Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Neverending Day – Day 13, November 27

This morning we woke up and packed up our final few things before heading downstairs. We had arranged with the cab driver who picked us up from the train station to take us to the airport, but when we called him he decided that he didn’t like the price he had originally quoted us. He said he would come, but we weren’t optimistic. So, we waited in the lobby to see if he came. He didn’t but he sent someone else in his place so we were golden. The drive to the airport was an uneventful 45 minutes. We arrived and loaded our luggage onto a baggage cart, then headed to check in at the United counter. We didn’t have seats together for one of our flights, so the woman at the counter fixed that for us. It took quite a while to check in, but we had arrived in plenty of time. Once we dropped off our bags we headed to security. This is when our kids began taking turns melting down. For some reason Caroline was upset, and when we had to walk through the metal detector she just refused. Crying, screaming, wouldn’t do it. So I went ahead and walked through it thinking that she wouldn’t want to be left behind and would follow me. Nope. More crying, more screaming, now add in some arm reaching and terrified screeches. To say we were getting a few stares would be, well, at this point I’m sure you know how people around us were reacting. I tried coaxing her, reasoning with her, and laughing at how crazy she was being, and nothing worked. Finally I just told her goodbye and started walking away. Next thing I know she’s flying through the air and grabbing onto my legs. We decided that food would be a good idea, so we found the food court and got some breakfast. The kids got egg burgers? from McDonalds and I got a ham and cheese croissant and fruit from a deli. Everyone seemed a little more chipper after they had food, so we decided to go find our gate. We still had time to spare, so we found a comfy area to sit and let the kids play. Right before it was time to board we figured out our seating arrangements. We thought we were sitting all in the same row, with two people in the middle separating us into two sections. But when I looked at the seats, we had 4 pairs. At least they were right in front of each other. We each paired up with a kid and got on the plane. As we got on the plane and started looking for our seats, I quickly realized that we were passing all of the economy plus seats. As fast as I knew we had upgraded to economy plus for both of the long flights. I’m not sure what happened, but we were definitely not in economy plus. And we weren’t right in front of each other either. There was a row in between each of us. At this point I started to have a mini panic attack. I was going to be stuck on the inside of a row, not near any of my family members, with no in-seat tv screens and no other entertainment because we lost an ipad and a phone, with no leg room, and next to Lily for the next 11 hours. I literally leaned my head against the window, covered my face with my hair, and had a little cry. Then I pulled myself together in time for our aisle patron to join our row. We could not have had a nicer person next to us! I couldn’t hear him when he said his name, but we will just call him Chris because he looks like a Chris. Chris was traveling for business and had a 2 year old daughter at home and told us not to worry about getting out. He told us that even if he was asleep just to nudge him and he would be happy to let us out. I think Chris was an angel sent just for me. At one point after I finally managed to get a little sleep, I woke up to him reading “Daniel Tiger” to Lily. He was awesome.

After my mini meltdown the flight went much more smoothly. Although I did cringe when they announced that the in-flight wi-fi wasn’t working and there would be no entertainment available through their app. Thankfully they reset the system and it did end up working about 30 minutes into the flight. Lily found a red stamp in her backpack (we still have no idea where it came from) and proceeded to stamp herself. I didn’t care what she did as long as she was quiet and happy, so I let her stamp her hands and arms until they were completely red. Desperate times. Once we got in the air she was able to put her tray table down and do some coloring. Then they fed us, which also helped kill time, and we read some books. Our flight left at noon, so a few hours in I figured she would be tired. She wasn’t really wanting to sleep so I put a movie on the laptop for her. After about 40 minutes in she told me she was tired and fell asleep. In the other rows Matthew and Caroline were happily playing with Baba and Daideo’s ipads and Brian kept Matthew entertained by listening to the in-flight music with headphones. He also loved looking at pictures on Brian’s phone. He did pretty well on the flight and slept for a little bit too. I think the kids each got about 2 hours of sleep. At one point Lily had to use the bathroom (for like the third time) and my friend Chris was sleeping, so I turned around and asked Brian if he could grab her and take her. He did, but that meant I had David and David did not like that. He started crying the instant Brian walked away, and nothing I did could get him to stop. Sorry Chris, I tried to let you sleep! I handed him off as soon as Brian got back and realized that the airplane was not going to be a bonding time for us. We could work on that when we got home and he wasn’t terrified.

The flight was surprisingly not that bad. Long, but not unbearable like the last one was. We landed in San Francisco just before 8am. We had arrived at the Hong Kong airport at 8am, so we were basically about to live the same four hour period again, just in a different airport. We got off the plane not a second too soon and headed to immigration and customs. I was very thankful for the one form that was required, not one per person. We couldn’t go through the line for citizens with my parents since we had David with us, so we headed over to the visitors line. I remembered that last time there was a separate line for new immigrants, but the man directing people didn’t think there was one. Once we had stood in line for a few minutes I spotted some canvas tape dividers that said new immigrants. Except I couldn’t figure out how to get there! The entire section was blocked off. I went back to the man and told him that I had found the line but didn’t know how to get to it, so he went and asked. Then he came back and escorted us right up to the window. Score! I handed over the sealed brown envelope I had been carrying since we left Guangzhou and all of our passports. The officer was so nice, and spoke English! Yippee! He processed all of our paperwork and set us free to claim our bags. Mom and Dad were already at baggage claim with a cart. All five of our bags arrived and then we went to recheck them through security and onto our remaining flights. Our layover in San Francisco was over 4 hours, and since we had already cleared customs and had time to spare we went to the United counter to see if we could get on an earlier flight. Our original itinerary had a two hour layover and I was worried that it would be too tight, but 4 hours was crazy long. It actually seemed like a possibility because there were two different early flights to Tampa, but when we got up to the counter and they asked if we had checked bags we were quickly shut down. I even asked if we could just leave our bags at the airport and get them later, but he said that with heightened security we couldn’t. So, on to our fourth security check of the day! This time no one lost their mind so we made it through without incident. We headed down to our gate and staked out a table and chairs near a charging station. The kids were starting to get into it with each other and were all exhausted so it was a long wait. And every time Brian walked away for something David lost his mind. It was great fun. We finally boarded, and this time we were back on a Dreamliner plane with in-seat entertainment! Matthew and Caroline sat together and across the aisle from Lily and I. My mom was in front of us, my dad was in front of her, and then Brian and David were together. This flight was almost four hours long, and David did not do well. I think at this point he was beyond exhausted, the TV did nothing to distract him, and he pretty much cried for most of the flight. We tried one of the tricks that we used with Lily – I took David, and then he realized that being with daddy would be way better so when I handed him back he would be so happy to be with Daddy that he stopped crying. Yeah, didn’t work. He just got even more mad that he was with me and couldn’t settle down. My dad tried holding him, and that helped for a little bit but then the crying started again. I think he finally fell asleep for about 30 minutes and then woke up crying again. Poor Brian was exhausted and frustrated and just couldn’t wait to get off the plane! Matthew and Caroline both fell asleep on the flight, and were not happy when we had to wake them up to get off.

Eventually the flight did end, and we bolted out of there as fast as possible. One more flight to go from Houston to Tampa. Our layover wasn’t long, but all of the kids were tired and crying on and off. We had to cross the airport and they were not having it. We decided that sugar would surely help things, and got them cinnamon rolls at Cinnabon. We gave them each a bite to get them to the gate and were able to board the plane quickly. This time I sat with Caroline, Brian was across the aisle with Matthew and David, and Baba and Lily were in front of me. I cut each cinnamon roll up for the kids and that kept them happy. The last flight was short and sweet. Matthew played with Brian’s phone, Caroline watched a movie on the laptop, David fell asleep (hallelujah!) and Lily had a great time with Baba. When we landed, we had been traveling for a total of 28 hours and I think we each slept for maybe 3 of them. We were all exhausted and beyond ecstatic to be home!

When we got off the airport tram we were greeted with huge yellow banners and the smiling faces of our friends welcoming us home! I knew that they would be there, but seeing them all was so amazing and overwhelming that I couldn’t stop the waterworks. I’m pretty sure I was uttering half nonsense because I was so tired that I couldn’t form sentences, but I think I was pretty adamant about never going back to China again or ever boarding another plane. We hugged, talked, I cried, we said goodbye to my parents and then we got in our van to head home. Lily was a pretty terrible car rider and I was fearful that David would be too since seatbelts are new and not his favorite thing. We translated that this was his special seat and Lily would show him how to ride in it, and then had him watch Lily buckle up. It didn’t work. He didn’t like it and started crying. He continued to cry until he finally fell asleep. He didn’t wake up when we got home so we just put him in his bed and hoped for the best! Brian and I got the other kids in bed and finally went to sleep ourselves around 12:30. There’s no place like home!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving in Hong Kong – Day 12, November 26

