Monday, February 28, 2005

First Full Day Home

It's now time to enter the really really boring and completely self indulgent phase of the blog wherein we recount the most mundane and tedious aspects of our day-to-day lives because we simply can't believe that anyone wouldn't be facinated because of course our child is the best child that ever has or ever will walk the earth and every one of you, even those of you have have, inexplicably, raised children of your own to be productive, well-adjusted members of society couldn't possibly know what it's like to be us in our completely unique experience of raising not just an adopted child but the best possible child that 5000 years of Chinese history could produce and it is only our towering modesty that prevents us from having the reality show of all reality shows to chronical our lives, thereby saving from certain obscurity erstwhile hits like Survivor and The Amazing Race.

Or it could just be momentum--after all, we've maintained it this far, might as well see how long we can find the time to do it now that we have to keep this child alive more or less on our own.

God I miss being able to call Housekeeping.

Things seem to be going reasonably well. While Dada can walk, she's still pretty tentative about getting too far from either of us, so we have a little more time to address the worst of the death traps that our house must hold. Today I had intended to do all sorts of installation of cabinet locks and drawer catches and whatnot but as far as I got was unpacking our second baby gate and reading the installation instructions on the new car seat.

As promised, Uncle Jay came over this morning to help out, bringing breakfast tacos, for which we wept for joy. Fortunately for Jay, the morning found us more alert and rested than I would have expected. The night went fairly smoothly, at least for me. Dada woke up about 1:00 and needed a messy diaper change and a feeding. I understand from Julie that she took some time to go back to sleep but I had passed blisfully into the waiting arms of Morpheus (again, the sleep dude, not the Matrix dude).

In the morning we started to come to terms with the shape our lives will take for the next few years. First casualty: the morning paper. I brought it in. I put it on the table. I even managed to read Dilbert. After that it's all a bit of a blur. I recall a trip to the grocery store (sure are a lot of moms with kids at the store 10:00 a.m. on a Monday--what's up with that?), a lot of washing of bottles and related dishes, a diaper change or two, a nap (Dada's, not mine), a walk around the block in the sunshine, another nap (Julie's), lunch of some sort (leftover pizza? it seems so long ago), and, oh yeah, Joanna brought the dogs home. Somewhere in there Jay, seeing that the tedium would probably be dibilitating, made some lame excuse about "needing to pick up Kay" and got the heck out.

The dog homecoming went very smoothly--Forrest was as cool as ever, of course. Lucy was very interested in Dada and, as is her way, wanted to lick her forever. We didn't let that happen, although there was some lickage. Dada did not appear to be frightened of the dogs at all and tended to laugh at them (they are pretty funny lookin'). She even got on the floor with them for a few moments. I was a little worried that there would be some jealousy between Lucy and Dada because Lucy is also cuddly, but she seemed to accept that Dada was my main focus when I was rocking her (Dada) to sleep. I also realized that once Dada is abed, Lucy can get my full attention, so I think things will be fine with the dogs. Dada will have to learn how to let Lucy know when she (Dada) has been licked quite enough, thank you very much, but I don't think that will be a problem. [Note: this picture is not from the homecoming--it's the only picture with both dogs that I could find on short notice.]

And yes, I was one of those dads, standing in the formula aisle on the mobile to the wife asking what the heck should I buy. Julie had no more clue than I did so I picked something that looked like it should probably be ok. Here's hoping.

Dada got introduced to Goldfish today. Liked em'.

In all the activity I was finally able to put together baby's first mix CD--a time-honored family tradition. The dubs will be going in the mail to the cousins (and Nei Nei, who explicitly requested copies of all my drive mixes) in the next day or two (if you'd like a copy, send a self-addressed stamped CD mailer to our home address. No C.O.D.s please, allow six to eight weeks for delivery. Void where prohibited.). Here's the track list:

1) "Get In The Car" by Moxy Früvous (2:36)
2) "Hey, Little Minivan" by Austin Lounge Lizards (3:44)
3) "Hot Rod Lincoln" by Asleep At The Wheel (2:58)
4) "Get Out The Map" by Indigo Girls (3:23)
5) "Where Do They Make Balloons?" by They Might Be Giants (2:41)
6) "C-U-B-A" by Austin Lounge Lizards (4:06)
7) "America" by Various Artists (6:15)
8) "You Will Go To The Moon" by Moxy Früvous (2:12)
9) "Tastes Like Chicken" by Austin Lounge Lizards (3:43)
10) "Roly Poly" by Asleep At The Wheel (3:14)
11) "Banana Puddin'" by Southern Culture On The Skids (4:48)
12) "She Drives Me Crazy" by fine Young Cannibals (3:39)
13) "No!" by They Might Be Giants (1:29)
14) "Wild Thing" by The Troggs (2:34)
15) "Higher Love (Full)" by Steve Winwood (5:50)
16) "Baby Now that I've Found You" by Alison Krauss / Union Station (3:48)
17) "Someone's Daughter" by Beth Orton (4:15)
18) "Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper (4:01)
19) "Nancy Sinatra - These boots are made for walking" (2:46)
20) "Robot Parade" by They Might Be Giants (1:22)
21) "Wonderland" by Eliza Gilkyson (3:06)
22) "32 Flavors" by Ani Difranco (6:07)

We actually got to watch some TV, namely the final two-hour episode of The Amazing Race (it was the only thing on the Tivo that didn't appear to be a re-run). I'm sure we will soon look back on nights like this with fond nostalgia.

Tommorrow I will try "working from home" and see how that goes. I suspect that actually doing any work will be a challenge....

P.S. I forgot that I also managed to fix a real meal--roasted chicken and mashed potatos with gravy. Am I the best dad ever or what? Not like it will ever happen again, of course....

P.P.S. Actually, I chose that meal because it's really easy to fix yet really satisfying and comforting and there's yummy leftovers, so it's a high-value meal for the time investment. Also, they claimed that Dada ate duck at the orphanage so I thought maybe she could eat some chicken. Didn't have a chance to put it to the test today--I accidently misread the bird's temperature and had to put the thing back in the oven and she was already asleep by the time it was ready. On the up side, we got to eat a real meal in peace in front of the TV (see "nostalgia", above).

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Home at Last

We are finally home in Austin, after spending a very pleasant overnight in San Jose with George and Nancy. It was nice to have a good home-cooked meal and a reasonably good night's sleep in a real bed. Our trip from San Francisco to Austin today was relatively uneventful. Dada is about as good as you can expect any baby to be on an airplane--she fussed a bit on takeoff and landing and got a little squirmy at times, but she slept a good part of the trip, both from China to San Fran and from San Fran to Austin.

She is now sleeping soundly in her own crib in her own room. We are pretty jetlagged but hopefully a good night's sleep will go a long way towards correcting that.

The entry into the States was pretty easy--we went through the "New Imigrants" line and the dude did whatever he was supposed to do with all our sealed imigration papers without too much trouble, except for a brief moment when he realized that somehow Peggy had gotten mixed up with Julie in some list he was looking at. But we remembered Peggy's birth date and that seemed to be sufficient to clear it up. If I understand the process, we should get some sort of certificate of citizenship in the mail at some point, whereupon I assume we can apply for a Social Security number and a passport for Dada.

Now it's time for bed. Tommorrow will be "baby proofing for real" day....

Friday, February 25, 2005

A Hitch in Our Getalong

It seems that my last entry was not in fact our last entry from China. We had a bit of a hitch in that we lost the paper tickets for Julie, Dada, and myself somewhere between Guangzhou airport and Beijing airport, which meant that we all missed the flight from Beijing to San Franciso.

