Thursday, November 5, 2009

Day 5 and 6 and almost on the way home!

Guangzhou Day 5 – Wednesday Nov 4th
It’s the day that Nora takes the Oath to give up her Chinese citizenship and become an American Citizen. Technically she wouldn’t actually be an American until her feet touch American soil in Newark on Friday afternoon when we go through customs. The only thing we can bring to this afternoon’s ceremony is a diaper bag and my passport, no cameras allowed. It’s too bad; I think this is a big deal and it would be nice for the children to have something to remember the day when their life changed forever.
We gathered after dinner to celebrate Nora’s belated 1st birthday. I forgot to take a photo of the cake I bought at the bakery down the street, but it was delicious.

Guangzhou Day 6 – Thursday Nov 5th
Today is our last full day in China. Its 2pm here and midnight your time, with daylight savings time Mpls is 14 hours behind China. Nora is down for her nap and I just started to pack for our long day of travel we have tomorrow. We need to leave the hotel at 7:20am to take our 10am flight to Beijing. Then we take at 5pm flight from Beijing to Newark and then Newark to Mpls arriving at 10:15pm Friday.

Today we walked to the Island to pick up the laundry and finished up a few last purchases. We also went to the White Swan to shoot a few Red Couch photos. Sorry I’m not writing too much but my computer is really working slow since last night and I’m wondering if it too has caught a strange bug in China.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Happy Birthday Nora!!!

Guangzhou Day 4 – Tuesday Nov 3rd

Happy Birthday Nora!!!

Not only is it Nora’s 1st birthday but it was also the day of her appointment with the American Consulate. The funny thing about the Consulate Appointment is that she is not present for it. The guide takes all the documents and forms and submits them to consulate staff. I needed to be by the phone for about an hour this morning just in case there were any questions but nothing other than that. We just got the call and there were no questions so now we just go there tomorrow afternoon for her to give her oath (I hope they understand baby-babble) to become an American citizen.

One of Jodi and Keith’s twins still has the stomach bug and now Jodi is not feeling well. Since we don’t have any more sightseeing trips scheduled, I took it easy and just went for a walk to the Island after Nora got up from her nap. I’ve been feeling fine for the most part, but I just have had a little motion sickness since the flights over here. At first I thought it was being on the 30th floor in Changsha but it’s continued in Guangzhou and we’re only on the 9th floor.
Hopefully Jodi and Keith’s family will be feeling better tomorrow and we’ll have a little birthday celebration for Nora.

Here are a few more photos of Shamian Island. It’s totally different than any other part of China that I’ve seen.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Guangzhou Day 3 – Monday Nov 2rd

Guangzhou Day 3 – Monday Nov 2rd
Today Nora and I started the day with a walk to Shamian Island seeking good light for photos and a cup of Starbucks coffee for me. The coffee in the room is instant (ok for one cup but not enough for the day by far), and to order a cup of coffee at the Hotel café it’s 38 Yuan (about $5.70). Yesterday’s breakfast buffet was around 188 Yuan (about $27) so I really won’t be doing that too often. My Starbuck’s medium Café Latte was 26 Yuan so around $3. Before the trip I made this little cheat-sheet to help me convert Yuan to US Dollars without having to do the math.

Yesterday when we went to the Carrefour Supermarket I also pickup up yogurt, crackers, and peanut butter and so along with a Cliff bar that I brought along, Nora and I had a nice little breakfast in our room before our walk to the Island. Side note for anyone traveling, Cliff and Luna Bars pack much better than a typical breakfast bar because they’re so dense, you just can’t crush them.

I don’t think Nora had really been feed that much solid food; according to the instruction sheet that came from the orphanage she was just drinking a thick sludge of formula and rice cereal. She really didn’t seem to understand that a spoon needed to go into her mouth at first. With Isabel I kept her on exactly what she had been fed at the orphanage. I can tell I’m a lot more comfortable Mom this time around; Nora’s enjoying baby food, yogurt, rice noodles, steamed eggs, rice congee, rice, crackers, etc…

One of Jodi and Keith’s twins got a stomach bug last night so she’s taking it easy today which meant that it was just Keith, Katelyn, Nora and I went to visit the Six Banyan Trees Temple. It’s a Buddhist Temple that we also visited during Isabel’s adoption trip. However unlike the last visit, which was last day of Chinese New Year and one of the busiest days of the year at the Temple, today it was quiet, peaceful and very beautiful. The nine story tower is a replacement of the original, but is still around 300 years old.
We were all treated to a blessing from one of the monks.

Nora’s been a real joy. She got a great laugh and is generally good natured, although I’ve seen some hints of a spicy temper. Girls from both Hunan and Chongqing are said to be spicy girls. Two spicy girls in one house could mean trouble for Mom.
Tomorrow (Tuesday Nov 3rd) is both Nora’s 1st Birthday and her appointment with the American Consulate. On Wednesday she takes the oath to become an American citizen. This little girl has a busy week ahead.

