Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Shamian Island - Guangzhou

Before I write about Shamian Island (which isn't really an island at all, it's just surrounded by the Pearl River and a moat), I have to tell you about the other shopping we did after the Chen Family Temple.  I have never in my life seen anything like it.  There was a mall that was AT LEAST 5 stories tall and everywhere you went, there were bead stores.  Not the plastic junk, these were strings and strings of semi-precious stones like turquoise and tiger eye.  It was an incredible thing to behold (says the girl who collects jewelry as her travel momento of choice).
Now on to Shamian.  We, of course, went shopping here too.  Shamian is an area in Guangzhou that has western, colonial/victorian style architecture - and up until 2005 the US Consulate was also located here.  It is also home of the famous (at least in the Chinese adoption community) White Swan Hotel.  We saw Lucy's (an American style food restaurant that is also popular with adoptive families), but we didn't eat there.  Instead we ate at a place that was supposed to have Thai food - but it wasn't that spicy in my opinion.  Good, but not spicy.  I think SongSong is missing the spicy Sichuan food already.  Since the Consulate moved and the White Swan is closed for renovation, the shopping at Shamian was not very crowded.  The owners were very willing to make deals with you.  You could tell that the lack of adoptive families patronizing the shops there was having a big impact on the shopkeepers bottom line.
Unlike Chengdu, there are many people in Guangzhou who speak English - and a lot fewer people stare at the weird white people here.  We've pretty much done all of our souvenier shopping in Guangzhou.  We found an incredible underground shopping mall near our hotel (Hotel Elan).  In Chinese cities, you don't typically cross the street above ground, you use underground tunnels - safer for you and the cars don't have to deal with so many pedestrians.  Anyway, we thought we were at one of those underground crossings, but it turned out to be the entrance to a huge underground mall.  Clothes as far as you could see in front of you and behind you (I'm SO not kidding about the emincity of this).  Mens clothes on one level and womens clothes on the next level.  There was also a food court in the basement.  Now I've been to Oklahoma City and seen their underground shopping... not even close to what this is.  I understand Minneapolis has one too, but I haven't been there to compare.  You just have to see this to believe it.  Canyons of buildings all around you above ground and more levels of shopping underground - the best part about the underground shopping is that is is actually cool down there :).  They will try to tell you that the cost of the clothes are fixed, but if you start to walk away, usually the price will suddenly take a dive.  And if it doesn't, there are literally hundreds of shops selling practically the same thing.
Right before we went to Shamian, we went to have SongSong's TB test poke read at the clinic.  He got a 9/9.  If he had gotten a 10, we would have had to get chest X-rays because that would have been considered a positive for TB.  We're so thankful that we didn't have to do that.  I knew it was going to be close because where they poked him was very red and still a raised bump.  I've had the TB skin test before and knew mine didn't look like his did after a day or so.

Chen Family Temple

The day after we did the TB test and medical exam we visited the Chen Family Temple.  I wish I could attach more pictures to these posts, but it is what it is.  The temple is very ornate with lots of carvings an paintings everywhere.  Inside the temple are many gift shops.  We bought our Colombian kids cards with their names in Chinese characters and bought SongSong a wall hanging with his name on it and a brass ancient Chinese warrior figure (his part of his bedroom is pretty lacking in decoration right now - but we planned to buy things for him here to fill it in a bit).  I got a jade pendant with the symbol for happiness on it.  Tim got a brass Chinese dragon figure.
I'm attaching a picture of the man who did the Chinese calligraphy and of the outside of the temple.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Civil Affairs/ Shopping at Carrefour (July 24th - Chengdu)

In the afternoon on Tuesday we went to the Civil Affairs office and then to a Notary (which I don't think is quite the same as one here in the US). At Civil Affairs we took pictures (Tim and I with SongSong) and signed the final adoption papers. We had to promise to never abuse or abandon SongSong - which of course we did. Signed our names several times and that was it - it's a done deal now. Next we drove to the Notary's office where they looked at our passports and read through the circumstances of our son's abandonment while our guide translated. I think we signed something there too, but I forget now what it was if we did.  We've signed so much stuff these past few days, it's all a blur.

