Tuesday, February 24, 2009
We had an early dinner at the Thai restaurant. Since we can't get Thai food in Ashland we figured we'd take advantage of it while we had close access to it. We struck up a conversation with the family at the next table. They were from near St. Louis, but the husband grew up in Cleveland, and his mother has a place on Cinnamon Lake, which is only about twenty minutes from Ashland. Of course, it's a huge cliche to say that it's a small world, but that doesn't make it any less true.
It's now close to 7:30 pm, Guangzhou time. We're putting Stanzi to bed (she missed her afternoon nap, so she's practically passed out as Monica tries to feed her), then finishing the packing. We leave the hotel tomorrow at 5:45, and we'll be on an 8:20 flight to Tokyo, then Detroit, then Cleveland. Home never sounded so sweet.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Yesterday morning Zhou went to the U.S. Embassy to get the visas for all of the babies in our group; apparently all of the paperwork was in order, because there were no problems. In the afternoon we visited the Hualin Temple in Guangzhou, followed by a trip to the jade market.
We finished the day with dinner at a German restaurant with our new friends John and Liesl Ross. The place has only been open for a copule of weeks, and frankly it showed. We met the owner, with whom I exchanged a few words in German. He's from Berlin, but moved here and married a very attractive Chinese woman who looks to be about half his age. But he spent the evening sitting at a nearby table downing beer after beer while things in the restaurant seemed to be falling apart. He spoke halfway decent English, but he made no effort to interpret when customers (most of whom were Americans) were having trouble communicating with the wait staff. The staff didn't seem to know the German names of any of the dishes, so that when I asked for sauerbraten our server brought me a spoon.
This morning we're going to take care of our last-minute shopping needs. Then at 3:00 this afternoon we're attending a ceremony at the U.S. Embassy. I'm not sure what this is all about; my guess is that it has something to do with the babies' citizenship, but that citizenship won't become final until we get to the United States. Anyway, we can't bring any cameras into the embassy, so the big moment won't be recorded for posterity.
Stanzi has discovered television, and at the moment is happily engrossed in some program specifically for babies on an English (British)-language channel. All in all, Stanzi's been a lot easier than expected. She can't stand baths, and puts up a fight every evening at bedtime, but aside from that she's pretty easygoing. She was an angel on the flight from Nanchang to Guangzhou, which bodes well for the trip home (granted that was a one-hour flight, as opposed to the 16 hours or so we'll be flying tomorrow). Not much seems to frighten her, and she's extremely curious about everything, so maybe her introduction to the dogs in a few days will go smoothly. We're keeping our fingers crossed.
Sorry for the lack of audio-visuals, but for some reason I've been having trouble uploading vidoes over the past 24 hours. And I can't load any new photos to my computer until I borrow a cable again.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Yesterday morning we visited a museum of traditional Chinese handicrafts. There was some gorgeous stuff there, particularly the ivory carvings. China only very reluctantly went along with the worldwide ban on ivory, but today Chinese artists use other bones for their carvings.
Then it was off to the pearl market, which was laid out like an indoor farmer's market, except that stall after stall was offering pearls at ridiculously cheap prices. Our guide Zhou has some sort of arrangement with the proprietors of one of these (see the video), so we got an even better price there.
Our morning showed us that Shamian Island is very different from the rest of Guangzhou. Guangzhou is much like other Chinese cities (although far more cosmopolitan than Nanchang), but Shamian Island remains, as it has been for some 300 years, an enclave for westerners. Some are businessmen, but most are couples waiting to receive visas so that their adopted children can enter the United States. Because of this, nearly all of the local businesses--restaurants, shops, laundries--cater to new parents of Chinese children. The shops tend to have a lot of the same stuff: traditional clothing in children's sizes, ink stamps with the Chinese characters of your baby's name, jade trinkets, etc. And most of it is ridiculously cheap; Starbuck's, however, is just as expensive here as it is at home.
We joined John and Liesl Ross last night for a fabulous meal at a Thai restaurant. I had spicy port with basil, and it lived up to the two hot peppers printed in the menu next to the dish. It was just what the doctor ordered, because it seems I've come down with the cold that Stanzi is just about over. Tonight we'll be dining at a German restaurant. In China.