It’s so weird that today is Thanksgiving! It definitely does not seem like at all here. Last night was a bit rough in our room. David woke up crying a few times with a fever, and both he and Lily wet the bed. And of course they were in two different beds. The other two kids slept great though! Our room was up first, and Brian did everything he could to keep David distracted from eating. Once he’s been awake for thirty minutes, he pretty much wants to eat. And that’s a little tricky when you’re traveling. I think everyone was finally up and ready around 8:00. Our plan was to find a Starbucks to grab a quick breakfast and then head to the Star Ferry. There was a Starbucks right around the corner, so each kid picked out a pastry and we had breakfast there. We didn’t want to get them coffee to drink, obviously, so we went to find a 7-11 nearby. They are everywhere, so it didn’t take but a few seconds to find one. Apparently our hotel isn’t in the best area. There were all kinds of sketchy people around the 7-11, and after the kids picked their drinks I quickly escorted them outside to get away from the woman yelling obscenities in English who looked like she was about to fight someone. Nothing like starting our day off with a bang! It was about a 10 minute walk to the ferry. We were amazed at how quickly the giant buses whip around corners with no warning and were very careful to obey the crosswalk signs so we didn’t get flattened.
We arrived at the ferry terminal and were met with people from the Big Bus tour. We had been debating on doing it, and decided to go ahead. The tour also included the ferry ticket so we had to go ahead and buy it then. We needed a bit more money so Brian and my dad ran downstairs to the ATM we had just passed while my mom and I waited with the kids. We waited, and waited, and waited, and could not figure out what was taking so long. Thankfully the kids happily entertained themselves by chasing each other. I finally decided to go investigate, and discovered that the ATM machine had eaten our card! Brian was on the phone with the bank trying to figure out what to do, but he kept getting put on hold. My debit card has a totally different number than his, so we decided to just call our bank and have his card cancelled. We could still use mine to get money. Our hotel actually provides a smart phone to use while we are here, and that thing came in super handy. We mainly used it as a wifi hot spot so we could use our phones. Brian called and cancelled the card and we were on our way again.
The ferry ride was short, but the views were really nice. It’s amazing how many skyscrapers are in Hong Kong! We learned today that the city has 8,000, the most skyscrapers in any city on the planet! I can definitely see that! We exited the ferry and headed to find a red line bus to start our tour of Hong Kong Island. The kids were so excited to sit upstairs and even more excited to get their own headphones for the tour! We found seats all together at the top and our adventure began. The tour took us all over the central part of the island and we saw tons and tons of skyscrapers. We seemed to either be crawling through traffic or whipping around corners dangerously fast! At one point I almost got smacked in the head by tree branches at 30mph! We got off the bus at the Peak Tram stop. The Peak Tram takes you to the very top of the mountain on Hong Kong Island where you can see amazing panoramic views of Kowloon. Poor Caroline almost didn’t make it on the tram! Brian, Matthew and I got tickets included with our bus tour, and the little kids didn’t need a ticket for the bus. We assumed that was also the case with the tram, but apparently it wasn’t! The three of us had already scanned our tickets and gone in, and Caroline was stuck on the other side with my dad. The workers explained that kids had to pay when they were four, so Brian had to go back out and get her one. There was a super long line to buy tickets, but the worker took him right up to the window which was a big help. We were finally all inside! The whole day David was definitely not feeling well, and we were pretty much giving him Tylenol every 4 hours. He is good about taking it now. He had started to feel pretty warm again, so we gave him some right before we boarded the tram. Of course everyone pushed and shoved to get on, the norm in China, but I managed to snag us seats on the right side because I read that the views were better there. I am so glad I saw that tip, because the views were awesome! We traveled up the mountain at pretty much a 45 degree angle and made three stops for locals along the way. I would definitely not want to live there and have to walk up that many steps every day!
We exited the tram into a gift shop. Just like they do in America, they make you walk through a gift shop at every attraction. We really had no idea what to do when we got off, but we decided that finding a bathroom might be a good idea. Once that was taken care of we started going up escalators because that’s what everyone else was doing. We figured there had to be some sort of viewing area somewhere. I think we must have gone up 8 escalators (which David is no longer afraid of by the way!) and we finally saw something called Sky428. We thought we had to buy tickets to go up there, but Dad just used his tram ticket and they let him in. So we all followed suit! We got up to the top and the views were just incredible. They gave everyone a free audio guide and the kids of course were all over that. I have no idea what the audio guide said, because mine didn’t work. But Matthew kept pointing out a building and telling me that he was listening to information on it right then. I just enjoyed looking at everything. After taking some pictures and writing love notes at the giant heart they have up there we were all freezing and wanted to go back inside. It’s so funny – in Chengdu it was a little chilly and they turned off any source of air conditioning anywhere. Here in Hong Kong it’s actually pretty cold and windy, and everywhere we go the air is on full blast! There’s no way to get warm! At this point it was lunch time so we started heading back down the escalators to find some lunch. We tried to go to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. but there was a 40 minute wait so we nixed that. It seemed like our other options were Chinese, Japanese, and Burger King, none of which sounded appealing. Then we happened upon a wood fired pizza place and decided to try it. Of course it was also freezing in there. A salad bar was included with our entrees, and I was so happy to eat a salad again! There was a dessert bar too which also made me happy. We only ordered three entrees for all of us (the kids shared a pizza) and the waiter made sure to tell us that only three people could get the salad and dessert and they didn’t allow sharing. That didn’t stop me from sneaking some bites of chocolate brownie and black olives to my kids though! Everyone felt better after some lunch so we decided to head back down the mountain and complete the bus tour of the island. We found the tram, and we also found a gigantic line for it. It was still pretty windy and the kids were definitely cold, so mom and I took them to find some shelter while the guys waited for a bit. David really wanted to go into a restaurant and follow a bird that he had seen, and didn’t like it when I didn’t let him. He started one of his fits so I quickly told him to stop crying in Mandarin, lifted him to his feet, and made him walk with me. He definitely wasn’t happy with me, and showed me that by letting go of my hand and going to my mom. Oh no, we aren’t playing that game. My mom refused to take his hand and pointed at me, and he started to cry again. This time I picked him up and cradle carried him inside. I tried to distract him and make him laugh, but he still didn’t want to hold my hand and started to cry when he couldn’t hold Baba’s. I again told him to stop crying in Mandarin, held out my hand, and he reluctantly took it and walked with me. We found a little train for the kids to climb on so we did that for a few minutes. Then we went back out to check the line progress. They had moved quite a bit and were about to be on the inside of four lines of people so we hopped back in with them. It was still a pretty long and boring wait. David and Lily both wanted to be held, and we all took turns convincing them not to cry and holding them. Finally we boarded the tram! Lily was on my lap and was literally falling asleep sitting up. David was looking pretty tired too. Lily passed out on me, and I carried her out and onto a green line bus. She then proceeded to sleep on me through the entire tour of Aberdeen, Stanley, and the rest of the Island. To say that my arms and back hurt would definitely be an understatement. The views on this side of the island were just as beautiful. This side was much less developed and had several harbors. Every building was built with tons of windows to maximize the water views. A few of them were so narrow that they looked like they could fall over in a strong wind!
The other place that we wanted to get off the bus was in Aberdeen for the sampan tour. A sampan is an old boat that people use to get around the harbor and fish. Many people actually live on boats in the harbor and it’s like it’s own little fishing town. We climbed aboard our little boat and started our tour of the harbor. About two minutes in dad realized that he didn’t have his wallet. The last time he saw it was at lunch. We spent our 25 minute tour checking and double checking our bags and pockets to make sure that it was indeed missing and to figure out exactly where he had it last. We think that it probably fell out of his pocket on the bus we just left. There was a bus waiting when our sampan tour ended so we got on and headed back to the central station. My dad tried to ask the driver if he could contact the other bus driver, but he didn’t really speak English. When we got back to central he headed up to the Big Bus office to see if anyone there could help him. They gave him a number to call and took his number in case anything turned up. We are not optimistic.
We took the ferry back over to Kowloon where we started. It was already 4:30! The last bus tour of Kowloon begins at 6:00, so if we were going to do it all we pretty much had to go back and get on. The stop was on the same road we had walked earlier, and with a little help from a local who saw me holding a map we arrived there at 5:10. The bus worker told us the bus would arrive at 5:30 so we crossed the street and walked to find some snacks for the kids at 7-11. We made it back, and sure enough the bus came right on time. It was now dark and definitely chillier so we decided to sit downstairs in the bus for this tour. Too bad they still had the air on and it really wasn’t warm! We made it through about half the tour before everyone was self-destructing and ready to get off. Both my parents have an awful cold and were freezing even more than the rest of us! We walked back to our hotel for the night. Brian helped my dad take care of cancelling all of his cards since he had hardly any voice left, and then we ordered room service to feed the kids dinner. We are all so ready to fly home tomorrow! And I’m sure I’ll change my mind at about hour 6 of the long flight, but I don’t even care that I have to be stuck on a plane for 13 hours. Just get me home!!!!  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


When you’ve spent almost two weeks in a foreign country, it’s very easy to find things you are thankful for! And since it’s already Thanksgiving here, I thought I’d dedicate my thankful post to the good ole’ U. S. of A. On this Thanksgiving I am thankful for:

  • Clean water for drinking, bathing and brushing my teeth
  • The English language
  • Cultural barriers that make excessive staring and unsolicited advice taboo
  • Internet that isn’t restricted
  • Google translate
  • Clean air
  • Toilets
  • Toilet paper
  • Hand soap
  • Cleanliness standards in public restrooms and restaurants
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • My minivan
  • Trees
  • Running outside
  • Traffic laws
  • Open space
  • My house
  • Bedroom doors
  • American food!!!!

Even though I definitely miss home, I am thankful for the experience of a different culture to make me appreciate what I have there. And I am thankful for the opportunity to get to experience a piece of my children’s past. And I’m sure poor David will be having many of the same thoughts I am when we get home and he begins to experience culture shock. Everything will look, smell, and sound different to him.