Mandy from the orphanage was at Civil Affairs (Debbie, I gave her your box to give to Jaxon - she delivered it). I got her picture with SongSong while we were there too.
On Monday, so as not to intrusively rifle through our new son's bag of belongings, we had Oscar help him unpack and report back to us what he was missing. When we were finished with "official" stuff we went to Carrefour (a department store) to pick up some things that SongSong was lacking and really couldn't do without before we get home.  I must say that Carrefour has the weirdest store layout I've ever seen in my life. They had cosmetics, jewelry and hygiene items on the main floor, then you took an inclined conveyor belt thingy so you can take your shopping cart with you up it (which I've actually seen before at a grocery store in Mexico) to the 2nd floor where they have clothing and household goods, then you take the conveyor thingy up to the 3rd floor where they have groceries. Very odd, but we got what we needed (and Stacey we bought Seth's chicken feet there!).

Later we met up with the other family at Tianfu Square (the main city square) and went to a noodle place called Chef Kong's. The boys loved it! They all got the spicy bowl of noodles. I got some noodles that had some spice in it that made my mouth numb - I couldn't finish it :). I got it because the picture showed it had cilantro in it (one of my faves). Couldn't taste the cilantro due to the numbing effect of the other spice that was in it.  Very disappointing, but we got ice cream after dinner which made up for it :).  If anyone knows what that spice is, let me know so I can avoid it in the future!
Tianfu Square is incredible looking at night.  I'll post a pic of one of the buildings.  There are tons of people there after dark.  Almost all the kids are playing with glow in the dark flying toys and people will walk right up to you and strike up a conversation in order to try to practice their English skills.  All this happens under the watchful gaze of a giant statue of Chairman Mao.  Just can't help but wonder what he would think of how much things have changed in China is such a short amount of time...

Happy Valley (July 26th - Chengdu)

When we skyped with SongSong about two weeks prior to coming to China, one of the questions Tim asked him was what he would like to do if he could do anything in Chengdu while we were there. He told us he wanted to go to the amusement park. So, I found the amusement park online before our trip and we made plans to go. It's called Happy Valley and it's a franchise within China - kinda like Six Flags is in the United States. The kids enjoyed it a lot more than they did the People's Park (which we did on our own the day before).
Attached are a couple of pictures from that day.

Panda Reserve/ People's Park (July 25th - in Chengdu)

We also visited the pandas. They're cute, but it was (as usual) extremely hot and humid that day. We bought our girls some cute panda stuff from the gift shop. I have pictures of the 3 boys feeding koi and swans and ducks - oh, and some of panda bears too :).

In the afternoon, we went to Chef Kong's in Tianfu Square for dinner. I got spicy wonton soup - which was made with cilantro and was excellent! Tim got the noodles I had the day before because he thought I was kidding about them (they have some kind of spice in them that literally numbs your entire mouth, which I didn't enjoy) - he couldn't finish them either - HA!
We also walked to the People's Park which is just west of Tianfu Square. It was very crowded and very loud. Lots of retired people doing tai chi and what appeared to be karaoke - all of them with the sound system turned up as loud as it would go it seemed.  We thought that the boys could play soccer there, but we couldn't find any open, non-landscaped grassy areas and had to settle for a big open paved area. The area was virtually empty when we got there, and as usual, we drew a bit of a crowd before we left. We had a very sweet encounter with the other family's daughter (adopted from China 6 years ago) and a little boy and his grandfather. When we left they gave the little boy the soccer ball our boys had been playing with.  The grandfather tried to refuse but eventually relented and took the ball.

Orphanage Visit in Chengdu (Monday July 23rd)

We signed the custody papers while at the orphanage in what looked like a conference room. We met the director briefly and also several of the workers (though I don't know exactly in what capacity each of them had contact with our son). They all were very wonderful and it was obvious that each had a warm relationship with SongSong. They gave us a picture album that includes our son's photo at age 5 (when he came into the care of the orphanage), his finding ad from the newspaper and his vaccination records. It's just priceless to have these things for him.

