Thursday, May 31, 2012

Made it Through Shanghai Security!

We are still in the Shanghai airport, but waiting at our boarding gate.  The girls are doing what they do best - eating hot, spicy noodles at a REAL Chinese restaurant.  It is only around 2:00 p.m., and our flight does not leave till 4:10 p.m., but I wanted to be sure we made it through security alright.  Good thing I did, because there was extra paperwork to complete since this is an international flight.  John was right - Shanghai objected to the incorrect use of Ava's name.  She is traveling on a Chinese passport with an American Visa, so using her Chinese name - Tu Yingchuan.  The travel agency tried to give her a last, middle, and first name, so reserved a flight under the name Chuan, Tu Ying.  I was standing in the line, trying to judge which of the ladies at the check-in counter would be the most lenient.  Of the three, I got the strictest-looking one.  She examined Ava's passport a long time, but when she said "How many check-in bags you have?"  I thought we were home free.  Not so!  After we put one piece of luggage on the belt, she started speaking to another woman in Chinese at a desk nearby.  They were objecting to Ava's name.  Not to worry!  Like many things in life, it was nothing that "fifty American dollars" wouldn't solve.  I paid the fee - what choice did I have(?) and we proceeded to the security line with our boarding passes.  I made sure I took my shoes off.  Both the girls laughed when I set off the alarms AGAIN!!  This time, they narrowed it down to the boarding passes I was holding in my hand.  They actually laid them on the counter, passed the wand over them, and the alarm went off each time.  Of course, Ava thought it was funny when they pulled my shirt up!  Me - not so much!! I was hoping our luggage would go on to Des Moines, as from Des Moines it had gone directly to Beijing. No such luck! We only have an hour between flights at Chicago and we will arrive and leave at different terminals, plus I have to get Ava through immigration.  According to Ms. Strict, we will also have to claim our luggage and re-check it within that one hour.  The only thing in my favor is THEY WILL ALL SPEAK ENGLISH!!!!! 
I will close this, as Aleah wants to read an e-mail from her sister.  We are planning a BBQ at my parents' home this Sunday for family to meet Ava.  I hope she is not too overwhelmed by our big clan! 
Two more flights to go - the longest is next.  If any of you have ever tried sitting in one spot for thirteen hours, you would know how much I dread it!  After awhile, every bone in your body aches!!  At least if we miss our flight to Des Moines, it is only a one-hour flight and it shouldn't be too hard to get another!
Onward we go!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

In the Airport

We are in the airport in Guangzhou at 8:00 a.m. our time.  I was surprised to discover they had free wi-fi. John was like a nervous mother hen, walking us all the way to the security gate and hovering to make sure we made it through okay.  He asked to take our picture.  He is worried about Ava missing people and things in China.  We had a little trouble getting our boarding passes, so I am sure glad he was with us.  The agency's travel section booked Ava's boarding pass just like Aleah's and mine - last name first, then first name.  In China, they do not invert names.  He had to argue quite awhile and I can tell he is concerned I will have the same problem in Shanghai, with no interpreter to help.  He wrote his phone number down for me to call if we have problems. 
I set off the alarms once again.  This time they narrowed the problem down to my shoes.  Evidently there is a leather-covered metal button on each side.  I will take them off next trip through security and see if get through.  I was vaguely aware they had stopped Aleah also, so as soon as they gave me my shoes back, I went to her counter.  The Chinese woman there was looking very stern.  She had Aleah's backpack on the counter, pointed to it and she said "Knife!"  I was surprised, and said "No. No knife," shaking my head.  She searched it and took many of Aleah's games out and ran them back through the machine.  Finally, she brought Aleah's hacky sack to us and said "Maybe this it."  Whew!  It felt good to get on the other side!  It rained last night and John seems to think our flight will be delayed by about 40 minutes, but as of now, the panel still says 9:00 departure time.  The girls are entertaining themselves by shopping in the toy store and book store across from the waiting area, where they are still in my sight. 
The hotel surprised us and had breakfast prepared in to-go boxes with sandwiches, muffins, rolls, and, of course, the ever present boiled egg.  John evidently asked them to prepare breakfast for us by 6:00 a.m.  I have never met a man so thoughtful!  He thinks of the tiniest little details!!  He told me on the way over that by the year 2014 there will not be traffic allowed on Shamian Island.  He said the Victory Hotel hates that, but the White Swan has a bridge nearby, so they are not so concerned.  I don't understand what he means by the White Swan, but that will be another change for the island.
John said Ava told him she was no longer nervous about going to America, but only excited and "unsure."  If I were in her shoes, I would be more than a little unsure!  As soon as we arrived at our gate, I made sure to ask her if she needed to use the rest room, which she did!  At Shanghai we will have to re-check our luggage, as we will switch to American Airlines, flight 288.  Wish us luck, as we try to get Ava through with a backwards name, a "knife" in Aleah's backpack, and metal in my shoes!!!  America, here we come!! 