On a serious note, I am of course incredibly thankful for my family and friends. I am thankful that God has given me four precious treasures to raise, even when they drive me nuts! I am thankful for a husband who is always up for an adventure with me, and loves and serves me well. I am thankful for supportive parents who give up two weeks of their life to come to a strange country and help us. I am thankful for a brother and sister-in-law are also great friends and love and encourage us. I am thankful for our friends from Life Group who stand by our side and get on their knees for and with us. I am thankful for my church family who loves and supports us well. I am thankful for all the friends that God has brought into my life. You have all blessed me and shaped me in different ways. And I can’t wait to see you soon!!!!!

From Guangzhou to Hong Kong – Day 11, November 25

This morning I was thinking to myself that I really wouldn’t have much to blog about today, because the only thing on our agenda was packing and traveling to Hong Kong. Boy was I wrong! The morning was rather uneventful. I was up early, so I went down and rode the stationary bike for a good 45 minutes while all the kids were waking up. When I got back I started gathering clothes for our last load of laundry. My plan was to pack one suitcase to use for our time in Hong Kong and not even have to look in the others, so I gathered everything that needed to washed for our final few days and started the last load. I had made plans to Facetime with our Life Group during their Thanksgiving feast, so I quickly showered before it was time for the call. It was great to see everyone’s faces and let them see David for a second. He of course repeated his favorite “ni hao” phrase and waved. Such a charmer. It was so weird to see them eating dinner on Tuesday night, and for us it was already Wednesday morning! And it was also a bit depressing to watch them eat delicious Thanksgiving food. I am totally bumming out about missing Thanksgiving this year. Last time we had Thanksgiving in China I really didn’t mind, but this time I do. If anyone has any Thanksgiving leftovers they would like to deliver to our empty fridge we will gladly take them!
We went downstairs for our last delicious breakfast. We knew that we might not have dinner available later that evening on the train, so our mission was for each adult to covertly make two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches using the supplies from the buffet and stick them in mom’s bag. Interesting tidbit – the peanut butter there is really runny. Which makes it tricky when you are trying to wrap a sandwich in napkins to keep for later! We were laughing hilariously at ourselves and how un-sneaky we were. Scott and Catie, you can just picture our time in Ireland and you will know exactly how smooth we were. We also squirreled away 6 bananas and two apples. When everyone was finished eating we went out to the fish pond for one last fish feeding. Oh, and we stole more bread for that. I think we cost the hotel at least two loaves today.
The kids had a great time feeding the fish and the adults enjoyed the beautiful weather. At some point Brian decided to start making crazy faces when Matthew was taking pictures, which led to a whole series of ridiculous pictures by the fish pond. The workers cleaning the pond I’m sure thought we were wacko. But we found ourselves hilarious! I finally decided that I should be responsible and start packing up the massive quantities of things scattered all over our apartment so we headed upstairs. Brian put a movie on for the kids to keep them occupied and I worked on packing. We didn’t want to kids to have too much in their backpacks because we really needed them to be able to carry them while boarding the train, so I had to figure out a way to empty out a bunch of their things into a suitcase along with the gifts and souvenirs we bought. I’m not sure how, but it all managed to fit! I had everything packed and was just waiting on the clothes for Hong Kong to dry by lunch time. We weren’t really hungry yet so Brian took the kids to the playground and the fish pond again while my parents went to the fitness center. I had a whole hour of quiet all to myself in the hotel! It was amazing! During that hour the clothes finished drying, but when I started to take them out I noticed they were still damp and needed a bit more time. I put them back in for what I thought was a 15 minute dry, but all of a sudden water started going in the drum! I quickly realized it was a 15 minute wash and stopped it. But now everything definitely needed more drying time!
Everyone returned to the room so we could go get some lunch at McDonald’s. I wanted to go ahead and take out the clothes so that everything would be packed before we left. Too bad the door to the machine wouldn’t open! I couldn’t get the cycle to pause, and even when I turned it off the lock was still engaged! The shortest drying cycle was two hours, and we were leaving in a little over an hour so letting it finish the cycle wasn’t an option. After everyone took a turn trying to figure it out we decided to call housekeeping. The first woman that tried to fix it was unsuccessful and just told me to let the cycle finish. I explained to her that I couldn’t do that but I’m not sure she understood. Then she started trying all of the other cycles to get it to unlock. I was watching and ready to pounce on the stop button the second I heard water filling that drum again! After a few minutes she decided to call maintenance. At this point we were going to be crunched for time if we wanted lunch, so Brian and I went ahead with the kids while my parents finished getting ready and helped with the washing machine situation. When we left there were a total of three people trying to figure it out!
The walk to McDonald’s is quite short which is great. This McDonald’s has been completely redone and was different from when we were here two years ago. You actually order on a touch screen kiosk, which is great for completely eliminating the language barrier! I did feel slightly uncomfortable though, because two of the workers were literally standing over my shoulder while I ordered. I think they were just waiting to jump in if I needed help, but I felt like I was being monitored during a standardized test! We got our meals, and everyone ate except for David. I had used google translate earlier in the day to tell him our plans for the next few days, and we thought he might be nervous or maybe getting the lovely cold that half of us have. When my parents left they told housekeeping that we needed the clothes out by 2:15. They were going to try to let the cycle finish, but if it didn’t then they would call the engineer to open it. I was starting to get a little nervous that I would run out of time and miss our train, so we had the girls pack up the rest of their food and we headed back. When we got there they told us that they had gotten the door open but the clothes were not quite dry. Well that was definitely an understatement. I don’t know what cycle they put it on, but all of the clothes were soaking wet. I may have had a minor freak out because not only did I not know how pack wet clothes without getting everything else wet, but now half of us didn’t have underwear for the next few days! I was so mad! On what planet does it make sense to wash clothes when someone is about to leave! Thankfully mom came to the rescue with some quick problem solving. We stood in the kitchen wringing everything out the best we could, then we put the clothes inside a plastic bag and inside a laundry bag. Hopefully we will be able to find some way to dry them when we get to Hong Kong. During this time I also noticed that David was starting to feel a little warm. I quickly found the medicine I had packed and tried to give him a dose. He didn’t want to drink it, so we asked the bellhop if he would explain to him in Chinese that it was medicine and tell him he needed to take it. He took one sip and then refused the rest. I think it was too sweet for him.
One last sweep of the apartment and we headed downstairs to the lobby. We met Miko and Aron there with David’s passport and immigrant visa! Woohoo! There is always a chance that there could be a problem issuing visas and you are delayed leaving. I think that Thanksgiving worked in our favor though, because normally you get the visas around 5:00, and they were able to get them early today. We needed to change our yuan over to Hong Kong dollars, so Brian quickly ran off to do that at a bank around the corner before our shuttle came. He returned empty handed ten minutes later because they wouldn’t change it without his passport which I had! Meanwhile poor David was sitting on Matthew’s suitcase literally falling asleep sitting up. He was also very warm. I mentioned to Miko that he wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t take medicine, and she told me that I had to get him to take it. She said that they check people’s temperatures when they arrive in Hong Kong and they won’t let you in if you are sick. The only way you can come in is after a lengthy medical exam proving that you don’t have some contagious flu. I relayed this message to Brian, and we didn’t know what to do! We definitely didn’t want to arrive at the train station and be sent back to Guangzhou, and we also didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars to change our plane tickets and fly out right then. We decided to have Miko talk to him and try to get him to take it, and then just force it down his throat on the train if he refused to take it. Desperate times folks. She did convince him to take it, so we felt much better at that point. I think Miko took pity on us at this point and offered to come to the train station with us. Originally we would have met here there with David’s visa around 4:30, but since they got them early that wasn’t necessary. Miko said we could change our ticket to an earlier train since we no longer had to wait for it. That sounded good to us! The shuttle took us the station (David totally passed out on me during the trip) and a bellhop came and got all of our bags. Then he started sprinting across the station with them with all of us struggling to keep up! We went through security, then headed upstairs to the ticket office and waiting area. Brian waited with Miko to change our tickets and the rest of us followed Speedy Gonzalez the bellhop up to the waiting area on the fourth floor. Of course Lily had to go to the bathroom, so my mom took her and Caroline while we were waiting. Apparently Lily didn’t want to wait for my mom to find a bathroom with a western toilet, and just pulled her pants and underwear around her ankles in the middle of everything! A Chinese woman was pointing and yelling at my mom to fix the situation. Then we started calling her name, so Lily never did get to go. While she was doing that we learned that we needed to fill out our departure cards, and we needed to do it quickly so we could make the earlier train! I so love that in the US it’s one customs form per family. I had to fill out that card for each kid! Crazy! We got the cards done and took off at another jog to the boarding area. At that point we said goodbye to Miko (and our luggage hoping that the bellhop would indeed deliver it to the train) and entered the boarding area. It took them forever to scan all of our passports, so by the time we got in it was time to get on the train! We were in coach 10 and had to walk all the way to the back of the train. It worked out nicely though, because our car wasn’t full and we were able to spread out a little more. We didn’t buy tickets for David and Lily so they didn’t technically have a seat, but we had enough room for them.
I sat with the boys and Brian sat with the girls to start. Matthew had some school work to do, so he did that while David colored. He did a great job coloring and it definitely kept him busy! The only problem was he kept dropping the markers and caps and I had to go fishing for them. I think the sixth time I hit my head I handed him off to Brian for a different activity. The train ride was very peaceful and I enjoyed seeing a tiny bit of countryside after being in a city for so long. Lily ended up sleeping most of the ride, and we fed the kids their PBJ sandwiches. It took us a little over two hours to get to Hong Kong from Guangzhou. Once we arrived we exited the train and were immediately swarmed by two masked Chinese wielding temperature devices that looked like laser guns. Poor Caroline was in the front, and she looked around panicked trying to figure out if this strange masked person was going to shoot her! I told her that they were just taking her temperature so she stayed still for them. They checked all four kids, and praise God they let us pass. I am so thankful for Tylenol and answered prayers! All the kids are pretty much constantly sneezing or coughing, so I willed them to keep in inside until we got away from the germ inspectors. Of course we had to stop and fill out an immigration card for each person again, which takes a small eternity. Lily kept coughing and I was sure they were going to make her go back and be examined. Hallelujah they didn’t and we made it through customs in Hong Kong. We grabbed our bags and headed out to find a taxi to our hotel. I really expected the train station to have more in it. Like an atm or signs for where to get a taxi. But it didn’t. When we walked outside we were met with a very nice Indian man who offered to take us in his van to our hotel. At first I was a little hesitant because I didn’t know if he was legit, but he had business cards and spoke English and seemed very trustworthy. And he said he would take our Chinese yuan since we hadn’t gotten to change it yet. Is it weird that I totally trusted him because he spoke English and wasn’t Chinese? He ended up being a very nice man and gave us his card if we needed a ride during our stay here. We definitely needed that bit of encouragement and help after the calamity of events from earlier in the day.
We arrived at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile without incident and checked into our rooms. Poor David had a pretty bad screaming fit when Brian left the room to get money. He did let me hold him, but I couldn’t get him to stop crying for any length of time. The poor kid had to be exhausted and confused and definitely not feeling well. Brian came back and we got him to sleep. Then I took Matthew and Caroline over to Baba and Daideo’s room since it was Lily’s turn to sleep with David. Tomorrow we have the day to explore Hong Kong, and then we fly home on Friday!

