flight from Beijing to Hefei was short - an hour and 20 minutes. We figured if we were lucky we would get drinks, but they served us a nice hot lunch. The dessert was an Asian fruit called Dragons Eyes - anyway that's what it was called when I lived in Hong Kong. They are the size of a large grape, they have a tough skin, and after you break open the skin - out pops a translucent round white fruit with a big black marble of a seed inside. They are fragrant and delicious - similar to Lichee fruit but smaller. Mason wanted to know how we could get them back home - maybe these days they are available seasonally in Asian markets but I have never seen them in Colorado.
When we landed in Hefei it was raining. I saw very quickly that even though Hefei is the "Provincial Capital" it had a teeny airport. We walked down portable stairs from the plane to the tarmac, ran to the little bus in the rain, and got off at the small terminal. The ladies room had 2 Chinese style toilets and one sort-of Western toilet. Hmm, I was sizing up the situation real fast. There was ONE small baggage claim ramp so we got our bags quickly, and our Hefei guide Yisha was waiting at the exit door. We hopped on the hotel shuttle and took off.
On the way to the hotel we saw the Holiday Inn shuttle bus flipped on its side in the middle of an intersection, with its passengers climbing up and out. Our driver laughed and remarked in Chinese that they were driving too fast in the rain. Uh huh...
We drove through a rural/industrial area for about 15 minutes, then saw a cluster of fantastic modern buildings that appeared through the mist. This is apparently the "downtown" area, and includes our hotel close by. Our hotel is supposedly a 5-Star Hotel. What that means is that there is lots of marble and crystal and grand pianos, etc. but basic things like the toilet don't work. We can't flush paper down the toilet because the sewer system can't handle it. The furniture is new and fancy but one of the handles came off in our hand when opening a drawer. The service is friendly and sincerely earnest, but few understand English here. My limited vocabulary of Chinese came in handy when our group had dinner. I am the only one in the group of 6 families who has been to Asia, or who speaks any Chinese. But our guide is with us most of the time, so it is ok.
When we first walked into our room, there was already a crib and stroller placed there. Now the reality is really sinking in. I sat and looked at the crib for a long, long time....
April 2, 2003 - Gotcha Day - Hefei, Anhui Province
Today was a very special day - the day we finally received Sophie!
After a quick buffet breakfast in the hotel with the other waiting parents, we went back to our rooms to gather all of our paperwork for the 9:30 am meeting.
As we walked across the hotel to the meeting room, I got teary in anticipation. Mason and I walked down the long hall and we could see hotel staff standing at the doorway, clustered around and looking at the babies inside the room. When we walked in the room, six nannies and the orphanage staff were holding the six babies. I spotted Sophie right away, but we couldn't take our babies until our names were called and they placed our child in our arms. So during those long 5 minutes we took video footage and took photos of the babies and nannies. I spotted Sophie right away - she seemed happy and mellow.
We were 5th in line, and when they put my new daughter in my arms I held her up in front of my face and said "Hello Sophie! Wo Ai Ni!" (I love you in Chinese) She gave a me a big smile and looked me right in the eye. Then I held her close and she snuggled right up to me. Mason was just beaming, and after a few minutes I let him hold her. Then we sat down and played with her and talked to her. She was very alert and mellow, quiet and occasionally smiling.
We had over 3 hours of paperwork but it went so quickly because we were so involved with our beautiful Sophie. At the end of it all the orphanage director gave us the final (pink) adoption certificate and two little jade pendants for each girl. We asked them if there was something they really needed for the orphanage, and when they said they really needed 4 new water heaters, all of the parents agreed to go together to pay for these needed items.
I asked which nanny was Sophie's nanny, and they took me to a young woman dressed in red with glasses. She seemed obviously taken with Sophie, and she kissed Sophie and lovingly stroked her cheeks. I thanked her for taking such good care of Sophie, and she thanked me for adopting this baby.
We also asked for some individual characteristics of the different babies. Another nanny said that two of them had a temper, another two were very active, and the last two (including Sophie) were very quiet. Then she said that Sophie was the most quiet of all 6 babies.
I have to say that so far Sophie is a very happy mellow and even-tempered baby. She has smiled and talked to us, loves to snuggle and play, is bright eyed and alert. We feel so blessed to have received such a beautiful happy baby. When we got her back to the room we put on her new clothes and hat and just sang and talked to her for a long time. Later I put on my baby sling (with her facing out) and we danced in front of the mirror. She loved that!
She is a little developmentally delayed which is normal - she can't quite sit up on her own yet, but you can see that she is really trying to do it by herself. She doesn't like to lay down flat for too long, she likes to be sitting up and looking all around. These babies catch up to their normal developmental level very quickly with love and stimulation. So we are not worried about this at all.
Many of you have asked if we are concerned about the SARS virus. We chose to tour in Beijing instead of Hong Kong because of the virus, and we will only stop in Guangzhou for the required few days at the end of the trip. We will wear the surgical masks as we go through the airport, and will stay in our hotel there instead of touring the city.