We are now back in the Sino-Swiss hotel. We will fly out tommorrow (the 26th). Bill and Judy will be on the same schedule they were on, as they had not lost their tickets we could just move them a day for a small change fee. However, for me, Julie, and Dada, we would have had to buy full-fare tickets to be on that same flight, but we could get seriously discounted seats on a later flight that makes a stop in Shanghai (no plane change). Peggy elected to come with us on that flight (thank you!).

Because our new flight gets in to San Fran later, we couldn't get a direct flight to Austin, so we are staying the night in the Bay Area with our family friends George and Nancy and will fly to Austin on Sunday. That will make the travel ordeal a little easier but gets us back to Austin two days later than planned. Oh well.

At least I was able to get hold of our guide David who had himself just arrived in Beijing. He was able to arrange for us to get to the hotel and booked our rooms and whatnot.

I've had a bit of a trying evening getting the domestic flight arrangements reworked and we still have to do Bill's, as Alaska Airlines doesn't provide 24 hour service, so we have to stay up until they open, which will be in a couple of hours from now (it's 9:20 p.m. on the 25th as I write).

Otherwise everyone is fine. Dada did ok flying--she spent most of the trip on Judy's lap and she only really cried during the descent, when I think her little ears hurt. She spent the afternoon here in the hotel playing and now she's sleeping soundly. We are all pretty tired from having had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to leave the White Swan this morning.

In other news, I failed to post this picture of Bill from a couple of days ago:

Bill with octopus

At the lunch we had in the Cantonese restaurant in the hotel, we had ordered "drunken cuttlefish", which were actually small octopuses (count the legs) in some sort of sweetish sauce. It used a flavoring I'm not that familiar with and I didn't enjoy it as much as I enjoy other ways of cooking squid and octopus (such as the way they do it in Barcelona, with butter and garlic), but it was tasty enough and we all ate some, even Peggy.

So tommorrow we are back to the airport about 11:00 a.m., so it will be a more normal schedule than today, allowing us to start the day well fed and rested instead of tired, hungry, and grouchy.

Here's hoping things go a big more smoothly tommorrow....

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Final Post From China: We Have a Visa

We're getting packed up. This is my last post before I pack up all my cords and crap. I've offloaded the last of the pictures from the gran's cameras, all our many purchases are packed and all I have left to do is the hand luggage. We have to have our bags outside our rooms by 4:30 a.m. tommorrow for a 5:30 a.m. departure to the airport.

Today we all went to the U.S. consulate to swear an oath of truthfulness in order to be able to receive the entrance visa for our bundles of joy:

Dada's U.S. Entry Visa

This is in her Chinese passport, under which she will travel to the United States:

At this time we also received our official certificate of adoption:

These are the critical papers, along with a packet of forms in a sealed envelope, that we need to bring Dada back to the U.S. of A. The packet of forms will be opened by Passport Control in San Francisco. It contains whatever paperwork is needed to make her a full citizen.

So all we have to do now is survive the 24 hours of plane travel from Guangzhou to Austin...

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

One More Day

It's the 24th of February and we are preparing to head over the U.S. consulate so we can complete the final step of the process: getting baby's visa.

Yesterday was pretty quiet--we played in the big Swan Room play room for the first time, which Dada loved--she showed a lot of independence and drive, going pretty far afield for toys. After that we went up stairs for baby's bath the cream-up, followed by a pizza lunch of pizza Judy brought to the room. Finally, we left Julie and Peggy in the room with Dada to rest while Bill and Judy and I went shopping in the antique market, which was very interesting--stall after stall of interesting things in winding little streets. We spent too much money, of course. We then went back to the gem and pearl place to buy pearls, which we did, getting a great price.

Then back to the room to collect Peggy and Julie and head down for a drink, then out to dinner at the Golden Bowl for Peggy's birthday and another early evening to bed. It took Julie a little while to get Dada settled down but she seems to be developing a pretty good technique. I tried to quiet her but she doesn't yet want to be comforted by me.

Once we're done at the consulate, which should take a couple of hours of mosly waiting, we'll have the rest of the day free to do any more shopping and then pack for our early departure tommorrow (our plane goes at 8:30 a.m.).

We're looking forward to the long flight home...not!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Busy Days

We have had a busy couple of days.

Yesterday's highlight was Dada coming out of her shell to the degree that the grans played with her all afternoon until she was wound up to a fever pitch, missing her nap. It took her a long time to get to sleep, with Julie and Peggy wrestling with her for over an hour while the rest of us stayed out of the way in Bill's room, eating take-out. The good news was that she was happy the whole time, just out of control. Julie described her as being like "a barrel of monkeys on crank."

Earlier we had had a quieter, more relaxing day. Julie and I took advantage of the grans by going down and using the sauna and steam room at the same time. It was great. No other couple here could have done it and boy did we need it. Julie was a little miffed to learn that the men's side had more extensive facilities than the women's including a large Finnish-style sauna and cold plunge, in addition to the steam room and jacuzzi.

After that we had a quick lunch so Julie could go do more paperwork at 3:00. We shopped around a bit, running into a very nice man who talked to us for a while, took our picture, and then indicated that he ran yet another clothing and souvenier shop, which he would take us too. He was so nice that we felt compelled to follow him and we were glad we did, as he had lots of nice stuff at good prices. His gimick is that he marks all his prices, which are good prices, and his stuff is good quality, so Americans who don't like to bargain can feel comfortable buying stuff. It's a good gimmick because we bought a bunch of stuff, including a darling pair of yellow and gold silk squeekie shoes.

Then it was back to the room, where the grans played with Dada while Bill and I shopped for new luggage--the duffel I bought in Sri Lanka for 5 dollars lost a handle between here and Beijing--can you believe it?! I was outraged. Anyway, I had to spend 12 dollars on a bigger, better suitcase. I'm still grumbling about it.

When I got back to the room, I noticed that Joshua (my collegue from Austin currently stationed at our Gurgaon office in India) was on line, so he and I tried to set up a video conference using NetMeeting (did I mention that I brought two Web cams with me?). We finally got it to work well enough that they could see our video feed. Unfortunately, my collegue Marit in Stockholm couldn't connect--she was bummed.

Julie came back at last and it was down to the bar for drinks--we ended up having a nice chat with Valerie and Karl, the other couple from Austin. After drinks we decided to have take out while Julie took Dada, who was by now clearly tired and overstimulated, up to the room. The rest you know.

Today was "red couch picture" and medical exam day. This is the White Swan tradition where they put all the babies on one of the red couches and take their picture. It's a lot of fun because you've got to get eight or so babies, none of whom want to leave their parents' arms, to sit still on a couch long enough to take their picture. We were very pleased that of all the babies, only Dada stayed calm and collected through the entire process. Karl and Valerie's baby probably would have too except she got kicked in the head by a baby-swinging mom. Hard to stay calm through that.

After the picture we all trooped over to the photo place to have pictures taken of the babies to put on the medical exam forms. This required us to stand around in the drizzle for about 15 minutes while we waited for the pictures. Then we all trooped a few more blocks to the medical exam place, where the babies were quickly weighed and measured, screened for nasty respiratory illnesses, then given a clothes-off exam. Finally we were done and back out onto the street.

We went back to the Golden Bowl for another delicious lunch and then took taxis to visit this big gem and jade market we'd heard tell of. It was pretty interesting--5 floors of stall after stall of people selling all manner of precious and semi-precious stones, carvings, crystals, etc. We ran into an interesting lady from Vancouver, B.C., who imports jade and buys most of her stuff from this market. We also spent a lot of time showing off Dada to people, who were all, of course, gaga for her.