There is another family here adopting also. Their son is 11 years old and it happens that he was at one time SongSong's foster brother. The family is from Pennsylvania and we already have plans to keep the boys in touch with each other when we return home.

While we were there, we visited our son's foster home too - which, in Chengdu, is located on the grounds of the orphanage complex. We were able to meet SongSong's current foster mother and get his picture with her, and some pictures in his bedroom. His foster mother's only stated concern was that we wouldn't be able to get real Chinese food for him to eat :). I assured her that we could, there are at least a couple of Asian markets not too far from us in Kansas City. While we were visiting his foster family, SongSong went to one of the other apartments and got "Lucky" (who had evidently been sleeping). I asked him through a translator if it was okay to take his picture with SongSong and he agreed.

After we left the orphanage, both families went back to our hotel rooms and dropped off our sons' things and then met up for dinner. Our guide arranged a private room for us with an authentic Sichaun restaurant near the other family's hotel. Everything we ate there was excellent and the bill for eight people was very reasonable. The food was served family style and the table had a big lazy susan in the middle of it so you could just spin the food around to everyone. It was great food and fun for all :).

When we finished dinner the other family went shopping for clothes for their new son at a nearby department store and we tagged along for awhile.  At around 8:00 PM we parted company went back to our hostel rooms and crashed for the night.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ni Hao from Guangzhou

I've heard that my posts from Chengdu didn't come through.  I'm hoping that with the better internet connection we have in Guangzhou that we'll be back in business so to speak.  I'm thinking I won't post (or try to anyway) so many pictures, just in case that's why the posts didn't come through.  I'll also try to repost what I posted in Chengdu later.
Our flight was delayed out of Chengdu Friday night.  We were supposed to leave about 7:00 PM and arrive in Guangzhou at around 9:00 PM.  Instead, we got into Guangzhou about 2:00 AM Saturday morning.  Arrived at our hotel about 3:00 AM.  Had to be up to the other hotel by 10:00 AM so that we could get to the clinic appointment required for SongSong's visa.  He had to get 2 shots and a TB skin test.  We go back to the clinic on Monday to have the skin test read.
I'm attaching a picture of SongSong at the clinic (with Tim).

Monday, July 23, 2012

First (partial) family photo

Of course we are missing the girls in this picture.  The boys are getting along great so far.  Zane is pretty shy and he doesn't speak much English (like almost none).  He does understand some of what we tell him though and he was trying to read something he wrote in English to Oscar last night (but he wouldn't let Oscar look at it).  So far so good.  I'll try to post more later.  We have to go to Civil Affairs today to do more paperwork and then to Carrefour to buy some things for Zane.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

More Adoption Drama

Yesterday we were supposed to meet our guide at 2:30 pm.  So we waited, and waited... and WAITED.  At about 4:00 I asked the girl at the reception desk at the hostel if I could use her phone for a local call.  I was told I could use the phone for 5 minutes and she dialed the number for me.  Busy signal (seriously? no voice mail?).  So I hung up and we went back to the room to try to figure out what we were going to do about this predicament.
According to the schedule we got from the adoption agency (which I've since concluded we may as well throw out the window) we were supposed to meet SongSong/Zane at the orphanage at 10:00 AM.  So we decided if we couldn't somehow get ahold of our guide, we would just show up at the hotel the other family is staying at and wait for the guide to show up there. We had just decided this when the girl from reception knocked on our door and said we had a phone call from "our friend Susie" - ah, the guide!  She apologized and said that she had missed a train in another province (state) and would be at our hostel at 8:00 PM to go over things and give us a cell phone so we would have easier contact in the future. Okay, fine, we had a new plan.
In the meantime we went to Tianfu Square and saw the big statue of Mao here in Chengdu.  Then we walked to the east to find the other hotel (again just in case we needed to go there).  Went to what I can only describe as a meat market - looking for chicken feet for Seth.  Didn't find any chicken feet.  Went back to the hostel and found we were locked out of our rooms.  We had only paid for one night and needed to pay again.  So we went to the ATM and got enough to pay the hostel bill for the rest of our stay here.  Then we went to find something to eat.  We ended up eating steamed stuffed buns (one had black beans the other had beef and peppers - yummy!).  We watched War of the Worlds on TV... in Chinese and then went to our rooms and took a nap.
Right before 8:00 we went downstairs to wait for Susie in the commona area.  The girl at the reception desk said that Susie called again and said she would be there at 9:00 instead.  Okay... so we got something to drink and waited out on the patio.  And we waited, and we waited... and we WAITED.  At 15 'til 11:00 I told Tim that I was going to bed at 11:00 and going with 'Plan B'.  At 11:00 Susie showed up.  We found out that our meeting time had changed (we don't meet Zane at 10:00 AM, instead they pick us up at 2:45 PM to go to the orphanage) and that we need to have 1,500 yuan for the fees (from the ATM would be fine, didn't need to bring all this US currency with us).  Oh, and we have the cell phone Susie gave us.  All this being said, I don't blame Susie.  She seems to be doing the best she can.  I just seems that our main agency has a very overworked staff - and that's as much as I'm going to say for now on that.  I just wish that they would keep us in the loop a little better.
So now we are just hanging out here, waiting for 2:45.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Arrived in Chengdu