Oops - she just woke up from her nap - time to check the diapers!
April 3, 2003 - Hefei, Anhui Province
We are in the process of getting to know Sophie, and it is a delightful process. She is such a happy gentle soul that I keep pinching myself, waiting to wake up from this dream. Or waiting for her to start screaming and frowning after the shock wears off. But no, this is really her personality. Just a mellow smiling girl who loves to snuggle and play.
This morning we had to meet and board a bus for a downtown department store at 9:30 am. It was a real struggle to get there by 9:40 am. So many new things to deal with, including preparing and sterilizing the bottles, boiling water to drink, finding food that we can eat. (we are vegetarian) Remembering all the things I need to do and bring for this little excursion was incredibly time consuming. Oh yeah, I am on "baby time" now. I almost forgot about that.
It took us a half hour on the hotel shuttle to reach the downtown store. A poor man sat in front of the store with a monkey on a leash, begging. As we stood at the front door, a crowd of people gathered just a few feet away, and stared at us. I guess we were quite a sight! 6 families from America and 6 Chinese babies, all dressed up in new American clothes. We went inside and took the escalators all the way to the 6th floor - to the baby department.
It was a bit of an adventure finding the things we needed there, but after about 45 minutes we had paid for our purchases and gathered with our babies and bags of baby loot. The sales girls rushed and swarmed around us in a giggling flurry. Total strangers walked up to Sophie about every 2 minutes to grab her little hand and pull her thumb out of her mouth. She extends her pinkie when she sucks her thumb, and they thought that was really funny. Did you know that it is proper etiquette when drinking Chinese tea to extend your pinkie? But only if you are a woman. I guess some things are the same the world over - whether you are drinking tea with the Empress, the Queen of England, or sucking your thumb.
Anyway, after that we took the escalators back down all the way to the basement, where they had a big grocery store. We bought formula, rice cereal, and diapers. Mason was exploring the strange and bewildering foods in the snack aisles when we stumbled across the fish department in back. They had a bucket of wriggling snakelike eels, a tank of big ole bullfrogs, and other aquatic creatures for sale... to eat. I was used to seeing this sort of thing from days of living and traveling in Asia, but it was quite a shock for Mason.
Though it all, Sophie hung out in the baby sling (a Baby Bjorn) and took it all in. When we got back to the hotel she and I took a nap, and Mason went bowling. There is a bowling alley in the basement of the hotel, and Mason has been playing about 5 games a day while we are napping. The games are about 80 cents, and the shoes are free! He is in heaven.
The only English channel we get here is BBC, so we are getting some news of the war and the virus, but it all seems so far away. It takes a week to get our local adoption paperwork completed here, and then next Tuesday we will fly to Guangzhou for a few days to finalize the exit visa with the US Embassy there. Now that I have Sophie, I am anxious to get home. We will arrive home on the 12th if all goes as planned. I hope we are not quarantined on the way home!
We are hoping that the clouds will lift so we can take Sophie for a walk in the stroller tomorrow. Hoping for more of life's simple pleasures tomorrow.
April 4, 2003 - Hefei, Anhui Province
Today the other parents and Mason went out to the local history museum, and then went shopping. Because I got to do so much of this in Beijing, I chose to stay at the hotel today. It was a relatively pleasant day (it stopped raining, and a little sun peeked through the hazy clouds) so I took Sophie for a walk in the stroller in the park behind our hotel.
On Fridays and Saturdays the young students wear their "sport" uniforms and play/exercise outside. There were many classes wearing these matching warmup suits at the park, and when Sophie and I rolled in, we were surrounded by enthusiastic children yelling "Hello!" and "Nice baby!" They tried to practice their limited English vocabulary with me, but mostly they were fascinated by Sophie. They crowded around the stroller and got right in her face, so I had to motion for them to give us space and stop yelling. You can see from the photo that they were very energetic! These kids in the photo were perhaps around 7-8 yrs old. There were also some middle and high school students in the park who swamped me with questions.
The architecture and grounds of our hotel are kind of funny. It is supposed to look like a European chateau I think, with Versailles-like gardens and an adjacent street of Austrian/Swiss shops. At night they are all lit up with little white lights like Christmas lights. I wish it was warmer - I would love to take a walk out there at night. Our hotel has a fabulously decorated restaurant and bar area with a waterfall, grand piano and lily pond. The grand piano is a digital "player piano" and is out of tune. There is some kind of nightclub on the ground floor and we can hear the music thumping late at night. Then I look out the window in the morning and see old men bringing produce to market on an overloaded 3 wheel bicycle and cart. I find the juxtaposition of the old and new fascinating.
Mason is bowling at least 5 games a day downstairs. He went twice today so he probably had 10 games by this evening. He is becoming quite the bowling addict! He is playing alongside adult Chinese bowlers. He goes down there by himself while Sophie and I are napping.
