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!! 
 
Laura

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!!
 
Laura

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!!
Laura

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!!
Laura

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!!!


Laura

Sunday, May 27, 2012




A Rainy Day

The rain held long enough today that we were able to walk down to Christ's Church across from the White Swan. The family from St. Louis met us in the lobby of the Victory. When introducing Ava, she politely steps forward and bobs her head. Their new little one is almost four and very independent. She has latched onto her dad for now, so mom will have to work on bonding!


The church was absolutely full. I counted over 40 pews of people, all shoulder to shoulder, and some sitting on benches to the side. The service was conducted in Chinese with English translation. They sang praise and worship songs in both English and Chinese, one of them familiar to Aleah and I from church. They gave testimony about their mission work. The whole church was full of people with black hair!


It amazes me that all Chinese people have such black hair. There is very little variation. Aleah's has a brownish cast to her black hair, which she doesn't like, as she thinks it makes her look "not Chinese enough." Ava's hair is jet black. Her skin is darker than most Chinese and I asked our guide about ethnicity. He asked Ava and she said she did not like her dark skin, as it was darker than all her classmates and she thought it was "ugly." I told him to tell her that Aleah wanted white skin when she first came to the States, until she realized Americans try to attain dark skin by tanning, which comes easy to her. Also, I had him tell Ava that I thought her skin was very pretty, even beautiful! Ava identifies as Sichuan, and no other ethnic group, but as our guide said, how would anyone know under the circumstances?


After church, we walked down the street to Lucy's. Lucy's is well known to most adoptive parents. It is an open air restaurant with tables outside under umbrellas in a small courtyard. To order, you have to wave your hand. To get the bill, it is the same. I've decided that to get diet pop here, you have to ask for "zero." They recognize the word Sprite, which makes Aleah happy. Ava does not order drinks with her meal, which I have been told is traditional for Chinese people, as they believe liquid does not aid in digestion. She told our guide later that they brought her the wrong meal, not the spicy Sichuan food she ordered. None of us knew the difference, poor thing! While at lunch, Ava counted to 25 for us in English. She said she can count to 100 in English.


There were people playing hackey-sack (sp?) in the courtyard. It is amazing how they can kick the feathered ball by raising their leg sideways behind them, yet still looking forward. Brad showed Ava a magic trick by making a coin disappear, then pulling it out from behind her ear. Ava has a wide grin when she finds something funny! John says she likes comedy. I am pleased. I firmly believe a good sense of humor will provide you a cushion in life that will help you bounce back from troubles. As long as you can laugh at yourself, you're doing fine!


After lunch, we met John in the lobby of the Victory. The girls changed into shorts and we went to the Six Banyan Temple. The banyan trees are fig trees that can get very old. They reproduce by having their branches bend down to the earth, and those branches then put forth roots and become a new tree.


We had to carry umbrellas the rest of the day. Aleah fell on the wet pavement, but was not hurt. She and Ava were hurrying to get from the van to the temple in the rain. I remember when Aleah and I went to the Banyan Temple in '04. She was so hyper, she began to climb around and around in the pagoda and the higher she went, the more excited she became, and the faster she went. There is only a wooden rail to keep you from falling, and I finally made her stop, as I was afraid she would get too far ahead of me and try to climb on the rail. She didn't remember it, so I am glad she got to see it again.


There were big golden Buddhas there and people being blessed by a Buddhist monk. Aleah was surprised to see people bowing down before the golden Buddhas and she said to me "Mom, we're not supposed to do that, are we?" Ava recognized the statues and seemed to know the history and story of the Buddhist beliefs. Our guide told us more than once that we could choose to be blessed in the temple by the Buddhist monk there, but we all declined.


John says all Chinese people must be cremated as there is no land to bury them on. Their families will have a ceremony and can place their family member's name on an inscription inside the temple. We were going to go see this, but we only made it to the doorway, as there was a family having a ceremony there to place their family member's inscription on the wall, and we did not want to disturb them.


Next we toured the Chen Family House, which was built in the mid 1800's by the Chen family for use as a place to worship and as a family school. It was privately owned, but taken over by the government. There were a lot of mini-stores there, and the girls enjoyed shopping for little trinkets. Ava chose a key chain that was a girl in a kimono. When our guide told her it was a Japanese girl, she went back to the store and exchanged it for a Hello Kitty key chain instead. There is still tension between the two countries left over from the war, and Ava evidently has learned this, because she wanted no part of anything Japanese. I noticed our guide told us that our ipad could be plugged in anywhere in the world to charge and be fine, but Aleah's Nintendo couldn't because it was a "cheap Japanese thing" that would fry if exposed to China's stronger electrical current. lol (This morning I realized there was 110 electricity in our bathroom, so Aleah has been charging up her Nintendos for she and Ava to play games against each other on our flight home.) That is the only 110 outlet I have ever seen in China. The Victory also has a good water filtration system, so they have drinkable water in the hotel rooms.


We had planned to walk through the spice market to the Cantonese restaurant for our evening meal, but because it was raining, the girls elected to eat hot soup noodles from the 7-11 instead. I buy our bottled water there, as you can get it for 2.50 yuan vs. the 20 yuan it costs at the Victory, and it is right around the corner. The girls usually stay in the hotel room and can watch me out the window. This morning I had two of their tea-boiled eggs, just like Aleah and I used to have every night at her insistence. Very salty and flavorful.