Last Day in Guangzhou

Today is our last day in Guangzhou!  Our guide, John, will meet us in the lobby at 6:00 a.m. to take us to the airport.  I do not look forward to the travel time (over 24 hours), but do look forward to seeing familiar places and people once again.  Last night Aleah said "I miss the kids" (my grandchildren),  So do I!!!  It will be so good to see everyone again and some wide open spaces!!
Our only stipulation today was to be in our hotel room at 5:00 for delivery of the adoption packet that will make Ava an American citizen upon its opening in Chicago, as well as her passport, complete with visa stamp allowing her to enter the U.S.  John and I have instructed her on the length of time it will take to get there, but how can anyone really prepare for so long a journey?
On the way here, I tried to stay awake to acclimate myself to China's time before I arrived.  (They are 13 hours ahead of us.)  I got claustrophobic from being confined for over 13 horus in an airplane seat.  I may sleep this time to avoid the claustrophobia and deall with the jet lag after I arrive!
The girls played hacky sack in a beautiful courtyard this afternoon, after Aleah first shopped for souvenirs for her friends.  Ava bought some food at a little convenience shop that has a Subway located inside.  (As in the sandwich shop.)  We could have chosen Pringles, Oreos, Lay's Potato Chips and many other familiar brands.  Aleah has stocked up on the Chinese cookies she loves so well!  We have a 44 lb. per piece of luggage weight limit in China, so I don't know how this is all going to work.  Tonight, we pack!
I visited a bank one last time.  Before I could even speak, the Chinese "host" asked me in English "Change money?"  I said yes, and he printed out my ticket to wait in line.  Either they didn't call it in English, or I wasn't paying attention, because he came back later and said they had passed my number.  He escorted me to a window very politely.  I am grateful for the amount of English many of the Chinese people speak.  John said even the small schools try to have an English teacher, more than one if they can afford it.  Ava said they have an English teacher in her school, and he talks a lot, but they can't understand him! 
We ate at Lucy's one more time.  Ava got what she ordered this time and seemed happy.  I ordered "lemon tea" and they brought it in a Ball wide mouth quart canning jar!!  It had a whole lemon sliced in it, which Aleah ate, slice by slice.  Ava enjoyed her facial contortions!
Once back at the hotel, they pushed each other back and forth for the best view of the TV (playfully and with lots of laughter).  Right now, they are watching 'Open Season' in English with Chinese subtitles.  Last night they watched 'Big Momma II."  Ava likes comedy! 
John has been an excellent guide.  He sees to the smallest details - how much to tip the bellboys, the driver, tries to steer us in safe directions (like not using the subway), giving us a walking tour of the island, and through the markets to the shopping areas, and generally giving me the most information about Ava I have obtained since being here.  He said he likes his job, which is uniting families.  I know when he is not with us, he is escorting other families to their children.
A very friendly shopkeeper asked me if I had previously been here to adopt Aleah and was here this time to adopt Ava.  I was surprised she could tell this.  She asked me if I remembered when the White Swan was open and all the little shops in the area, many of which have closed.  I saw a big gold padlock on one shop door, and she said another shop is due to close in another month.  I would guess they will reopen when the White Swan does; however, with the recession in the U.S., and the Chinese becoming more affluent, I don't know if foreign adoptions will continue at the same rate. 
The Chinese sure know how to sell!  They stand in their doorways and clap, or dress in formal attire, or have employees chanting outside and singing, or just call out to invite you in, telling you they will give you a good bargain.  At the store near the Mariott, I was looking at fans on a low shelf and the shopkeeper brought me a chair to sit on.  When she saw Aleah scratching at her mosquitoe bites, she brought out medicine and treated them.  She would say "For you, I will give good deal" every little whipstitch.  Ava has no interest in the "traditional" Chinese items, preferring more modern ones instead.  I suppose that is always typical of teenagers and she is now thirteen!  I was surprised to see a stone carving of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in one store, and of the martyred Christ in another.  A small sign that Christianity is making inroads in China? 
I was mistaken when I wrote that the family from St. Louis was adopting from a primarily Muslim province.  It was not a province at all, but a sort of suburb area of Guangzhou that is primarily Muslim.
I will close this and begin packing.  Hopefully my next post about Ava will be from home!!
Greetings from Guangzhou China!!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