Sophie is opening up her personality to us more each day. Today she started making loud happy baby noises. Cooing, gurgling, yodeling and happy screeching. Mason doesn't quite know what to make of her! This afternoon we were playing and giggling when suddenly she got real quiet, put her face a few inches from mine and looked into my eyes, and gave me this look of incredible love. To say that my heart melted is an understatement. I was weeping and smiling at the same time.
The talk among the parents today was about the SARS virus in Guangzhou. Some were joking that between the war and the virus, they were expecting locusts any day now. Well we are trying to keep our sense of humor. Instead of sight-seeing in Guangzhou we will just stay in the hotel and wait for our US Embassy appointment. I am so glad I got to do all my sight-seeing and shopping in Beijing!
It seems that all of the men here smoke. Our guide said 90 percent of Chinese men smoke, even the young men. It is considered a "manly" thing to do. 90 percent of the women do NOT smoke. The wives all wish their husbands would not smoke, but they do anyway.
Yesterday we were asking about the wages that people make in China these days. The wages and expenses are both much lower than in the States. In Beijing the average income is around US$250, and the rent is $30-40. But educated workers can make around $800 a month, so they can afford to make a $200 car payment, and pay maybe $100 rent. In the countryside the physical laborers make a minimum wage of about $30 a month and their food is included - they usually sleep on the construction site. A basic car can cost US$40K total because of the 100% tax. Luxury cars have 150% tax. Insurance seems to be similar to the states and reasonably priced.
There are 8 RMB (Yuan) to a US dollar and with the exception of purchasing a car, it seems that one RMB buys as much in China as a dollar would buy in the States. I am not claiming to be an expert on this but after speaking to several people here and asking questions about these things, this is the impression I got. This is also after shopping and seeing what things sell for here.
Tomorrow morning we are supposed to go to the local Zoo if the weather is ok. Monday we get the babies' passports and Tuesday we fly out to Guangzhou.
April 5, 2003 - Hefei Zoo
Today we took a trip to the local zoo at the base of the mountain. As our bus approached the park, we saw masses of people pouring down the road and through the gates by the mountain. At first we were afraid that they were all going to the zoo, but it turned out that today (April 5th) is the Ching Ming Festival - Grave Sweeping Day where Chinese family members visit the graves of dearly departed ancestors to clean and decorate their graves. The gates apparently led to a cemetery on the mountainside.
As we drove further around the mountain, we arrived at the zoo and put the babies in the strollers. 12 Americans and their 6 Chinese babies - we had people gathering to look, point and say "Hello!" wherever we went. At one point we paused to take a group shot, and by the time we finished a group of 200 people had gathered in a half circle behind the photographer. Then we started taking photos of them!
Apparently Chinese zoos are not as protective of their animals as we are in American zoos. There were other events happening adjacent to the zoo - lots of loud music and loudspeakers, and firecrackers going off in clusters. When we arrived at the large zebra enclosure there were about 10 people beating at a fire in the grass with big grass brooms! - apparently the fire was started by the firecrackers. Now that is something I have NEVER seen in a zoo before!
The gigantic aviary was bigger than a circus tent, and there were black swans, pelicans, and those ubiquitous white cranes that we see on our oriental fabrics. Large groups of school children marched along the walkways, and we saw many families with 3 generations taking a walk through the park. It was the first sunny day we have had since our arrival in Hefei, so the sunshine and fresh mountain air was wonderful!
On the way back we traveled on what appeared to be a newer concrete road, but it was so badly cracked and rutted that we could only go about 15 miles an hour. Brand new beautiful duplex homes were built right next to an oil storage facility. Private homes like this are called "villas" and cost $3 miillion RMB (Yuan) in the downtown area, but are much cheaper on the edge of town. Multiple spires of high rise luxury apartments are sprouting up in the special development district of the town - near several manufacturing facilities. There is a hotel that looks like the Taj Mahal, especially for foreign business people. It is a kind of international business club, I was told.
On the English version of the Chinese news tonight, they did a piece about "Modern Mourning" for Ching Ming Festival. Apparently a million people travel from places like Hong Kong and Macao to visit ancestor gravesites in Mainland China during this festival, but students are choosing to venerate their ancestors on the internet! The TV piece showed websites where you could virtually clean your grandpa's grave, and then order flowers to be placed on the grave. Students don't have time to travel to ancestor graves in person anymore apparently. It showed an animated image of flowers being placed on a grave after an animated broom swept the grave. As I have said before, the combination of old and new in China sometimes boggles the mind. Hey, better to have animated grave sweeping than those violent video games....
I am letting Sophie unfold into her own schedule, after the tightly controlled eating/sleeping schedule of the orphanage. She took a nice long nap this afternoon, and is eating well.
Tomorrow we visit a local orphanage. (Not the one that Sophie came from, but the Hefei orphanage.)