Guangzhou Day 2 - Nov 1

Guangzhou Day 2 – Nov 1
Today was a sightseeing day so after a very expensive breakfast (the buffet is not included in my hotel package) we all boarded a van to the Guangdong Folk Arts Museum. I had been there before on Isabel’s adoption trip but Keith and Jodi had not and I enjoyed the architecture the last time so we decided to go there.
It was as beautiful and peaceful (if you get there early enough) as before. One really nice benefit to only having 2 families in a travel group (and flexible guide) is that we have some choices on what we want to see and do.

After the museum we stopped at a Carrefour Supermarket for diapers, baby food, formula and other stuff. I really enjoy wandering around and looking at the products (ie Lay’s chips with Beef flavor); it’s really one of my favorite things to do.

Next stop we went to the wholesale Pearl Market. I bought Isabel, Nora and myself nice stud earrings. The girls won’t get them until they’re 12 or 13 but I thought it would be a nice thing to get them (and me). I also got some other sparkly things. Needless to say I’m shopping a lot more than I did in 2006.

In the evening we walked back to Shamian Island for dinner at Lucy’s, a main stay for many families visiting Guangzhou. Lucy serves both Chinese and American menu. As a mentioned before to get to the Island you need to walk about 3 city blocks to the pedestrian bridge.
And those city blocks offer yet another view of China. The three blocks between our hotel and the bridge to the Island is called the Qin Ping Dong Medicine and Pet Market. We’ve all been told that in China they eat dogs etc… well from what I can tell they must be dressing them with spiderman costumes and giving them little cozy houses before deciding to have Fido for dinner.

The pet market makes up about half of the three block market and the medicine part makes up the balance. This little girl was going home with 2 pet squirrels.

I’ve seen kittens, puppies, hamsters, squirrels, turtles, and fish. With all the accessory items needed for a very happy pet including the above mentioned dog and cat beds, dress up clothes and wide selection of foods.

The medicine market is made up of mostly died stuff that frankly I don’t want to know what it is. I could identify mushrooms but there are also dried snake, what looked like tiger paw and that’s just enough for me to know.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Guangzhou Day 1

Guangzhou Day 1 – Oct 31

Both Nora and I are very happy to be in Guangzhou starting our last week in China. The weather in Guangzhou is hot and humid. I’m just guessing, but it feels like the mid 80’s but it’s very, very humid.

We have met up with our travel group which is one other family from Shakopee MN; Jodi and Keith and their girls (twin 5 year olds adopted in 2005 and their newest family member Kira, age 2, from Inner Mongolia). We will do all our sightseeing and adoption appointments together. They’re a super family and I’m really enjoying their company.
We started the day off with a 9am appointment with the US Medical Exam for Adopted Children. The appointment was on the Shamian Island, a 15 min walk from our hotel. The island has become the beacon for every American family traveling to China for adoption, it is the last part of a journey which nowadays may have started four or more years ago. The Shamian Island was the former location of the American Consulate in charge of processing the Chinese children being adopted by Americans.

The Consulate moved downtown before Isabel’s adoption in 2006, but the businesses that developed to serve the adoption community still remain; the anchor is the White Swan Hotel. The island reminds me of Charleston or Georgetown with their French architectural influences.

Various regions in China’s past have been occupied by the French, British, and Japanese. For Isabel’s adoption we stayed at the White Swan but decided this time to venture off the Island to experience a little bit more of real China. Off the Island was also cheaper and since we’re here during the City’s biggest convention of the year, hotel prices are about double the standard rates.

The Medical Exam was cursory at best, squeak a toy and the baby can hear, measure the head, check the heart beat, weight and height; parents need to acknowledge any special needs in writing. Since my wait began so long ago, Nora was grandfathered in under older guidelines and so she did not get any shots (that will be taken care of the week after we get back at Southdale Peds) and since she is under the age of 2 she is not required to have a TB screening either. One family I talked to at the exam was adopting a little girl same age as Nora with an unpaired cleft palate (no surgery yet) the examining physician found no cleft in the palate at all. I have heard this for heart conditions as well. A baby gets on a special needs list and there is no special need.
After the medical exam and a quick half hour of document preparation back at the hotel, we all head back to the Island for shopping and just walking around to see what’s changed since we were both there last. One of our 1st stops was the Starbuck's Coffee. LOVE the Starbuck!!!

The air conditioning was cold, the drinks were delicious, and for an hour we sat and chatted and pretended that we were at the Excelsior and Grand just sipping a iced latte on a hot day. Jodi and Keith were as ready for Guangzhou as I had been.
After a while Keith took their older girls back to the hotel for a nap and Jodi, Kira, Nora and I went shopping, shopping, shopping. It was wonderful. After a few hours of shopping (Nora napped for 2 out of the 3 in a stroller) we made our way back to the hotel across the freeway, via a pedestrian bridge, that separates the neighborhood between our hotel and the Island. Both on the way to the Island and the way back people just stop to help us carry the strollers up and down the stairs. I have found the people of Guangzhou to be incredibly gracious and kind.

