Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lions and Tigers and Bears….

Alright, no lions, but we did see the other two while at the zoo today.  Although the Guangzhou zoo was not quite up to the same standard as Animal Kingdom, it was cleaner, and much bigger than some zoos that we have been to in the states.  We came face to face with giraffes, monkeys, goats, and llamas.  The kids had a blast feeding the goats, which apparently is much more exciting in a zoo setting since when we are home they are never really thrilled to be asked to go outside and feed the chickens and alpacas!  Oh well, maybe Zoe will see the joy in it back in Vermont.  We had a great time, but with the temperature and humidity at what seemed like an all time high for the last two weeks, we were glad to be back on the bus.  It was so hot that the fresh pressed bamboo juice (yes, you read that right), that a local street vendor was selling even looked appealing!

As we mentioned before, the Garden Hotel that we are staying in is right in the middle of everything.  Food choices, although not all appetizing, are abundant.  Today, for lunch, we chose KFC.  We were short on time as the bus was taking us to the famous Pearl Market.  This is essentially a wholesale mall, five stories in height, filled with hundreds and hundreds of small stores, all selling only jewelry and precious stones.  When we were here with Sofi's adoption, Chrissy and Sofi were able to each get beautiful pearl necklaces, and ear rings made of high quality fresh water pearls, for literally pennies on the dollar as compared to the price in the U.S.  We were very excited to locate the same store that we did over seven years ago, and watch Zoe's necklace be made, one pearl at a time.

Our guide, Jack, took our group, which is now five families strong, to a local authentic Chinese restaurant.  Jackson dove right into the rice noodles, which he will tell you is his favorite, and filled up. He said they were delicious, and Adam then told him that the bowl he ate up was also filled with shrimp and squid!  He shrugged, and said they were still awesome.

We received some tentative positive news today regarding visas.  The families that have been stranded here for the past few days have had their paperwork processed, and our guide said that things look good for us to still be on track to come home Thursday.  It's difficult at times to wish these next few days away, since we may not ever be back here.  At the same time, we are anxious to have Zoe on U.S. soil, in her bed that has been empty for so many months, and to have her meet the large group of family and friends that have been encouraging us, praying for her, and supporting our journey.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Shamian Island

At the southern end of the huge city of Guangzhou lies a small 'island' separated from the mainland by a couple of rivers.  The circumference of Shamian Island can be walked in less than thirty minutes, and most of the roads on it are small, including several that criss cross through the middle that do not allow cars.  Relatively speaking, it is kind of quaint…and as our bus turned onto one of only a few bridges that connect it to the main city, we felt a neat sense of being home.  You see, when we adopted Sofi, we spent two weeks here, stayed at a place called the White Swan Hotel (which is now under renovations), and traversed these roads for countless miles.  The rest of our group was happy to be away from the overwhelming noise and congestion that have become familiar in the big city….we were happy to be back!

Seven years ago, Shamian Island had everything that adoptive parents would need, so just as all families now end their journey in the big city, back then it was at the White Swan.  The memories came flooding back as we saw the place that did our laundry, visited the shops that still bore the same names as they did before, and even ate lunch at Lucy's….which, to our joy, looked exactly as it did years ago!

The island has been invaded by Subway and Starbucks, and since adoptive families are no longer channeled through here, we did see a few of our old stores closed, with chains on the doors, and the signs taken down.  I suppose it is easier and more convenient to have us in the heart of the city, close to more western eateries and options, but for us, this is still a very special place!

Zoe is making great strides in lots of ways!  She is adjusting to us, and vice versa.  She is a great sleeper, eats pretty much anything that you put on her plate, and is communicating quite well to tell us what she needs.  We are anxious to see how the transition will be when we arrive home in Vermont, but we heard a bit of troubling news today that may delay that day.  Apparently there is a problem with the flow of visas being issued and approved back home in D.C.  In the 15 years that our guide has been working with families he has not seen things be this delayed, and we met several families that were supposed to go home days ago that are still here.  We will know more on Tuesday, but if you are looking for something to add to your prayer list, please think of us and the paperwork!

At the Doctors

We expected that today would be challenging even before it began.  As you probably know, Zoe was born with a congenital heart problem called DORV with VSD.  Although quite rare, and usually fatal if  left untreated, Zoe's heart was fixed by a highly trained team of cardiologists at a hospital in Shanghai when she was two.  It's a very long story….and one that we are happy to share if you have questions, but it is a miracle that she survived to the age of two to begin with.  Political and financial pressures forced her to be separated from her birth family when her health condition was in a very poor state, and cared for by the Social Welfare Institute in China.  Another miracle came in the form of a company called Ai You, founded by a wealthy business man from China named Wang Bing.  His mission is to provide free surgeries to children born with heart disease throughout China….literally giving them life.  This charity is completely funded by Mr. Bing and his wealthy friends, and has saved nearly 13,000 children in China over the last few years.  Zoe is one of them.