April 6, 2003 - Orphanage Visit
Today's visit to the local orphanage was very difficult, as I knew it would be. We visited the Hefei Welfare Institute, which houses not only orphans, but also the elderly and disabled. I think visiting a place like this can be difficult anywhere, whether it is in the States or China or elsewhere. We were not allowed to visit the building with the disabled kids, but we were taken to the building with the babies and preschool aged children, and then to another building with school-aged children. We were not allowed to take photos or video footage. Apparently a previous visitor had posted a photo with a negative comment previously so they no longer allow photos. By the way, this was not the orphanage that Sophie came from. She came from the Anqing (pronounced "An - Ching") Welfare Institute. Anqing is 2 or 3 hours from Hefei, depending on the roads and weather. It is on the Yangtse River, about 250 miles west of Shanghai.
The grounds had animal sculptures, trees and gardens, and was well tended. The buildings were clean and the children did not appear to be crowded into the available spaces. The difficult part is looking into the eyes of these beautiful children and knowing that they were abandoned. We first visited the babies who were scooting around in their bouncey seats. We have several photos of Sophie from her orphanage (we had sent a disposable camera prior to our arrival) showing her in a bouncey rolling chair. These seems to be the standard way that the babies spend their time before they start to walk. The babies were bundled up in thick clothing but with the split pants, instead of diapers.
Next we saw toddlers and preschoolers, who smiled and yelled "hello" and jumped up and down when we walked by their area. Perhaps they were aware that these foreigners come to adopt children. Then we saw the room with all the "new arrivals" - infants 1-3 months old lying 2 to a crib with their heads on opposite ends of the bed. They were very still and quiet and there was nobody in the room with them at that moment. That made me very sad. I just wanted to go in and pick them up. Through a doorway I saw one nanny holding a baby in an adjacent room.
As we walked around the corridor which connected all these rooms, there were a couple kids who followed us in their bouncey walkers. We were told that most of these babies would be adopted out to foreign parents - in the United States, Canada and Europe. I said a prayer that each of these precious babies would find their forever families soon soon soon. Then I hugged Sophie real hard and cried for the months she had to spend like that.
I can't complain about the way the babies were cared for or the condition of the facilities, especially considering what they have to work with. The nannies obviously cared very much for these children, and they were very happy to see us there.
The last building was where the school aged children lived. They had little apartments set up where 6 kids of different ages lived together with "parents". There were 2 bunkbeds and 3 desks in the one bedroom we looked at - and 3 kids were doing their homework. They stopped to look and smile at us. These kids will most likely not be adopted because they are older, or they have some kind of physical defect, although none of them appeared to have anything wrong at first glance. I know a lot of adoptive parents go back to bring home a 2nd child, and some of these parents will adopt from the "Waiting Child" program: children who have some physical defect (most easily corrected with surgery) who would otherwise have no hope of escaping the welfare institute system as kids.
At the end of our tour we were taken to a little shop where knit and embroidered items were offered for sale as a way for the disabled residents to make money. Everyone bought a couple things, and the lady in the wheelchair kept knitting like mad until the very end when we paid for our things. Then she just beamed at us, looking at the wad of bills in disbelief.
We were all very quiet when we climbed back on our little bus.
After this we decided to drive out into the countryside a bit. We saw the fields of greens and rice paddies - many large swaths of yellow blossoms on oil-producing vegetables - and began to see how the country people live. We saw a grandma and child pulling a huge cart of twigs and branches on the side of the highway. A few donkeys pulled carts, and a few water buffalo were tethered in front of village cottages. We saw a man wading in a pond, harvesting the white lotus roots. We stopped at a long low red brick rowhouse and met the families who lived inside. They pumped their water from a well in their courtyard and used an outhouse. The nightsoil is dumped on the fields.
By the time we got back to the hotel we were exhausted.
April 7, 2003- Outdoor Market
Today we went to a typical outdoor market and saw a lot of the country people who had brought in their produce and livestock. I thought the buckets of eels and the farmer's baby were particularly interesting. The people here hardly ever see Westerners, so they followed us around and tried to touch our babies, shaking their heads in amazement.
This afternoon we got Sophie's Chinese passport, plus the original note left with her when she was abandoned. We also got a photo of her lying in a crib when she was a few days old - right after she was found. And we got the little outfit she was wearing when she was found, and the towel she was wrapped in. She was 2 days old when she was found in front of a Municipal Building.
Sophie is now 9 1/2 mos old, and was at the welfare institute the whole time between when she was found, and they day we got her. Some babies do spend time with foster families while waiting for adoption, but Sophie was not one of them.
These evening was our last dinner together with our Hefei guide - Yisha. We asked her a lot of questions about China, especially the economy and way of life. She said that everyone in China agrees now that the Cultural Revolution was a bad thing. She said that every family has a story about what happened during the Revolution. In her family, her grandpa was shot and her grandma died when Yisha's mom was 8 yrs old. Of the six kids in her family, only one other sibling survived the Revolution besides Yisha's mother. Two brothers died in prison, one killed herself by jumping in a well, and one was taken away and sent to live with a peasant family when only a few days old. One of the brothers in prison was a medical student in Shanghai when he was arrested - for being an "intellectual".
