Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hasta luego China

Today is our last day in China; we leave for home early in the morning.
M managed to achieve two big goals in the last couple of days. First off, he managed to get to the elevator and push the button before the floor monitor got there. Each floor of the hotel is set up in sort of an oval. In the center are the freight elevators & storage; around the outside are the guest rooms. The guest elevators are in a hall that bisects the center of the oval. At one end of this short hall, there is a podium that is manned around the clock. These ladies will get us ice or boiled water, unlock our windows (reluctantly), fetch plug adaptors for us, that sort of thing. But their main job seems to be to run for the elevator as soon as you open your door so you don't have to push the button. They stand there with their hand on the door until everybody's on. They also greet each arriving elevator & hold the door. M has been trying to sneak around the back hallway, on the side of the oval away from the podium, in order to evade the hall monitors and push the button himself. He finally managed it the other day. I hope the hall monitor doesn't lose her job because of this incident.

Beach bunny

His second objective was to ride a bike in China. He's been calling out "Hey, can I ride your bike?" whenever people ride past. Nobody was responding. Could be that language gap, I suppose. Or maybe they just thought it was weird and a little creepy that this random stranger wanted to ride their bikes. Yesterday, the hawker for one of the shops on the island accompanied us down the street in order to steer us into her shop. As we chatted with her, M asked if she or anybody who worked in her shop had a bike he could ride. "I know it sounds crazy..." he said, and she replied "Yes." But she found him a bike, and he rode around in circles for five minutes. He was grinning from ear to ear by the time he was done.

M rides a bike

We have had a wonderful time in China. It's truly been the trip of a lifetime. We look forward to coming back someday when Z is old enough to remember, and seeing more of China. Right now, however, we're ready to go home. We miss our B! One more day...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Yet another day in Guangzhou

I've been getting a little slack with the blog posts because there is really not much to tell. We're getting a little bored, and very ready to go home. Being in Guangzhou is not as much fun as being in Nanchang. There are only so many times you can walk around an island that's five blocks long and three blocks wide, and only so much shopping even I can do.

Yesterday we crossed the bridge and went off the island. We walked through a market that sold all sorts of stuff we couldn't identify. There were lots of spices -- it smelled like curry -- and some mushrooms, and dried things that I imagine you're supposed to eat, although I don't think I would. I'd probably end up eating something you're supposed to wash your hair with, or vice versa. Then we walked through some back streets in the neighborhood behind the market. The main streets were very busy and crowded, and filthy dirty. We turned off a street into a little alleyway, and that was spotlessly clean. This alley was only a few feet wide, and it was lined mostly with people's homes, rather than shops. There were brooms leaning up against the wall at regular intervals, and we saw several people out sweeping. Guess that explains why it was so tidy. We saw a cat on a leash inside the front door of one home. I don't think Lulu or Kitten would care for that. There were little side alleys off the main alley, but they all looked like they dead-ended at someone's front door, so we didn't walk down any of these. This alley eventually ended at a T. The top of the T was something between a wider alley and a very narrow street. This one had shops. We stopped in a pet shop. There were about half a dozen pens with pure-bred puppies in them, cages of cats out front, and a big pile of beds for the animals. This pet shop was cleaner than any I've ever seen in the U.S.

Back street in GZ

Shamian Island

After lunch, we hopped in a cab and paid a visit to the pearl market. We first walked through a giant shopping mall, 5-6 stories tall. We saw a few stores with rather amusing names, as you'll see in the photos. We crossed a plaza with a fountain in the middle, then entered another mall that was identical to the first. This one was all jewelry through. A 5-story mall selling nothing but jewelry! We bought Miss Z a string of beautiful pearls for when she's older. I chose the pearls I liked, and a girl strung them & knotted them right there.

Bad Marketing

Check out the name of this store

Outside these two malls is an outdoor pedestrian mall. We walked down this a couple blocks to a department store, where we bought a few more diapers and some toys that we're keeping hidden until we get on the plane. There were several times when we were in the department store that we saw big groups of people gathered around a table, picking through the merchandise. There'd be a dozen displays in the general area, and everyone would be crowded around one in particular. Once it was sweaters, another time it was a big table piled high with packages of maxi pads. We guessed that it must have been the Chinese equivalent of a blue-light special. If only it had been a table piled high with padded silk jackets for little girls (or their mommies), I'd have gotten in on the action! But I really don't need any second-quality polyester sweaters or giant packages of Chinese maxi pads.

This morning our guide submitted Z's visa application at the U.S. consulate. We got a call about an hour ago that everything was accepted. I was a little surprised, as I realized after I'd turned in all the paperwork that I put down the wrong city for M's birthplace; guess they don't look all that closely. Tomorrow afternoon, we'll go to the consulate where we'll take Z's oath of citizenship for her and receive her visa to enter the U.S. As soon as she's admitted to the U.S. in San Francisco, she'll be a U.S. citizen.

Big girl

Z is snoozing right now. As soon as she wakes up, we're going to go out & buy another suitcase for all the stuff we've bought in China. You can get a suitcase for less than $15 here, and we need one. We could barely get everything in when we left Nanchang, and we've acquired plenty more since we've been here.

Cleanliness is next to holiness

One more post tomorrow, then the next one will be from home!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday in GZ: Guess who can walk?!