Zoe has spent more time in a hospital setting already than most of us will in our entire lives.  I would imagine that much of this time was alone, without the comfort of family, parents, etc. to explain and experience this trial with her.  In order to obtain a visa to travel to the USA in a few days, our country requires her to have and pass a full medical exam.  As we walked into the clinic, it appeared that much of her past fear and anxiety came out.  She proceeded from station to station, getting weighed, measured, poked, and examined.  She was already keyed up when they drew her blood, and it took nearly 30 minutes and several m&m's to calm her down.

Back at the Garden Hotel, the clinic visit becoming a distant memory, we took a walk down one of the streets, grabbed a quite bite to eat, and admired some of the city.  This part of Guangzhou is quite a bit cleaner, and a little more modern than what we have experienced so far on this journey.  This is what is referred to as one of China's larger cities, with over 10 million people, and is a big hub for business folks from all over the world.  We don't "stick out" quite as much here!  For a change, we tried to find the most out of place food we could….our guide recommended a place called Tekila's, which had excellent Mexican food.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Heading South

This morning began like most others we have had.  Today was travel day….leg 3 on our journey.  After breakfast, we packed.  With no working scale in our bathroom, we did our best to make sure that each suitcase was under the 44 pound limit for in country travel.  As we maneuvered through security, Zoe and Adam were detained, taken back to a special 'baggage check' counter and left waiting.  After about 15 minutes, one of our suitcases appeared, and Adam was instructed to open it.  Inside was the basketball that we had purchased for the boys to play with.  One would think that a basketball is harmless, but the security people at the Nanchang airport thought different.  After more than 30 minutes of the guards trying to find a needle to deflate it, countless difficult to understand questions about what was in the ball, and Adam even asking them to keep it so we could continue on, we were frustrated.  A needle was located, the ball flattened, and we headed through the checkpoint.

The flight was uneventful….until it came time to put on our seat belts.  Again, not knowing her past, maybe the only time that Zoe has ever been restrained would have been at her countless times at the doctors office or hospital.  In the US, car seats are introduced early, and kids grow up knowing nothing else.  Not so here.  We did the best we could to endure the crying until we were off the plane.  Chrissy held her, consoled her, and walked slowly to baggage claim.

We have been looking forward to this part of our journey for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, we are nearing the end of our trek.  Our time so far has been amazing, but we are anxious to start to live life as we will be when we arrive back home.  One of the things that we have been told, and know from our other three children, is that schedules are very important for kids….probably even more so in the case of Zoe, as she comes to us with a schedule already in place in her mind, just not one that we know about.  Where, when, and what we eat is nearly impossible to predict some days, and things like bed time and naps change daily.  It was after 10pm when we arrived at our hotel tonight, and nearly 11 when we got to our room and started the bedtime process.

Today's travel to Guangzhou is also exciting because it is where we were for two weeks over seven years ago when we came to get Sofi.  Although we will not be staying in the same hotel, and much of the city has changed over the past few years, the "feel" was the same as we came down the escalator in the airport, and met our guide to be for the next few days.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Test in Patience

As the title says, today was a long day.  We did not have any group activities planned until the evening, and it rained……ALL day.  As we mentioned before, the refrigerator in our room is useless for the job is was intended for, so Noah and Adam attempted to step outside to buy some cold drinks.  They had no such luck, so they came back to the room.  Even though we have umbrellas with us, the streets and walkways are so uneven that many of the puddles seemed deep enough to fish in, and the traffic is just as heavy as it is on sunny days, and many times more dangerous with wet roads and low visibility.  Venturing outside was not an option.

Our patience is also being tested with Zoe.  Although we have made great strides over the last few days with her bonding, there are definitely moments that we don't know what to do for her, and don't know how to fix.  It would take a great deal of time and tissues for us to explain the little that we do know about her past, and our own knowledge and training about this process tells us that we should be prepared for any type of behavior that she shows…but it can still be difficult.  Infants don't always know what is going on, and sometimes older kids can be reasoned with easier…even without verbal communication, but it is nearly impossible for Zoe at the age of three to explain to us what the problem is, and likewise a challenge for us to meet that need.

So, we won our battles today where we could!  Bath time, as you know, is a hit, and Chrissy proceeded to blow bubbles, wash hair, and splash with her for a while.  Since we could not go outside to walk or get lunch, we cooked up some Cup O Noodles that we picked up yesterday at RT Mart.  That, in addition to the last of the American "snacks" that we brought with us sufficed.  We tried watching some TV, but three of the four English channels that we get were not working due to the storm outside.  Noah, Jackson, and Sofi went next door to play cards with Kai and his parents, while we sat with Zoe and went through craft after craft.  Chrissy had packed an entire bag of things to do and play with: sticker books, pipe cleaners, little toys, cut out books, etc.  They were intended to keep Zoe occupied during our 16 hour flight from Hong Kong next week, but desperate times call for desperate measures!