She talked about how everything was rationed at that time, including cloth. Each person was allowed one meter of cloth per month to make clothing. There were only 3 or 4 colors allowed for cloth at that time. Red, Blue, Yellow and Black. Even rice was rationed, and one had to have a ration ticket to buy rice and other food at the handful of government owned stores in each town.
Now China is fairly modern in the cities, although the country folk live in some ways a very similar life to their ancestors. They may have a TV now, but they still use a well and outhouse. The Chinese people feel that they know more about Americans than we know about them, and I believe that is true.
I have also enjoyed flipping through the Chinese TV channels each night, and my favorite has been the Beijing Opera and the historical (costume) soap operas. Also the Chinese version of MTV - very bubblegum pop, and also some rather overdramatic songs of unrequited love. It is an interesting window to the youth of China today.
Tomorrow morning we pack - and fly to Guangzhou and the White Swan Hotel!
April 8, 2003 - Flying to Guangzhou
Today had to be the most stressful day of this trip. Sophie was not feeling well, she was spitting up and had a couple diapers of mild diarrhea, and I was trying to cram everything back into our 4 bags while changing her clothes again and again. By the time we were packed, down to the last minute, I was also down to her last clean outfit. I prayed to the Diaper Gods, please let her be okay til we make it to the hotel in Guangzhou! We all climbed on the bus for the 30 minute ride to the Hefei airport.
Due to the recent SARS virus outbreak in Guangzhou, our group had decided that we would all wear the surgical masks at the airport and on the plane. This is extremely uncomfortable when it is warm and humid. Everyone's glasses were steaming up, and we stuck out like sore thumbs - 6 Caucasian families with 6 Chinese babies - all wearing surgical masks in a vast airport waiting room full of Chinese people who were NOT wearing the masks.
Chinese people really love babies, and they tend to cluster around us and put their faces right up to the babies if they get the chance. They are wanting to talk to and play with the babies, but we were freaking out about the babies being possibly exposed to the virus. It was hard to say no and turn away, because my tendency is to smile and try to converse with these friendly people. So instead our group had to "circle the wagons" by putting the strollers in the middle of a circle of parents.
So far every time we have gotten on or off a plane here in China, we have had to go up or down one of those rolling staircases like you see in the black and white American movies from the Fifties. Coming down a steep staircase with a baby and carry on luggage is really a delightful experience I can tell you. Then everyone rushes to a transport bus that carries us to the terminal, and they really crowd onto those buses.
We followed the crowd to our baggage claim area and gathered our suitcases, which seem to be part bunny because they multiply at every new destination. After pushing and dragging our group's luggage through the claim check (they DO check the claim check tickets here!) we were met by our enthusiastic adoption agency guide - Floyd. He led us to our bus and we rode to Shamian Island in Guangzhou.
Shamian Island is a little architectural oasis in Guangzhou - the remnants of British Colonialism. The island is preserved as literally an island of European architecture, much the same as in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Have I mentioned how much I LOVE modern Asian architecture by the way?
This is probably old hat to the handful of you in the film industry, but I have figured out that the futuristic architecture that looms out of the hazy mist with blazing neon and unexpected rooftop follies, in such movies as Blade Runner and Fifth Element, must be inspired by the Asian architecture in the hazy misty cities of Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, etc. Every place we have been on this trip has been this type of weather, and I feel like I am in a futuristic science fiction movie as we hurtle through space and time, in a taxi or tour bus.
Anyway, the white obelisk of our hotel appeared out of the mist on Shamian Island, perched on the edge of the Pearl River. At the feet of the White Swan Hotel are the Colonial mansions and company buildings built by the British after the Opium War. It is another location saturated with history and ghosts from the past. No buses are allowed on the island, and cars are minimal. It is an idyllic retreat in the buzzing metropolis of Guangzhou. Across the river along the shoreline you can see tons of multicolored blinking and buzzing neon colors, looking like Las Vegas or Disneyland. River cruise ships draped and frosted in more neon lights pause in front of the White Swan, as if to pause for a postcard photograph.
The US Embassy is also on Shamian Island, which is why all or most adoptive families stay at the White Swan. Thursday we will simply walk to the Embassy to take our adoption oath.
Coming to Guangzhou is a little like coming back home to Hong Kong for me. It smells the same, it feels and sounds the same... the damp air, tropical foliage and busy streets are all familiar somehow. And of course most of the people speak Cantonese, which is what I spoke when I lived in Hong Kong in the 80's. Now when I try to speak Cantonese it comes out half Mandarin, which is what I have studied over the last year. The dialects are just different enough that it is really confusing!