Yup, M. Oh yeah, and Little Z. This afternoon, while I spent an hour and a half in our guide's room doing Z's visa paperwork, M & Z went downstairs to the playroom to practice her moves. They've been having secret practice sessions whenever I'm not around. Secret training! When I came back to the room, he told me she could do it, and sure enough, she took about half a dozen steps all on her own, going from M to me. I've seen her do it two more times since then. She's had the mistaken impression that she could walk for as long as we've known her, and it's been hard both to rein her in so she doesn't hurt herself and to see her get mad when she tries & doesn't quite pull it off. Things are going to be interesting around here for the rest of our stay. I'm seeing a few head bonks in the next couple of days. It's inevitable. But I predict we'll be chasing that little monkey around shortly after we get home. Cats, you might as well go under the bed right now and stay there for the next year or so, because this little girl is going to be all over you. Kenai, I doubt you have to worry about that. I have a feeling your 95 pounds of labrador puppy love is going to scare the diaper right off this poor child.

A little practice goes a long way.

Another baby in our group had a big milestone today too. This little boy was pretty seriously malnourished and had yet to eat any solid foods, much to his parents' distress. Today he ate six Cheerios! His mom called to let his dad know while we were in the guide's room doing our paperwork. We all cheered when we heard. The improvement we've seen in this little boy over the past week has been remarkable. It's been remarkable in all the babies, actually. They are all just blossoming right before our eyes. What strong little kids we have. They are survivors, all of them.

TG 1314 Babies

For the most part, today was all waiting around & filling out paperwork. There is absolutely NOTHING exciting to tell you about other than the walking thing. We had visa photos taken for the babies, then took them for their medical exam. It was quite perfunctory, yet we still managed to spend two hours in the clinic. There are "Keep Quiet" signs all over the place, but the noise in there was deafening. We were glad to be done with it.

Medical Clinic

As I mentioned earlier, we did the paperwork for Z's visa to enter the U.S. today. Stupid government bureaucracy. I had to fill out about half a dozen forms. Each one of them asked for the exact same information. Stupid stupid. There is NO reason why we should not be able to sit down in front of a computer, type in the answers to about a dozen questions, then print out all those forms and just sign them. What a waste of time.

The last item on today's agenda was the red couch photo. Z was lovely in her fuschia silk dress and matching squeaky shoes. Unfortunately, the tights I brought for her are so big that they hang on her like sweat pants and look just plain silly, so she went with just the diaper under the dress. You know, when you set a baby who's wearing a diaper & a dress down on a couch, you see a lot of diaper. Oh well.

Squeaky shoes to match my dress.

Three-quarters of the family.

I had a little mini-adventure today. While M & Z napped, I made a trip to the pharmacy. I ran out of my cold medicine today, and I most definitely still need it if I want to breathe. After a lot of pointing, miming, and fake coughing, I was handed a bottle of Robitussin. All the packaging is in Chinese, so there was more pointing and miming to determine the correct dosage and how often I should take it. I hope we were on the same page with that. The last thing I need is to OD on cough syrup in China. I made a quick stop at Starbucks on the way back to the hotel. Two cups of regular coffee at Starbucks cost more than my medicine!

Tomorrow is a free day for us. There is an optional trip to the pearl market in the afternoon; I think I'll exercise my option to go. My girly girl needs some pearls for when she graduates from high school.

Pearl River at night.

TG 1314 families and babies.

Thanks for dropping by, and I'll talk to you all tomorrow!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday in Guangzhou

The one second she's had a paci in her mouth...

We got in late yesterday afternoon. The flight wasn't super-fun. They apparently don't pressurize planes the same way in China as they do at home. I noticed this on the flight from Hong Kong to Nanchang too. My ears were completely stopped up on both flights, and it actually hurt a little on the descent. It didn't seem to bother Miss Z though. Being cooped up in a little airplane seat was another story I'm afraid. Ours was that baby who cried almost the whole flight. The flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco on Friday is going to be a lot of fun I think. If you know anyone who's going to be on that flight, you might want to give them a heads up now so they can change their reservations while there's still time. Unless they like screaming babies. Then they should definitely fly with us.

Who me?

It's so weird to be here after a week in Nanchang. We don't really even feel like we're in China. Shamian Island is very small, and very European in its architecture. Many people here seem to speak English. Also, they don't drive on the sidewalks. M & I have both said how glad we are that we got to spend time in Nanchang. We wouldn't trade a minute of it. That said, it is nice to be able to walk without fearing for your life, and it is much much cleaner here. And there's a Starbucks. Enough said.

Cutie Patootie

I'm not a big fan of the White Swan. I know, it's part of the tradition, red couches, breakfast buffet, gazillions of adoptive families, Going Home Barbie, yadda yadda yadda. But this really isn't that great a hotel. Frankly, it's rather seedy. I'm wishing I'd had the energy to change us to the Victory back before we left, but at that point in the game, one more thing on my to-do list would have put me over the edge. When "learn Chinese" is on your list of things to do in the immediate future, you know things are getting bad. We're not miserable here or anything even close to that, but this place is kind of a dump compared to our hotel in Nanchang. The rooms are tiny, and the beds are just as hard as you've heard they are -- too hard for me, and I really like a firm mattress. I woke up this morning with my hip bones aching. The pillows are pretty much rock solid too. It's like sleeping in a Flintstones bed. The worst part is that our room REEKS of cigarette smoke. I think it's coming from the ventilation system. We asked them to unlock our window so we could open it. They did, but with great reluctance and a lecture on how dangerous it was. I'm not sure if they meant it was dangerous because we might fall out, or dangerous because a baby shouldn't sleep in a room with the temperature below 80 degrees. But I'm keeping that window open as long as we're here.

Squatty potties aren't all bad...

We did a sightseeing tour with the group this morning. We went first to a Buddhist temple. It was a beautiful, peaceful place, just like you'd think a Buddhist temple should be. We had a blessing for Z by a Buddhist monk. We knelt down in front of an altar and closed our eyes. We were instructed to make a wish for our children, while the monk chanted. I wished a long, happy and healthy life for both of my children. As the monk chanted, I tried to visualize both kids going through all the stages of life. I saw them at their first day of kindergarten, playing middle school sports, going to prom, graduating from high school, getting married, bringing their own kids home for Thanksgiving dinners. By the end of the ceremony, I was bawling like a baby. Why do I do this to myself??
Blessing by a Buddhist Monk.