Zhou had his appointment at the U.S. Embassy today, and apparently everything is in order, so we should be getting Stanzi's visa tomorrow. And on Wednesday we head for home. We can't wait.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
On another note, we completed the medical exam today. It was a very interesting experience. Imagine going to the health clinic in New York City, only all of the doctors speak a foreign language (which may actually be the case). And the waiting room contains roughly 40 babies and their parents, not all of them happy about the situation. Add to this 70+ degrees outside and no air conditioning inside. Oh, and did I mention that the waiting room is designed for maybe 20 babies and their parents? All things considered it went quite smoothly, but I'm not gonna say it was fun. I guess we need proof that she's healthy in order to bring her into the US. So the US government requires the exam, but Chinese doctors performed it. What I did get from it is that she's 27 inches long, 18.5 pounds, her head circumference is 18 inches and she doesn't have diaper rash. Good to know.
All in all I'm loving Guangzhou so far. John just went out to get me a Starbuck's vanilla soy latte - yeeesssss. Stanzi likes it, too, although the new surroundings troubled her a bit last night. There's not the same pressure here to cover every inch of the kid's skin with multiple layers of clothing and I think she appreciates that. She's changing every day and discovering new talents she never knew she had. As of today she can sing, dance (with a little help), eat exotic foods, blow bubbles of drool, cluck her tongue, use a sippy cup...well, I could go on and on and I don't want to bore you. Wait, I almost forgot the most important and impressive new talent - she's an amazing pooper.
Friday, February 20, 2009
It's not at all surprising that Guangzhou seems so familiar. Until the 1970s it was called Canton, and in the 18th and 19th century it was the primary port for western trade. The part of town where we're staying, Shamian Island, was for a long time the only place in China where Europeans could legally reside. Our hotel, the Hotel Victory, was originally built by the British as the Hotel Victoria, and the architecture very much shows it. Unlike the opulent but garish modernism of the Galactic Peace, with its marble and glass, the Victory is decorated mostly with wood and muted tones. Very British.
After settling in I ventured out to find a grocery, and walked around the block. I found that the area reminded me of New Orleans or Charleston--semi-tropical, lush with vegetation, surrounded by colonial-style buildings, and with just that touch of decadence that makes a city interesting. I think we are going to enjoy it here.
The video was taken yesterday morning, when we were still in Nanchang.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Here in China it's February 20--Stanzi's first birthday. We don't have much in the way of plans, as we're flying to Guangzhou this afternoon. Maybe we'll do something with the other couples when we get settled in at the hotel there.
We did have something of a celebration last night. We received our copies of the adoption paperwork, including her birth certificate. She is now officially our little girl, and we plan on doing all we can to give her a happy life. My friend Peter Schramm, who was born in Hungary and escaped with his family when the Soviets crushed the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, likes to say that he was "born American, but in the wrong place." We think Stanzi was, too. I bought some some locally-brewed beer at a nearby convenience store, as well as a bottle of apple juice for Stanzi (total cost was 6 Yuan--less than $1 US). Then we cranked up the iPod and danced around the room.
Yesterday morning was spent in a trip to the countryside, to a cluster of villages that have been in existence for 1,300 years. Of course, we don't have any buildings in America that are anything close to that old, and aside from Greek and Roman ruins there really isn't anything that old in Europe. Europe 1,300 years ago had barely gotten over the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
Unfortunately we didn't get a whole lot of time for sightseeing. Not long after we began exploring one of the villages Stanzi started to pitch a fit. We appeased her as long as we could with Cheerios, but it was only delaying the inevitable. She was ready to EAT! And before long several of the other babies were fussing as well, so we cut the tour short, headed back to the bus, and made the two-hour trip back to Nanchang. We spent the rest of the day hanging around the hotel room playing with Stanzi. All in all, a pretty good day.
First, driving here seems completely insane. Horns are constantly blaring, and the lines painted on the roads are apparently merely suggestions. Also, everyone's driving extremely fast on really bad roads. I think I understand now the stereotype about Asian drivers in the United States, if this is what they're used to over here. But I have to tell you, I haven't seen a single automobile accident, so there must be some virtue to the way they do it.