It will also be wonderful to have REAL Cantonese food again! Guangzhou was known for a long time as Canton, which is where we get the terms Cantonese language and Cantonese cuisine. The Chinese food we get in the States is not real Chinese food. The closest I ever got to real Chinese food was when my Chinese friends would take me to their favorite restaurants in NYC's Chinatown and I would let them order, but even then it was not the same. I have really enjoyed the Chinese food in Beijing and Hefei, but I know eating REAL Cantonese food in Guangzhou will be a wonderful experience to share with Mason.
I remember when this hotel was built in the 80's - many of my friends stayed here and told me about it - funny how life's circumstances have brought me here, 20 years later. When we walked into the hotel lobby it was filled with dozens of American families with their Chinese babies. They are everywhere - in the elevators, in the restaurants, and in the souvenir shops out on the streets. We are all here to bring home a precious baby - from an orphanage to a home that not only wants these abandoned children, but will love them and support them as they grow up in their adopted country. It is very moving and overwhelming to see all of these families in one place, for one special purpose.
April 9, 2003 - Visit to Medical Clinic
Today we started our morning with a visit to the Shamian Island Medical Clinic, to get a final checkup and health ok for our babies. It was very warm and humid, overcast and spitting a little precipitation. We stopped to get visa photos of our babies, then walked about 10 minutes to the clinic. Before entering the clinic, we put on the surgical masks again, and reminded each other to touch as little as possible. The babies became very frightened when examined, which gave us the impression that they had some unpleasant experiences with doctors before. After looking at the list of vaccinations given to these babies previously, I can guess why.
Three lady doctors examined the babies, and the last one was a little fast and rough we thought. But they seemed to genuinely care about the kids. We all got our health reports signed off and could not get out of there fast enough. The sweat was pouring off my face under the mask, and my clothes were dripping wet from the humidity.
We did a little shopping on the walk back to the hotel, including a shop with a wall of silk brocades such as what we carry at eQuilter. They would sew up a custom made 2 pc silk outfit for an adult for $50 here, and a couple parents decided to do this during our brief stay here. We stopped at a local noodle shop to grab lunch, and brought it back to our hotel room. I got an eggplant and tofu dish with steamed rice that was just to die for! Mason got a fried noodle dish that had a delicious smoky taste. Best of all, these local shops are cheap. We try to trade off between the convenient but expensive hotel restaurants, and the cheaper local places.
When we returned to our room, there was a Barbie doll on the desk! Apparently all adoptive families get a "Coming Home Barbie" - a blonde Barbie with a little Chinese baby in a baby sling. Our Barbie is blonde and blue eyed... I found myself wondering if all of them were blonde?
I also discovered at this time that in the last 24 hrs Sophie had cut her first two teeth! No wonder she was not feeling well the last couple days! Another mystery of the Universe solved....
This evening we had dinner at the hotel overlooking the river. The view was spectacular, the service was earnest, and the food was a decent imitation of Western cuisine. Because we kept asking for wierd stuff like vegetarian food, and asking for brewed coffee instead of instant coffee, they sent over a young man who spoke English. His name was Mickey. Between his name, the neon lights on the opposite shore, and the pulsing Christmas tree lights of the river cruise boats, I kept thinking I was in Disneyland.
Sophie kept grabbing at my food so I gave her some soft pieces of bread, and she scarfed it right down. She got so excited about the solid food that she was lunging at my hand when I broke off a piece of bread. She didn't waste any time trying out those 2 new teeth!
Tomorrow our paperwork is finalized at the Embassy, and then we go there to take the adoption oath. Tomorrow is our last full day in Guangzhou, then on to Shanghai, and home!
April 10, 2003 - US Embassy
Today was our last full day in Guangzhou. The big event today was the finalization and approval of our adoption through the US Embassy, and then a visit in person to the Embassy to take an oath. There was a lot of security around and inside the Embassy, but we did not see the tanks that had been reported outside recently. We were so happy to have reached the official end of the paperwork trail!
For lunch Mason and I had REAL dim sum at the hotel's Cantonese restaurant. Sophie seemed very interested, so I gave her some small soft pieces of the dim sum dough. She loved it! So the three of us enjoyed a wonderful lunch together in a gorgeous and very elegant setting. There was a fish pond with a rock garden at the entrance, with lovely ladies in red cheongsams. We had jasmine tea in a celadon pot and delicate translucent celadon teacups. It was a special celebration for the adoption finalization.
Late afternoon our group gathered for the traditional "babies on the red couch" photos. We lined up our group of 6 babies on a red velvet couch and took a bunch of pictures. It was pretty cute. Also quite amazing considering that 10 days ago when we picked up these girls, they couldn't sit up or roll over. Today they were able to sit up for their photo and boy were they proud of themselves! Whatever developmental delays they might have from being in the orphanage are melting away quickly. It is so fun to watch them grow and blossom during this time together.