John asked Ava if her foster family had parents or relatives in the countryside they visited and she said no, she has never been outside a city. She went with a group of orphanage children to China's Expo in Shanghai once and also to an outing in Hainan province, flying both times. Those are her two biggest trips until now.


Tomorrow we are going to get Ava's TB test results, then John will take the girls and I to the other family's hotel. They have been to Guangzhou four times now and are comfortable using the subway system. John cannot be with us tomorrow afternoon, and he is nervous about us taking the subway. No doubt he would be in trouble if he "lost" Americans in the city. We plan to use the subway to go visit the Safari Park. They have white tigers there - 80% of those left in the world, per John's statements. It will be an all day event, after which we will hire a taxi to return us to the hotel. The girls are looking forward to a fun day. I am hoping it doesn't rain!!


I will try to post some new pictures!!


Laura

Saturday, May 26, 2012

I just learned that the market we walked through this morning is called the "spice market." I enjoyed this little tidbit shared by our guide, John: There is a lot of ginseng for sale at this street market for making gingseng tea. The gingseng preferred by the Chinese people comes from Wisconsin! They believe Wisconsin's ginseng is the highest quality ginseng they can buy. Who knew?

We were greeted by the following notice on our desk in our hotel room in Guangzhou:


POLICE NOTICE

WARM PROMPT


"Chinese law regulates that any foreigner aged 16 and over who wishes to stay in China must always have his/her passport or Chinese residence permit ready for police check. Failure to comply with this requirement will lead to a fine from RMB50 to RMB500. Serious offenders will be expelled within a specified period."


Our guide said to take this seriously, as the police have been stopping people and making them pay this fine. I never leave the hotel without our passports anyway; however, John has taken Ava's passport and will keep it until he has obtained her VIsa, for which I completed paperwork today with his help.


The beautiful trees that look like they have "twisted" trunks are banyan trees, per our guide. I will try to snap a picture of one tomorrow and post it.


There are three puppies living on a rooftop below us. They are on top of a three story flat-roofed building. It appears there is also a cage with possibly a bird living in it. So far, we have not seen anyone come up to the rooftop, but it seems a strange place for animals to live.


Ava has brought some of the hot red pepper seasoning from her province with her. The girls bought soup noodles at the 7-11 and ate them for supper in the hotel room, as Ava did not want to go out. She sprinkled this liberally into her soup. I know she is missing her three times weekly hotpot already! I looked up Sichuan cooking on Amazon's website, and see there are one or two books with Sichuan recipes. The difficulty usually lies with finding all the ingredients, but we will have to try, so this poor girl won't have to forego her hot, spicy foods forever!!


Laura

Medical Exam


 
Today we had Ava's medical appointment at the clinic where all adoptive parents take their children for clearance. The place has been moved from when I was here in 2004. There were several American couples there. Other than Ava, it looked like one boy was maybe three and the oldest of those being adopted. The others were infants or small toddlers. The room is very modern. Ava's clearing physician was a woman who listened to her heart for quite awhile, then said "It appears her surgery cured her. She has no heart murmur." Yaaaaayyyyyy!!! I will still have her checked out by a cardiologist at Children's Mercy; however, this is good news, as I thought she still had a small heart murmur. (Ava was born with VSD, a hole in her heart, that was repaired around 2005.)
The orphanage gave me Ava's "finding ad" from a newspaper clipping which said she was abandoned at Xiangnongshi Street, Ximen Bus Stop, Chengdu City, Sichuan Province and was found by Ma Yingchuan, a citizen of Chengdu City. She reported this to the police who sent her to the Children's Welfare Institute. They gave Ava this woman's name "Yingchuan" plus Tu, because it was the year of the rabbit. I showed the finding ad to our new guide, "John" and he said at that age her parents probably found out about her heart defect, hence the abandonment.
Through John, I learned more about Ava today. She just completed the seventh grade. She does not like Math, but loves Chinese. She went to a good school in the community. Many of the other orphanage kids also went there, and they were not ridiculed or discriminated against, like Aleah and her friends from the orphanage were. She lived in one foster family for seven years before they moved to Hohot. She told John she liked them, but after they moved, they never contacted her again. They gave her their phone number, and she tried calling them, but they would never answer the phone. :( She then went to her current foster family. She said she likes them, as well. Since the fourth grade, she has gone to "boarding school" which means she lives in a dormitory during the week with three other kids to a room, and she returns to her foster family only on weekends. There is one other foster child in the home, a small infant - a little girl who is in the photos she gave me. Ava says the family was Buddhist and they went to a Buddhist temple one time every six months, plus they burned incense in their home. John asked her if she also believed in Buddhism, and she replied she just followed what her foster parents did, burning incense in the home also. She said her foster father was an accountant, and her foster mother stayed home. Ava said they were very strict and she was disciplined a lot, but not physically. Their twenty-year-old daughter is a pharmacist, and she would often take Ava shopping for the foster family, as Ava's school was downtown near where she worked.
John walked us around Shamian island (so called because it is hemmed in by the Pearl River). He also took us up and over the river on a skywalk and we explored the shopping district some. To do so, we have to go through an area where they sell pets. We saw a lot of goldfish, which John says are sold not so much for "pets" but because of feng shui. The continual flowing of the water is supposed to be "lucky" for the continual flowing of good fortune. There were many dogs. Ava said she has had two dogs, one that died, and one she left in her foster home. There were kittens everywhere and I saw one cat with a pink collar around its neck that appeared to belong to a woman running a "store." Their goods spill out of their shops and some are sold in the street. John asked Aleah if she could identify something dried and brown. When she said no, he said it was from an animal leg. He told us "we believe if we have something wrong with our leg, for instance, we need to eat a leg of an animal to make it better." We also saw gerbils, birds, and rabbits. John said last year was the year of the rabbit, so many people got rabbits for good luck. He said maybe lizards will be popular pets this year, as 2012 is the year of the dragon.
We ate at a Thai restaurant down the street from our hotel, the Victory. I remember eating there in 2004, if my memory is correct. I had a fruit bowl, and once again, it was covered with beans - this time red kidney beans. There were also small tomatoes halved throughout the fruit. It was very good. The beans appeared to have absorbed some of the fruit juice, so were very flavorful. We have two other restaurants we want to try while here - Lucy's, and a Cantonese restaurant back in the shopping street off the island.
John says he thinks my biggest problem with Ava will be her diet. Her province is noted for their spicy hot food, especially a dish they call "hotpot." Ava said three times weekly her family ate hotpot. John says people from that province have difficulty eating other foods, as they seem so bland and without flavor.
We walked by the White Swan, which is closed for repair. We saw the 7-11 across the street, where Aleah wanted me to take her every night, so she could choose tea-boiled eggs for the both of us. I had to check - they still sell them! We saw familiar brands again - Gillette, Olay, Colgate, Budweiser, Pond's, Nivea; and Hershey. The girls each chose a frozen dessert bar.
There is a ping pong table down two floors in our hotel, and for 30 yuan ($5) you can play for an hour. The girls had so much fun playing ping pong! I think Ava has decided it is alright to act like Aleah!! They did lots of laughing and goofing off. At one point they were both under the table, looking for their ping pong balls and laughing.
Tomorrow we will walk to Christ Church Shamian for an 11:00 service. John showed us how to get there and when a woman walking down the sidewalk saw us discussing it, she told us we could go in at anytime, it was always open. Afterward, we will eat with the family from St. Louis we are meeting at the church, then I think John will take us a couple places.
It rained briefly, then got very hot and humid today. I don't know whether it made 92 degrees or not.
Hope the weather back home is not so humid! We will be leaving China in another five days!
Laura