After our return, we regrouped to find some dinner. At the entrance to our hotel we turned left just to see what was there and found another world. We had wondered why this very nice 4 star hotel was in this very narrow-street Chinese neighborhood and now we knew. The back side of the Hotel is adjacent to Shang Xia Jiu Pedestrian Shopping Street. I haven’t Googled it yet but it is amazing and I’m sure you could find more information on the web. Block after block of stores and restaurants. We haven’t checked it out during the day yet but at night it was like Time Square only bigger and longer. We walked and ate and walked some more. Nora experienced her 1st McDonald’s french fry! The stores were so crowded that we just turned around and headed back out to the street to walk and watch some more.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Changsha Day 6 – Friday Oct 30th

Changsha Day 6 – Friday Oct 30th
We’re still getting up about 5:30am each morning. I don’t know what that’s all about but I think we’re both getting enough sleep so it’s okay. Since we move on to Guangzhou this evening we don’t have anything planned for the day other than the packing and preparation for this evening’s flight. It should only last about an hour, but of course you need to be at the airport early etc…

Nora didn’t take a cat nap this morning (since she wasn’t in the carrier) so even though it’s only 11am she’s had her lunch and is now down for a midday nap. Since I have nothing new to share as far as sightseeing I figure I can tell you about some little tidbits and include a few more photos from earlier this week.

One of the things I don’t remember from the last time I was in China what all the car honking (does the others from Group 88 remember that?). It seems to me that the approach that most drivers in Changsha are taking is “I need to be heard and seen by everyone I pass”. The drivers basically have their finger/thumb on the horn the whole time you’re in the car and every car they pass gets a little beep. Some a longer blast if the other driver is looking a bit more dangerous. And they can get their cars in to the tightest spaces; it’s amazing. The observations from the other day’s Museum visit with queuing seem to extend to automobile driving as well. During the drive in from the airport last weekend it was 11pm and not only did the driver honk at each car he passed on the freeway but also flashed his headlights too. From Chongqing (Isabel’s hometown) I remember the sound of the blasting music from the public square near our hotel, this time it will be the constant din of horns (from the 30th floor) 24/7. There also seems to be very few rules for driving.

There are a lot of people in Changsha, although it is not considered a huge city for China, only about 7 million people live here. From what I’ve seen people get around in the following manner: walk, bike, scooters, cars (taxis, hired cars, personal vehicle) and buses. There are major streets (four lanes each way divided by a boulevard) and smaller streets and then alleys that have small shops and business. But there is also what I would call large sidewalk on the major streets and that is where the people walk. but the scooters are also allowed on the sidewalks. The scooter’s dodge in and out of traffic and can either drive on the streets with the cars and buses or sidewalks with the people walking. Also the scooters are all electric; they make no noise at all (but of course all you hear when you’re out there is the honking of the horns). So if you’re crossing the street, you have to watch out for a huge wave of scooters coming right at you.

According to Mamie the guide, Changsha has outlawed any new scooters, there are just too many. So if want a scooter you have to find someone that has a permit you can buy as well as buy the scooter. Similar to Taxi medallions (sp?).
The one other thing that I’ll remember from my week at the Dolton Hotel in Changsha is the incredibly hard bed. I can’t explain to you how hard this bed is and I like a firm bed to begin with, but this is crazy hard. I know that in the summer it is not uncommon for the temperature to be around 107F so maybe they think a harder bed is cooler, but my goodness! Thankfully I sleep on my back.

In the photo with the man carrying bags on a pole across his shoulders, if you look closely just to the left of the garbage can on the sidewalk there's a child that just finished peeing. I've seen it a couple of time in the park too.. just pull down the pants and go.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Changsha Day 5 – Thursday Oct 29th

We were up early again about 5:30am. I caught up on a couple of emails and in fact caught Chris Dettling still in the office from the night before your time. It’s nice to think that at some point I’m still close enough to get a small exchange in real time.

First things first, Nora pooped this morning and just now again as she was getting up from her afternoon nap. Thank you God.

After walking down to the Wacko Market for bottled water, Mamie met us in the hotel’s lobby for today’s sightseeing tour. The first stop was Martyr’s Park that was adjacent to the Provincial Museum that we went to yesterday. The "Martyrs" to which the park refers, are the soldiers that died during the civil war. (Mamie’s term) I think it would be what we’d think of as the last revolution.

Martyr’s Park is the Central Park of Changsha. It was beautiful and it appears that many neighborhood people go there to hangout throughout the day. We saw a lot of grandparents with grandbabies, others that were exercising, dancing, playing music both singularly and in more organized groups, it wasn’t uncommon to see two groups playing music within feet of each other. There was also antiquated amusement park.

Mamie had prepared me for Nora and I being a bit of an oddity, but I have to say that Nora got many more stares than I did. That something that I think we’ll have a lifetime of getting use to.
Next stop was the embroidery factory; really it seemed more like a retail outlet with a few workers there to show off the process. The work was amazing but the prices were just too much to think about buying anything. On top of which, I’d have to get it home (already framed) in one piece. I’m already worried about the luggage factor with Nora in tow now too. I didn’t want to add framed art to that problem.

Tomorrow evening we move on to Guangzhou but we have nothing planned til check out at 4pm. I’ll write more about the car honking and the incredibly hard bed.