Six Banyans Temple - above and below:

Next stop was the Chen family academy. It was built....ummmm, I forget when, but a long time ago. All the people in China named Chen contributed money to build it. Anyone named Chen could come study here for the national exams. Now it's an art gallery, and there are some really lovely things there. Most impressive to me was the grain of rice with hundreds of Chinese characters painted on it. Seriously. You have to look at it through a magnifying glass. The building itself is beautiful too. Lots of intricate carvings in the stone, rooms built around courtyards surrounded by covered walkways. I think I could live there quite comfortably.

Last stop was a provincial artisan center, for more shopping (of course). We bought a few nice things, including a pretty little jade bracelet for Z. One other purchase from today that was notable -- a painted silk scroll in a gallery named for the artist, who shares our son's name. We're going to stop by again tomorrow to show him a picture of our B.

Daddy's little girl.

Tonight we had dinner at the Cow & Bridge, a Thai restaurant on the island. It was deeeeeeeelicious! I had vegetables in green curry. Yummmm. And a glass of wine, the first to pass my lips since the flight to Hong Kong. Also yummm. We sat with Donna & Randy from Florida. It has been so fun to finally meet them in person. We had the same LID date, and Donna and I have "known" each other (online) since way back when we first started the dossier process, almost exactly two years ago. She is just as nice in person as she is online, and they are both a lot of fun to hang out with.

Tomorrow we're off our mini-vacation and back in the full swing of the adoption process. We have to get Z's photo taken for her visa to enter the US, and she has to have a physical to make sure she's healthy before she can go home. Then there's a big round of paperwork, followed by the official Red Couch Photo. For those of you not schooled in the China adoption process, here's a quick explanation: the famous White Swan hotel has some equally famous red couches in their lobby. It is tradition to place all the children in the travel group on a couch, dressed in traditional Chinese clothing, and try to take a picture before one of the babies tips over. Generally at least one child is red-faced and screaming in these pictures. If you go into our agency's offices, they have the red couch photo of the first group of babies ever adopted from China to the U.S. They also have a follow-up photo of those same children on a White Swan red couch, ten or so years later. It's a rather sweet tradition I think. We have bought Z a lovely fuschia dress and matching shoes for her big moment.

I can almost walk.

A proud moment for Daddy.

Can someone please email this to Mountain Flyer Magazine?

Until tomorrow...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Shopping Day!

We did our part to help out the local economy on Friday. In fact, we basically just shopped all day. First stop was a porcelain store. They took Visa, which was lucky for me, but not so lucky for our credit card balance. But whenever M & I travel and decide not to do or buy something b/c of the cost, we always regret it when we get home. Really, what's $200 in the grand scheme of things? And Jiangxi Province is famous for its porcelain, so if we're going to spend money on something, this seems like a meaningful something to spend it on. We bought a beautiful tea set that is hand-painted. It came with a certificate of authenticity that this particular famous artist painted it. It has his photo, signature and chop on it. We also bought a very unique teacup & saucer that just looked like something that should be in our home, if you know what I mean. And some little dolls that represent some of the ethnic minorities of China for Z when she's older. And an absolutely stunning vase that has a purple & blue glaze. Apparently this is also a very good quality piece. Chairman Mao & Deng Shao Ping both gave pieces from this particular artist to other heads of state when they visited China. We got a few other things that I'm not going to list here b/c they're gifts and I don't want to spoil the surprise. When I went to pay, one of our guides helped me bargain a little. When I looked at the list of original prices and then the discounted prices, it was evident that what they were doing was basically charging me full price for the good stuff and giving me the little stuff for free. I said this to the guide, and she apparently misunderstood, because when she said something to the clerk in Chinese, she went over and grabbed us a set of porcelain chopsticks & some jewelry boxes. I think they thought I was asking for something little for free! I felt so rude. But I'm not going to turn down a gift. And speaking of rude, both our guide and the clerk were stunned to see me sign my name with my left hand. They were even more blown away when I told them that M & B are both lefties too. Apparently this is unheard of in China.

I know there's been a request for pictures of the porcelain, but it's all packed up b/c we're leaving for the airport in less than an hour, and I really don't want to unpack it. I'll post pictures eventually, but it may be after we return home.

The downside of buying $200 worth of porcelain: we now have two more bags to carry on, not to mention the squirmy girl.

Next stop was a bookstore. We picked up some baby books that have pictures of numbers, animals, household items, etc., along with labels in Chinese, English and PinYin. This will be good for Z when she takes Chinese classes, and will help me too I'm sure. We also got a little something for B at this store, but I'm not going to tell what it is!

After that, the bus dropped us off at a pedestrian mall. It felt a little bit like a Chinese version of Melrose Avenue in L.A. to me. Loud music coming out of every store, and everything is super-stylish. You want to buy it all until you look a little closer and realize that the quality is cheap even though the prices aren't. All we bought was an adorable little stuffed doll for Z (called a Pucca Happy Love doll) and some hair pretties. I really wanted some of the ponytail holders that have big fluffy pompoms on them. I just love it when I see little girls with two ponytails with those on them. Z will have to grow some more hair before they'll do us any good though. We walked the length of this mall and back. We ran into several people who spoke English and stopped to chat, and also saw several groups of westerners with Chinese babies.

Our last stop (and I'm a little embarrassed to admit this) was McDonald's. M has been craving a hamburger, and I wasn't going to say no to some fries and a Coke. It was just like home. The girl at the counter even spoke English. The two main differences I noticed on the menu were that they had banana pies instead of apple pies, and that you could get a cup of corn instead of fries for a side.