At 2pm, our guide stopped by the room with all of our paperwork, freshly notarized from our appointments a couple of days ago.  He told us that if it stopped raining then he would bring us to a fountain light show at night.  Thankfully, it did!  Our entire group was excited to get out of the hotel, and onto the bus at 7:30pm.  The show was beautiful, and so was the city…with the buildings all lit up, and lights dancing everywhere.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

At the Park and the Pool

One egg, some bacon, three dumplings, two hash browns, and a bowl full of water melon is what Zoe ate this morning!  Maybe she is learning what the rest of us have figured out here….the breakfast is fantastic, and you never know what lunch will be, or if you will get it, so fill up.  Noah and Adam run next door for a few cold drinks to bring, watch a man get hit by a car (don't worry, he's fine!), and jump on the bus.  We head to a very large park.  Our guide tells us that since the city is so built up, people use the park as a place to exercise, walk without fear of a traffic death, and get 'away' for a time.  Although not as big, this park resembles, and serves somewhat the same purpose as Central Park in Manhattan.

The scenery was amazing.  We walked on nice brick paths through flower gardens, past gazebos where people were playing various instruments and singing, over bridges, and along the river.  There was a playground in the middle that the kids used, while the parents used a bench to watch.  The temperature today has to be our record so far!  At one of the bridges, we paused to buy some fish food from a vendor.  As we threw the food into the small pool of water below, thousands of koi, carp, and various other fish made the water come to life as they scrambled for a piece of the food.

The bus, and it's struggling air conditioner were a welcome sight.  We got on, and a few minutes later stopped at a large store on Porcelain Street.  With two floors of authentic, hand made tea sets, bowls, and vases, it was beautiful, but we were anxious to get out without any "You break it, you buy it" stories!  Back to the bus, back to the hotel, and back to the tub for Zoe.  Chrissy sat again for over an hour on the floor, blowing bubbles, and splashing.  Then the two of them sat on the bed and shared some pretzels.  One thing we have noticed with Zoe is that she loves to be in the hotel room.  After a couple of hours of being out, she quiets, and seems to be nervous and pensive.  Today, when the bus pulled up to the big revolving door, she smiled, pointed, and started to get out of her seat.  In the room, she acts much more free, and excited.

After some rest, we took a walk to the store.  Sofi bought a few more small books, Noah found a pair of Dwayne Wade sneakers, and we purchased some stylish bathing caps!  They are required at the pool in the hotel, and the kids wanted to go swimming when we got back.  A couple of ice cream novelties, a hot walk back, and we were off to the pool.

Our intention was to have Zoe sit with us and watch the kids swim.  Apparently she loves water way too much!  There was a smaller, shallow pool next to the big one, and the kids took turns taking her in. For dinner, we ate at the same Chinese restaurant that we have for the past couple of nights.  We have narrowed the menu down to a few dishes that we all really like, and have avoided the sautéed sparrow gizzard, and korean style beef with intestine.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Wheel, A Tower, and Other Stuff

We woke, pigged out on that wonderful breakfast at our hotel again, and met our group in the lobby.  The refrigerator in the room works about as well as a plain old cardboard box would, but fortunately there are several tiny stores just outside the entrance of the Galactic Peace Hotel that sell cold drinks.  Adam grabbed several, put them in the backpack, and we boarded the bus.

A few days ago, on the way to our hotel from the airport, we passed a gigantic ferris wheel.  William, our guide, informed us that it was the largest one of its kind in all of Asia.  This morning, he surprised us and said that he would be taking us back to it for a ride!  It was awesome!  The view from the top of the wheel was amazing, and beautiful.  Although a great deal of Nanchang is poor, the city is trying to improve….through new bridges, parks, roads, and even a new subway system to help get a handle on the traffic.

Sweaty, we jumped back on the bus, and made a short trip to the Tengwang Pagoda.  This tower has a great deal of significance for the people of Nanchang, and has been built and rebuilt many times over the past 1500 years.  Our guide said that much of the architecture in the tower is so important that it is protected.  That is, it is not allowed to be copied on any other buildings.  It it nine stories tall, and we used the same method to get to the top that they did over a century ago…..stairs.  At the top, we watched a short singing performance, and stopped at each floor on the way down to explore the historical things on display.  The gardens outside the pagoda were filled with many smaller buildings, all built to resemble the main tower, and dozens of statues.  It was quite a contrast to see the century old style buildings against the backdrop of a huge modern city.

Back at the hotel, we rested.  Chrissy walked into the bathroom to get something and Zoe jumped up from her pile of books, crayons, and toys, and ran in after her.  She pointed to the tub.  She loves her baths!  For the next hour, Chrissy sat on the floor, Zoe sat in the tub, and both laughed and played.  Kai and his parents came over from next door and all played Uno.  Later, the kids all went to Kai's room to play Minecraft.

After some much needed downtime, we ventured out into the heat again to find RT Mart.  It was much closer than our journey to Walmart, and was actually a really nice store.  We all thought that it kind of looks like Nanchang's version of Target!  Zoe got some new shoes, Sofi some books, and the rest of us got laundry soap and something that resembles Pringles.  There were dozens of varieties of   dried fish and other sea creatures…..to many to choose from!

We had dinner at the hotel in a private room with Gongzhan, the head of Gladney's Asian adoption program.  He is also the man responsible for putting together all of our in country travel, arranging guides, and orchestrating the paperwork trail.  We had some delicious dishes….a couple not so delicious….and great conversation with Gongzhan and the other two families with us.