Consulate Appointment – Day 10, November 24

Today was our last official adoption appointment! We had to meet in the lobby at 8:50 so we went down to breakfast a little earlier than normal. I am pleased to announce that we didn’t have any food-related fits at breakfast today! Yippee! We were traveling to the consulate with five other families, and anticipating the longer than normal wait time we decided to just bring David and to have the other three stay back at the hotel with my parents. I think David enjoyed having our undivided attention. We took the hotel shuttle with the other families from our group, plus two additional families. The shuttle took us to the medical facility where we would receive David’s medical report and walk across the street to the consulate. I was a little worried that he would get nervous about going back to the medical building, but he didn’t seem to mind at all. We all got our reports (we had already learned that the TB test was negative, woohoo!) and then walked down the block to the consulate.

There are always tons of people lined up outside the consulate. Being Americans we get to walk right past all of them and go in another entrance. It was all I could do not to bust out singing “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…” Although I was singing it in my head the whole time we were there. We stopped to take a quick picture outside before turning our phone over to Aron since they do not allow phones inside. She gave us directions on where to go, and then we left her there. We were the last in our group, which is surprising since David is always trying to get to the front of the line wherever we go! After a security check, a quick walk through the courtyard to another building, and an elevator ride, we were met with a room full of chaos! For Lily’s adoption it was literally us and one other family. There had to be at least 50 people in that room today! I think because Thanksgiving is on Thursday there were more people than usual scheduled for each day. I’m not even sure if they are doing appointments on Wednesday, because they would be closed for processing the visas. We proceeded to the window to check in and get our number. We were C525. They were currently serving C511. We were definitely in for a wait. This was confirmed a few minutes later when we saw that family that had left the hotel an hour earlier than us was still there! There is a small play area for the kids, but I think it was a little too crowded for David. He was just happy to sit in the chairs with us and wait. Normally we hide snacks and drinks from David because he wants them the second he sees them, but we were only allowed to bring a clear bag into the consulate. About 10 minutes into our wait I caught him opening up his snack cookie. There went our main source of distraction! Oh well. After he finished his snack he got a little braver and took my hand and led me over to the play area. I sat with him while he played with some of the wooden toys at the table. Finally at 10:15 (we got there around 9:30) they called our group up for the first step of the process – taking an oath. Since I was with David, Brian was the representative from our family. It was cool to watch a whole group of people raise their right hand and repeat words about caring for and protecting orphans together. Once that step was over we waited for our individual numbers to be called. We were the last ones from our group (except for the two extra families who joined us on the shuttle) so we watched everyone go up one by one and turn in their paperwork. Finally it was our turn! We handed over our envelope of important documents, received a few things back, and then went back to our seats to wait for the final step. At some point I went to use the bathroom, and it was an actual clean, western bathroom complete with hand soap and toilet paper! I almost just stayed in there marveling at the cleanliness and familiarity of the whole thing. For the final step the man at the window calls you up by name. The room had definitely cleared out at this point, so we could actually hear what he was saying. When it was our turn all three of us went up to the window. I lifted up David so he could see him (this is a required step) and the man said “Ni Hao David!” David, being the charmer that he is, gave him a big smile and a loud “Ni Hao!” right back. Then he continued to say ni hao over and over again to get the man to smile at him. I finally had to put him down so the poor guy could concentrate! He asked us to describe David’s medical condition, then Brian was fingerprinted, and we were done! We walked back across the street to the lobby of the medical facility to meet our group.

The original plan was to meet in the lobby at 11:30 to go to the Chen Family Temple, but we didn’t make it back to the hotel until almost noon! I felt really bad for all the people waiting in the lobby to leave. If we had working phones they could have told everyone to come down 30 minutes later. Oh well. I quickly ran upstairs to drop off our paperwork and grab Dad who had gone back up to watch the Patriots game. To be perfectly honest, I definitely could have done without going back to the Chen Temple again. But I wanted to get a chop (a stamp with David’s Chinese name carved into it) and a name scroll for two of his gifts. What we probably should have done was just have me go and spare everyone else the 90 minutes of waiting around and dealing with tantrums. Sadly, hindsight is 20/20 so we all went. When we got there I went to the gift store first and ordered both of the items I wanted. Then we took a walk around looking at the art exhibits. There are some pretty sweet ivory carvings. We also saw pottery and sculpture, and tried to find the embroidery but were unsuccessful. Once we had seen everything we took a seat on one of the walls and started to give the kids a snack. Lily was upset about something and starting to cry, so I took her on a walk to distract her. As soon as I walked away, David went into a full blown tantrum because Brian tried to give him half a banana and he wanted the whole thing. He did the whole head hitting, shoe throwing, undressing thing and apparently there were all kinds of people staring at him. And not like a subtle looking over their shoulder to see where that noise was coming from. They literally walked over and made a circle around him like it was a show for their own personal entertainment. My dad basically shooed them away, and eventually they got David calmed down. I’m not even sure how. I was happily shopping for tea and looking for another gift for David and missed the whole thing! It was getting close to time to leave, so Brian took the kids outside with my dad to wait at the meeting place while I went to pick up the name scroll. I went out to find them and didn’t see them anywhere! I came back in thinking maybe I missed something, but they weren’t there either. Finally my mom and I started walking to see if maybe they went back to the bus, and then we saw them sitting on benches behind bushes. They were there the whole time, I just couldn’t see them. But, while I was off looking for them David had another tantrum! This one was because he didn’t like the bush poking him in the back while he was sitting on the wall. It also resulted in a audience, complete with a woman videoing the whole thing with her phone. My dad let her know that he was not okay with that, and she quickly ducked her head and walked away. Yep, definitely should have left everyone at home. I don’t know what it is about that place, but Lily had a huge tantrum there two years ago. Anyway, we could not get out of there soon enough!

Mom wanted to go back to Liwan market to look at pearls again, so she and Dad did that while Brian and I took the kids back to the hotel to nap. Miko gave them directions and tried to help them get a cab but they were all full! They finally made it there and walked all over the market. The entire thing, floor after floor after floor, is all jewelry! I have no idea how anyone makes a living. There are so many shops that are all the same, and none of them seem to be busy. It totally blows my mind. Once they were done there they had another adventure with Chinese taxi drivers on the way home. I think my dad is a little over the culture here ;o) While they were off adventuring, Brian and I enjoyed some time relaxing on our bed while the kids all played nicely out in the living room. Maybe there is something to this whole four kid thing after all! After about 30 minutes Lily started self destructing so we decided to enforce nap time after all. Both she and Matthew have a cold and could definitely use the extra rest. David watched the other three go in their room to nap, and then climbed into his bed and went to sleep without complaint! While they were sleeping I went down to run on the treadmill for a while. I am so looking forward to being able to run outside again when I get home!