After about an hour it was nap time, so back into taxis and back to the hotel. It took a bottle and few minutes of walking the floor (by Julie mostly) but we got her to sleep. She's just woken up, Julie is back from dropping off the last bit of paperwork and the last big wad of cash to David and we're preparing to go back down to the bar for another quiet evening.

Tommorrow is the consulate appointment, where we get Dada's U.S. entry visa. Then we have one last free day to shop or pack or whatever. Then on Friday we fly home, at last.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Houston: The Poopy Has Landed

"Roger that Tranquility Base: The poopy has landed."

"One small poop for baby, one giant poop for babykind."

"Ask not what your country can poop for you, but what you can poop for your country."

"It is a far better poop that I do now then I have ever pooped before."

"To poop or not to poop, that is the question..."

"Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this poop of yours...."

I could go on.

As you may have gathered, we had our first poopy diaper today. And then another. And another. I would have never thought that I would be so happy to have the opportunity to clean up a diaper load of baby poop. But I was overjoyed, delighted, ecstatic. Really. I was.

This was cause for great joy, as you might imagine. We had not had any poopy at all on Saturday and we were starting to worry just a bit but as we were already going to go to the clinic on Monday (today as I write), we weren't too stressed. Dada was much much happier.

Our night had been pretty quiet, waking up just once in the night for a feeding and then back to sleep.

This morning we had another fairly quiet breakfast, eating more than we had. Bill and I did more work on the video stuff. We've been distributing the gotcha day videos to the different families as we can and working on getting each family's video edited down.

The plan for the day was to take a group tour and then have a free afternoon, with a dim sum group dinner in the evening.

The tour was pretty interesting. We went to the Chen Family ancestor worship temple, which is now a museum of Chinese arts and crafts. The temple was amazing, very different from the other temples we had seen (all of which had started to blur together in our memories). It was built at the end of the 19th century (Qing dynasty) from donations from people with the surname "Chen" (or "Chan"). Chen is the largest family name, having about 1 million members at the time the temple was built.

The museum includes amazing examples of traditional Chinese handicrafts, including ceramics and bone and ivory carvings, which were astounding. For example, the ivory boat pictured here had amazing detail, hard to capture in a photo with the equipment we had. There were also beautiful gardens and an interesting series of life-size statues depicting scenes from a famous Chinese novel (or folk tales, it was hard to tell which, but well-known stories in any case).

From there we went to yet another state-run souvenier store where we bought more stuff, although mostly just small things. They did have bone carvings in the same style as those we had seen, something we hadn't seen too much of before, so we bought some. This was a store where you could haggle, which we did. I made the sales girls laugh by making ridiculously low offers but we were able to arrive at a price I was happy with (about 40% of their marked prices).

Eventually back on the bus to return to the hotel for lunch. David our guide had offered to take a few guys to shop for electronics at 3:00 so we had a relatively quick lunch at Lucy's and then back up to the room to change the diaper, offload video, and whatnot. We also had to give David 3000 yuan for notary fees (he'll pick up our notarized documents today). This came as a bit of a surprise but I had already set aside 1000 yuan for this purpose, knowing that I could get the remaining 2000 from the ATM machine in the hotel. Which I did.

We did have a strange experience at lunch: we were seated next to another Western couple who started staring at the baby. Finally they indicated that they had just arrived in preparation for going to their province to get their baby. They had something of a shell-shocked look and started asking us for advice. It was an odd feeling realizing that, after four days, we were experienced parents, as far as they were concerned. We gave them what useful advice we could (get Chinese bottles, don't worry, all the babies are different, the clinic is good, bring grandparents with you) and sent them on their way, hopefully a little more calm and confident.

We checked Dada's diaper and joy of joys she had pooped. There was much rejoicing. Dada was so much happier, as you can imagine. At this point Bill and I went down to meet the group to go shopping and the grans and Julie stayed in to play with Dada. They had much fun. Judy wins the day's photo contest with this image of Dada and Grandmother Peggy having way too much fun.

Electronics shopping was fun--we went to an area that was a warren of tiny electronics shops selling mobile phones, PA equipment, stereos, MP3 and DVD players, cameras, cables, video games, music, you name it (except small digital clocks, which we didn't find any evidence of). I got a cable I needed, a battery for my Chinese-market mobile phone, a battery for Peggy's camera, a cheap USB mouse for the laptop, a Chinese language version of Mulan on DVD (bargained down to 16 yuan or 2 dollars US). Discovered that video camera batteries aren't that much cheaper here.

It was a fun dad's day out--we got to talk about mortage financing and silly TSA policies and other guy stuff and not so much about poopy diapers (although there was some talk along those lines as well).

Then back to the hotel for our six o'clock dim sum dinner. The dinner was very good although it would have been more fun if more families had showed up--we've been going out with pretty much the same three families, who are all very nice, but we'd like the opportunity to socialize with the other families as well. Dada enjoyned dinner--sitting in a high chair munching on cheerios and little bits of noodle and balls of sticky rice. She is a very methodical and careful eater. We have watched her eat a cheerio in three or four bites, which is a pretty neat trick even for a child her size. She was quiet and thoughtful the whole time. I know this won't last so I'm enjoying it while I can.

After dinner we got ice cream cones and Carl came over to get his gotcha-day video (Carl and his wife Valerie live in Austin--he's an astronomer at UT and has the distinction of having discovered more black holes than anyone else). Then we kicked all the 'rents out and tried to ease Dada into the welcoming arms of Morpheus (the sleep guy, not the dude from the Matrix). We were pretty exhausted, not having had any real naps, but she was up and at 'em. But by ten o'clock Julie had her sawing logs and in her crib.

Finally it was lights out. We all slept through the night.

Today, Monday the 21st, we have a free morning while David deals with getting our notarized documents, then this afternoon we (by which I mean Julie) does more paperwork, preparing the CIS-supplied forms in preparation for our appointment at the U.S. consulate.

The weather is still cold and windy, which is kind of a bummer because we'd really like to be able to wander about the city in comfort. But we can bundle up our bundle of joy and do some walking. David, as a life-long Beijinger, doesn't care for Guangzhou but I'm liking it. It reminds me a lot of Barcelona in terms of the feel of the city, the climate, the flora, and the vibe on the street. It's not a city of monuments like Beijing or Paris but it's a very vibrant city with lots of interesting corners to explore. But I suspect we'll be back before too long....

"Happy poopy to all and to all a good poop!"

Saturday, February 19, 2005

My Ox is Broken

Eliot at the Great Wall wearing his treasured "My ox is broken!" t-shirt

As some of you know Julie and I are great fans of the CBS TV show "The Amazing Race", in which two-person teams race around the world in order to win 1 million dollars. In each leg of the race, whichever team arrives at that leg's checkpoint last is eliminated. The last team left wins the bucks. We like it because its entertaining and because it involves travel to interesting places (some of which we've been to, such as Sweden and Sri Lanka in the last season). We like to image how we, as seasoned travelers, would do in these situations.

On this trip I'm having a really hard time not thinking that I'm in the amazing race. We are traveling in exotic and unfamiliar places (China) with a number of couples under conditions of significant stress and fatigue. I keep having the urge to say to taxi drivers "faster! faster! we're in a race", as many contestants often do.

Yesterday, on our shopping for baby trip, we all trooped out of the bus to the department store, where we rushed up the escalators. It was all I could do not to race up the stairs pushing other couples aside and exlaiming "we're going to win this thing!" I keep reminding myself it's not a contest. We're all winners on this trip and Phil's not waiting at the last checkpoint with a big check....