Z: An American Girl:

We walked back to the hotel from there, about a 40 minute walk along some pretty busy streets. We attracted a lot of attention. Lots of grandmas & grandpas stopped us so they could fire questions at us (smile and nod, smile and nod, shrug, smile and nod again) and pat Z's cheeks. These exchanges always ended with lots of smiles and a thumbs-up.

Last night we had a group dinner at the Chinese restaurant in the hotel (they advertise that they have a western restaurant and a Chinese restaurant -- I hate to tell them this, but they really have two Chinese restaurants...). Our guide put us at two tables, one spicy and one not. We sat at the spicy table. It was spicy, but not THAT spicy. No spicier than a good chile relleno. Our guide told us it was "medium spicy," but she waited until after we ate & went somewhere else because she said our dinner wasn't spicy enough for her. Maybe she was just being polite and it wasn't really medium spicy but more like make-the-gringos-think-its-spicy spicy.

A few notes on adorable Z's progress:

- She's a pro at sitting up by herself now.

- She rolls over like she's been doing it all her life.

- She slept through the night last night!! This is a first.

- She likes to have a hand towel over her face when she falls asleep. She'll grab anything she can get her hands on & pull it over her face. It makes me nervous to see her sleeping with a towel over her face, so I always take it away after she's fallen asleep.

- She doesn't use a pacifier (actually, she likes to put the wrong side of it in her mouth -- we've tried to get a picture of this b/c it's very funny, but she always spits it out as soon as we point the camera at her), but she does this funny thing where she pulls her sleeve up over the palm of her hand, then puts the inside of her wrist right up to her mouth & makes sucking sounds. She doesn't actually put it IN her mouth, just right up to it. Then she purses those little lips and makes the cutest little sound. When she does this, it's a sign that she needs a nap.

OK, we have a plane to catch, so that's all for today!

More pictures - Mom and Z on the bus:

Z on the Bus with the Pink Panther:

New Construction:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Last Full Day in Nanchang

I can't believe today is our last full day in Nanchang. Time has really flown by. I don't have as much to say today (keep those sighs of relief to yourselves!), so it'll be mostly pictures. B, the pink panther pictures are for you!

Today is a big shopping day. We're going first to the porcelain street, where I'm told they take credit cards. If only we weren't limited by that two suitcases thing, I'd buy a bunch of stuff, because it's beautiful. Next stop is a book store where we can buy children's books with the words in both English and Chinese. Then they're going to drop us off at a flea market where we can shop until we're about to drop, and walk 40 minutes back to the hotel. At the pace this group moves, I bet M & I can make it in 20 minutes on our own.

Yesterday was a sightseeing day. We went to the Teng Wang Pavilion, which was just beautiful. We ate lunch in the most smoke-filled restaurant I've ever seen. It was worse than a bar at closing time. The food was good though. After lunch, Miss Z took a nap while M & I had massages. It was, shall we say, vigorous? Seriously, there were a few times when both of us thought we were going to cry. It was like she was going to get those knots out if it took a hammer & chisel to do it. As bad as that sounds, it was overall a good massage. I feel great today.

We took a quick walk around the neighborhood last night, and just as we were getting back to the hotel, the fireworks started. They went on for two hours at least. Looking out our hotel room window, we could see dozens of fireworks displays going on at the same time, all over the city. It made the 4th of July look LAME. Yesterday was the last day of the Chinese New Year, and fireworks were part of the celebration. It was pretty cool to see.

Little Z thought 5am was a good time to wake up today. We thought otherwise. I took her out of her crib and put her in bed between us. We both turned our backs and pretended to sleep while she jabbered away and played with her feet. I distinctly heard her whisper "Mama, baba" (Mommy, Daddy) three separate times. Awwww. I couldn't keep my back turned to that. That was rewarded with a kiss. Fortunately, she went back to sleep and didn't get up until after 7. I wish I could say the same for me. I've been up since 5. Oh well. I see an afternoon nap in my future.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wednesday in XiaJiang and Nanchang

First of all, thank you all for the comments you leave. We can't see the blog here, but the comments get emailed to me & we love to get them. We get a little lonely here sometimes, so it's nice to hear familiar voices from home.

Yesterday was a huge day. I haven't had time to keep a journal like I intended to, so I'm using the blog as a journal. I'm afraid that means there may be much more here than you want to read, so feel free to skip over all the text and go straight to the pictures. Oh, and about the pictures -- most of what we took yesterday was on the film camera or the camcorder, not the digital, so there aren't a whole lot. Sorry. We'll do better today. The three I have for today are all from XiaJiang. One is Z & me in the pagoda at her orphanage, one is us at the gate of her orphanage, and one is us sitting on some steps. M wanted me to include this last one so you could see that she isn't actually ALWAYS smiling, which is the way it may have appeared to be so far. There is also one picture of a Xia Jiang taxi, we saw one that carried our passengers and the driver.

Yesterday, we hired a driver and a translator and took a trip to the town Z is from. It's called XiaJiang, and it's about an hour and a half south of Nanchang on a super-modern highway. Seriously, it was just like an interstate back home, except that the signs were in Chinese and weird English (lots of signs for "righe" turns). Also a little different was the way people drove. Take our driver, for instance. He honked the horn before he passed anyone, while he was passing, if he was thinking about passing, if someone else was passing him, if someone else looked like maybe they were thinking about passing him, and sometimes just for fun. And apparently in China, it is acceptable to pass anywhere, any time. Two big, slow trucks blocking the road in front of you? No problem. That's what the shoulder is for. For the most part, the vehicles on this road were big trucks with their loads covered by tarps and brand-new cars. Oh, and one truck was on fire. That caused a big traffic jam, fortunately in the other direction from where we were going. We were lucky to be in a minivan with seatbelts. We wore them the whole time, but our translator never did. Our driver did pull it across him one time without actually fastening it. He also slowed down dramatically at the same time he did this -- I think there was a photo radar thingee there.