The two little ones woke up first, and as it got closer to dinner time we started to wake up the other two. We did wait to leave until we watched most of the Patriots game on replay though! This was our last night in Guangzhou and we wanted to go out somewhere. We decided against Chinese food, and thought we would try a new pizza place that opened up nearby called Oggi’s. It was only a short walk away, and was really good! It actually tasted a lot like American pizza! David isn’t a huge fan of pizza yet. I’m sure that will change when his palate is repaired, because it’s a little hard for him to eat right now. The other three kids devoured theirs, and then we walked back to the hotel for bed. Bedtime for David didn’t go as smoothly this time. Probably because he had taken a nap. It went great for me though, because I fell asleep in Lily’s bed while I was snuggling with her and stayed there until midnight! Tomorrow is our last morning in Guangzhou before we head to Hong Kong.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Animals and Boats – Day 9, November 23

We didn’t have to be anywhere until 11:30 this morning. It was great being able to let the kids play and have a bit of a lazy morning. Everyone but me went to work out, so I busted out the kinetic sand to entertain the kids. David still doesn’t like it when Brian leaves, but he seemed alright when we used Google Translate to tell him that Daddy would be right back, and he was going to stay here with Mommy. The first day of work on Monday is sure going to be interesting. And then when all three kids go to school… yikes. The kinetic sand entertained them for quite a while. Most of David’s ended up on the floor. Thankfully his is tan and so is the carpet, so it blended right in. Once Brian got back we started getting the kids ready for breakfast. We headed down there around 9:00. We keep hoping that we’ll get bumped to the 30th floor, but it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe they aren’t doing that anymore. After breakfast we came back upstairs and let the kids play some more. They did some combination of sword fighting, wrestling, hide and seek chase. Who knows. But they were happy. At 11:30 we met our group downstairs to go to the Guangzhou Zoo.

The kids always want to sit on the back row of the bus, and this time was no exception. We don’t mind, except there are no seatbelts and one kid always wants to sit in the middle which would result in imminent death if the bus stopped short. We arrived at the zoo and were taken on a shuttle bus tour first so that we could get to know where all the animals were. I sat in the back row facing backwards with all four kids and held David on my lap. Matthew kept pointing out which animal exhibits were stinky and Lily enjoyed telling me about all the mommy and baby animals that she saw. (Mommy and baby is completely arbitrary and solely based on their size.) My favorite part was when we drove past the zebras and Lily was beside herself because she was wearing her zebra shirt! She kept saying “Zebra! Like my shirt! Hi zebra! Look at me zebra! Look at my shirt! I have zebra, and that is zebra!” If only the zebras could speak, I’m sure they would have been equally excited about their appearance on Lily’s clothing. After the shuttle bus ride we were on our own to explore for a little while. We started with Ocean World because the kids wanted to see dolphins, but it was completely deserted. Apparently the dolphins don’t come out in the winter? We did see a wooden sword just like Matthew’s though, which was a total score because his broke so we were able to replace it. Next we backtracked to see Matthew’s choice of pythons and Caroline’s choice of turtles. We are definitely spoiled by the quality of zoo in America. They operate on a low maintenance standard here, which means that the animals always have food readily available and the glass is rarely cleaned. We peered in to see the turtles and the snakes. I’m not sure how many snakes were actually in the tanks, because we really couldn’t see in very many of them. We were able to see the pythons though, along with the cute little bunnies that were hopping around in their cage. (See what I mean about low maintenance?) The girls were all about the bunnies, and then Matthew tactfully told them that the bunnies were going to be eaten by the snakes. Moving on! Quickly please! On to the alligators! Thankfully there wasn’t any visible prey in the alligators habitat. We came upon more snakes and some lizards, and David discovered two cute fuzzy little ducklings all snuggled up in the front of one of the tanks hoping to avoid their demise. I had to drag him away from those. Once the violent death section of the tour was over, we headed to find the giraffes, elephants, and zebras. We took a little detour to check out the flamingos and swans and saw quite a few lions. I don’t like looking at the lions. It depresses me. They are stuck in these tiny little cages and they just lay there sleeping. I heard that they actually drug a lot of the animals to keep them docile, and I think that was the case here. Wow, death and drugs. This is a depressing zoo trip so far! Nothing like feeding leaves to giraffes to bring a little sunshine into the day. We paid a few dollars to let each of the kids have a turn feeding the giraffes. David and Lily didn’t like that the older two got to go first and were starting to throw mini temper tantrums. We somehow managed to prevent them from escalating and handed the two younger ones over the fence for their turn. It was getting close to time for us to go, so we started walking back toward the front gate. Along the way we checked out the stinky elephants and tried to see the zebras up close but they were hiding. We did find the tigers, but when we walked up the male was trying to mate with the female, so we orchestrated another quick exit as the kids asked what they were doing. Wrestling. Definitely wrestling. That pretty much concluded our time at the zoo. Then it was back to the hotel for a few hours to rest.

The kids were all pretty tired so we instituted nap time for all of them. David was definitely not having it. As soon as I put him in bed and closed the curtains he started crying and trying to escape. I started the routine of repeatedly putting him back in bed and using my phone to explain to him that it was nap time. It’s really funny to go back and look at all of the things we have translated. You can definitely tell when we are trying to calm him down from a tantrum! I think I tried every trick in the book for a while, and finally told him that if he kept crying I was going to leave the room. So I did. I stood outside the door and listened to him scream for a good long time. Then I went back in and asked him if he was ready to stop crying and take a nap. I pulled him into the bed next to me and started playing the twinkle twinkle little star song I have. The kids love it because it has a little Asian girl doing all the signs for it. That finally worked. I let him watch it on repeat for a while, and then told him that it was time for bed. He didn’t like that and started the crying again, so I started making up lullabies using the little Mandarin that I’ve learned. The one that stuck basically repeated good night and I love you over and over again. He kind of fussed and whined a few more times, but at some point he did voluntarily get under the covers and eventually fall asleep. I decided to take some time for myself and worked on the blog some too. Then I went down to the exercise room and rode the bike for about 30 minutes before our next event.

We met our group in the lobby again for the Pearl River Cruise. We always get there super early and have to wait for our guides to buy our tickets. We waited upstairs where there were couches. Something else I find strange is that there are usually stains on all of the furniture. These couches were no different. I have no idea what people are doing on them, but they are definitely not neat! Even if they technically are clean, you definitely don’t feel clean sitting on them. And I am not a neat freak by any means! Miko came up to give us our tickets. Lily just loves Miko ever since I told her that she was our guide last time, and she always asks where her friend Miko is. I think Miko loves Lily too, because she gave her a few snacks while we were waiting. We all had a taste and they were delicious! It was like a cross between a cheeto and a churro. It was finally time to board the boat so we went downstairs and got in line. You totally have to stand your ground in any kind of line and box people out or they will completely cut in front of you. We got on the boat and found our table right away. We all wanted to sit together and the largest tables they had were for six, so we pulled up an extra chair and I had Lily sit on my lap. Almost the entire time that we were on the boat they were making some type of announcement really loudly in Chinese. They never translated them so I have no idea what they were saying, but I think at some point they announced that dinner was starting because there was a mad dash for the buffet line. Now most of the time when you have a buffet there is a definite starting and ending point and everyone travels in the same direction. Not here. Here you grab a plate and just start doing whatever you want. It doesn’t matter if the person in front of you was there first or if everyone else is going in the opposite direction. You just grab the serving spoon and elbow your way in. I somehow managed to survive getting food for myself and the girls at the same time. The food was definitely not as good as the hotel buffet, and it’s also all Chinese. I tried to stick to the safe things like fried rice, egg rolls, and steamed buns. I definitely did not try the chicken feet. The kids managed to find enough things that weren’t spicy. The cookies were for sure the biggest hit. Good thing we got them when we did, because they were all gone very quickly! All of a sudden the crazy loud announcements started again, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. Since everyone except David was done eating, we handed him a roll to go and headed upstairs to escape the noise. Neon and LED lights are very popular in China, which is also why the river cruise is so popular. All of the bridges are completely lit up along with most of the buildings along the shoreline. The views are really very nice. When we got up to the top deck we walked smack into a line of people waiting to get their picture taken. The girl told me that you could get a free keychain, but I didn’t really want to wait in the long line. So instead we walked around it and took our own pictures right next to them. Both Matthew and Lily have a cold right now, and Matthew wasn’t really digging the boat ride. After about 10 minutes of standing up there he was ready to go back down. I wanted to wait until I saw the Skylon tower and so did everyone else so he ended up sitting on the ground with my mom or Brian most of the time. I could tell David was a little nervous about being on the boat. I held him in the beginning and he would kind of whimper when I got too close to the side for his liking. Even when he wasn’t being held he stayed right next to us and was always holding someone’s hand. We also eventually decided to get our picture taken because the line died down. Caroline of course didn’t want to be in it, so instead of having a picture with a missing kid just Brian and I took one together. Finally we got to the turnaround point with the tower directly behind us. We took a few more pictures and then headed back down to see if they had entertainment like they did previously.