Second, the Chinese seem to be investing huge amounts of money into massive new construction projects, but next to nothing on upkeep of what's already been built. As a result one sees gleaming new skyscrapers next to what are essentially ruins of buildings that, based on their architecture, could not have been constructed more than thirty or forty years ago. Moreover, there are people living in those ruins.
Finally, Chinese women seem almost obsessed with children--particularly babies--keeping warm. They cover them with something like ten layers of clothes, so they look like bloated ticks, and it's not even all that cold here (temperatures in Nanchang have been somewhere in the 40s, Fahrenheit). And they certainly disapprove of the fact that we adoptive parents aren't putting so many layers on our Chinese babies. A few of them have even come up to us and tried to adjust the clothing that we put on them!
We have new photos! These aren't of Stanzi; they were taken during our two days of sightseeing in and around Beijing, including the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Not much time for blogging today, because Stanzi let us sleep until 5:30, and we're riding out into the countryside of Jiangxi Province this morning. It was a good night; she didn't wake us up at all, and she seems to be getting over this little respiratory thing she has. Right now our biggest concern regarding her is the fact that she hasn't produced much poop; only a couple of hard little turds since we've had her. So it's lots of fruit for breakfast this morning!
Yesterday we visited the 1,300-year-old Tengwang Pagoda, located here in Nanchang. Inside we watched a short concert of traditional Chinese music; here's a bit for you to watch. Don't worry--there are more Stanzi videos to come!
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
First off, there are now photos of us and Stanzi available online. I've already uploaded them to Facebook, and you can find them here. Apparently you don't need a Facebook account to see them.
It's fascinating how much changes in a one-year-old over the course of a day, or even a part thereof. During the first six hours or so with us Stanzi was basically in shell shock. Then for the next 18 pretty much all she wanted was to be held--by Mommy. It doesn't help that she hasn't been feeling well, and spent a lot of time awake that first night coughing. But then she had a nice long nap yesterday afternoon and since then she's almost been like a different person. She's been much more willing to let me hold her (although she still prefers Mommy, understandably), and she's even shown a willingness to entertain herself if we set her down on the bed. She likes music (Louis Prima in particular), and will sway back and forth when the iPod's playing. She's also showing greater interest in her toys. Before she'd just put her mouth on them, and wave them around. Now she's actually exploring them, and trying to figure out what else she can do with them. For example, we gave her a big plastic swizzle stick that was on the minibar, and last night she was delighted to find that she could push the end of it into Daddy's mouth.
Through all of this Monica has been fabulous. All I could think of for the past couple of weeks, and for the first 24 hours we had Stanzi, was how unprepared I am for being a parent. Heck, I could barely get the car seat installed! I bought a copy of Parenting for Dummies in an effort to learn basic skills, because the only way I've ever been able to know anything was through books. But Monica wasn't bothered by the fact that she didn't know this stuff, because she knew this stuff. We got Stanzi, and while I was running around like the proverbial headless chicken, she was doing what had to be done. No wonder our little girl bonded with her first!
I think I finally see what the Germans mean by the distinction between verstehen and verstanden. Both roughly translate into English as "to understand," but they actually have very different meanings. I strive for one (the first one, I think), while she has the other.
Last night went much more smoothly. She still had us up a couple of times, but she calmed down a lot more quickly. She still did some babbling during the night, but it didn't go on for as long. And this morning she didn't get us up until 4:30--which, given the reality of jetlag, was when I had been waking up anyway. After half a bottle of formula she went back to sleep for a while, during which time she made her first poop since we've had her (which was a relief for all three of us). Then we gave her a bath. She HATES baths. But now she's all clean, dressed, and sleeping again. Life is good.
