Monthly Archives: January 2016

Settling Into Guangzhou

It’s nice to be back in Guangzhou. We spent a week at the same hotel last trip, so everything here feels very familiar. This morning we went down to the breakfast buffet. No more crepes or pan au chocolat but otherwise this buffet has about four times as many choices as that of our Beijing hotel.


After breakfast Matt took August to the medical exam required for his visa. Vincent and I stayed at the hotel where he asked me 572 times if we could go swimming. Guangzhou may be semi-tropical but it’s about 50 degrees and rainy. I had told him that the pool wouuldn’t be open but he had immediately noticed that people were swimming in it. All day long there were a few people swimming laps, always Asian men. Sometimes their wives and children stood on the sidelines bundled in winter coats to watch them. Cast your bets now as to whether Vincent will wear Matt down by the end of the week. I mean, I’d certainly be happy to take him but August didn’t like swimming in Beijing so I feel it’s really best for him if I keep him company.


After nap time we headed out to find a place to eat. I had heard from other adoptive parents that there is a great noodle place a short walk from our hotel. It was surprising to us how much had changed from our trip two years ago. Many of the little local shops where now different little local shops. The noodle place turned out to be run by Chinese Muslims, presumably from Xinjiang because a few of the dishes said Xinjiang style. I find the Xinjiang province to be a fascinating place, so I was very excited by this. The food was excellent. My favorite was a roasted mutton noodle dish which was heavy on curry and allspice, so it had a very middle eastern flavor. Vincent liked his dish better than anything else he’s eaten in China so far. It was spaghetti noodles (all the noodles served were hand pulled) with beef and tomato paste. The flavor reminded me a lot of spaghetti-os.


When we finished eating we walked down the block a little further. We wanted to get a birthday cake for Vincent and August to share. We hadn’t seen any western style bakeries in Beijing but last time there were two on this block. We did find one and placed an order to pick up tomorrow. Then we headed back to the hotel where Vincent watched Frozen while August ran amok in the room. August found the travel yesterday very scary and upsetting. He seemed to really appreciate our low key day spent mostly at the hotel. I think we’re going to try to venture out more tomorrow. He should enjoy the cake at least!

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Friday Travel Day

Yesterday was a long day. It seems like taking a single domestic flight shouldn’t be that much effort but every time it takes an entire day. We had breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and headed to the van. Another hour long ride to the airport. The pollution index was high but we skipped the masks since we were going to be in the van or airport the whole time. I could still feel slight symptoms, though.


At the airport our guide got us checked in but had to send us into the security checkpoint alone. Our security person seemed unfamiliar with the process of using an adoption certificate rather than a passport. The female guards on either side of him alternated between making faces and cooing over August and teasing him about not knowing how to process us. He kept counting the 4 plane tickets and three passports and scratching his head over what to do. I kept glancing back at our guide who seemed increasingly worried at how long it was taking. Eventually the female guards had pity on our guy and walked him through the process. I waved at our guide and we headed to the security screening station.

Security screening turned into another ordeal. Our guide had been concerned that the bottle of milk for August would be a problem but they only shrugged at us over that. They wanted August to walk through the metal detector by himself. I set him down and he took a tentative step. Once the guards saw that he had trouble walking they came over and carried him through. A female guard held him, speaking to him soothingly while the male guard gave him a tiny pat down. We got through the pat down and wand part okay but then got called over to the metal detector for our bags. Every country has different requirements. They didn’t care about our liquids but we didn’t take as many electronic devices out as we were supposed to. We tried to put out everything that was on the sign but the language barrier still makes it difficult. Anyway, I had forgotten to take out Vincent’s DS. I took that out and they ran it through again but it was still beeping. The guards started pulling e very thing out. It was all kid stuff–plastic slinky, stuffed animal, blanket, etc. They were rolling their eyes at how much trouble they were having over a bag that was clearly not a real security threat. They ran it through the metal detector at least 3 times. I’m not sure if they ever figured out what was causing the trouble or if they gave up because they were tired of dealing with us.