                                                               A "neat" spice market
                                                                 Lizards on a stick anyone?
          \                                                           Pets of all kinds

                                         School children crossing the street with red kerchiefs
it is a custom for couples getting married to go to Shamian Island for photos.  It is very expensive - about $1,000, but a large photo is made for displaying in their home

More Shopping

We made it through the spice market and I got some good photos.  I will try to load the one with the lizard skins stretched onto sticks.  I have no idea why one would want such a thing, and John was not with us to ask, but I assume it is on the order of the leg part.  This is the year of the dragon, which is lucky, and he made the comment lizards might be the most sold pet this year, so maybe it is lucky to have the skin of one in your home?  I was glad I bought the girls matching t-shirts at the Safari Park yesterday, as they were easy to spot together in the huge shopping crowds - two white t-shirts together really stood out!
Aleah has bug bites covering her legs from the Safari Park and Ava took us to a Chinese pharmacy, where she had me purchase Chinese medicine called "Gold Medal Medicated Oil."  Per the instructions, it is good for:  "Relief of Giddiness and Headache, Colds, Influenza, Nose Block, Travel Sickness, Sprains, Muscular Pain and Insect Bite."  It is made of Menthol Crystal and Eucalyptus Oil, Camphor, and other things.  When the girls ran ahead of me down the sidewalk on the way home, I didn't have to wonder where they were - I just followed the smell!!
John asked me about where we lived this morning.  I told him I am worried Ava might not like it, as it is in the country and not in a city, nor even near one.  He asked how far away it is to the nearest neighbor.  I told him maybe a quarter mile, but our driveway was as long as the Mariott is wide.  John said "That is like a palace."  I laughed and said "Oh no!  It's not!" (It's a modular home.)  John asked "How many driveways have you seen in China?"  REALLY GOOD POINT!!  Then John said he would like it there because he is "so used to living with so many people."  He thought it sounded wonderful "to get away from all the people and have your own 'space.'"  We'll see . . . .  Poor little Ava will be culture shocked!
We said good-bye to the other family we have been with today.  They will take the train to Hong Kong tomorrow night and we will leave for the airport the next morning. They have been so gracious to spend time with us and offer to take us places.  They are a wonderful family and I know they will do well with this adopted little girl who already adores her "baba" (father).   Interestingly, she likes Ava, but they cannot communicate, as the little one only speaks Cantonese.  Yesterday they were playing pat-a-cake through the glass window of the Marriott until a Chinese cleaning lady came by with a basket strapped to her hip that had a cleaning cloth in it and she chased them away by washing their fingerprints from the glass! 