Friday, May 25, 2012

Guangzhou

 
We made it safely to Guangzhou.  Our luck is consistent, if anything, as our flight was delayed by two hours.  Two hours before we were to leave Chengdu, the sun came out!!  Aleah finally got to see her blue sky, but it was on the way to the airport!
It is going to be 92 degrees tomorrow here, and humid, if not raining!  We are staying at the Victory, as the White Swan is being remodeled.  Tomorrow we have to be up early, as Ava will be taken to a clinic for a medical exam and vaccinations.  If she were under ten years old, we could defer that until we get to the States, but over age ten you have no choice, per our new guide, who we call John. 
John is going to be great, I can tell.  He keeps Ava in the center of all conversations, where she belongs.  In the amount of time it took us to get from the airport to the hotel, he has already told me many things I didn't know about Ava.  She likes hot Cantonese food.  She sometimes gets carsick.  She had to acclimate herself to our using air conditioning in the hotel, as she is not used to that.  She had to use the rest room in the airport and didn't know how to tell us, so John gave her a word to use.  She once went to Shanghai on a plane for an orphanage event.
The girls had hot spicy noodles in the Chengdu airport for lunch.  They served dinner (supper) on the plane.  When Aleah didn't hear the stewardess offer her dinner choices, Ava told her in English "noodles or rice?"  (Of course, what else would they serve on China Southern?) lol
Ava hasn't always known what to make of Aleah.  Sometimes she looks at me as if she is waiting for me to get Aleah back in line, but as anyone knows who knows Aleah, Aleah is irrepressible!  And I wouldn't change her if I could!!  She must have decided if you can't beat them, join them, because tonight I have two giggly girls on my hands . . .
It started with our coming into the hotel room to find a baby crib in the corner. (The same thing happened when I came to adopt Aleah).  Aleah thought that was a riot and she told Ava that was her bed and she would have to sleep in it.  Ava pretended to measure to see if she would fit.  The next thing you know, they're all over the room, pushing and shoving each other, acting silly and giggling like two best friends at a slumber party.  And to think, I volunteered for this!!!
We are going to go to bed early to get an early start tomorrow.  Just wanted everyone to know we made it safely to our final destination.  It is here that Ava will have her medical exam, vaccinations, TB test, have an appointment with the U.S. Consulate, and obtain her Visa, after which we will start our long flight back to the U.S.
There are sixteen million people here, per our new guide!!  What a tremendous change for Ava to live in a rural area half a world away!  Keep those prayers coming . . .
Laura

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tomorrow We Leave Chengdu!