It took about 15 minutes to get out of the city. We passed the biggest ferris wheel I've ever seen out in the fringes. Maybe 30 stories tall? 40? It was just behind a highrise building, and it was taller than the building. Quite frankly, it was a little scary. Mainly what we saw out on the fringes of the city was construction. Lots and lots of construction. There are thousands of new highrise apartment buildings going up. Our guide says that farmers are moving into the city, and people who live in the center now move out to these new buildings and rent their other apartment to the new arrivals. We asked what all these farmers do for a living when they get here, but never got an answer. Oddly, most of the new construction is still vacant. It seems like they get a building about 75% finished, then just leave it and go start a new one. It's hard to imagine enough people moving to this city to fill up all those empty buildings.

Once we got out of the city, it was all farm land. It appeared to be mostly rice they were growing, but there were other things we couldn't identify too. There were hundreds of little villages. They were made up of two-story brick buildings, whitewashed. The buildings were built very close together, with dirt pathways in between. Every doorway had red couplets on either side, since it's still Chinese New Year. In the yard of every house, there were chickens, a dog, and maybe a cow or ox. As we sped past these little towns that probably haven't changed very much in hundreds of years, we'd occasionally see a man walking along behind an ox, plowing a field. Right next to this super highway with brand-new cars and semi trucks barreling along at 120K per hour.

After an hour, we got off the highway, paid a toll, and started down a country road. It had turned a little bit mountainous as we got close to XiaJiang. They weren't especially tall mountains, but they were forested and very steep. I couldn't help wondering if there were paths that took you to the top. Maybe next time we come to China I'll ask. We passed through and by a few more tiny villages, always stopping to ask someone if they knew where the XiaJiang County Welfare Institute was. Everyone seemed to have a different opinion on this. I think they asked lots of people so they could go with the majority opinion and triangulate from the various directions they received. When we eventually came to XiaJiang, it was a much bigger town than all those villages. Our guide is from a town just half an hour away from XiaJiang, and she said about 100,000 people live in Z's town. Like Nanchang, most people in XiaJiang seem to live in apartments. They weren't highrises there though, maybe 5-6 stories at the tallest. After a lot of driving around and asking for directions, M & I spotted the orphanage in the distance. It's pretty easy to spot -- in a city of white-tiled anonymous boxes, it's a pink castle with a turret and a very old, very ornate gate.

Despite the fact that we were told we wouldn't be able to visit the orphanage, our driver pulled right in the front gate and parked in the courtyard. We got out and walked around a bit. There were three or four buildings set around three sides of the courtyard (the fourth side was a wall with the gate I mentioned). The courtyard had a pond in it, with a little pagoda in the center. There were narrow bridges leading from all four sides to the center. Z and I walked out to the pagoda while M took pictures. Z was a little bit fussy. I don't know if it's because she knew where she was and didn't want to be there, or because she'd just been wakened from a nap when we'd arrived. In any case, I held her extra tight and whispered to her the whole time we were there that it was "just a're our daughter now and you're coming home with us." I'm sure she understood every word. Ha! I do think the squeezing and whispering helped her feel better though.

There was a small group of adults with one toddler having lunch outside on a patio. After a few minutes, a man got up from this group and walked over to our translator. I heard "blah blah blah Xiao Zhi Yi blah blah blah." He could tell from all the way across the courtyard who I was carrying! And she even had a hood on that covered most of her face! It was obvious he was telling her we couldn't be there. He said we could take pictures from outside the gate, but not inside the courtyard, so we walked out to the gate. As we were standing there for M to take our picture, a woman rode out the gate on a bike. She glanced at us, then almost fell off her bike in surprise. She stopped at the side of the road, got off her bike, and watched us. When we started to walk in her direction to get back into our van, she rushed up, pushed back Z's hood and unzipped her little fleece suit to get a really good look at her, and grinned from ear to ear. She was Z's nanny! She looked for a few seconds, said a few words to our translator, then got on her bike and rode away. Our translator said she told her that Z was "a good baby." We already knew that! I felt like I should have asked her a million questions while I had a chance, but my mind was utterly blank. And Z didn't really show any emotion at all when she saw this woman; she just looked at her. We had talked beforehand about how if the opportunity to visit the orphanage presented itself, only one of us would go & the other would stay behind with Z to avoid upsetting or confusing her. Well, so much for that plan. It all happened so fast that it was really just out of our control. But Z seems no worse for wear after what must have been a confusing few minutes.

After we left the orphanage, we made a quick stop at the place where Z was found on the day of her birth. I don't really want to share much about that here, because I think it's a very personal detail of Little Z's life, and she should be the one to decide when and if it gets shared. I'll just say this: it was a busy place, and very close to the orphanage. I believe that the person who left her there knew she would be found almost immediately, and taken down the street to the orphanage where she would be cared for.

Our last stop in XiaJiang was at a park. It was a very large park, with a small pond and a big lake. We took a stroll around the pond. In XiaJiang, we didn't attract the crowds that we do in Nanchang. People looked at us, and I caught one guy snapping a picture of M with his camera phone, but people didn't gather around or follow us. After our little walk, we hopped back in the van and headed "home" to Nanchang.