Other American parents told me they had no choice in how they exited China, and were told to take the train to Hong Kong, then fly out.  I was given a choice and thought the train sounded like an adventure, but the family before me took the train to Hong Kong and said there was a "monster" line at the airport and they couldn't get seats together.  Aleah did not want to fly if she couldn't sit with me, and vice versa, so we gave up that idea.  We will fly to Shanghai and then on to Chicago.  At least one other family will be flying into Chicago from Hong Kong.  Perhaps we will see one another there.  They have adopted a Chinese daughter and two Haitian children already.  This one was an adorable little toddler boy!  I saw one single mom trying to hold her toddler on one hip while trying to manage her paperwork with the other hand.  Adoptive families are always so friendly!  As you meet them in the street in Guangzhou (where all the families have to exit), they ask questions and offer advice - about restaurants, places to shop, things to do, where to find necessary items, how much things costs, etc.
We will miss our 7-11 next door.  We went early one morning and it was full of school children stopping off for their breakfast.  One teen girl knocked a shelf off of chewing gum (in white plastic bottles) and the lady at the cash register came around and slammed the shelf back on, then kept slamming the bottles of gum onto the shelf so hard they kept bouncing off.  She was soooooo angry!  I can only assume she was short-handed, as there are usually at least two workers there.  Another morning there were two police officers there (young boys) buying breakfast for about six people.  I guess it is not only in America that law enforcement officers gather at the local eatery!
I had planned to eat at the Cantonese restaurant John told me about, but we could not find it!  Possibly we did not walk far enough, but I walked long enough to have blisters on my feet and still we did not see it.  We did find a candy store, and Aleah found a candy that smelled familiar to her from when she lived here.  I bought some for her and she had me try it.  It was some type of dried fruit.  They sugar their fruit and dry it and sell it as "candy."  When we couldn't find the Cantonese restaurant, we just told Ava to find us noodles.  She seems to know the places to go to find noodles!  They actually offered "hot pot" there, but she did not order it.  I was so surprised!  Evidently, she must love noodles more than "hot pot."  I had roast duck with noodles and a boiled egg floating in the soup.  It was good! 
The girls found a little shop equivalent to our "dollar stores" in America.  There they showed me a little wooden box that said "A Surprise For You Inside."  I opened it and a black rubber lizard flipped up and out at me.  I was quite startled and they found that quite hilarious!  During our dinner, they recounted the story and laughed some more!  I can see they're going to gang up on me!!
Tomorrow we only have one thing on our agenda - to be in the hotel around 5:00 when John will deliver Ava's Chinese passport with her Visa stamp allowing her to enter America.  When we land in Chicago, we have been told we can go through either line - the immigration line or the regular line, whichever is shorter.  They recommend the regular line, as it is quicker.  John will bring me a sealed packet of documents and when it is opened in Chicago, that is the moment Ava becomes a U.S. citizen!  She will receive her citizenship certificate in the mail a few weeks from now.  An entire year's worth of paperwork is finally drawing to an end!!
I will close this and try to post some photos!  Looking forward to a good night's sleep and maybe sleeping in tomorrow morning!!