Another Day in Guangzhou

Things are starting to settle down a bit. Dada is napping peacefully. Julie is next door with the grans (I assume--I was asleep with Dada when she left the room).

Today has been a very relaxed day--no touring, no organized shopping trips, no paperwork, just relaxed family time. We had a leisurely breakfast watching Dada eat cherios and banana bits, Bill and I did a bit more with the video, and then we went out for a walk beyond the confines of Sha Mian island, where the White Swan is. We wandered up a shopping street where all the shops sold various dried things:


Sea Stars

There were many strange (to us) things, including big bags of dried sea horses and other sea critters I couldn't identify. Bins of what looked like varieties of ginger root, mushrooms like none I've seen before, and other things. All very exotic and mundane at the same time.

We wanted to get lunch and Julie was starting to experience a little new mom anxiety, so we turned the corner at the first block in order to head back in the direction of the hotel. On the way we passed a woman and her very cute child. She was sitting on the curb preparing something and had several bins of turles for sale:

Turtles for sale

We worked our way back toward the hotel and went back to the China Doll shop, where we've been getting our laundry done, to ask about a good Dim Sum place. She sent us to the big restaurant just up the street, which was excellent. We had a relaxed lunch that was as good as or better than anything we've had so far. The place was packed. When we came in they put is in a back room off the main dining room and we thought it was because we were westerners but very soon room filled up with locals and we realized that it was just because the place was full (and/or because our room was a non-smoking room, which the main dining room definitely was not).

The total bill for lunch for 5, including beers at 20 yuan apiece, came to 366 yuan, or just about 10 dollars a person. This is one of the joys of traveling in China. By contrast, last night, as I mentioned, we went to the Thai place, which was really good, but twice as expensive, costing us about 20 dollars per person. We had to scramble to pull that much Chinese cash together in order to pay our bill. Won't be eating there again (and don't even ask about the hotels in the restaurant--might as well be at home).

After lunch we did a bit more clothes shopping in the stores near the hotel. We found more darling clothes for Dada and for other children we know who might be having birthdays soon. There is so much painfully cute stuff and it's so inexpensive it's hard not to buy it all. Fortunately we've been here long enough that we're starting to think of prices more in terms of the local economy and less what it is in dollars, which makes it easier to buy less.

Yesterday after our nap the grans and Julie gave Dada a thorough sponge bath, put on the scabies cream, and dressed her in a new outfit that she will have to wear for the next three days (per doctor's orders). I caught a picture that definitely wins the day's photo contest:

After Our Bath

She is definitely a much happier baby today. She's had much more to drink, sucking down a whole 250ml bottle of baby tea and the same size bottle of formula at breakfast. We've finally gotten her some toys to play with. Once she gets through with the series of antibiotics and benedryl I'm sure she's going to be a very active and happy baby.

Friday, February 18, 2005

T Plus 48 Hours: All systems nominal, mostly

It is just now 48 hours since Dada was placed in our arms. It's been a busy couple of days, with everyone adjusting to a new situation, more paperwork to do, and lots of things to buy.

I know everyone is eager for more news but we've been very busy and not getting as much sleep as we might like so y'all will just have to be patient. I'm writing this during a quiet period while we try to have some nap time while the Grans are out shopping and running errands.

First I must say that having the grandparents with us is a great blessing. They are making everything so much easier for us and for the other families. We have an embarrassment of riches and we're trying to spread the wealth where we can. I watch the other families who are here on their own and it's clearly harder for them. Part of it is having wisdom and advice close to hand, part of it is having help with mundane chores, like getting the laundry done or hunting down Chinese baby bottles, and part of it is just having family around to laugh and cry and help make a family. It think of John Ruebke here by himself to get Kelly and I marvel at his bravery and strength.

Dada is doing ok. We had to take her to the clinic today to address her constipation--she had not yet to pooped at all by the time we got back from this morning's shopping for baby trip, so we went to the clinic here in the White Swan. The doctor, who was very kind and very good with babies examined her and the nurse gave her a little baby enema and we had a very trying but successful resolution. It was especially hard for Mama. She also has a mild repiratory infection--no fever but inflamed tonsils--and a mild case of scabies. We got some medicine for all these things. Dada is pretty sleepy from the benedryl (for the scratching) but seems to be comfortable.

Breakfast with Baby

Yesterday was a very busy day. We had to spend the morning back at the adoption office doing the final paperwork, which involved the checking of passports, the taking of the official family photo, and the answering of questions posed by various officials. It all went smoothly enough but involved a lot of hanging about waiting to be called. We were in the last pair of families to be called, probably because we had one of the calmest babies. We got to see the Orphanage Lady again and ask her a few more questions. Finally we got through the question and answer process and got our official certificate of adoption, which meant that Yu-da Amelia was now really and truly ours.

The back on the bus and off to the police station to apply for baby's passport. This was mostly an exercise in standing in line in a very businesslike and imposing room with severely-uniformed officers behind counters talking to people. We stood around for about 20 minutes and finally got the chance to hand over our paperwork to the nice officer. She looked like she could have stepped out of a manga comic--very stylish hair, compact, pretty face, and almost stylized black and grey police uniform. She was very nice. We had to sort of prop Dada up (she was still sleeping) so we could take her picture with this little Web cam. Then back on the bus to go back to the hotel (finally).

We had a good but expensive lunch in the hotel then up to the room to make more formula, sort out laundry, take naps, and try to have Baby's First Bath.

This did not go smoothly. I think we made the mistake of trying to bathe her before feeding her but in any case she was not having any of it. So we gave up on the bath and had a nice family snuggle and nap. We were all wrapped up in our White Swan bathrobes and fluffy white bath towels so that we looked like some sort of laundry detergent commercial.

When we got to our rooms after lunch we discovered that Housekeeping had delivered our "Going Home" Barbies. These are special barbies made just for the White Swan and given to all members of adoption tour parties. This means that we got three among the five of us, one for each room. This was very cool because these came out after Brianna and Kelly were adopted and they really wanted one, but they aren't for sale (except possibly on eBay). We have worked it out that Granpa Bill is giving his Barbie to Dada, Dada is giving her (now extra) Barbie to Kelly, and GranJudy is giving her Barbie to Brianna. This makes us very happy.

After our nap we went out for a little walk in the now chilly air. Over the course of the day an unseasonably cold weather system had moved in and it was definitely jacket weather (it had been about 75 and humid the day we arrived). Dada likes walking around in the sling. We wandered over to this little chop shop that Bill had found in an earlier wandering (a chop shop being a shop where they make the little name stamps, or "chops", not a place that parts out stolen cars {although I'm sure there are plenty of those in Guangzhou as well}). We ordered a chop for Dada (to be given at some later date, such as when she starts school) and then wandered back to Lucy's Bar and Grill to get a drink and wait for the mom's, who were out doing stuff but knew to look for us there.

We had a pleasant dinner and then back to the hotel for an early evening. Neither of us had gotten a full night's sleep (even though Dada did). We kept waking up to make sure she was still breathing. So we were pretty exhausted by the time 9:00 p.m. rolled around. Julie was able to stay up long enough to give Dada her ten o'clock bottle, but after I got Bill set up with the computer so he could (finally) review the gotcha day video, I came back to the room and pretty much passed out.

We are starting to appreciate the value of having a mixed marriage (night person and morning person).