 
We had a lazy day today.  The girls drew in their sketch books and played on the ipad and we are now watching a Chinese badminton match on TV.  Ava says she likes to play badminton!  We will have to get a badminton set, as ours has long ago disappeared.  Ava was fine after her initial sadness this morning.  She knows we will fly to Guangzhou tomorrow, and I am wondering if that is part of her sadness.  She drew in her sketch book the words "I like Chen du" and showed it to us.  Tomorrow she will leave the city she has lived in for at least twelve years (she was found at the age of one) and who knows when or if she might return?
The girls each drew a portrait of the other, which involved sitting as still as possible while the other sketched.  Ava showed us how to use a hot pot from the hotel to boil water for her honey tea milk drink mix.  I thought it tasted similar to cappuccino, but it had little gelatinous rectangles floating in it which we couldn't identify, so Aleah only tried enough to be polite, saying "I don't eat food if I don't know what it is."
We let Ava choose where we ate this evening and despite the fact that there are several places that sell Chinese food near the hotel, she chose once again the "fast food" Chinese restaurant the translator told me was not "real" Chinese food.  I have a feeling I am letting her do something she is not usually allowed to do; however, she had a huge bowl of some type of rice dish, Aleah had a huge bowl of noodles with actual beef slices, leeks, and a whole boiled egg floating on the top, and I had fruit with brown beans on top, so it doesn't feel like I am feeding the girls "junk food."  Yes, brown beans, really.  I suppose it serves the purpose of adding protein and it was surprisingly not bad!  I asked Ava if there was any place else she wished to go tonight.  We could have taken a taxi to any part of the city, but she shook her head no. 
Aleah did her usual on the way back, holding her nose from the elevator to the room, and once again Ava fumbled with the key card, putting it in from the wrong end.  Aleah was standing there with her cheeks pouffed out and her eyes wide like a guppy, and Ava got tickled before she got the door open.  Aleah took a deep breath and fell backwards on the bed once the door was opened, making a production of taking deep breaths!  She is hoping to see blue sky in Guangzhou, which is in southern China and a lot like Florida - palm trees and blooming flowers.  We are on the 9th floor of the Dynasty here in Chengdu and there are 26 floors total.  We have not yet seen blue sky since being here.  It rained again this morning in Chengdu, once again producing a sea of red ponchos flowing down the street each time the light changed.
Sichuan Province is the province where the earthquake struck in 2008, and many thousands of people died, including a great many school children when their schools collapsed.  Yoshi, our guide in Beijing, said that many Chinese people wanted to adopt surviving children, but that it was difficult for them, because they had to prove to the government they could afford to raise an adopted child.  Yoshi told us a horror story about a single mom who came to China to adopt a little boy, and somehow lost her passport.  He said it took a week to get her passport replaced and in the meantime, she had to have $5,000 each for her and the little boy placed in a bank in Beijing to prove she could support herself and the child until she left the country.  He said he pleaded with the officials to not make her deposit the $5,000 for the little boy, but to no avail. 
I miss Yoshi and all his long-winded stories.  Anytime we asked him a question he did not know, he would respond "I will google it," which amused us all.  When he left us at the airport, my flight did not yet have a departure gate assigned.  He told me repeatedly "I will not ditch you.  The people at the information desk speak excellent English and they will help you when the departure gate is assigned."  He also gave me his phone number and told me to call him if there was no one to meet me at the Chengdu airport (since my flight was delayed by two hours), and he would call his company.  Yoshi evidently helped guide during the Olympics, and he told us about his time with Kobe Bryant, and how nice he was.  Yoshi is the type of guide you enjoy - one full of local flavor!  The guide in Chengdu is very brisk and business like.  She gets the job done efficiently, but is not as personable.  When she was reading the bride magazine at the Civil Affairs office, I took the opportunity to ask if she was married and she said she was and had one little boy, age five.  She said she worked for many adoption agencies besides Adoption Associates, including WACAP, Helping Hands, and many others.
I showed Ava photos of the three boys her age who are being adopted within 100 miles of us - Lee Summit and near Warrensburg.  I asked if she knew them, but she knew only one.  As you can imagine in a city of ten million people, the Chengdu Children's Welfare Institute is very large.
I was selfishly relieved that we did not go back to the institute the day after we picked up Ava. I think the family from Lee Summit had to watch some pretty tearful goodbyes, and I was dreading doing the same.  I really didn't want Ava to associate her parting with everyone she has ever known with the arrival of Aleah and I.
The Chengdu orphanage has decided to forego any orphanage "donations" for children age seven and over in an effort to find homes for their older children.  If anyone has a heart for orphaned children, I will include this quote from the website 'Wonderful Waiting Children": 
"Once our eyes are opened, we can't pretend we don't know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows that we know and holds us responsible to act."
 
Family is the most important thing in the world!  If you have the opportunity to give a child the gift of family, please consider doing so!
 
Laura
Happy Birthday Andrew!!
 
It is hard to wish your child happy birthday from halfway around the world, but I wanted to be the first to do so!  It is 1:30 p.m. in Chengdu, China, so it is 12:30 a.m. in Missouri, and my oldest son is 24 today!!  I wish Andrew a happy birthday and many, many more!  Love you much!!!
 
We slept in today.  I was up at 7:30 a.m., but returned to bed so as not to wake the girls.  Ava also was up and went back to bed.  At 10:30 we decided to venture out for breakfast, which we had missed at the hotel.  We decided to try the McDonald's across the street.  Crossing the street in China is like playing "Frogger."  The trick is to not get squished by traffic!  We got maybe one-third of the way across when the light changed and we had to stand and wait with traffic whizzing around us on both sides.  There was an older Chinese woman who was carrying a gallon of apple juice we were crossing the street with.  She set the gallon jug on the ground, and I told the girls when she picked it up again, it would be time to try to get across.  (If in doubt, do like the Chinese!)  We made it two-thirds across before I had to grab Aleah by the arm and jerk her backwards to avoid being "squished" by a little vehicle. After that, we held hands!
 