We entered in the middle of a magic act. Or maybe she was an illusionist. I’m not sure, but the part of her act that we saw consisted of her swallowing 5 razor blades and a piece of string, and then pulling everything back out with the razor blades all tied to the string. There were a lot more hand flourishes and dramatic pauses mixed in there, but that was basically the gist of it. The boat high tailed it back down the river, and we arrived back at the dock shortly after 8:00. Right before we got off we asked Aron how to pick up our keychain and she told us to hurry down to the first floor. It was a flurry of activity with a “line” if you can call it that with everyone reaching and talking really loudly. We finally gave our ticket to the guy behind the table and got to see our pictures. The large photo was only about $3 so we bought those in addition to our free key chains. We squeezed through the crowd and made it back to our bus. The kids were all exhausted and I thought we’d lose some on the drive back, but they all stayed awake. As soon as we got back it was time for bed! One day hopefully I will be able to stay awake past the kids’ bedtimes, but it definitely hasn’t happened lately!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Shopping in Guangzhou – Day 8, November 22

Praise the Lord I slept past 3am for the first time since arriving in China! I actually got 10 hours of sleep last night! Today is a new day indeed! Our little buddy woke up smiling as always today, and loves to just look out the window and talk to himself. I’m still not feeling completely well, but I decided that I might try to run on the treadmill this morning since I was actually well-rested. Mom was going to Facetime with family back home so I tried to get that going so I could say hi before I went. We keep having issues with our VPN, so I could not get it to connect. I was quickly running out of time to run, so I gave up and went downstairs. It’s really hard to choose your speed on Chinese treadmills because everything is in km. Who knows how far or fast I actually ran, but I only had 20 minutes before I had to get ready for breakfast. When I got back upstairs they had gotten Facetime to work, so I got to talk to Scott, Catie, Sandy and Lauren for a few minutes! We didn’t get to talk long because we had to get breakfast before we met our group at 9:00. I had everyone go ahead and met them down there.

David is definitely still having some issues related to food. He eats great and doesn’t even mind sharing, but if he drops anything or eats something he doesn’t like, then watch out. Today we have no idea what the problem was, but Mom was sitting with the kids while the other three adults got food, and all of a sudden we hear David crying. Apparently something happened that he didn’t like, and he went into one of his fits where he hits his head, kicks off his shoes, and throws stuff. This time he threw the fork that he was holding in his hand and hit my mom with it! Brian scolded him, took away his food, and took him out of there immediately. He didn’t calm down until we eventually brought him back to his food. I can’t wait until I can use Google Translate all the time and actually talk to him! It’s nearly impossible to teach him anything or discipline him in any way with no communication.

Breakfast finished with no further incidents, and then we met our group in the lobby for a picture. Brian actually missed the picture because he was taking Matthew to the bathroom, but oh well. Our first stop of the day was the Liwan market where you can buy pearls and jade. My mom and I had planned to go out with a personal shopper later that day and she could have taken us to get pearls probably a little cheaper, but since we were already here and wanted to make the best use of our time we just did our pearl shopping here. I got a bracelet for David’s future wife (I got the girls and Matthew’s future wife one last time) and mom got a bracelet too. I was very intrigued by the black pearls, so Brian bought me a necklace and bracelet made out of them. Merry Christmas to me! The pearl shop was a different one than last time, and it was very tiny and very hot! Even with all the kids and dads waiting outside, I could not wait to get out of there. The kids were mostly entertained by drinking the free water they gave us, playing with the stools, and riding up and down the nearby escalator. At 11:00 it was time to head to our next location, Shamian Island.

Shamian Island is where all of the adoptive families used to stay because it used to be the location of the U.S. Consulate and the medical examination facility. Both of those things have since moved to other parts of Guangzhou, so now families stay at a variety of hotels. The island is still home to lots of little shops and restaurants, and is frequented by brides taking their wedding photos. Since we were there on a Sunday the island was very crowded. Last time we went on a Tuesday and we basically had the place to ourselves, but our guides had to change our schedule and we ended up there on Sunday instead. Last time I did most of my shopping for Lily’s gifts on the island, but since I knew we would be shopping with Ann I decided to wait on that. We did let the kids each pick out one souvenir though. We went into Michaels which was the store that gave Lily a little lamb phone last time we were there. Matthew and David both picked out wooden swords, and Caroline and Lily chose wooden frogs that make music when you rub a stick across their ridged backs. Happy with their treasures we headed to Lucy’s for lunch. Lucy’s is a restaurant on the island that is popular among Americans because it has a variety of familiar American food. Last time I was so busy shopping that I didn’t really get to eat there, so I wanted the experience this time. We got the kids quesadillas, mom and dad got grilled cheese, I got a club sandwich, and my crazy husband still got a Chinese selection of beef noodles. That worked out well for David since he didn’t like his quesadilla or fries. We are learning that he doesn’t like to eat food with his hands, and neither of those are fork-friendly. We almost had another food catastrophe when he shoveled a spoonful of spicy salsa into his mouth before we could stop him, but some quick action by us and a water substitution helped. I think the kid definitely needs a nap. He’s definitely struggling a bit today.

During lunch the kids spotted the playground that we had been telling them was nearby, so as soon as the last bite touched their lips they were practically dragging us out the door. My parents went for a walk around the island while Brian and I let the kids play. There’s really not a whole lot to the playground. There’s one section that I’m not even sure how kids are supposed to play with. It’s basically a triangular section that’s closed off with bars all around. It looks more like a tiny prison for misbehaving children. Of course Lily had to go to the bathroom while we were there, and David followed right after us. I found the one stall with a western toilet and had them both in there. It was all I could do to get inside the stall and close the door before the two of them had their pants around their ankles. They were apparently competing for who could get on the toilet first. Pretty much every bathroom in China is disgusting. This one was no different. I was pretty much trying not to touch anything and hold my breath while keeping little hands off the mop and bucket that were in our stall, preventing David from sticking his hand in the toilet, and perching the kids on the side of the seat because the whole front was wet from who knows what. And of course there is never any toilet paper or soap. Totally sanitary. I cannot wait to have clean bathrooms again!!!! The kids lasted about 30 minutes on the playground before they were hot and bored. As we were walking out poor David was completely flattened by a little boy who was jumping down backward off of the playground. He was not happy, so I carried him over to the river. He perked up when he saw the water. We walked down the river for a bit while the boys practiced their sword fighting skills. Then we took them to 7-11 to get some ice cream. We got 5 ice cream cones for $5! All was right with the world, until David’s ice cream started melting. The tops of the cones were wavy, so any time he tilted his cone a drop fell out. I don’t know if he didn’t like the feeling of the melted ice cream on his hand or if he couldn’t handle even one drop going to waste, but he about lost his mind! He started his head hitting screaming fit, which you can imagine when you have an ice cream cone in one hand how that might go. We grabbed his ice cream to try to calm him down, then we would give it back. But each time another drop fell the same thing would happen. We tried giving him a spoon to help him eat it faster, that didn’t work either. Finally I decided he just couldn’t handle ice cream in a cone so Brian took him away down the street and I threw away his cone. I stayed with the other kids while they finished theirs and then we walked to meet everyone in front of Starbucks. Apparently David screamed the entire walk there. My parents could hear him coming! We talked to a sweet Chinese man named James outside of Starbucks for a while who was practicing his English and saving up money so he could come to the U.S. Then Brian and my dad headed back to meet the bus and my mom and I went to meet Ann for our shopping adventure!

We were supposed to meet her at the West Victory Hotel, so we got some cash out of the ATM and headed there. We waited for a few minutes, and then as it got closer to 2:30 and I didn’t see her, I started to wonder if there was more than one Victory Hotel. Mom asked someone at the desk while I went to check a map on the street and sure enough there was! We were at the east building. The man gave us directions and we raced down the street to find the right hotel. Too bad we went one street too far and ended up back tracking! The hotel was literally directly across the street from where we got money out. We didn’t have to go anywhere at all. Whoops. We found Ann right outside, and then walked to the corner to grab a taxi. Since it was Sunday there were hardly any cabs around. We stood on one corner for a good five minutes without seeing a single one, and then decided to walk over the bridge off the island to a busier road. Lots of cabs passed us, but they were all full. Then all of a sudden I noticed that an older couple who had been walking behind us went up the road a little bit to hail a cab. That way they would be seen by the cab driver first and get a cab before us. Not cool! Thankfully they weren’t as skilled at watching the road as Ann was. She pretty much just kept her arm out. An occupied cab must have seen her first, and stopped right in front of us to let his patrons out. The older couple saw what was happening and started running down the road trying to steal our cab! The woman was talking over Ann to the driver and basically tried to body block us from getting in! But we pushed around her and got in the back, and eventually Ann must have convinced the driver to take us instead of them and got in the cab too. Once we were in she told us that the driver wanted to take them instead of us because they were going farther and would have given him a higher fare, and the woman was arguing that they were there first. Ann told her that no, we were there first. So pretty much both the cab driver and the couple were ticked off! But we were happy because we were on our way to our shopping adventure.

Our first stop was a wholesale market to buy silk scarves and traditional silk Chinese clothing. Ann took us in a building and up an escalator to a tiny shop in the middle of a bunch of other tiny shops. Think flea market on steroids. This shop had gorgeous real silk scarves. We both spent a few minutes picking the ones we liked best. I also had to teach mom how to wear a scarf, since we Floridians don’t have a whole lot of practice! The next shop was right across the way and was equally as tiny. It’s so interesting to me how they fit so much stuff in such a tiny space. There are all kinds of things on display, but if you push them aside and look in the back, there is an even bigger selection of everything in all different sizes and colors! I picked out another traditional dress for Lily to wear when she’s older, and I chose two for David. One to wear for the next few years in a deep royal blue, and one to wear when he grows out of those in black and red. I also got a traditional dress for myself, because why not! We have a Chinese New Year party every year. I had to try them on over my clothes because there is absolutely no size translation to US sizes. I think I ended up with an XL or maybe an XXL? I want to know who is wearing the extra smalls! Everywhere we went Ann would tell us the price of things in US dollars, and other the price for the same things in other places. The same silks for David and Lily on Shamian island would range from $10 to $15. I got them for $2.50. Gotta love a bargain! Mom didn’t have a reason to buy a traditional dress, but she did get a really pretty silk robe. The last shop we visited in this building had a bunch of traditional wooden toys. I got each of the kids a little stocking stuffer from there, and I got David a kaleidoscope with Pleasant Goat and the Big Bad Wolf on it. According to Ann, all Chinese kids watch the cartoon Pleasant Goat. I’ll put that away for one of David’s Gotcha Day gifts.