U.S. Consulate Appointment

This morning we met our guide, John, in the lobby of the Victory for our consulate appointment.  The girls slept late so we had to forego breakfast.  We picked up the other American family at the Marriott and went to the new consulate location, where we took lots of escalators!  There was an entire room full of American couples adopting Chinese children.  I saw one little girl with a left arm difference and heard her mother say it didn't really prohibit her from doing anything, as she had learned to use her right hand for pretty much anything any of us could do. American adoption is such a blessing for these children, as their future is limited in China when they have a disability!  As you can imagine, the room was very noisy!  It was good to hear instructions in English - PERFECT English!!
Once again our guide could not be with us, so he turned us over to a colleague.  My name was the last to be called.  One of the fathers joked as he was leaving the room that they saved the best for last!  The other family we share a guide and van with had to wait for us downstairs.  All our cameras and cell phones were checked in before we were allowed in the room and we had to go through a metal detector.  So far, I continue to set off every metal detector we've gone through.  Never happened before this trip!  Interestingly, the Western toilet at the Embassy has a sign "No standing on the toilet."  I assume the Chinese must try to 'squat' over the Western toilets as well, so only their feet would touch the seat?
After we raised our right hands and swore/affirmed that we had provided the full truth to the officials and would take care of the children we were adopting, we each signed one last paper and were given our official adoption papers.  Our children's passports were kept until tomorrow evening, when they will be delivered to our prospective hotels with the visa stamp intact. 
On the way there, I saw an unusual sight.  The Chinese version of a Brinks security truck had pulled up to a bank around the block from our hotel and there were three guards outside - one flanking either side of the back of the truck, and one standing beside the bank door.  All three had big, long, black machine guns held at the ready!!  They looked like they meant business and I would not want to be anywhere on the street with them there!  Again, they were very young boys.  We passed two groups of school children crossing the street who had their red kerchiefs around their neck.  John said the red kerchiefs represent a political group all the children belong to.  I have a photo of both the girls wearing a red kerchief. 
After we left the Consulate, we went back to the Mariott to drop the other family off and our driver had orders to take the girls and I back to the Victory; however, the other family had told me about a wonderful indoor mall where we could shop for the items I was looking for, so we changed our plans.  Our driver was not happy and wanted us to wait while he called (presumably John) to make sure it was alright to leave us there.  Before John could answer, a hotel doorman approached who spoke English and I had him explain that I had decided to go shopping and would take a taxi back to the hotel.  The driver seemed okay with that, but still was checking with John when we left.  They do NOT want to lose us in this city of sixteen million people!!  We enjoyed shopping.  Aleah learned that something that costs 30 yuan in one store might only cost 10 in another.  I had gone to change money at a bank prior to shopping.  The banks in China are different.  You come in the door, go to a machine that prints you out a number, then take a seat.  There are sort of like hostesses who are available if someone has a question or needs assistance, but you have to wait your turn to advance to the window.  They call your number when it is your turn to proceed to a counter.  You are separated from the teller by glass, and you put your money in a stainless container that spans underneath the glass, and they take it from the other side.  They do not like our "old" money and each bill is checked for water marks before approved.
Our taxi was only 17 yuan (less than three dollars), and I discovered last night that the moment you pull up at the Victory and exit the taxi, a doorman hands you a little slip of paper that says in English "Dear Guest;  Welcome to Guangzhou Victory Hotel.  The license of the taxi you took is:________________.  Taking good care of personal belongings is part of our courteous service to our guest.  Have a nice day!"  Last night I found a slip of paper in the desk drawer that said some taxi drivers were taking their fare and giving counterfeit money for change, therefore they suggest guests only take a taxi with a license number that begins with "A".  I assume this is the reason for their close scrutiny of each taxi's license plate number.  Almost before I could pay and get out, two Chinese men got in.  Taxis do a thriving business here, with so many people going so many places and most without a car!!
Because we had our appointment at the Consulate and then shopped, Ava couldn't wait to go order food at a restaurant, so ate some of her beloved noodles from the 7-11.  She scoops five spoonfuls of her precious chili seasoning (it looks like what is on the table at a Pizza Hut) into her noodles, and shares generously with Aleah.  I am going to have to take out stock in the industry!!  John told the other American family that his favorite food is chicken feet.  They put the feet in something that turns the feet white.  When they told him Americans do not eat chicken feet, he told them that is because all the chicken feet are shipped to China for the people here to eat because they are so good!! 
We plan to walk through the spice market, the pet market, and over to the shopping street next.  I hope to get some good photos of the spice market.  It is a sight you cannot imagine seeing in America!
On to the next adventure!!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ava "Goes Shopping"

This morning Ava surprised us. When it was time to go eat breakfast, which we have at the hotel buffet, Ava shook her head no and said "Go shopping." I knew what she meant. She wanted to go to the 7-11 and get food more to her liking (probably REAL Chinese junk food). She sat with Aleah and I in the dining room, then I did take her to the 7-11. She chose a cup of hot spicy noodles and something that looked like small biscuits wrapped in paper. Tonight she had us try them. I would say they are the Chinese version of donuts - not too sweet, but no roughage. Tonight she wanted to return with me when I made my nightly "bottled water" trip. I finally found either cough drops or throat lozenges for Ava (I'm not sure which, but she agreed she needed them). She chose more hot spicy noodles, and spicy kelp, which she ate out of the package by squeezing it from the bottom. She also bought "Off" bug spray. The mosquitoes left welts on her legs today. It rained while we ate dinner, but just misted off and on the rest of the day, so that was perfect! Ava had an ice cream cone after dinner, so she has a sweet tooth.