Last night was a little better--we slept a bit more soundly. Dada woke up about 2:30 and I walked her a bit and then we were all back to sleep. No crying particularly, just wanting a little attention.

We had a relatively easy and relaxed morning as the shopping for baby trip was not until 9:45.

Bill and I got to spend some time playing with the video. We took a stab at putting together the gotcha video for the Cunningham family. The Cunninghams are Jan, single mother, and her parents. They had brought a video camera but she discovered that her father just couldn't hold it steady enough. So we had said we would try to get their gotcha moment. Bill did a great job and I'm sure they'll be very happy with the result. As it happens Bill was able to capture the key moments for many of the families. The video went together really quick and we even had time to put in a title screen and do some fades. Looks really good, even for raw footage. Now the challenge will be distributing the videos as they are too big to fit on a single CD-ROM, which is all I have the equipment to write here in China. When we get home I can burn DVDs.

Shopping was fun--I strolled around with the baby in the sling while Julie and the mom's bought stuff as fast as they could. Bill went off on his own to video the shopping area we were in--turns out that Guangzhou has all these life-size bronze statues of people in everyday activities scattered about.

After a bit I took Dada out onto the street to wander around and show off the baby. I found a food stall selling all sorts of interesting things on sticks, including tiny little birds (about the size of a doll-house turkey), clams, and tentacles. I bought some tentacles, which were really tasty, being covered with some kind of yummy sauce. I started to realize that I'm probably the only member of the adoption tour party who would buy and eat tentacles on a stick when it wasn't on a dare. But I like squid and octopus, so I mean really. But it did make me start to appreciate just how different I am from our fellow travelers. More for me, that's what I say.

We finally got back on the bus and, after a detour to a big drug store for formula just like they used in the Guangzhou orphanage, back to the hotel, where we took Dada straight to the clinic.

This evening will be a group dinner at a local Thai restaurant, which is advertised as one of the best Thai restaurants anywhere. We'll see.

As for paperwork, for now we wait. It will take five days to get Dada's Chinese passport and only then do we do the U.S. paperwork. So we'll have a few days to just kick around Guangzhou and hopefully get a bit better rested.

Tommorrow we have a 1/2 day sightseeing trip and then who knows what the day will bring us.

Also, I'm trying to get all the pictures up on Ofoto but the sheer volume seems to be causing some problems. For some reason, my priorities seem to have changed from a week ago....

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Gotcha Day

It is about 8:45 p.m. Guangzhou time. Yu-da ("Da da" or "A-da") is being doted over by all the grandparents. Julie is off taking care of some paperwork (she lost the rock-paper-scissors contest to see who had to go). I've finally gotten the computer set up so I can write this post and off-load today's video.

But first:

The day went as smoothly as one could want, with the possible exception of my missing breakfast in order to do this morning's entry and pack up all my electronic crap.

But we got off to the airport in good order, guided by our new guide, David, who is an experienced adoption guide. David is a sweetheart and very capable.

The airport was no big deal, somebody else dealt with the luggage and so by about 12:30 we were in the White Swan hotel, waiting to check in.

Our appointment at the Social Welfare office was 2:30, so we didn't have enough time to get lunch. Julie and I were both so keyed up that we couldn't have eaten anything anyway. We busied ourselves getting the gifts and money ready. Then we went downstairs to wait for the bus. We got to meet the remaining families that had come direct to Guangzhou, one of which was here for their second child. Everyone was very nice.

The bus took us to the Social Welfare office, somewhere in downtown Guangzhou, we all filed up to the 5th floor and went into this big conference room ringed with couches to wait for the babies.

The first child was an eight-year-old being adopted by an older couple. She was there already and we saw her as soon as we got off the elevator. That was a little strange but the parents dealt with it fine. It was really hard to watch because she was simulataneously excited and scared--I can only imagine what it must be like to go through this sort of transition at that age. But her new parents seemed to be pretty sensitive. The only point in this whole process where I nearly cried was when the little girl started crying--it just broke my heart.

The first baby to come in was this darling girl in a little gold Emperor suit, including the little hat. She was darling and we all ooed and awed over them. We then had a wait of about 10 mintues, when they announced that the Mao Ming baby was here--Yu da!

We stood up and went near the door to get the baby--the Orphanage Lady brought her in and put her in Julie's arms and we were hooked. She was just as placid and alert as could be, just taking it all in. She was immediately cuddly and happy.

Inexplicably, neither of us wept openly, although there were a few quiet tears.

After that more baby's came but we really didn't notice. Bill and Peggy and Judy all circled around taking pictures, I guess, I wasn't really paying any attention. We spent what seemed like hours grilling the Orphanage Lady about Yu-da's care and habits. She mentioned that she likes to be held, which is clearly the case. She is just the cuddliest thing. Judy had written out a bunch of questions and led the questioning process, which was great because neither Julie nor myself were in any condition to ask anyone anything. At some point I was called away to give the Orphanage Lady the orphanage donation and the gifts for the orphanage officials and nanny's. When I went back, it was clear that Yu-da (who henceforth will be referred to as "Da da", as that's what they called her in the orphanage) was getting sleepy so I put on the baby sling and put her in. She went right to sleep and slept until we got back to the hotel.

We got back to our room, spent a few minutes just marveling at her, then started trying to get something together for her to eat. The grans assembled and we headed out to dinner because we were all starving.

We ate at Lucy's Bar and Grill, just down the street from the White Swan, sitting outside in the warm, sultry evening. Very pleasant. After dinner we had to get back to the room so that one of us could meet with David at 8:00 to do paperwork.

And here we are, approaching bedtime, new parents.

Tommorrow at 8:00 a.m. we go back to the Social Welfare office to finalize the adoption from the Chinese end, at which point she will be officially and irrevocably ours.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

China Day 7: Forbidden City, Great Wall, More Shopping

Today was the tour booked by the Great Wall agency for all the families coming through Beijing, which turned out to be five families (some are flying directly to Guangzhou).

The day broke cold and snowy--a front had come through and had already dropped a centimeter or so of snow and was still coming down. We had been forewarned that the forecast was for snow, so it wasn't a big surprise, but it was certainly a change of pace from the weather we'd had so far.

Our tour guide was Amy, which made us very happy. She did well with a larger group, although she was a little nervous. It didn't help that one of the families sat way in the back of the bus while everyone else was up front. Oh well.

We set off towards Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City. When we got there, after a struggle with slippery, slushy sidewalks and a couple of stops for shopping, we found the square still with quite a few people (although many fewer queued up to see Mao), including people making snowmen. However, it appeared that snowmen on the square is not allowed, because a police officer was methodically knocking them down after they were built. Oh well. But there were lots of families with children having fun in the snow, which was now getting a little deeper.

We wandered about some more, Amy giving us interpretive talks at various points. A couple of the guys in the party bought hats from vendors, some for what we now know were outrageous prices. I was starting to feel kind of smug about my bargaining abilities and knowledge of the market, so much so that I ended up buying a Beijing Olympics watch cap for 5 yuan just to show how it's done. We tried to teach the rest of the group "tai gui", which means "too expensive". Not sure it took.