We left that market and grabbed another cab to find board games, jade, and cloisonné. This time grabbing a cab was much smoother, although we did have one refuse to take us first because we weren’t going far enough. When the second cab pulled up we went ahead and got in, and then Ann told him where we wanted to go. Much harder to refuse people when they are already in your car! The ride was about 10 minutes, and we got out in another area that was equally busy and chaotic as the first. I guess if you grow up in China you are able to tell where things are (and probably read street signs), but to me everything is the same and it’s neverending! If you left me alone in the middle of the road there would be no way I’d find my way back. Ever. And I’m usually pretty good with directions. This time we didn’t go into a building, we just walked along the street to find the shops. The first one had awesome board games. I wanted a mahjong set for our family and a chess set for David. My mom also saw this really cool compass outside the door that I got for him too. Ann negotiated the prices for us, then we went on to the next shop while the shop owner got everything boxed up. We were walking along the street when all of a sudden she told us to stop at the corner and wait there while she got someone to let us in. She returned a few minutes later and led us down a tunnel. We had no idea where we were going, but it looked like it used to be a subway or something. Underneath the streets were warehouse shops with huge jade carvings and other large merchandise for sale. Ann told us that they don’t let tourists come down here, this is where the people with big money shop. Then she stopped in front of a locked door and the girl she had gotten to help us opened it up. It looked like a small treasure room in there! There were all kinds things lining the floor. Metal lanterns and sculptures, boxes of Chinese knives, wooden carvings, all kinds of stuff. She led us to a shelf in the back and started opening up boxes of cloisonné ornaments. Ann gestured to all of the things on the floor and said that on Shamian island the shops sell these things as antiques. They aren’t antiques, and they buy them here and mark them up! I bought a box of really exquisite butterfly ornaments for our tree. The entire box of 6 cost me $10, and on the island I would have paid at least that for just one ornament. As the day went on I became more and more glad that I didn’t buy anything on the island! We made it unscathed out of the super sketchy underground lair, and returned to pick up our board games. Ann told us that they man was trying to charge us 520RMB, but that we only owed him 380RMB. We went with what she said, paid him the 380, and got out of there! I decided that I did want to see if there was any jade I wanted to get for David. I didn’t really want to get him jewelry, but since jade is such a big deal in China I didn’t want to leave with nothing. We walked a little farther down the road to a jade shop where the owner had a dog that I thought was a cat at first. In there I got David a jade family ball, a jade rock with a dragon carving, and two lions carved out of jade. At that point my feet and legs and arms were pretty much done, but we had one more stop to make. Mom was interested in seeing some gold so Ann took us to a plaza that reminded me a little of Times Square, but even busier if that’s possible. We went into two jewelry stores there to see what they had. We learned that in China gold is a big deal. In the states, people want diamonds. In China, people want gold. And they want pure gold. None of the 14 carat stuff like we have. I must say, the gold jewelry was absolutely amazing. It was incredibly bright and shiny and had beautiful intricate designs. Since it was such high quality gold, it was also much more expensive. Mom decided to pass, and that completed our shopping trip! Ann helped us hail a cab and we rode back to our hotel, exhausted and exhilarated.

When we got back at 5:30 three kids and Brian were sleeping. Apparently Lily fell asleep leaning over the side of a chair while eating a lollipop. None of us really wanted to walk anywhere for dinner, so I gave David and Lily baths while Brian went down to the hotel lobby to see what food he could find. The food in the hotel is safe to eat, so I was actually able to enjoy a salad for the first time since arriving here! They always have salad available on the breakfast buffet, but I just can’t manage to eat it at 8am. The kids had pigs in a blanket which they were over the moon excited about. After dinner we gave the other two kids showers and let them relax and play for a little while before bed. David didn’t put up a fight at all about going to bed tonight! Woohoo! Even though I got 10 hours of sleep last night, I was still pretty tired to I went to bed right after them. Here’s to another night of sleeping!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Guangzhou and Medical Appointment – Day 7, November 21st

Guangzhou is full of sunshine and rainbows and there are birds chirping everywhere! Ok, well not really, but that’s how I feel about Guangzhou! I think the haze in Chengdu made me go into a depressive funk. We literally didn’t see the sun the whole time we were there, which I think also made it that much harder to adjust to the time change. But now that we are in Guangzhou everyone is in high spirits! We started our day with our favorite breakfast buffet. The one in Chengdu had just as much food, but the one here has more American food. They also have crucial things like syrup for your waffles. When everyone finished eating we headed out to our favorite attraction, the fish! The kids ran down to the koi pond and had a great time picking out which fish was their favorite. I think they all had at least 5 constantly changing favorites.

Today we had to take David to a medical appointment, and we decided to bring Matthew along with us and have my parents stay behind with Caroline and Lily. We met everyone in the lobby at 9:00 and got our instructions from Aron. Then we loaded up on one of the trusty buses they use to take our gigantic groups everywhere! There are three other families from Small World here, but we are always in a group with families from Lifeline, so it makes our group really large. In the lobby of the medical facility we were met with our favorite wine and liquor vending machine that we remembered from our previous trip. Each kid had to have their picture taken first. David climbed right up when it was his turn and gave them a big grin. Too bad that grin didn’t last the rest of the time!

For the medical exam you have to go through three different stations – an ENT, a nurse, and a general screening. Then for kids that are over age 2, they go into a fourth room to have blood drawn for a TB test. We didn’t have to do that with Lily, and I remember being very thankful for it! As soon as Aron got all the kids registered we started cycling through the stations. We went to the ENT first. Pretty much as soon as David saw the doctor he started whimpering and it quickly turned into crying. I was holding him on my lap but it didn’t really help at all. When the doctor started talking to him he calmed down a little. I had to hold his head while he looked in his ears. Cleft visits with David are going to be totally different than with Lily. And not in a good way! The next stop was the nurse’s station. He started crying when they had him stand on the scale. Then he did the dead leg trick while they were trying to measure his height. One of the nurses finally managed to convince him to stand up and we got out of there ASAP. The third station didn’t go much different than the first two. He started by crying at the sight of the doctor again, but she was able to talk to him and calm him down. She examined him all over and said that he was healthy. We gave him a little break to calm down before we sent him off for his blood draw. When we couldn’t prolong it anymore, we walked the plank to our final station. They don’t allow you in the room at all for this stage, which honestly is probably just as well. David wouldn’t associate us with forcing him to do this traumatic thing, and we got to be the heroes when it was over. I stood outside the door with a lollipop in hand and listened to the poor little guy scream at the top of his lungs. When the door finally opened I scooped him up and handed him the lollipop. He kept crying and staring at his hand with a look of disbelief. I had to put pressure on it for a few minutes, and he kept looking at his hand. I think Aron was a little distraught with how much noise he was making and told us to go ahead down to the lobby to wait. I was really missing being the only family at this point, because if we were we could have gone ahead back to the hotel. Instead we had to wait another 45 minutes for everyone else to finish. Poor David was feeling really nervous still and making his whimpering sound. Eventually he didn’t want to be held anymore and pulled my hand to take me on a walk outside. (Brian had taken Matthew to find a bathroom somewhere.) We walked up and down the little sidewalk there for a while. Every time we got close to the door he made sure that we didn’t go inside! He held his lollipop the entire time and would periodically stick his tongue out and give it the tiniest lick. Finally everyone was done and we were able to go back to the hotel.

While we were gone the girls had a great time visiting the fish pond and feeding them with bread that Daideo snagged from the buffet. They tried to take a walk to Aeon but couldn’t find it, so when we got back our first priority was to get some laundry detergent and food from Trust Mart. We remembered how to get there, and this time we knew that it was like a maze and made sure to explore every row to make sure we didn’t miss anything. We grabbed some paper plates, snacks, peanut butter, jelly, bread, and huge bottles of Tsing Tao that were only $4.00! I tried to buy some bananas and oranges, but when we got to the checkout the cashier wouldn’t let me have them. She kept talking to me in Mandarin like I could understand what she was saying and gesturing very unhelpfully. The woman in line behind me spoke English and explained that there was no price on them because you have to weigh produce and write down the price. No fruit for us. Thankfully we also remembered that we needed to bring our own bags so we loaded down our two backpacks with everything. I thought that I’d be helpful and carry one of them. I think I chose the one that had all the Tsing Tao in it, because halfway back to the hotel I thought my shoulders were going to start to spasm. It was lunch time when we got back so Brian made the kids PBJ sandwiches while I started washing some clothes. We enjoyed eating lunch at an actual table in our dining room!