After a way-too-short nap, we bundled Z up (not enough, as you'll soon find out), rented a stroller from the hotel, and set out on walk. This time, instead of crossing the street, we went around to the neighborhood behind the hotel. This neighborhood is what we see from our window, and we've been wanting to get a closer look. There's a gate on the side of our hotel that marks the opening to the neighborhood. After passing through that, we were in what was supposed to be a pedestrian street, but a lot of people on scooters and dirt bikes, and even a few cars, seemed to ignore that little rule. Hey, if it's OK to drive on the sidewalk, then we should just expect people to drive on a pedestrian street, right?

All down the left side of this street was the outside wall of a Buddhist temple. We could hear a big gong or bell from inside, but couldn't see it when we peeked in the windows in the wall. We kept walking, hoping to find a gate where we could enter. Down the other side of the street there were a lot of tiny shops and restaurants. At the corner, we found the entrance to the temple. We paid 10 yuan each, and stepped over the threshold. Inside was a big tiled courtyard. The bell we'd been hearing was just to our right. It had a big log hanging from chains that you could swing into the bell to ring it. I did, and I could feel the vibrations in the concrete patio under my feet. It was huge! Straight in front of us was a building with a giant golden Buddha inside, and hundreds of tiny golden Buddhas in little cubbies on the wall behind the big one. There were also some displays of very old porcelain pieces and some other things we couldn't identify. We surmised from the numbers we could read in one sign that was otherwise written in Chinese that at least one of these objects dated back to around 904-907 AD.

We walked out the back door of this building and found ourselves in another courtyard, where we were accosted by two very silly boys (or maybe it was a boy and a girl? we weren't sure) who followed us around for the rest of our time in the temple. They wanted to be in every picture we took, and they probably are. Right in front of us in this courtyard was a round building, seven stories tall. Each story is smaller than the one below it, so it looks a little bit like a tiered wedding cake. It has a gold point on the top. There are doorways all around each level of the building, with balconies outside. I'm guessing there are bells you can ring at the top, because we heard them. We didn't go up though -- the stairs were not really the kind you want to climb while holding a squirmy baby.

Behind this was yet another courtyard. Strangely, this one had a very modern climbing wall on one side, strung with prayer flags. It also had a very beautiful and elaborate building. There were golden statutes of three people inside, but we don't know who they were. The ceiling was stunning, with very elaborate carvings and a lot of colorful painting. There were similar painted carvings all around the walls. Lower on the walls were black stones with very detailed etchings depicting daily life and some battle scenes. It was a beautiful place, and if you ever come to Nanchang, you should visit. In both this building and the first one (with the giant Buddha), people had hung little red diamond-shaped pieces of wood, with red tassles hanging from them. These had handwritten notes in Chinese on the back. We're assuming they were prayer requests, but we really don't know. There were hundreds of them, hung from the walls and all around the Buddha.

One of the girls who worked in the last building we went in was very enamored with Z. She got very excited when we entered the building. She literally ran up to us, smiling and chattering at Z. She got down on her knees in front of her, and patted her cheeks and hands. She came back several times while we were there. Really, who could resist this baby? I'm surprised everyone doesn't do this. Actually, quite a lot of people do.

As we left this last building, they closed up and the three girls who worked there left for the day. They accompanied us across the courtyard, along with the two boys we'd picked up earlier. I tried to get the boys' names as we walked, but all I got was giggles. They tried to ask something, and I just shook my head and said "Wo she mei guo ren." ("I'm an American.") Apparently my accent was rather convincing because everyone's faces just lit up, and they started firing questions at me. All I could do was laugh and shrug, and this was apparently hilarious to everyone. As they all walked off, I threw out a "Tsai tien" ("Goodbye"), and they all waved and said goodbye back. M gave me an astonished look and said "Dude! You're a native!" Unfortunately, that was about half the Mandarin I know. I feel like I'm slightly retarded here.

We went back out to the street and strolled along for another block. The pedestrian section ended and we had to cross a real street. This was an adventure. Crossing the main streets isn't so bad. There are stoplights, cross walks and walk/don't walk signs, and sometimes even policemen directing traffic. Things run in a semi-orderly way. But on a back street like this one, there are no rules about driving on the sidewalk, staying on the right side of the road, or not running over pedestrians. It's a giant game of chicken. Whoever blinks first dies.

About halfway down the block ahead of us, we could see a group of grandmas sitting around a little table. All eyes were on us, and they were clearly discussing us. As we approached, they got up and gathered around. At first it seemed like they were saying nice things about Z, but it quickly became evident they were very upset about how little clothing we had on her. She was wearing tights, socks, and knit pants on the bottom, and long-sleeved onesie and fleece pullover on top, with a winter coat (hood on), hat and mittens. Oh, and it was in the high 50s outside, slightly chilly, but not cold at all. But the clothing police pulled up the leg of her pants to see what was underneath, fingered the weight of the cloth, and clucked and shook their heads at us. Then they grabbed a Chinese baby and showed us all its layers, fingering the cloth to demonstrate the padding. I just smiled and nodded, playing the slightly retarded American. M was a sucker though. (NOTE from M: It was getting a little chilly and I like making little Grandmas happy). He whipped out a blanket and started to cover Z's legs. I wouldn't let him though. I'm stubborn. I'm not letting those Chinese grandmas tell me how to take care of MY baby! OK, OK, we stopped behind a car where the Chinese grandmas couldn't see us and put the blanket on.

We turned around shortly after this and headed back, as it was almost dark. We stopped at the restaurant next door to our hotel for dinner. They sat us in a section that was virtually empty (not sure why, but we would have preferred to eat in the main dining room) and assigned us a waiter who thought he spoke English. I'm afraid he was wrong. Fortunately the menu had pictures. We thumbed through it and pointed at four things. I asked for a Coke, but he suggested I try some juice that was apparently mango-like. I said OK. He brought it over and showed it to us, pointing to it on the menu as he did. Um, that guy was upselling us big-time! That juice was 58 yuan (about $7), and a Coke was 5 yuan (less than $1). Slightly retarded Americans apparently have a big sign on their foreheads that reads "sucker." I declined to take the juice and repeated my request for a Coke. I've been eating Chinese food almost exclusively for almost a week, and a taste of home was good.