Finally we entered the Forbidden City, which from the entrance is just a bigger version of any other temple we'd seen, only now covered in snow and with big courtyards that allowed the driving snow to pelt us a full force. Part of our group was the Cunningham family, a single mother-to-be from Dallas and her parents, who are, bless their hearts, a little frail and slow. They were having a really hard time in the snow. In the Forbidden City I held back to make sure Jay, the father, was OK as he had a hard time on stairs and whatnot. Finally, by the time we had scaled one hall (up the stairs, down the stairs) and half of another, they decided to pack it in and go shopping, which seemed like the best course of action. You'll notice that here they allowed the snowmen to remain standing. [Actually, this photo was taken at one of the temples in the complex near the Great Wall. --Julie]

This allowed us to move a bit faster and we hustled through the remaining ceremonial halls and entered the living areas for the concubines, which then connected to the garden where the Emperor could play with the concubines. This area was just stunningly beautiful and worth then entire price of admission. I had no idea. It was difficult to capture on film because of the layout, which is sort of maze of small courtyards and gardens. But the snow just made it magical.

At last our visit to the Forbidden City was over, for which we were very grateful because we were all getting really hungry. It was by now after noon and we'd been walking around in the cold and snow since about 9:30. So back on the bus to go to the Great Wall at Ju Yong pass, which is the nearest section of wall to Beijing.

Lunch as at a Friendship Store and cloisonne factory. Seeing how the cloisonne was made was pretty interesting but we wanted to eat, darn it. So they herded us into a restaraunt that was all westerners. Amy had to go eat in an adjoining area for guides and drivers. The meal was OK but not anything you couldn't get in any American chinatown. It was, by comparison, the worst Chinese meal we'd so far (simply because everything we've had has been so good).

Then we shopped, although not with much enthusiasm, being mindful of our baggage limits and having mostly completed our shopping lists. But the folks who had just come in were a bit more excited.

Finally, off to the Great Wall.

It was snowing, of course, so visibility was very low and everything was very slippery. Most people stayed down on the lower part but I took a risk and climbed up to the first watch tower on the south side (the nearest to where we entered the wall). It was a near-vertical climb up big steps, navigating past the people inching their way down, clinging to the hand rail for dear life. That gave me pause but I figured what the heck, I'm already this far up. So I continued, thinking of Hillary and Tenzig Norgay. Finally I ascended to the first watch tower, which afforded a nice view. There was a dad with what I assume were his daughters so I offered to take their pictures with his camera and he took mine.

Then it was back down, which turned out to not be so bad if you stuck to the middle of the steps and stepped carefully and smoothly. This was because the snow on the sides of the steps had been packed into slippery treacherous ice slides, but in the middle it was flat and sticky. So I just tromped on down. I had no problem until the very bottom, where I slipped on some shallow stone steps and slid on my back for a couple of meters. Very funny to the crowd but no serious damage to me.

Then we took some more pictures, had some tea, and back on the bus to go back to the hotel, where we would have to feverishly pack in order to have our bags ready by 8:30 PM. We were counting on a miracle of physics to get all our purchases into our bags but because of Julie's foresight we didn't have too much problem. She had packed a small spare bag that we could put all the winter stuff in, freeing up plenty of room in our main bags for gifts and whatnot.

Now it is about 5:30 the morning of the 16th. We are doing our final packing, which mostly means gathering up the tangle of cords and chargers I've assembled in order to support this multimedia extravaganza, and getting them into a bag. Then it's down to the lobby at 6:30 to go to the airport and then on to Guangzhou and Gotcha Day.

This is our last dispatch from Beijing. When next you hear from us again, we should, God willing, have Yu-da in our arms...

Monday, February 14, 2005

It's Really About To Happen

This morning lying in bed awake at 4 a.m. (I had pretty much passed out at 9:00 the night before, so I was perfectly rested) I started to realize that tommorrow, the 16th, we will become parents, that we will have a stressed, frightened child thrust into our arms and no going back. It's a bit frightening and very exciting. I think I understand now why the Great Wall people plan a full day of touring for the day before--if you didn't have something to keep you occupied you would probably drive yourself mad with anticipation.

In China, Day 6: Tian'anmen and More Shopping

This is our last day of sight seeing by ourselves. Tommorrow, the 15th, we go on the group tour to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

Our plan is to visit Tian'anmen Square, have lunch, and then go shopping at the fabled wholesale market that we couldn't go to before because it was closed for the holiday. We all still have lots of things to buy, mostly gifts for people on our gift lists.

We are going with our emergency backup guide Snow because Amy is occupied with meeting the last of the Great Wall families who are arriving today. The air quality today is very poor--a white haze that reduces visibility to about half a mile. We can tell that the sky is otherwise clear, but the haze is very thick. It gives the city a certain surreal, Blade Runner quality, especially as we drive past the endless ranks of high-rise appartment buildings that seem to go on forever.

After our usual 40-minute drive into the city we arrive at Tian'anmen Square. Like the Great Wall or the Grand Canyon, it is impossible to understand the sheer size and scale of the place from pictures. It is huge and is surrounded by looming government buildings in the universal style of looming government buildings. In the center is Mao's Tomb, which any place else would be a massive buildng, but here it's just the center piece of the much larger square.

We entered the square from the west side. From here you look north toward the Forbidden City and the huge picture of Chairman Mao that hangs above the gate into the Forbidden City. The air quality was such that from this position it was difficult to see the picture through the haze. The square was busy with people, mostly families, here for sight seeing and to visit Mao's Tomb. It is still a school holiday and it was also Valentine's Day, which is pretty big here in China (in fact there was a story in the paper this morning that Valentine's Day this year had been somewhat eclipsed by the New Year holiday). There were a number of people trying to fly bird kites, which was a challenge because there was essentially no wind. These were mostly older guys with big reels of string that would use the reels to pull the kites up into the air. The lack of wind and the nature of the kites caused them to fly very flat and sort of wheel around, which made it look from a distance like there were vultures or big sea birds wheeling low over the square.

We wandered about just taking in the ambiance of the place, Bill videoing here and there. We stopped to study the majestic, inspiring Socialist statues in front of Mao's Tomb. We were then faced with the question of whether or not to see Mao. On the one hand it is a major attraction and a unique sight, the corporeal remains of one of the great figures of 20th Century history. On the other hand, it's standing in a long line in order to spend a few seconds looking at what may or may not be the body of an old dead dude. But the line wasn't too long and Mr. Liu our driver seemed to really want us to do it and we would probably regret not having done it, so we decided to go. Then we were faced with the logistical problem that no bags or cameras are allowed in, so we decided to go in shifts, which we did.

It was an interesting experience. You stand in this line that moves pretty quickly but in a very calm and stately way as everyone is very solemn. It's clear that the people are taking this very seriously, so we did our best to be solemn and reverential as well. One interesting thing is that about half way along the line into the tomb you pass a kiosk selling small bouquets of long-stemmed flowers. These are for placing in front of the statue of Mao that sits just inside the entrance to the tomb as a sort of offering.

Once inside the tomb the line splits to the left and the right and you then file past the body, which is in this glass case. As you might imagine it's a little creepy but also very solemn--after all it is the body of a revered leader. Once past the body you pop out into the afterchamber, where you can buy souveniers and then you are back outside and heading out of the tomb area, past more tables of vendors selling trinkets, cigarettes, and what not.

Snow said that she has visited Mao's tomb about 50 times.

Once we had all been through we wandered back in the direction of the Forbidden City, went under the street using the pedestrian underpass, went up under the picture of Mao for a quick photo opportunity, and then back to the van to go to lunch.

We had our lunch at a very nice Sichuan place in this fancy department store. Once again we had a variety of really excellent food, most of which was different from anything we've had so far, including some very tasty greens with thai peppers and this fish cooked with red chili poweder and cumin that was just wonderful.