At 2:00 we had a paperwork meeting, and I was selected as the representative from our family since I actually know what the paperwork is. It took an hour and a half for 14 families to fill out one form and organize a stack of papers for the consulate. I was really thankful that we were alone for all of our appointments and paperwork last week! It was comical how many people required white out because they kept messing up on the form. I think our guides must get lots of laughs at our expense. When I finally escaped from the paperwork jungle it was 3:30 and I was pretty exhausted. I figured out that in the past 36 hours, I slept for four of them. A nap was definitely in order. Brian took the kids down to the playground while I shut my eyes for a little bit before dinner. When he came back it was time to make a decision about dinner. Of course I should never be trusted with any decision shortly after being woken up. The thought of getting out of bed and going anywhere was way too much for me. Brian wanted to walk to a pizza place and eat, but I convinced him to just get it to go so I didn’t have to move. He and my dad went and took the boys with them. About 10 minutes after they left I woke up enough to have a coherent thought, and realized that I didn’t want to eat in hotel again. So I had the girls get their shoes on (I tried to get Caroline to take off her pajama pants but she wasn’t having it so whatever) and we went to find them. I knew Brian said he wanted to go to Tomatoes, so that’s where we headed. It’s so hard not being able to communicate with anyone if they aren’t the same room as you! I was just hoping that they hadn’t decided to go somewhere else and that we would get there before they started walking back. I figured if they weren’t there we would just go back to the hotel and wait. But, they were! When we walked in the door the food was just being put in takeout boxes to go. Whoops! The waitress nicely transferred our pizzas to plates and we sat down and ate there instead. The pizza was delicious! And it ended up being a good thing that we ate there, because we needed to order an extra pizza to feed all those hungry munchkins! Once the food was gone the kids started to get antsy so mom and I started the walk back while the guys stayed behind to pay the check. It took them forever, and we managed to get all four kids back to the hotel by ourselves and were talking to some other families from our group outside before they got there! When Lily and I nearly got hit by a bus we decided that it was time to go inside and put the kids to bed. I was still pretty tired, so after blogging I went to bed at 9:00. Tomorrow is a day of shopping!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

From Chengdu to Guangzhou – Day 6, November 20

This morning when David woke up he and Brian and I got to have a little playtime in the bed before Lily was awake. He is just the happiest kid! Whenever he sees us in the morning he gives us the biggest smile. I love it! When Lily woke up she joined us too. Soon Brian left to go work out, which caused David to get a little upset. I went to get out something to distract him when I heard a crash. The jury is still out on what actually happened, but there was a broken plate involved. Lily says he threw it, he was eating apples off of it so he may have dropped it, I didn’t see so it remains a mystery. He always gets a little upset when he drops or breaks something, and looks at me to see if I’m going to get mad at him or not. I told him it was ok and cleaned it up, and then three of us got out the play-doh. I seriously cannot wait until this kid can talk, because I can tell he is hilarious! He loved when I pretended to eat his chunks of play-doh and then said “shay shay” which is Mandarin for thank you. We played that for a while. Then all of a sudden he took a piece of play-doh and stuck it on his nose with a big grin! It was hilarious! If I was faster I would have gotten a picture. I tried to get him to do again, but instead he wanted me to put the play-doh on my nose. So of course I did that for a while too. When Brian got back we all got ready for our last breakfast in Chengdu. We will no longer feel like the bull in the China shop!

I was still not feeling completely better but I was definitely hungry, so I stuck to some good old fashioned fruit and bread products to be safe. With the exception of Caroline falling, breakfast was pretty uneventful. We sat in the private booth area again, and as soon as David got his food he looked at me and tucked a napkin in his shirt. I don’t know if he associated that booth with wearing a napkin or what, because I haven’t had him do it again since (I purposely haven’t put him in white!) He is such a sweet little guy and definitely wants to do the right thing. After breakfast Brian headed back to the Civil Affairs Office to sign the final adoption decree which we need before leaving Sichuan Province. I took Lily and David back to our room to play, and Matthew and Caroline went to Baba and Daideo’s room to finish a game they were playing while they packed. David wasn’t a big fan of everyone splitting up. He kept standing at the door and whimpering and pulling me toward it. The poor guy is going to have a hard time when everyone goes back to school! I tried distracting him with toys and games, but he just wasn’t having it. Instead he decided to try to push the boundaries find things that he wasn’t supposed to get into. Sticking stuff in the fan and unplugging everything are two of his favorites. He also enjoys bringing me medicine bottles. When Brian got back it was time for me to start packing up the disaster that was our room. He and my dad took the kids on a walk to what they call “the exercise place” while my mom and I packed. They probably walked about a mile, and were gone for a good hour! On the way my dad decided to stop and play some badminton with some of the ladies who were playing on the sidewalk. They obliged, and apparently were really good at it! The walking brigade arrived at “the exercise place” which is really just a little landscaped area near a bridge, but it’s great for the kids to run around in. Then they headed back, and returned in just enough time for us to make a quick trip to McDonald’s for lunch. I wasn’t really able to enjoy it yesterday, so I was a little pumped to eat a burger and fries! Then we hightailed it back to the hotel to meet Susie and check out before our 1pm departure.

Earlier Brian had discovered that Chengdu is home to the largest building in the world and asked Susie about it. She said that it was on the way to the airport and we could drive by it if there was time. We settled up our restaurant bill, boarded the van one last time, and were on our way! Chengdu really is huge, and as we drove back to the airport we couldn’t believe how it just went on and on and on. There are some of the most beautiful and creative buildings there too. There was one that reminded us of Darth Vader! We were able to drive by the Global Center (the world’s largest building) and it was incredible. Pictures completely cannot even do it justice. If you’ve ever seen Independence Day, looking up at it from the car felt like you were looking up at one of those huge space ships that is just going to swallow everything underneath it.

Susie helped us navigate the airport and check in to our flight. Of course it wouldn’t be a traveling adventure if we didn’t lose something along the way, and as we waited in line for security Brian discovered that he had left quite a bit of cash in the safe at our hotel. Thankfully we were still with Susie, so she called them and promised to take care of it for us. I love my husband, but there’s a reason why I carry all of the passports and adoption paperwork with me. Airport security was rather uneventful, and then we headed off to find our gate. The airport in Chengdu is one of the largest in the world, but it didn’t feel crowded at all which was great for our large traveling party. Boarding seemed much more relaxed than in the States too. There were no boarding groups or first class boarding first or anything like that. No one lining up early to make sure they get on first. They just announce the start of the boarding process, everyone gets in one line, and you get on the plane. On this flight Brian and I were in one row with the kids, and my parents were together a few rows up. I sat with the girls and Brian sat with the boys. We thought that might help David not feel so scared, since he told our guide that he was nervous about the airplane. Well, he didn’t exactly tell her, she just asked him questions and he nodded or shook his head. Everything was going smoothly until we started taxiing and David decided he didn’t like his seatbelt. We asked the flight attendant to explain to him that he had to wear it, and that worked for about a millisecond. We tried the Pavlovian approach of giving him Brian’s phone every time he sat down and taking it away when he tried to escape. That worked for about two milliseconds. Of course, this was the time when the plane just kept sitting on the runway not moving. Forever. Finally, Brian just moved over and put David on his lap and buckled them in together. The flight attendants were all seated so no one noticed. The flight home is going to be in-ter-est-ing. Literally an hour after we boarded the plane we took off. The flight itself was quick and the actually served us dinner. We weren’t expecting that because we were on a 2 hour domestic flight. It definitely helped keep David busy and happy though! I tried to get the girls to take a nap, but they were way too hyper. They were doing all kinds of giggling and talking. At one point Caroline was showing Lily a map she found in one of the catalogs and telling her where China was and where Florida was. It was super adorable. Of course about 15 minutes before we landed Caroline fell asleep. That meant I had to carry her off the plane, through the airport, to baggage claim, wait for the bags, and then deliver her to the van. My right arm is still sore. All of our bags made it and we met our guide for the week, Aron. She took us to our van and gave us a schedule for the week. Then we were off to the Garden Hotel!

Traffic in Guangzhou is much worse than it is in Chengdu. It took us about an hour to get to our hotel when it should have taken us half that time. All four kids fell asleep in the back of the van of course. When we got there our bags were whisked away by super helpful bellhops and we headed inside to find Miko (our other guide, who we also had last time!) and check in. I don’t even know if I can explain how nice it was to be in a familiar place with other people who speak English!  

Last time we were here the apartments were all booked, but since we had more notice this time we got a spacious three bedroom apartment! All the kids were starting to crash and burn so we headed straight up and started getting them ready for bed. I was so elated to have so much space that I literally started running through the hallways! We have three separate bedrooms with closets and dressers, three bathrooms, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and a whole lot of extra random space in our entry way. It’s amazing!!!!!!!!! Matthew was so tired that he curled up and went to bed almost immediately. Caroline had reached meltdown levels, so I helped her and Lily get situated and they were out as soon as I snuggled with them. I could hear David in our room with Brian making all kinds of happy sounds. Apparently he was really hyper and running all over the room! Brian closed the door and got in bed next to him to settle him down. His bed is right next to the window, and he just sat there looking out talking to himself. It was so adorable. I can’t even imagine what is going on in that brain right now. Even though he’s still in China, everything must be new and different. He didn’t put up a fuss at all going to bed. Brian pulled the covers up, and after a few minutes of window watching David snuggled all the way underneath them and went to sleep.

My parents were going to stay with the kids so Brian and I could go downstairs and have a drink at the hotel bar, but when I stuck my head in to see if David was asleep yet, I found that both he and Brian were out! So instead, my parents and I went out and explored the hotel. We refreshed our memories by giving my dad a tour and then sat in the bar and talked for a while over long island ice teas and a rusty nail. Since I had been up since 3am I probably should have gone to bed, but it was so nice to get out of a room and do something different for a change!