It turned out we'd ordered waaaaaaay too much food. All three of us gorged on edamame, tofu cooked in a dark, slightly spicy sauce, and a meatball & cabbage soup, but had no room left for the vegetable dumplings we'd ordered. Through a combination of gestures and random English words, M managed to communicate this and they agreed to take the last item off our order. We paid our bill (46 yuan, or about $7 -- this was a fancy, rather expensive restaurant), and called it a day.

We're about to head down to the breakfast buffet. Unfortunately, we're a little later than usual today and will probably have to eat breakfast in the midst of a bunch of smokers. At 10:00, we're hooking up with the group for a visit to the Teng Wang pavilion, the only tourist site in town. This afternoon, we're both getting massages. I should be very relaxed when I check in with you again.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Monday and Tuesday in Nanchang

The rest of Monday in Nanchang--

First let me tell you about the rest of Monday. Fortunately, we got Z's passport problem fixed. I still don't know what happened exactly, but they took her picture yesterday afternoon & said everything was OK. We should get her passport on schedule this Friday.

After that stop, the whole group went to a department store in downtown Nanchang. An old lady came up to us on the sidewalk and was saying something, then followed us into the store. She even went up the elevator with us to the fourth floor and followed us around up there. It sure sounded like she was berating us for something, but we have no idea what it was all about. There was also a pack of about half a dozen boys, maybe eight or ten years old, who followed us everywhere we went. They kind of tried to hide and spy on us, but they were laughing so much they were pretty bad at the hiding thing. So the store -- we went there in case anyone needed baby clothes. We didn't really need much, but it was a pretty swanky store with amazingly cheap prices, and we wanted to buy Z something just for fun. I was looking at shoes, because I only brought one pair with us, a Target knock-off of Robeez. We were standing in front of a shoe display, and I picked up one or two pairs to look at them. Z, who I had in the Baby Bjorn, reached out and grabbed a hot pink pair trimmed in white with little sparkly blue and pink circles. I was impressed by her taste in shoes, so we bought them for her. Here they are --

There was a grocery store in the basement of this department store, so we went down there to get diapers, more rice cereal, water, and a few other necessities. Shopping in a Chinese grocery store is an adventure. We just wandered around, picking things up, trying to figure out what they were, until we had what we needed. Once we got home & opened everything, it turned out we'd done just fine. No dried squid or sheep intestines or anything like that.

When we got back outside, we saw a crowd gathered around an adorable English sheepdog. We went over to see him and give him a pet, and before we knew it, that crowd was gathered around us. Apparently Americans with a Chinese baby trump an English sheepdog.

Last night, the group went out to dinner, but we stayed in. Z was clearly tired and not feeling great, and I was afraid she was a little feverish. We put her to bed early and dosed her with some Chinese baby tylenol cold medicine our guide bought for us, and she seems to be doing a lot better today. Oh, and last night -- there are about 150 businessmen in this hotel for some kind of convention. Last night, all 150 of them got falling-down drunk and decided to hang out in the hallway outside our room, yelling at each other and smoking. I stuck my head out the door once around midnight and shushed them, saying "baby." They responding by inviting me to come down the hall with some rather crude-sounding language and some hand gestures. I gave them a hand gesture of my own and shut the door. M had to go out there at least two more times during the night to tell them to shut up. Each time he did he'd say "baby" and they'd say "sorry sorry" then go back to yelling. It was a fun night.

Tuesday in Nanchang--

We decided to make a serious effort to keep Miss Z on her regular schedule from now on. The orphanage provided us with a copy of this, including what time she eats, how many naps she takes, and how many times a day she poops. We've discovered that we're all a lot happier and easier to get along with when we stick to this.

In what is quickly becoming a daily routine, we gave Little Z her morning bottle, got everyone dressed, and were at the breakfast buffet by 7am. They started putting our group in a separate room today, to keep us away from those aforementioned rude businessmen. While we were eating, our favorite waitress Nikki came in and started taking all the chopsticks off the tables and replacing them with forks and knives. I didn't surrender mine though -- I ate my whole bowl of noddles with chopsticks. I'm getting good with them! And I've discovered that noddles with bean sprouts, cabbage, broth and chili paste makes an excellent breakfast. Yum. Nikki also brings us coffee now, instead of letting us get it ourselves. It's REALLY strong (just the way we like it), and must have about four sugar packets in each cup. Oh well. She's so sweet about it that I don't have the heart to tell her it's way too sweet. I just drink it anyway.

After Z's morning nap, we had a quick visit with a pediatrician. The agency brings him in to see the babies, just to make sure they're all OK. Z was pronounced both healthy and pretty. Of course, we already knew she was pretty, but it was nice to hear the official diagnosis. After a few minutes in a rather sad playroom at the hotel, we decided to get outside for a walk.