John came with our driver and we took Ava down to the clinic, where she was medically cleared for TB, so now her Visa can be issued. The medical clinic was full and bustling with people and John said they were all people wanting to immigrate to the United States! There were people of every age. John then took us to the Marriott, where the American family from St. Louis is staying. John had to take a family to meet their new child, and he was very nervous about what we were about to do, but he helped us to the extent he possibly could, taking us to the subway and purchasing tokens with our money, making sure we got on at the right place. Poor Ava! John told her that as the only Chinese speaking person in the group, he was depending on her to get us there and back safely! Ava took that seriously and was clearly worried, checking subway maps and directions at each stop. Brad tried to show her that he knew where to go, but she still was clearly worried. She took out the paper John had written in Chinese for where we were to go. After studying it and looking worried, she spoke to a Chinese man near her in our subway car. Clearly, she was asking him for directions. He was very nice and helpful to her, even showing her on the light-up board where we were at and where we were to get off. There is a switch you have to get out on at one point, making it more complicated. After a bit, she finally relaxed some and decided we were in the right place.

We went to the Safari Park, which is the largest zoo in China. It was spectacular! There were lots of Pandas eating bamboo, koalas, including mothers sleeping with their babies in their arms, giraffes, elephants, white tigers, you name it, there seemed to be some of everything. We rode the train for an hour, which took you close to the animals - a little too close at times, such as when the black bears were close to the train. (I think they were separated by an electric fence, in addition to a sort of moat.)

Ava got in free, primarly because of her good bargaining skills. She argued with the man at the ticket window that she was under the height for whether or not you have to pay. (She was actually right on the line.) She then had to argue again with the two young women taking tickets, and they made her step on a box to measure again. She saved me 200 yuan!! Ava is clearly used to bargaining! China is the only place I know of where the shopkeepers will ask you "How much?" and not the other way around. Johns says if there is a price on it, you cannot bargain, but if not, you can bargain away! I hailed a cab after we left, handing the driver the card John gave me from the Victory. Ava once again did the talking. She took John's instructions seriously and wanted to be sure we arrived safely back at the hotel. The other family went to see their new daughter's finding place, which was, like Ava's, at a busy bus stop.

I decided today the painted lines that designate traffic lanes in China are merely "suggestions." No one pays much attention to them. I also noticed that their public buses have hand holds where we would have head rests. They are for the people standing in the aisles who need to brace themselves for the lurching of the bus. The number of people in China is just overwhelming! People everywhere you look!!

John asked Ava this morning if she remembered with 2008 Chengdu earthquake. She said yes, she was at school and the ground shook and there was a lot of noise from things falling, and everyone in the school went outside. The town thirty minutes away was destroyed. John says people go visit it to see the destruction. He says the government does not intend to rebuild it, but to leave it exactly the way the earthquake left it as a sort of memorial to the people. Ava said she was living with her foster family on the twelfth floor of an apartment building and they were afraid to go into their building, so they bought a tent and slept outside for a week. She said they only went back to their apartment to bathe during that time period. She said thirty children were brought to her orphanage who had lost parents, and that most of them have families now, some in China, and some in other countries. She said they were almost all under the age of seven.

We plan to make an early night of it, as tomorrow morning we have to meet John in the lobby at 8:20. (John is always early, so we will go down at 8:00). We have our appointment with the American Consulate. We can take pictures outside, but then have to put our cameras in a locker as they are not allowed inside. When I adopted Aleah, all the adoptive parents took an oath together to care for the children, but now they do it individually, one at a time at the window. We plan to shop afterward, as we have not had opportunity to do so yet!! I am ready to come home, where I don't NEED a thirteen-year-old interpreter, where I can eat yogurt out of a carton instead of drinking it, where I can drink water from the tap, and where the traffic stays in its own lane. That is just the beginning of the things I miss from the good ol' USA!!!