Finally, on to the wholesale market. By now we are seasoned China hands when it comes to bargaining so we felt well prepared. The only problem I realized is that while we have the bargaining process down, we don't necessarily know what a good price would be for the things we were buying. I also found that after a couple of hours I was losing the energy to really bargain hard, so I ended up overpaying a little bit for some stuff. But we certainly weren't paying the huge foreigner markup that was being asked. I was also pleased that my focus on learning my numbers in Chinese was paying off, allowing me to conduct transactions almost entirely in Chinese and without resort to the calculator in many cases. For me learning the numbers in a new language is often the hardest thing to do initially, especially with enough fluency to be able to talk about prices. But Chinese numbers are particularly easy to learn, as all you have to learn is the words for the numbers zero to 10, the word for "hundred" and you're done--all numbers are simple and consistent combinations of these words (at least for values less than 999). The key is "shi", the word for "ten". For the numbers 11 to 19 you simply say "ten x" where "x" is 1 to 9: shi yi, shi er, shi san, etc. To say numbers between 20 and 99 you say "x shi y" where "x" is the tens place and "y" is the ones: "er shi san" is 23, "wu shi si" is 54, etc. For numbers between 100 and 999, you give the hundreds place followed by the word for "hundred", bai: "yi bai er shi" is 120, "er bai" is 200, "san bai wu shi san" is 353. Couldn't be easier. For the curious, the numbers are 1: yi (ee), 2: er (are), 3: san (like the 'san' in "sauna"), 4: si ("su", more or less), 5: wu (oo-oh) (3rd tone), 6: liu (lee-oo), 7: qi (chee), 8: ba ("ba" as in ba ba black sheep), 9: jiu (jee-oh), 10: shi ("shuh" as in "shush"). Zero is "ling" (rhymes with "ring"), 100 is "bai" (buy).

The biggest problem I have is distinguishing the word for four (si) from the word for ten (shi), which are subtly different to English speaking ears. However context and hand gestures are usually sufficient to clear things up. And if that doesn't work there is always the calculator.

In fact my biggest number confusion of the day came when I was buying an ice cream bar and the woman was giving me the price in English (seven) but I was trying to hear it as Chinese and it just wasn't making any sense.

Needless to say we bought lots of stuff as a group, although we were all mindful of our luggage limits so we didn't go nuts. Judy found a caligrapher to paint scrolls with the Chinese names for Briana, Kelly, and Yu-da. She got invaluable help from Snow and Mr. Liu, who went to great lengths to make sure that all the characters were the correct characters (there was some argument about which character to use for "Nan", Yu-da's orphanage family name, since we were working from memory). Eventually the scrolls were produced and they look really nice. I'm sure they will be treasured keepsakes.

Finally we had shopped until we could shop no more, made our way back to the van and thus back to the hotel, where we hung out in the bar with Amy, who was off duty, and gave her a slide show of family photos and the pictures we had taken so far.

Tommorrow: big group touring....

Sunday, February 13, 2005

In China, Day 5: Great Wall, Ice Sculpture (and Shopping)

Today's plan was to go to the Badaling section of the Great Wall and to an exhibition of ice sculptures. This was to be our first trip outside of Beijing proper, as the ice sculpture place was beyond Badaling, which was the outer (frontier-side) wall on the main pass that connects the Beijing area with the north. It turns out that Amy had never been to the ice sculpture before so we really had no idea what to expect.

The weather was again clear but the polution pall had gotten worse, becoming a thick white haze. It had also warmed up a little, which was nice.

We got an early start and headed out, following a brief attempt to find a cash machine that would take my card. I had used a cash machine earlier in the trip with no problem and I was close to being out of cash, both dollars and yuan and I didn't want to be caught with no money. But unfortunately the machine convenient to the hotel didn't take my card. Doh. But both Amy and my father offered to front me some cash should I need it. Should have used the cash machine when we were downtown yesterday.

Finally on the road. But then just as we're settling in for a long ride, we stop at the jade factory. Surprise! We had no idea.

The jade factory was very cool. These "factories" are really state-run stores with a few craftspeople there to demonstrate how the craft is done. Some of these places are pretty iffy, but this jade factory was pretty nice. The advantage of these places is that you can be assured that you're buying what they say you're buying. The disadvantage is that you can't negotiate the price, which is usually a fair price, if higher than you'd like to pay. This factory had two floors, downstairs for Chinese tourists, upstairs for foreigners.

We were herded upstairs and given a brief tutorial on jade, how it's worked, the different types of jade, and so forth. Then we were led into the main showroom where we could buy stuff.

The stuff was pretty amazing. We ended up spending a long time there, longer I think than Amy had planned on.

Bill was looking for two things in particular for friends back home and this was clearly his best opportunity, having failed to find what he wanted at the antique market or the Artistic Mansion. And of course the women were almost giddy with delight, dazzled by all the shiney things. Actually, it was mostly shopping for gifts. Jade does have the advantage that it's compact and uniquely Chinese. It also helped that the place takes all major credit cards.

Julie got a nice surprise. At the market a couple of days before she had bought a small jade cicada pendant, not really knowing if it was real jade or what (we certainly don't have the knowledge to distinguish). We thought we got it for a pretty good price. Julie showed it to the women at the jade place and they all exclaimed that it was very good quality.

Finally we tore ourselves away from the jade and got back on the road toward the ice sculptures. The drive was uneventful until we got close to the sculpture place. Suddenly we were stopped by a knot of people, one of whom argued with Mr. Liu at length. It seemed a little tense, because we had no idea what was going on. It felt a little like a road block out in the middle of nowhere. But it turned out it was a just a parking scam--they wanted us to park far from the exhibit and use one of their carts, at a stiff charge, to get to the place. Mr. Liu wasn't having any of it. Finally a dude on a motorcycle charged us 20 yuan to escort us up to the closest parking area.

The sculpture area is tucked up into this fjord-like valley, below a big dam that spans this steep, rocky gorge. It reminded us a lot of the fjord that Julie and I had landed in during our trip to Norway several years ago, where we took this train down into a frozen fjord where we were supposed to spend the night and couldn't find anyone. And it was cold.

When you arrive at this place, you start in this small plaza with a bunch of scuptures arranged about. These were pretty interesting and, since we had no expectations, we were like "hey this is pretty cool", just digging the experience of being somewhere far off the tourist track.

We clowned around with the scuptures a bit and enjoyed the festival atmosphere. They had created this huge ice slide built like the great wall, which I decided I had to do. It was fun, like a brief luge ride, but the slide was curvey and it kind of slammed me into the sides, which hurt a bit. Wah.

But then we realized that the scupture plaza was just the warm up act. The real exhibit was in this covered area, where the theme was famous buildings from around the world. This was a very surreal place, with colored lights incorporated into the ice. We clowned around some more and generally marveled at the sculptures.

As we were leaving Amy pointed out that there was a area set aside for setting off fireworks, so I had to buy some firecrackers and some big stuff and set it off. It was great fun. I bought this cluster of small mortars that went up about 100 feet and then exploded in a nice shower of color and a loud bang. Of course it would have been better at night, but when will I have a chance again to set off dangerous fireworks without fear of arrest?

Finally it was time for lunch, which we took at a fancy hotel near the ice sculpture area (this area is also near to a small ski area so it's clearly a minor resort spot). Lunch was good, as always, but not othewise remarkable.

Finally we were off to the Great Wall, which was back in the direction of Beijing.

The section we went to, Badaling, is the most famous section because it was the first section opened to tourists, back in 1956. This is the place they always take foreign dignitaries for photo ops. It's an amazing complex, spanning both sides of the wide valley that provides access to Beijing from the north. The scope of the wall is just breathtaking--it goes forever and when you consider that this is just one part, it's sort of staggering. Of course it was built over centuries, but the sheer effort required is amazing--the cost in lives and diverted weath is almost beyond comprehension. I don't think anything in Western history can compare.