We went back to the Chinese grocery store after breakfast, as Aleah wanted to buy more of her beloved meat sticks, which the translator says is pork sausage.  She bought five.  Ava chose something called "honey tea milk" which I actually tried yesterday and found to be not too bad.  She wanted Aleah to try one as well.  Aleah did not look enthused, but agreed to be polite.  I had seen Ava looking at toothbrushes yesterday, and hers is the kind that is bought in bulk, plus her tiny tube of toothpaste is nearly gone, so I asked if she would like to pick out a new toothbrush and she chose a yellow one.  We also bought a package of noodles that Aleah remembers her grandmother making, and some chicken flavoring to make them with.  I can tell Aleah does not have confidence that I can make these noodles taste the same way her grandmother did.  She said she always wanted seconds, as they were delicious, but was too afraid to ask. 
 
Ava chose a blueberry sucker for her and one for Aleah.  She obviously likes blueberry flavor, as yesterday she bought a small white bottle of blueberry gum - like chiclets, but sold in a bottle like we would buy Aspirin in.  She shared it with us.  Today I noticed they sold blueberry gum in sticks beside the juicy fruit gum packages.  On the way back to the hotel, we decided to explore the escalators that descend underground.  I thought it was a subway system, but I was mistaken.  It was a way to cross the street underground.  There was an ice cream shop, shoe store, and clothing store there, as well.  Unfortunately, we still have to cross one street to get back to the hotel, so we'll just have to brush up on our "Frogger" skills!
 
 Ava did not want to eat, and still has not eaten today, although we offered to take her to eat Chinese food.  We went by several restaurants but she declined them all.  She is sad today.  I quizzed her a little with Google Translate and she said she is not sad about leaving China, but she will miss her foster family of the last two years.  I typed in that it is alright to be sad, and even to cry and that we were very sorry and if we could do something to make her feel better, to please let us know.  I asked her what she wanted to do today, and she drew a picture of a moon and a bed.  I told her she was free to nap or to rest as she pleased today, and she is currently playing a game on the ipad while sitting on her bed.  Last night she chose a movie to watch on television (Maid in Manhattan) that played in English with Chinese subtitles.  I am thinking she did so to be polite to us.  This morning she dressed in capri pants and a t-shirt, but when she saw Aleah come out of the bathroom with a skirt on, she quickly changed to a dress.  She seems to look to Aleah for what to do.
 
I am amused at the Chinese music.  While in Beijing, we heard a man's cell phone ring with traditional Chinese music as his ringtone.  In the background of the restaurant, Unchained Melody was playing in English at the same time.  Last night in the Chinese restaurant, they were playing Moon River, while in McDonald's this morning, they had Chinese pop music playing.
 
In the store, we saw many English subtitles on the products.  You could buy Snickers candy bars, Dove soap, Head and Shoulders Shampoo, even Red Bull, although they sold it in a gold can.  There was Busch beer (I think I have my label right), Crest toothpaste, Tide detergent, Dove chocolate, and Wrigley spearmint gum.  You could also buy a whole chicken, feet intact, covered in ice while awaiting its purchase and choose which fish you wanted to buy while it was still swimming in a large aquarium at the back of the store.  In a McDonald's happy meal, you get corn instead of fries, but still get a Spongebob, Hello Kitty, or Alvin and the Chipmunks toy. 
 
I have nearly fallen several times since the Beijing airport.  The Chinese have steps everywhere, which would not be so bad, except they are not uniform.  You may go up and down a flight of steps, but when you get to the bottom, there will be a small step, like maybe 2-3 inches that appears to blend in with the street.  It is these little steps that I keep tripping over and falling off of.  Aleah laughs at me each time!
 
Yesterday at the Panda Preserve, I had the translator tell Ava (after using the squat toilets there) that in America, there are no squat toilets.  The translator looked distressed and quickly consulted Ava about this.  She then told me that it was okay, Ava would use Western toilets.  I was a little confused, but she then expounded by telling me she herself would not use a western toilet because they were nasty!  She said if she absolutely had to, she would use a western toilet for urination, but nothing more as it was just too disgusting!  After considering, I remembered that the western toilets at the airport had a little button you push that caused either the seat (which was covered in plastic), or the plastic covering the seat (I couldn't tell which) to rotate, so the plastic was fresh on the toilet seat for each person.  It is interesting how our cultures see this so differently!  Many Americans refuse to use the squat toilets in China because they, in turn, find the squat toilets disgusting! 
 
We have found maid service at this hotel to be very confusing!  There is a light switch you turn on to notify the maid that you wish your room cleaned; however, they still knock on the door at odd times, such as 9:30 at night, and 4:30 in the morning.  They will say "Housekeeping" in English and I will say "No, thank you!" and they will say "Oh, so sorry!"  Do people really clean hotel rooms that late and that early?
 
I will close this for now.  I am thinking of you all, but particularly my son, Andrew.  I miss you today!  A mother should never be apart from her children, but especially on their birthday!  
 
Laura

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Breakthrough!!