It is a little rough, but when that darling angel nuzzles her head under my chin and falls asleep, what more do I need? She is incredibly affectionate and mildly fussy. All of her fussing can be stopped by holding her. I knew she would need clean diapers and good food, and clothes and toys; but I'm so glad she clearly needs and appreciates attention and love. At this point I wouldn't trade her cuddles for the world. I need them like air and water. And it's all about survival.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Okay, let's get the negative stuff out of the way first. Stanzi seems to have a good bit of congestion in her chest. You can hear it rattling around; it makes you think of those Mucinex commercials with the dancing mucus. And it looks as though she took a pretty serious faceplant not long before we got her--she has some tiny bruises around the bridge of her nose, and a nasty-looking bump on her forehead. But everyone's telling us we shouldn't worry about either of these; neither is unusual in children coming out of orphanages.
On the flight over I was reading a book about parenting internationally adopted children, and I have to admit that it had me sort of worried. It was full of horror stories about the kids not bonding with their parents--wailing constantly or simply shutting down emotionally. But so far she seems to be bonding well, at least with Monica. My job at this point is pretty much Mommy's assistant--mixing formula, fetching things, providing the occasional distraction, etc. Generally speaking when I try to hold her she cries for her mother. But that's to be expected, I suppose. In the orphanage the only men she probably ever encountered were poking and prodding her, or sticking needles into her. It's actually a wonder she can even look at me without having a meltdown.
During our first few hours together she was very quiet. We had a few screamers in our group, but she wasn't one of them, although it was clear that she was very aware of what was going on around her. We coaxed a few smiles out of her, but none that lasted very long. On the few occasions that she did cry (like during her first bath, which she desperately needed after we got her out of her stinky orphanage clothes) it came as something of a relief. For the most part she just looked annoyed.
That gets us to the video. This was taken at around 7:30 last night. Monica and I ordered room service (ridiculously cheap, by the way--we each got an entree and a Tsingtao for a total of around $25 US). By this time we were starting to relax a bit about the whole parenting thing (the Tsingtao helped), and we decided to test Stanzi's tolerance for solid food. Let's just say she's not picky. Even after a bottle of formula she eagerly took everything we offered her by hand--rice, bits of fried egg, Goldfish crackers. And then she broke out in this enormous grin. And she started to laugh, which made us laugh, too.
A couple more things:
1) You're probably wondering where all the photos are. Well, I've taken tons of them, but until I can borrow a cable from one of the other couples in the group (and that should happen today, I hope) I have no way of dumping them onto the computer.
2) I should mention something about our first night with her. She woke us up crying at 10:00 last night and 4:00 this morning, but settled down right away after Monica picked her up. My guess is that she suddenly woke up in an unfamiliar place and got frightened. I also suspect she was testing us. Her cries at the orphanage wouldn't have gotten her the attention she craves, so she wanted to see if they'd work here. They did, of course. And then, at some point in the middle of the night, she just started babbling. She may not have even been awake; since they were happy sounds we stayed in bed. It was some of the most beautiful music we have ever heard.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
We knew which one she was as soon as the people from the orphanage brought her into the hotel lobby. There were seven of them, and we had been a little concerned that we wouldn't recognize her from her photos, which were, after all, taken some seven months ago. But we immediately picked her out from the others.
There's too much going on right now for a lengthy post. She's been bathed, diapered, dressed, and fed. And she's beautiful.
Last night at the end of another jam-packed day we arrived in Nanchang, a smallish (by Chinese standards) city in the southeast. From what I can tell the city doesn't have any particular significance, and doesn't get a lot of tourist traffic. However, Nanchang has a great deal of personal significance for us--it's where we're going to be getting our daughter, just over four hours from now. For now I'm just hanging out at our glorious hotel, with the really cool sounding name "Galactic Peace," once again up way too early thanks to jetlag. Monica, I should add, is still sleeping like a baby. I don't know how she does it, but I'm jealous.
Yesterday began with a trip to Tiananmen Square, the world's largest hunk of concrete surrounded by Chinese government buildings. The Great Hall of the People, essentially the PRC's "Parliament," stands along one side. The massive mausoleum where Chairman Mao lies encased on a glass tomb stands on another. Highly aggressive souvenir peddlers abound, and when they saw a group of Americans they began buzzing around us like moths around our back porch light. Zhou advised against buying anything from them, or at least against paying more than 20 Yuan (around $3) for anything they had to sell.