For dinner we found an empty upstairs lounge with window seats overlooking the Pearl River, with a live pianist, and a ten foot long cage full of lovebirds and little parrots. As dusk settled over the water, the neon lights across the river fascinated Sophie and the brightly lit cruise boats ran circles in front of the tall windows where we sat. After dinner Mason went to the hotel weight room, and Sophie and I took a stroll through the hotel shops where I took pictures of some fantastic Chinese arts and crafts. I love the giant ceramic figures of the various Chinese Gods, the six foot high golden urn decorated with enameled figures, and the translucent embroidered silk panels set in a black lacquer room divider screen. I also picked up some interesting books at the bookstore - stories about the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, Chinese Folk Tales with lovely illustrations, Beijing Opera costumes, and a map of China made into a puzzle.
We do have most of the day tomorrow/Friday to enjoy Shamian Island, but then we leave at 5 pm for the airport, and off to Shanghai for one night. Then we will fly home to the States on Saturday! We can't wait to get home!
April 11, 2003 - Last Day in Guangzhou
Today we received our final visa to go with Sophie's passport (she has a Chinese passport now) and the immigration packet that will allow her to enter the States. Our group of parents walked over to the US Embassy which was a few blocks away from the White Swan Hotel. We had heard that there were US Army tanks posted in front of the Embassy due to possible terrorist threats, but we did not see them. The swearing in ceremony was very brief and simple - a 2nd time adopting father sitting next to me commented on how streamlined this process had become since he was there a few years before. After we swore that all the info on our paperwork was true, we all trooped back to the hotel to pack.
We had some errands to run in the afternoon - Mason had to pick up laundry and return the stroller we had borrowed at Jennifer's Place. We had another wonderful dim sum lunch at the Cantonese restaurant on the 3rd floor of the hotel, and then prepared for our departure. Our group was flying directly home that day from Guangzhou to Los Angeles. There were about 30 families on this flight. We flew to Shanghai on a domestic flight, and were the only foreigners on the flight. We wore our surgical masks in the airport and on the plane to avoid catching the SARS virus.
It was late evening when we arrived at the Shanghai Airport. The sweeping architecture of the terminal was quite impressive. It was a very long walk down the terminal to reach baggage claim. By the time we got all of our bags it was about 10:30 pm and there were no hotel shuttles. Several people approached us, trying to offer us overpriced transportation into town. The first ones wanted 300 yuan to take us into town! A cab is supposed to be 80 to 120 yuan, but they are very small and we had 4 suitcases by this time. We ended up negotiating for a minivan for 150 yuan plus a tip to the man who took us to the van. Somewhat overpriced but we just wanted to get to the hotel and sleep. It was about a 40 minute ride from the airport to the Pu Dong Holiday Inn.
As we entered the Pu Dong district there was a lightning storm. We were looking up at the fantastic Jetson-like high rises just in time to see a lightening bolt hit a skyscraper with a tower that looked like it was straight out of Frankenstein's laboratory. The hotel lobby and restaurants were on the first few floors. The elevator took us up several floors - skipping many floors that were presumably offices - to the top floors of the high rise tower. We looked out the window and watched the lightening hit other buildings - so close we felt like we could reach out and touch them.
April 12, 2003 - Last Day in Shanghai - Flying Home
We rose early in the morning and had breakfast in our room. We had until early afternoon to do some sightseeing, so we decided to take a taxi to the famous Bund area. I really enjoyed the spectacular architecture as we drove through town - the modern skyscrapers and futuristic office buildings were spaced out enough that we could really see and enjoy them from all angles.
After riding in a taxi under the river in a tunnel, we came out on the other side in the old historical district of the Bund - with colonial style architecture and buildings 100 years old. We asked to be dropped off at the historic Peace Hotel which is facing the Bund. A golden plaque on the front of the building said "Established 1909 - Opium Commission". This area was claimed by the British and French after the Opium War. The Bund is a park/promenade area along the Huangpu River. The Peace Hotel is at the end of Nanjing Road, where it intersects with the Bund.
We peeked inside both buildings of the Peace Hotel, and saw the lavish marble, crystal and carved wood of this majestic colonial landmark. Up a dark curving staircase we found a bookstore with unique books published in Shanghai. I bought a few picture books with old color Shanghai advertisements from the 40's and 50's. There were some wonderful books on the mix of Shanghai architecture, but how many books can one stuff in a suitcase on an overseas trip? As we went back down the dark narrow staircase, and my hands slid along the velvety-slick handrail, I thought about all the travelers who had walked through these halls...
When I lived in Hong Kong in the 80's, one of my favorite experiences was the Chinese Film Festival. I attended the festival with friends for a couple weeks, and we mostly saw the black and white films made in Shanghai during the 50's. Some were modern films with hip Fifties Shanghai fashions, and many were historical movies about various Chinese Dynasties. They were in the original Chinese language, but with English subtitles for the Hong Kong residents - which was still a British Colony at the time. It was a once in a lifetime experience for me...