 
After we got back from the Panda Preserve and our fabulous lunch, we played games to entertain ourselves in the hotel.  Aleah got hyper, as she is known to do, and performed such silly antics, Ava laughed out loud.  Not a loud laugh, but audible!!  She has laughed a time or two since then, so I know she is relaxing a bit. 
I typed into googletranslate whether there was something she would like to do this evening and she said no.  She said yes when asked if she was hungry, so Aleah asked her to draw what she would like to eat.  She drew a big bowl of rice.  She wanted to return to the "fast food" Chinese restaurant we had been to twice before.  I asked her if she would order for us this time because last time we got two things we didn't want.  She looked hesitant (she is a shy girl), but nodded her head, so we set off down the street.  You have to climb two sets of stairs to reach the restaurant.  When there, Aleah pointed to the menu and Ava ordered for the two of them, plus a "coca cola" for me (pepsi).  Ava then took the right amount of yuan out of my purse and paid.  She chose our table, and when Aleah's chopsticks were crooked, she examined them closely and went to the counter to show them to the worker and to ask for another pair!!  I was so proud of her!!
On the way back, Aleah was still hyper, so she moon-walked and skipped and sang a little tune.  I held up my right hand like a blinder to the side Aleah was on and said to Ava "Let's pretend we don't know her!"  Ava laughed again!!
The hotel smells of cigarette smoke and that "smell" you can't get away from in China.  I've acclimated to it, but Aleah always tries to hold her breath between the elevator and our room.  I usually give the key card to Ava and she rushes down the hall with Aleah and tries to open the door quickly so Aleah can take a breath.  Tonight she was hurrying to get the key card into the door and she got so tickled that she couldn't get it to work fast enough.
I think we're growing on her, in spite of herself!! 
Yea!!!!

Panda Day

Today we went to the famed panda preserve in Chengdu.  It was begun in the 1980's with two pandas and now has over 800.  Jackie Chan has adopted two of the pandas and made a 1,000,000 yuan donation to the preserve, per a plaque at the entrance.  Aleah is a big Jackie Chan fan so she photographed the plaque.  Bamboo grew along both sides of the path, bent down over the top of the pathway, and so formed a sort of "lover's lane."  We were hoping to see a baby panda, but didn't get to.  We saw some red pandas, which look more like overgrown red raccoons.
Afterward, we were taken for lunch at a beautiful restaurant.  We walked through three courtyards to get there.  They served so much food we couldn't begin to eat it all!  Our guide suggested we take some home for our evening meal so as not to waste it, which we did.  We were served a huge bowl of white race, one of "vegetable soup" which was tofu and cabbage in broth, green beans cooked with sausage, and one each of a chicken, pork, and beef dish. 
After lunch, we toured a silk museum where we learned how silk is made and dyed, and how tapestry is created, and silk embroidery.  Very interesting.  There were live silk worms in huge woven circles that were eating mulberry leaves.  The huge "baskets" were stacked in such a way that they could be easily taken down to feed the worms, which are fed three times daily.  Their life span is 40 days. 
Ava continues to be quiet.  She speaks when she is spoken to, but doesn't volunteer anything.  If we are looking for something, she helps look.  If something is dropped, she picks it up, if something needs carried, she grabs it and carries it.  She stood and served me a bowl of soup today when the soup was placed on her side of the table.  She tries to be helpful however she can.  I keep waiting for the "other shoe" to drop.  This is going too smoothly!  Having worked in the foster community, I am very aware of the "honeymoon period" and I don't know if that is what we are experiencing, or if this is truly her personality.  For breakfast she ate a bowl of yogurt and had a pancake with blueberry syrup on it.  At least I know a few American foods she likes now.  During lunch, Aleah and I were calling each other crazy and making the motion to Ava.  I would say to Aleah "you're crazy!" and she would say "No, you're crazy" etc. We went back and forth until Aleah won when she said I was made of crazy because I was related to Grandpa!!!  I thought Dad might like to know Aleah is bad-mouthing him, even in China!  (They keep up a running verbal feud, with each teasing the other continually.)
We have the rest of the day free to do as we please, and tomorrow as well  On Friday,our guide will come back for us and we will fly out and meet up with our new guide, "John" and the family from St. Louis we started out in Beijing with.  They have adopted a four-year-old girl who was, shall we say, less than happy to go with them initially. I was mistaken when I said they had eight children.  They actually have eight biological children, and this is their fourth adopted child from China.  Debbie and I graduated from high school the same year.  I am hoping southern China will be sunny and bright.  Aleah says she hasn't seen any blue sky since we've been here and she misses it.
Before we left our hotel room this morning, Aleah flopped backward on the bed and said she was too tired to go.  On my way to the door, I poked her in the ribs.  When Ava followed behind me, she grabbed Aleah's hands and pulled her up off the bed.  Sort of an "Oh no, you don't!  You're coming with us."  She looks to see what Aleah is doing for cues on how to act.  Aleah is such a good girl, she couldn't have a better teacher!
More Later!  Laura

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Aleah & Ava upstairs in the Orphanage