Although it was a brilliantly sunny day, it was very cold and windy--probably in the 20s. None of us had been expecting these kind of temperatures, so we didn't have winter coats. A few (including Monica) didn't even have gloves. Nevertheless we pressed on toward the Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City (see video) was the palace complex of the Ming and Qing emperors. Parts of it were built in the 15th century, but work on it was pretty much ongoing until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. It was "forbidden" in the sense that ordinary people were forbidden from setting foot within its walls, on pain of death. Mao's government made a big production of opening it to the people, and there sure were plenty of them there yesterday. I'm told that during the regular tourist season the crowds are much larger. I'm not sure I ever want to be there then.
From there we went to a silk factory. We saw another demonstration of traditional techniques, then were turned loose in the store. Now, it was never our intention to buy a lot of expensive stuff in China, but it's hard not to. The silk, for example, is of outstanding quality, and available at much lower prices than we could ever get in the United States. We bought a 100% handmade silk quilt, with cover and pillowcases, for less than $600, and that included shipping to the United States (we're going to have enough to carry home, as it is). I almost bought a silk robe for myself, but concluded that it wouldn't be a terribly practical garment for northern Ohio.
After doing some damage at the silk factory we went for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. I must admit, Monica and I sneered when we learned we'd be going there. We're in China, we thought. Why wouldn't we eat the local food all the time? We consider ourselves fairly adventurous eaters, and we'll try just about anything. Well, after only a day and a half of eating the local fare (my favorite example--"pear and white fungus in rock sugar soup") we were thrilled to have an honest-to-goodness burger and a cold beer (Singha, from Thailand) to wash it down. The bad news is that unlike just about every other place in China, the Hard Rock Cafe was really expensive. Our burgers came out to be about $20 each. Maybe I'll give the white fungus another try.
Then it was off to the airport for the flight to Nanchang. I've come to the realization that every airport in the world is pretty much the same. Same basic layout, same announcements ("now boarding China Air flight 2018 for Hangzhou....Those requiring extra time or assistance in boarding are now invited to....," etc., etc.). The flight was delayed by about an hour, but we really had nothing else to do for the rest of the day. By around 9:15 we were at the hotel; by 10:00 we were in bed.
The hotel, as I said before, is spectacular--spacious, well furnished, and with a great view (and--yippee!--it has a cigar bar!). They're undoubtedly used to catering to adoptive families (the adoption center is right across the street), so our room is equipped with a crib, stroller, baby tub and potty seat. I don't think we're quite at the potty seat stage, but the other things will no doubt be helpful. This morning after breakfast we're headed to a nearby Wal-Mart (yes, they have them all over China, stocked with tons of stuff made in China. Just like home.) to pick up whatever baby things we've forgotten. Then, at 10:30 representatives from the nearest orphanage (about three hours away) will meet us across the street at the adoption center to introduce us to the newest member of our family. Plenty of photos and video to come!
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Yesterday was just for sightseeing. The idea was to keep us occupied at something low-stress so that we could help get over jetlag. Seeing as I've been wide awake since 4:00 am, it would appear that I need some more help where that's concerned.
We started by going to a jade factory. I'm not sure that "factory" is exactly the right word, since it seems for the most part that the jade is still mostly worked by hand, but it looks as though large numbers of people are employed there. I never knew, well, really anything about making jade, but it's very attractive. We then had an opportunity to buy jade--the tour, unsurprisingly, ended in the store--but we didn't avail ourselves of the opportunity.
Next we went to the Great Wall (see video; and there's a lot more where that came from). That was a truly amazing experience. The part of the wall we visited dates back to the 14th century--new by Chinese standards--but some sections go back to the 3rd century BC. As it spans the mountains there are lots of steps, and many are uneven, so it can be a perilous climb. In addition, the handrails were added with people much shorter than we in mind. As a result, we didn't walk very far. Some members of our group made an entire circuit around this section, and it took them over an hour.