So here we were, standing on the historic Nanjing Road that I had read about in novels and history books. From the Peace Hotel, we took an underground pedestrian tunnel to the other side of the riverfront road, and came out on the Bund promenade. Because it was a weekend, it was packed with the locals, enjoying their day off and doing lots of people watching. We attracted a lot of attention right away. I was very surprised that I felt very uncomfortable. There were a couple groups of young men who were following us and trying to talk to us in a very aggressive way, and I had never felt uncomfortable like this in China before. It was extremely hazy and we could barely see the famous modern structures on the other side of the river.
Due to my discomfort, we did not stay on the Bund too long. We took the tunnel back to the Peace Hotel and walked up Nanjing Road. It was very crowded and I was concerned about being in close proximity to so many people, because of the SARS epidemic. We walked for a few blocks and looked in a few shops - Mason was particularly interested in a music shop that sold Chinese traditional instruments, and also some Western instruments. Mason is a saxophone player, so he wanted to look at the sax that was for sale. But something just didn't feel right so after a few blocks I hailed a taxi and we gave him the card that showed our hotel's location.
Our taxi driver had a hard time figuring out where our hotel was. This was kind of amusing because the Holiday Inn was in a big high rise building in a very modern area. But I was so relieved to get away from the crowds, I just decided to enjoy the "tour" as he drove around trying to find our hotel.
Back in our room, we changed our clothes, fed Sophie, and zipped up our bags. Time to go to the airport! Despite our very brief tour of Shanghai, we felt like it was not a waste of time stopping here for one day. We packed ourselves and our bags like sardines into a little red cab and set off for the Pu Dong International Airport. This was the first time we had to check in at a Chinese airport without a tour guide, so it was a little unnerving. I left Mason standing in line with the bags while Sophie and I went off to buy the airport tax tickets. It had been 50 yuan per person in Guangzhou, but it was 90 yuan per person in Shanghai. (80 yuan equals about $10 US dollars) It took a long time to find the airport tax office and buy the tickets, and I was a little nervous about leaving Mason for so long. But when I got back to him the line had not moved at all! Good thing we got there early.
We had to go through 4 layers of security and immigration to get to the plane. With the baby it was a challenge. We had to fill out exit cards for immigration before we could enter the terminal. What a relief to finally get through all those lines and out to the gate! The plane was boarding by the time we finished, so we went right onto the plane.
The flight from Shanghai to Los Angeles was 11 1/2 hours long. We had a bulkhead row and the plane was empty enough that we had all 5 seats to ourselves. They gave us a bassinet for Sophie which we put on the floor. This came in real handy later - I put her in there to sleep for a couple hours. But I wish she was able to sleep longer. By the end of the flight she was so exhausted, and finally just started screaming. All of these Chinese people came over to tell me what I should do to get her to stop screaming, but I knew she just needed to express her anger and exhaustion for 5 minutes and she would pass out. That is exactly what she did, but not before I had people tell me to check her diapers, give her another bottle, etc. Poor baby.
After we landed in Los Angeles we had to go through immigration and claim our bags, before checking in at another terminal for our flight home to Denver. I had heard horror stories about families being stuck in immigration for a long time, but we sailed through relatively quickly. We handed them our immigration packet for Sophie, and they got all the paperwork done while we grabbed our bags. It was a hassle to do this and then wheel a cart piled with luggage to another terminal, but somehow we made it.
Our flight from LAX to Denver on Frontier Airlines was smooth and pleasant. Sophie kind of lost it again at the end, and I had to apologize to the people around me and explain that we had been awake for about 27 hours. What a relief to land in Denver! We hurried through the terminal and exited to where our family members were waiting to meet us. What a special moment that was when I handed Sophie to Paul for the first time, and Sam gave her a hug. Sam was just beaming with joy! As Paul held Sophie, she looked up and smiled at him as if to say - "Oh, it's you!" My mother was also there, and she was so happy to finally meet her new granddaughter.
So by the time we arrived in Denver about 6 pm, we had been traveling for 20 hours, and had been up for 27 hours. Our long journey to bring home our precious daughter was ending, and another wonderful journey was just beginning. A lot of people have said things like "She's such a lucky girl" - but you know, I really think we are the lucky ones to have received such a precious soul. Whatever magic or karma or fate brought us together, I cannot say. But I know that this little girl is MY daughter, and that I will be her mother forever. She has carved out a place in my heart that cannot be described. She is so beloved by my boys, Paul and myself, that we cannot help but feel that she is a blessing bestowed on our family.
I hope that by sharing our story, I have given you an inspiration to follow your heart, as I did two years ago when something told me that our daughter was waiting in China.... sometimes we are led to do things that don't make sense at the time, but we understand when it all comes together in the future.
Thank you for all the wonderful emails, stories, photos and good wishes that you have sent. The children of the world belong to all of us.
When we open our hearts, miracles can happen!
Luana Rubin from China