Adoption Day

 
Today we went to the Civil Affairs office to complete the adoption.  Ava had to write that she agreed to be adopted by foreigners.  We then went to the notary's office, where she had to write it again, including writing my full name, which she had to copy letter by letter.  The Notary said Ava was found in November, 1999 on a busy city street when she was one year old.  She was born with a heart defect and I would guess by then her parents knew she needed heart surgery to survive. 
Ava grins a shy grin at us a lot and she did chuckle a bit one time today, but she has yet to laugh.  While at the Civil Affairs Office, we had to wait on the orphanage person, who was tied up in a traffic jam for a good half hour.  The girls entertained themselves by drawing while our guide leafed through a Chinese Bride magazine.  Ava drew a picture of four people seated together on a couch watching television.  Aleah asked if one was Ava and she nodded and said aloud "mother, father, sister" while pointing at the figures.  She had drawn our family!  Through the translator, we learned that her foster home was on the orphanage grounds in an apartment.  Her foster mother has one child, a 20-year-old daughter.  Aleah asked if Ava was allergic to cats, which Aleah has worried about, as  Aleah does not want to part with her grey cat, Hope.  Ava said she liked cats.  The translator told her about our two big outdoor dogs, a St. Bernard and a Great Pyrenees.  She has not learned to swim, nor to roller skate.  She has never had a birthday party, nor celebrated Christmas, although she has heard of Santa Claus.
The rain stopped today!!  We were tired of being cooped up in a hotel room, so after we came back from the notary appointment, where we received Ava's Chinese passport, we explored the area around our hotel a little.  Specifically, Aleah was TIRED of Chinese food!  I think that is something she did not expect.  She would like some "spicy noodles" from home (which areactually  Chinese), but we do not have a microwave or refrigerator, so we cannot boil water to make her any.  Aleah asked for water for breakfast yesterday, but they said none was available in the restaurant.  Aleah is a water drinker, so having a bottle or two of water a day is not satisfying to her.  It is an odd thing to not be able to go to a tap for water.
We went looking for a KFC, which a hotel worker told us was nearby.  We discovered we only have to cross one city street to get there, as there are walkways you climb up to cross over the streets below.  Aleah had two orders of mashed potatoes and brown gravy and said she missed green beans, especially Grandma's green beans.  None were available on the menu.  She had a crispy chicken sandwich and french fries, and Ava had some fries dipped in ketchup, as well as a chicken wrap and hot soy milk.  There is hot milk for breakfast every morning and I have to say it is DELICIOUS!  There was a young man sleeping on top o one of  the walkways in a corner.  He had his t-shirt pulled up over his face.  We went back by nearly three hours later and he had not moved.  In fact, I am not sure he was alive!  I was thinking last night that Aleah has not been to Nashville, like my older children, so she would not remember the pan handlers we encountered there on the streets.  We did take her through the Appalachians last year and she saw some houses in such bad shape she said she would rather live in a cave!  So China does not have a monopoly on rich and poor all living together.
Our guide asked where we ate last night and when I said we ate at the Chinese food place down the street for the second time that day, I got the distinct impression she disapproved.  She informed me that was a "fast food" place and not a Chinese food place.  The girls both had huge bowls of noodles there, plus fried rice, corn on the cob, and beef in gravy, so I am not sure what she thought was so bad about it.  Anyway, she recommended we look for other places to eat.  So, after eating at KFC, we went to a department store where our guide told us we would find a grocery downstairs.  Aleah was thrilled to find some type of wrapped meat she remembered not from her foster grandmother's, nor from her orphanage, but from the "baby house" she was in.  She wants to go back and buy more, and I said I would be happy to but need to make sure it doesn't need refrigeration, or if it does, wait till we are ready to board the plane for Guangzhou.  We looked for something else Aleah remembers, but could not find it.  It is something she calls "sugar bamboo."  Evidently her foster grandmother bought some off a street cart one time.  She found two other food items (don't ask me what they are) she remembered from when she lived in China and bought some of those as well.  She also found noodles in a package like the ones her foster grandmother bought.  I plan to buy some to take home and try, as it will be familiar to her and perhaps we can find a way to order some.  Ava chose a container of yogurt similar to our lemon yogurt my older kids always loved, and a fruit bowl.
Together, they bought some "cookies" although they are nothing like the sweets we have in America.  Sort of glorified rice cakes!  On the way back, I had to stop at a Starbucks next to a Gucci's store, and buy a low fat mocha frappuccino.  Not quite the same, but similar to America's. 
Aleah produced her Nintendo and Nintendo 3DS when we got back to the hotel and I have enjoyed Ava's little gasps and grins as she tries to maneuver her Mario character to compete against Aleah's.
Ava has a wet cough she does not want me to know about.  She turns her head to one side and tries to cough as lightly as she can, then looks to see if I have seen her.  I asked the orphanage person if she has had a cold or been ill, but received no reply.  I asked the translator twice to ask her about it, but the translator, after speaking with Ava, said simply "Forget about it.  It's nothing."  Hopefully, she is right!  I looked for cough drops at the grocery, but couldn't find any.  I told the translator to tell Ava it is alright to cough, but have no way of knowing if she did.  Aleah, too, had a cough when I got her, and she told me later the orphanage personnel told her not to cough in front of her new mother because it "would make Americans sad" if their new child was ill. 
I have been trying new foods, but paid the price last night when I woke up nauseous.  I have tried duck in brown sauce, shrimp still in the shell with head and tail attached (I cut off the head, as Aleah said it would be rude to eat it while its eyes were looking at me).  I have tried rice cakes wrapped in leaves and flavored with tea, steamed eggs, some type of translucent noodles, and Japanese style cabbage.  I LOVE the hot, strong Chinese coffee they serve in the mornings.  It may be a tea-drinking country, but they sure serve a mean cup of coffee!!
Tomorrow we will go to a panda preserve, where they have the treasured red pandas.  Ava said the foster mother she had before her current one once took her to a panda preserve, but not the one we will go to in the morning.  If it is raining, we will try for Thursday instead. 
The girls have been teaching each other Chinese and English words and spellings.  Last night we played Uno, which Ava caught onto right away, and Top Spot (a spin-off of tic-tac-toe).  She seems to be a quick study.  Aleah painted Ava's nails hot pink, plus her own.  Ava is about 2-3 inches shorter than Aleah, and much thinner.  Her little waist is so tiny!  Aleah had brought matching Hello Kitty t-shirts and Ava looked very proud when she wore hers last night.  I can tell she is going to be a clothes horse! 
Mary, from Adoption Associates, called me this morning to see how things are going and said the agency's Chinese coordinator will likely call as well.  I appreciated her checking in!  There is only so much control an agency has on the process, as they are dealing with a foreign nation and government. 
Here's hoping for another rain-free day tomorrow!
Laura