You know, for a communist country the spirit of free enterprise seems alive and well here. Vendors were located all around the Great Wall selling souvenirs and shouting at passersby promising the best deals. It's important to negotiate at these places; when they see a foreigner they'll announce a high price (frankly, even their high prices seem like peanuts when translated into U.S. dollars), but will clearly accept a fraction of that.
Another observation--hardly anyone smokes here. I had been told that it's very common, but I saw virtually no smoking. Not that I'm complaining, exactly, but I had intended to smoke a cigar or two while I'm here, and so far I've been hesitant to do so. Also, I didn't bring my lighter, and I'm not sure where I can even get a light. Hmmm.
After the Great Wall we went to another factory, this one specializing in cloisonne. These are copper items (usually urns or vases) that are covered with enamel, fired in a kiln, and polished to a high sheen. Beijing is apparently center of the cloisonne trade, and here again we learned about the painstaking efforts involved in producing it. And of course we couldn't leave without buying a piece. At this place there was no negotiating, I learned. We paid 880 Yuan, which converts roughly to about $125, for a gorgeous handcrafted vase.
Our last stop was the Olympic Stadium, often called the "Bird's Nest." The Chinese are immensely proud that they hosted last year's Olympics, but now Beijing has a multitude of sports facilities, and it's not clear what they're going to be used for. In the meantime the government sells tickets to go into the stadium and walk around. It's an impressive facility, to be sure, but I'm not sure I'd pay to walk around in a stadium in America. But such is the pride that the Chinese have for the fact that their capital was the site of the Olympic Games that they flock to the place, waiting in lines to have their photographs taken with the official mascots (well, with people dressed up like the mascots, anyway).
After we left the stadium Zhou, our guide, gave us an opportunity to go to an acrobatic performance. Most of the group did, but we opted to return to the hotel. We were wiped out, and really, really cold. So we had a quiet evening in the room, only venturing out to have dinner in the hotel restaurant (we're staying in a very nice Holiday Inn). I forced myself to stay awake until 9:00.
Oh, one more thing. When we arrived in Beijing we found that one of our suitcases--the one with the baby stuff, fortunately, which we won't need until Monday--didn't make it. It turns out it had been misdirected to Amsterdam. Well, the folks at the airport told us that we'd get it the next day, and sure enough, we did. It was delivered to our room yesterday evening.
Friday, February 13, 2009
As I write this, it's nearly 7:30 in the morning. Jetlag wasn't nearly as bad as I expected, as I woke up at around 5:30 and lay in bed for a half-hour. Today we visit the Great Wall and the Olympic Stadium. Zhou says that, depending on how tired we all are, we might go see an acrobatic show tonight. We'll see.
I tried to upload a two-minute video, but it was taking forever and I finally gave up. I also brought the wrong cable, so I can't upload photos from my digital camera. So aside from very short videos (maybe 30 seconds) it looks as though I'm not going to be able to provide a visual record of the trip on the blog, at least until we get home.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
It’s overwhelming to think about how drastically our life is about to change. Sometime between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m. on February 16 it’ll be instant parenthood. Ready or not. I think we’ve been prepared for the worst case scenario but I just don’t know. All three of us are going to be in a very new type of existence. John and I understand that, but I’m worried for Stanzi. We’re about to turn her world upside down. Of course we know it’s for the best, but she has no way of knowing that. Everything is going to be new to her. Baths, diapers, certain foods, toys, planes, airports, cars, car seats, our house and, of course, two very rambunctious dogs. I wonder how long before it all seems normal to her? I wonder how long before she loves us?
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Departure day is just around the corner and things are going smoothly. I'm a little stressed but I think I'm keeping it together, although I really hate flying. I keep telling myself that if ever there was a trip worth flying for, this is the one. I've started to do some shopping, too. About two years ago I just stopped shopping for the baby. In fact, I really put all preparation on hold. A week or two ago I started to buy things here and there. On Friday night I went to Wal-Mart for the last of the necessities. It was actually fun. For the very first time I felt like I belonged in the baby section. I didn't feel foolish buying baby clothes either. I went shopping with my mom and aunt last weekend and it was the most relaxed I've ever been in Children's Place and Baby Gap. I'm buying stuff for my baby. My baby. She's real; and I can't let her run around naked.