I'm really hoping this works, so someone with my yahoo email address please email me if this posts on our blog - just so I know it worked.  We can't access facebook or our blog here so I'll be emailing all of my posts.
Our flights to Dallas, Seattle and Beijing were pretty uneventful.  Our flight to Beijing was about 11 hours and I was SO ready to get off that airplane by the time we landed.  Tim slept on the flight to Seattle and most of the Beijing flight.  I slept maybe 3 or 4 hours on the flight to Beijing.  Oscar didn't sleep at all.
Beijing was hot, humid and foggy the one night we were there and the next morning when we left.  I hope the fog leaves by the time we return there to do the touristy things in about 2 weeks.
Our flight to Chengdu was supposed to leave around 8:00 am Saturday morning.  We did board on time, but then sat in the airplane for about 2 hours before we took off - looked like a lot of flights were sitting out on the runways waiting to take off due to the fog.  We arrived in Chengdu at about 12:15 pm local time. This is where I did something super stupid and accidently left Oscar's and my passports on the airplane when we got off the plane.  By the time I figured out what I'd done, security wouldn't let Tim get back to the plane to get them.  Stupid.Stupid.Stupid. While we were waiting for our baggage to show up (which it eventually did) I was able to find the person picking us up at the airport and told her what happened and she was able to get the passports back to us before we left the airport for our hostel. Majorly relieved about that huge blessing. You can't do anything without your passport here (including checking into a hotel and of course getting on any airplanes).  And yup, we're staying at a hostel in Chengdu, which is an experience in and of itself. I'll just say it's very hippy/bohemian and leave it at that. The people working here and staying here are generally very friendly though and the location is central and seems to be convenient to getting places around the city.
It's 4:30 in the morning here and I just can't sleep.  I'm having a hard time acclimating to the time change. It was foggy in Chengdu when we landed and it has since started raining - and has rained all night. We meet our guide today (Sunday) at around 2:00 pm.  We may also get to meet the other family in Chengdu adopting with our agency.  I have emailed with the dad and they are adopting an 11 year-old boy. We now have less than 30 hours until we pick up SongSong from the CWI (orphanage). I'll try to post more later :).  Hopefully my next post will be more coherent.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Email to Blogger

I'm just testing the email to blogger function to see if it works so we can blog around the Great Firewall of China.  If you're reading this, it worked!  If you're seeing pictures, then it really worked :).  The pictures are of Diana's birthday (which we celebrated early because we'll be gone on her birthday) and pictures of the boys room with the new beds.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Making Preparations

I don't know when we got our Article 5.  However, we were informed that our travel approval came on Tuesday of this week, so obviously we got it before that - and that means we are madly preparing for travel right now.  Oscar is going with us to China and the girls are staying home with grandparents.

We got the grant from A Child Waits Foundation, which is awesome!  Just in time.  We still have to cash out some retirement, but at least it's less than it would have been.