Just a Few Random Observations

 
Many of the Chinese men wear leather bags on their shoulder - like a purse only very masculine.  It seems to be a fashionable thing.  Also, I have seen men who are casually dressed in t-shirts pull the hem of their t-shirts up to their underarms in the heat and go around with their stomachs showing.  Not the most attractive thing!
Squat toilets have gone auto flush!!  Yes, it's true.  In the "International" hotels there are Western toilets, but squat toilets have not yet disappeared.  They are still at the Great Wall, Tianneman Square, the cloisonne factory, restaurants, and other places, only now there is a red laser "eye" for motion detecting that auto flushes!  I have heard other adoptive parents refer to them as "squatty potties" and they are not very popular among us Westerners, as you can imagine!
Weight has descended upon the Chinese people! Yes, it's true. As they have become more affluent, they have been cursed with America's plague. Not that the majority of them have a weight issue, but I have seen far more overweight people on this trip. Of course,, they are still smaller people than us. As Aleah said, she doesn't feel short among the Chinese.
Money is more difficult to exchange. Not only are the hotels less likely to want to exchange our U.S. dollars, but yesterday I went to a bank that declined to exchange many of my bills because "they're not new." They don't want a bill that has any wear on it, or even a small tear.  What does that say about the value of the U.S. dollar?
The Chinese trucks I saw lined up on the road are nothing like our trucks back home.  They sort of resemble old (think 1940s) farm trucks but with a longer bed.  Many of them seem to be blue.  They are very unusual looking to the Westerner's eye and I always enjoy seeing them. 
There were more cars in Beijing and fewer bicycles.  Fewer people pedaling and more people using motor power to get around (might have something to do with the weight thing)? 
The beds in our Beijing hotel were wonderful!  Of course, we had just spent over thirteen hours on a nonstop airplane and that might have something to do with it, but I think I would have noticed if they had been the hard beds I remember from last trip.  Also, the beds in our Chengdu hotel are decent.  They brought Ava in a rollaway that doesn't look as comfortable, but it appears far from sleeping on those rock hard beds I remember.  I was always convinced those beds were part of China's population control program!!
More later!
Laura

Monday, May 21, 2012

Today we woke up to another dreary, misty day.  Looking out the window, there must have been thirty bicyclists or more on each side of the stoplight, most of them wearing red ponchos because of the rain.  They flow like a red river down the wet street when the light turns green.  We had not noticed last night in the dark that there is a swimming pool on the rooftop below us a few floors.  This is not the weather for swimming, however.
 
I had thought the guide who picked us up at Chengdu Airport said to be in the lobby at 8:30a.m., but I must have just been nervous, because Aleah told me as we were sitting there that the guide had said 9:30 a.m.  We entertained ourselves by going to the hotel's gift shop.  The sales girls really give you a sales pitch - it never ends.  Whatever you look at, they're going to give you a big discount on if you buy it.  Of course, it was all overpriced!  We had to laugh when an Australian woman came into the store and said out loud 'I'm just here to look so don't even try to sell me anything!" 
 
Our new guide is very brisk and matter-of-fact.  When she arrived she shook my hand, apologized for not being available last night (she sent a substitute), and said "Let's go."  The trip to Chengdu was an hour long.  She said the orphanage had been moved in 2003 and that it was "beautiful."  There were paintings on the walls, and a very loud kindergarten room you could see into from the glass interior window.  She took us upstairs and when we came around the corner, there was - Ava!  She is so much smaller and more petite than her photos show!!  She has a little pixie face, and a little pixie haircut.  She was all dressed up, as was Aleah, and was very polite, but very shy.  Extremely shy.  She answers questions when spoken to but says little else.  Aleah got her interested in drawing in the i-pad and Aleah told Ava her drawings were "Beautiful!"  Later, the first English word Ava spoke was "Beautiful!" when Aleah showed Ava a drawing she had done.  Aleah showed her how to do a "high five."  She had a photo album for me, likely taken from the disposable cameras I had sent her.  They had photos of her in her foster family's home, where she has lived the past two years.  She also had photos of a second foster father - the family before her current one.  Several were of her and a little infant, so I am sure she will miss them; however, she has not cried, and if the translator is being honest with me, she said Ava was "a little bit" frightened but still excited to go with us.
 
The girls watched television together, used their sketch books together, and both ordered huge bowls of noodles for lunch, which they ate with chop sticks.  Aleah may have lost her native language, but she can still makea set of chop sticks fly!! 
 
Ava has a bag of clothing, a back pack I sent her that is full of something - I know not what, and the purse I sent her, which also appears to be full.   She is very ladylike in appearance, wearing white sandals and a ruffly white shirt and when I pointed that out to Aleah, she said "That's just the opposite of me.  Oh well, maybe we can learn from each other!"  I will try to upload photos later. 
 
Sorry for the delay in posting - our electrical converter literally "popped" and fried itself (think actual smoke), so when the laptop lost power, I had no way to communicate.  Chinese electricity is a deal!  Today our new guide called the hotel front desk three times until they finally brought up a converter for me to borrow.  We now need to get cameras charged, as they ran out of power, as well.
 
Hope all is well at home!  I need to get off of here and give Ava some attention - just knew everyone was wondering how "Gotcha Day" went.  We will return to the orphanage tomorrow to do paperwork.  I dread Ava saying her goodbyes!
 
Laura