We all took lots of photos, of course, but Julie won the photo contest with this composition.

As the guide book suggests, we went to the left, up the southern section, while almost everyone else goes right. You can see the hordes of people in that direction in the picture above. We climbed around, going up until we got to the point where you can "officially" say you've climbed the great wall. Coincidently, this is a point where a gaggle of souvenier hawkers lie in wait, pressing you to buy T-shirts and commemorative medals with your name in Chinese. We didn't buy any.

The sun was getting low in the sky and it was getting colder, so we headed back down and out. But on the way out we stopped to buy some hats. Bill had an order to buy 10 Beijing Olympics hats, which Amy had assured us we could buy from any of the many souvenier stalls there at the Great Wall. This part of the Badaling complex reminded me of nothing so much as Deadwood, South Dakota--you come around a corner on this mountain road and suddenly you're surrounded by the tackiest tourist stores arranged along both sides of the narrow road. The only real difference was the language on the signs.

Amy had already determined that we could buy hats for 6 yuan (less than one dollar), which we proceeded to do. We all bought hats and Julie and I got some postcards. I felt like I overpaid at 5 yuan, since I could have bought similar cards for 4 from one of the roving people, but I think the quality of these was better.

Finally we slipped the grasp of the souvenier sellers, who did not want us to leave, and made our way back to the van (which happened to be parked next to a black Lincoln stretch limousine) and so back to the hotel. We had fun on the way back trying to tell jokes with Amy, testing the limits of her English and the ability to translate jokes across broad cultural rifts.

And as it happens, I ended the day with exactly 2 jiao, which is 2-tenths of a yuan (20 fen). Yow.

Another great day of sight seeing. We are all clearly falling in love with Amy, who is just as sweet as could be and a very good guide. We will be sad to leave her care. She will not be going to Guangzhou with the other families, so today was our last day with Amy as our dedicated guide. Tommorrow she has to collect the remaining GWCA families at the airport and then on Tuesday we will be part of the big GWCA tour going to another part of the Great Wall and to the Forbidden City.

Tommorow (today as I write) we will visit Tiananmen Square and the Wholesale Market with Amy's friend Snow as our backup guide.

One thing that I'm finding very nice about this part of the trip is that since we had no particular plan and no expectations at the start of it it has been impossible to be disappointed. We had put ourselves entirely in the hands of fate and we could haven't asked for a more interesting or pleasant experience. We have been tremendously blessed and for that I am grateful.

Now it's time for a sauna and breakfast....

Health Report

It's pre-dawn on the 14th. I couldn't sleep so I'm bringing the blog up to date.

We've been in China now since the 8th and everyone appears to be in good health. Nobody has yet gotten ill from food or water. We're all suffering a little bit of respiritory irritation from the dryness and the polution and possibly the feather pillows in our rooms, but otherwise we all seem to be in as good a health as we ever are.

Jet lag has not seemed to be much of a problem for us. I think it reflects that we all drank lots of water, that we were all relatively unstressed at the start of the travel, that we had a direct flight from SF to Beijing, and that we spent the first full day walking around in the sunshine.

I'll eat (almost) anything without fear, but there has been some concern about uncooked vegitables and fruits we haven't peeled ourselves, but we've been eating a great variety of foods, all of which has been wonderful, with no ill effects, so far [knock wood]. I've got just a little bit of that "I could be getting a cold" feeling, where my tonsile stubs get a little scratchy, but it could just be a reaction to the air quality. So I'm trying to drink a lot of water and not let myself get too tired.

Here's hoping this trend continues as we travel on to Guangzhou and the real purpose of this trip....

Saturday, February 12, 2005

In China, Day 4: Shopping

[This is Julie, writing under Eliot's login.]

Yesterday was the day we set aside for shopping, with the plan that we'd go to the Antique Market (open weekends only), then lunch and shopping in the downtown area. The Antique Market included two locations: first an indoor space with individual rented shops (many of which were still closed for the holiday)and an open area with wares spread on the floor--kind of like an American antique mall, but with a lot more Mao statues. Mom walked into one shop, picked up an unusual bronze bird figure and asked how much and the guy told her it was one thousand dollars--so she set it down and got out of there in a hurry.

Just one or two purchases there, then on to the second location, an outdoor area under a big metal roof--more like an outdoor flea market. Here we found the prices to be much better and the array of merchandise for sale was overwhelming: stall after stall of carved jade, bronze and other metal work, silver jewelry, beaded jewelry, silk, embroidered fabrics, art supplies, lotus shoes, children's shoes, brightly painted masks, musical instruments, books and magazines, and more.

Eliot, who has been practicing his Chinese with Amy and Mr Liu (our driver) turned out to be indespensible for bargaining--we'd spot something, wave him over and he'd ask the vendor how much (the eagle-eyed vendors never missed the least sign of interest, so were always right on hand). The vendor either quoted a price in Chinese, which Eliot would repeat, or write it on a piece of paper or tap it onto a calculator. Numbers would fly back and forth, Eliot would say "too expensive" a few times, the vendor would proclaim the high quality and authenticity of his wares, and eventually a bargain would be struck. At some stalls, the transaction took place with the buyers sitting on tiny folding stools (thoughtfully provided by the vendors) but at others there was more movement, with buyers pretending to lose interest and wander off or declaring the item Just Too Expensive and leaving altogether, to be coaxed back by the vendor or not.

One guy was selling these wooden clappers, a type of percussion instrument, and demonstrated them, playing with great flair and verve. Eliot took an interest and underwent a quick tutorial, with Bill catching much of it on video. Eliot bought a set and even got the guy to throw in an instructional DVD.

The market wasn't just for local goods, either. Some of the goods were from Tibet and we admired some embroidery and silver jewelry made by the Miao people from Southwestern China--Eliot and I bought some adorable embroidered boots for Yuda, with little bells around the ankles.

By lunchtime, we were all frozen, hungry and loaded with packages, so we went off to lunch. The first restaurant we went to was packed, with a substantial wait, so went to a smaller place (still busy but with a table free) that Amy described as Chinese fast food. And it was fast indeed, with dishes appearing on the table at an amazing rate: noodles, preserved duck eggs (which are a blue-grey color and gelatinous-looking, so it's an act of faith to eat them--but tasty), and on and on. I magnimously paid the bill for all eight of us, for 180 yuan--a whopping twenty-some bucks.

By this time, Amy had to go meet another family at the airport, so we said goodbye for now and her friend Snow took over as our guide. We went to shop in the downtown area, which we found to be like Times Square or Picadilly Circus--throngs of people, tons of traffic, huge buildings, McDonalds, KFC, department stores, retail shops, rack after rack of bicycles and more. We shopped a bit at a department store but didn't stay long. A disconcerting feature is that there is no curb or other clear marker between the sidewalk and the street, so once or twice we'd look up to see a bus headed right at us--yikes!

[Eliot: actually, we were in the Artistic Mansion store for about an hour. It was several floors of all sorts of Chinese arts and crafts, tchotkes, bad art, clothes, and everything. We bought quite a few small things in fact.]

After downtown, we went back to the hotel, had a Mongolian Hot Pot dinner, and so to bed. We got our travel papers from the Chinese authorities, too, which is exciting.

Today we will take a longer trip to see the Great Wall at Badaling (which I keep hearing as Bada-bing, a name recognisable to Sopranos fans) and to see some ice sculptures.