We also have had some last minute contributions that came in after our final fundraiser.  So thankful for that financial help - including my aunt and uncle in California - thanks for contributing to our insanity ;).

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


We got turmed down for any grants from Gift of Adoption.  We are waiting to hear what the board at A Child Waits Foundations decides.

Friday, July 6, 2012

It Changes Again

Last night we had a very nice Skype with SongSong (aka Ned, aka Zane).  He was nervous (so were we) and the translator kept making him sit up straight in his chair :).  He has obviously been in contact with Dusty (aka Seth, aka Zhang Yun) since he already knows that we live closest to the amigo who is already state-side. He wondered about how we were going to handle school when he comes here, if he was going to be the oldest of our kids (he's not, Oscar is), where we like to go on vacation (he wants to go to the ocean, he said he's never been). I told him my sister lives near the ocean.  We learned he likes to eat potatoes, apples and ice cream.  He likes cats better than dogs (out of luck there, we have 2 dogs, 0 cats).  His favorite subject in school is Chinese, math not-so-much.  He likes to play basketball and plays on a team at school.  Sounds like he likes table tennis too, it was hard to hear sometimes - the connection wasn't great.  He wears glasses - which we didn't know before.  And like Stacey Sanders (Dusty/Seth's mom - see blog link to the right) said, he was all smiles the whole time we talked to him.  There were many long pauses while we tried to think of things to ask each other but all in all it was just good to see him animated rather than only in still pictures.

New development in the paperwork this morning.  We have our NVC letter, but no word on Article 5 - still (no Article 5 = no travel approval for several days).  I'm at a cunundrum as to what to do next.  Do we change our departure date and leave on July 19th instead of July 12th?  Or should we just go on the 12th anyway and just change our departure date (i.e. spend more time in China)?  I contacted the company that arranged our air travel and asked about what it would take to change it now.  We'll see what they say.  I also contacted our hotel in Chengdu, but I already know we can change those dates without penalty. I just wanted them to know there could be a change.

Just continuing to ride the roller-coaster that is international adoption...

Cunundrum solved.  We went ahead and rebooked everything a week out (now leaving on July 19th).  It seemed the only logical thing to do when we really thought about it.  Praying we receive Article 5 next week!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Been Neglecting the Blog


So here's the latest.  We're waiting for TA (travel approval).  We got our visas in the mail today. We concluded our final fundraiser (yeah, I know I was supposed to post about that too - obviously THAT didn't happen) last Saturday.  We got a lot of nice things donated for our silent auction and we thank everyone who donated, worked at the event, attended, and bid on the auction items.  We made about $2,000 - which is the best we've done so far for a single fundraising event.  Even though we still lack about half the funding we needed, I'm very happy and relieved to be finished with fundraising. We'll be raiding the retirement account to make up the shortfall, and we're okay with that.  (Still praying that some grant money magically appears though.)

Hope the rest of this post isn't too much of a downer... read at your own peril.  Consider yourself warned.

Now, we wait. For me - it's an impatient wait.  Our agency told us that we MUST leave no later than July 12.  That's 9 days away.  They also told us NOT to book anything yet.  I don't listen so good - especially when I'm feeling not-so-patient and HELPLESS in this situation.  So, I finalized our airfare reservations yesterday and booked our hotel in Chengdu today.  WE'RE LEAVING IN 9 DAYS!!!  I MAY wait until we get TA before I book our hotel in Guangzhou... MAYBE.  We're down to the wire and I'm just not feeling real patient about the waiting at this point. If need be, we'll be in China waiting for the paperwork to catch up with us - I don't care what the agency says.

Those who have been through this - I don't need to explain. Even with our last adoption, I didn't feel this kind of pressure.  If we didn't make it to Colombia for a few more days or weeks, it wasn't the end of the world.  We got there and everything was fine.

THIS time we are on a deadline.  July 27th.  After that, all the fundraising, planning, praying, expended energy, hopes, dreams, expectations - everything - was for naught if we don't make it there in time to get him before his birthday. And the worst part now is that he knows we are supposed to be coming for him.

I hate this feeling. Helplessness.  Hate it.

Sorry about the rant.  I'm usually not a nutjob - really.