We crossed the street (an adventure in itself) to drop off the two disposable cameras we'd sent the orphanage for developing (we'll get those pictures tomorrow), and then went for a walk in the neighborhood across the street from the hotel. After about a block, we found ourselves in a very narrow residential street. So narrow that we didn't think cars went down it, but it turns out they do. Yikes. And they are not afraid to lay on the horn and graze the back of your heels with their front bumper to get you out of their way. This street was real China. There were chickens all over the place (including one in the early stage of the plucking process), baskets with not-quite-dead fish, and laundry hanging from the power lines. All the doorways were decorated for Chinese New Year-- gold chinese lettering on red paper down both sides of the door, with more over the door. Kids were coming home from school for lunch, and parents were cooking & eating lunch out in the street. We were quite the curiosity. A few people said hello or came up to see Z, but mostly they just stared. One guy bumped into a lady crossing the street because he was so busy staring back over his shoulder at us. Heh heh. We're rock stars. We happened upon some sort of ceremony that we assume was somehow associated with the Chinese New Year. There was a table draped with a red cloth, with rice scattered on it and an egg in the middle. There was a duck right by it, and we suspect he might not have lasted very long after we passed. People were all wearing white scarf-like things on their heads. There were some gongs first, then someone lit a big string of firecrackers. We really don't know what was going on, but everyone who lived nearby that didn't have a direct role in it was standing around watching.

We ate lunch at the hotel, which has a pretty impressive buffet. M tried some stewed pig ears (they still had bones in them - ick), but I stuck mostly to vegetables. They were spicy and yummy. No fried blood or baked intestine for me, thankyouverymuch

After Miss Z's nap, we're heading with the group to a park to take a walk. I'm honestly not sure what else is on the agenda for today. I'm hoping we'll stop by the porcelain street. In China, they have streets that specialize in certain things. For instance, we walked down the home improvement street today. There were a bunch of kitchen stores, several that sold nothing but doors, one with nothing but ladders and right next door to that one a bamboo scaffolding store. But there's a street that specializes in porcelain, which is what Jiangxi province is known for. The provincial official who finalized our adoption gave us a piece of porcelain for Z yesterday, but we'd like to buy more. There was some very pretty stuff in the hotel gift shop that we thought was amazingly cheap, like $20 for a whole tea set, but our guide said that was too expensive & we should go to the porcelain street. So I'm hoping we can do that today.

A few other little things:

- Z stood up by herself for a few seconds today, without holding onto anyone or anything

- she's getting pretty good at walking while holding my hand or M's

- she says mama and baba, and a perfect bye-bye with an adorable wave

- she'll clap her little hands if you say huan yin (I'm sure I'm butchering that spelling, but it means welcome)

And one last thing I just thought of -- I heard so much before I came here about how awful it smells in the streets of Chinese cities, and how bad the pollution is. So far, neither is really true for Nanchang. Maybe it's the time of year -- it's pretty cool, maybe in the 50s. Most of the smells I caught today made me hungry -- everyone was cooking lunch and it smelled like garlic and chilies. The pollution, at least for today, is no worse than it is in an American city. I can see how both might be a lot worse when the weather is really hot though.

Buh-bye until tomorrow!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pictures and another update

First, here's what I know you all want:

Are you still reading, or did you get stuck on the pictures? The one of her eating her weight in rice & egg was just taken about two minutes ago. Other than the "Welcome You" picture (how many family pictures have you seen in front of that sign?!), all the rest were taken yesterday.

Today we officially adopted our Little Z. We went first to the provincial government offices, where we handed over some money and received some very official looking papers in return. We had to do a short interview where they asked us why we wanted to adopt from China, if we liked her, and what our plans for her education were. We also had a chance to hang out with Mr. Xiao a little -- he's the director of the orphanage Z came from. Of course we don't speak a word of Mandarin & he doesn't speak a word of English, but we got a few key questions translated and got to see him interact with her. He'd say something, and she'd light up and clap her little hands. One of our guides told me how to say it, but honestly, I already forgot. I'll ask again & write it down. Oh, and we had to pay Mr. Xiao the equivalent of about $40 for five bags of her formula. I suspect that price was inflated a little, but I don't mind, as long as it goes toward the care of the children still in the orphanage. I think it will, as he's a government official and would be subject to some pretty severe punishment if he were to take that money for himself.

Next stop was the provincial notary, to register the adoption. It was not even a 10-second appointment. We had to state our age & occupation, and then he asked if we loved her. Duh!

Last stop was, um, I forget where, but the purpose was to apply for her Chinese passport. That's where it got a little sticky. Apparently there's some problem at the local police station with her ID card, and they haven't taken our application for her passport yet. They're supposed to be working on it, and we'll have to go back later today or tomorrow. Our guide will straighten it out, I have no doubt. Evelyn is an angel. While we waited around this office for half an hour or so, we found out that the other four families that were also waiting because of the same problem had girls from XiaJiang also. This was a wonderful surprise. XiaJiang is a very small orphanage that doesn't do many international adoptions. I think these five girls are just about all the girls between the ages of 1 and 2 that they had. Wonderful! We exchanged names & contact info with one family that we may be able to see on occasion back home. Lucky Little Z will be able to keep one of her oldest friends.

We had our first Chinese taxi ride after this last appointment -- the rest of the group went back to the hotel on the bus while we had to hang around waiting for the passport problem to be solved. Anyway, Chinese taxi rides are just like you've heard they are. Our guide told us that the saying is that if you can drive in Nanchang, you can drive anywhere in the world. I believe it. I'm just glad I was in the middle of the backseat, so I couldn't see much of what we almost but didn't quite hit.

We're going to head to a department store in about an hour, where we need to buy more of her rice cereal (her bottle is made with six scoops of formula and four of rice cereal -- it's so thick we had to cut the bottle nipple bigger for her to be able to get it out). Also on our list: bottled water, another pair of PJs for Z (one pair I brought is too small), some more shoes for Z, snacks for us. Then we're having a group dinner at the restaurant right around the corner.

Miss Z is still doing amazingly well. She's a very happy baby, except for when I try to wipe her nose. Massive screaming. She pretty much slept through the night, with one brief exception. She even slept through round after round of fireworks. They came about every half hour for hours into the night.

Heh. She & her daddy are having a conversation behind me right now. She jabbers some jibberish, he answers, she jabbers a little more, etc.

More tomorrow!