We grabbed some food at McDonald’s (mm, tastes like America!) before our flight.  They were advertising a red bean paste pie for the new year with cute little fuzzy monkeys. If we eat at the McDs in Guangzhou then I’ll try to get a picture. I don’t take pictures in the airport because of all the security. I did try to get a picture of the airport for you from the plane. They have the skylights arranged on the roof so that the airport looks like a long dragon with spikes on top. Unfortunately, as you can see, the pollution is so bad that you can’t see it at all in the picture.
Once we landed in Guangzhou it was another 2 hours before we finally made it to our new hotel because of the traffic. We were so exhausted that we went straight to bed rather than updating anything. We did all sleep very well. Vincent was looking forward to the breakfast buffet this morning. I had told him about a doughnut tree they had last time where doughnuts were hanging from the branches. It wasn’t there this home but they had a Christmas tree made of colorful macarons in it’s place. Vincent lost no time in plucking one for his plate. It wasn’t until I went by to get myself food later that I saw the “For display only” sign. Oops. When a waitress came by to ask if we wanted coffee I noticed her give the macaroon and Vincent a side eye glance. I’m sure that’s not the only time a child has made off with part of the Christmas tree, right?

China National Museum

Today is our last full day in Beijing. We leave tomorrow morning for Guangzhou. We did not have any adoption related business to take care of so we enjoyed another free day. Yesterday we met the Spanish couple again at the adoption offices and they had suggested we go to the China National Museum. They also joked that they would see us again in China in another two years.  After breakfast we headed out. The past two days the pollution levels have been low but they were high again today so we wore our masks. We walked down through the pedestrian shopping area of Wangfujing. There are a lot of red and gold decorations out for the Spring Festival. This will be the year of the monkey so there are a lot of monkeys as well.


Once past the shopping district we walked toward Tiananmen Square. We picked up another helpful English speaking companion who made conversation, eventually inviting us to her painting shop. We shook her off, then came to the Tiananmen intersection.


You will surely die if you try to cross the road. Fear not, we remembered from our last trip that you can cross underneath using the subway tunnel. Crossing under required a security screening but that was quick. On the other side we made our way into the museum. Admission is free, though you have to show your passport. Coming inside the museum you are immediately faced with a wall of a dozen black suited security guards. The screening here was more intensive. We had to send our stroller through an X-ray machine, walk through a metal detector, then get wanded. But finally we were free to explore the museum. It was a beautiful building with a large interesting collection. We viewed porcelains, jade, ancient coins, and a few other areas. No matter where we walked the docent would immediately walk over to follow us around because of August. One spent quite a bit of time looking from August to Vincent, kind of squinting at Vincent trying to see a resemblance. None of them asked any questions although they clearly wanted to. When people do ask us about him, they always say “He look a little Chinese?” No one ever comes out and says “He’s Chinese.”


August fell asleep in the stroller after a while. I guess appreciating all that cultural heritage is hard work. We walked back to the hotel for lunch and nap.  Afterwards we packed up for tomorrow’s trip. August was apprehensive as we packed. He has been coming out of his shell in the hotel room but his main defense is still to withdraw. Yesterday he sat solemn and motionless on our lap for hours as we traveled around the city for our appointments. Our guide asked how he was doing. When we said he was running  around and talking in the hotel room she said “He talking?” Politely skeptical. She did hear him say “all done” in English after lunch.

These early days are hard. It’s hard to see him flinch when I sit down next to him. To see him upset and not be able to comfort him. He sits stiffly if you try to cuddle him. There is nothing which will help but time to build trust. The first two days he refused to drink anything. Yesterday and today he refused to eat much. Both days he accepted soup so we were able to get both a good meal and liquid in that way. However, when he is happy we can see that he’s going to be quite a troublemaker. He and Vincent are getting into arguments over toys. August will yell at Vincent in Chinese and Vincent yells no back in Chinese. Once when Matt told August no, August told him no back in Chinese. At one point when Vincent called him August I heard him correct Vincent by saying his Chinese name. He is very curious about things. He’s constantly digging through the luggage or grabbing a things from our hands. He likes to show you that he knows what to do. He helps me get himself dressed. If he thinks we are going out he will run to get his shoes and coat. He might bring you his hat and point to his head or pull the stroller out. He collects dishes from around the room to put up on a shelf. He gives you a mischievous grin right before he does something he shouldn’t. I think he’s going to fit in just fine with our family!

Paperwork Day

Today was kind of the opposite of hugely exciting. We drove in the van with our guide to an official building. We waited around. We signed papers. We drove to another building and repeated the process. We did this a couple of times. I think we’ve determined that it takes exactly an hour to drive to any building in Beijing. Our adoption process in Nanjing was easier because they prepared the passport in advance as well as had a notary within the Civil Affairs building, eliminating an extra trip. In the end, we spent over 6 hours of our day getting all of the paperwork in order. Which means I don’t have much interesting to blog for you.

How about some more China cultural differences? It’s winter here, so bundle up. Heating in China is unpredictable. In our hotel, we’re running the air conditioning because the hotel’s heat seems to be set on 73. Any vehicles we ride in are the same way, swelteringly hot. It’s enough to make you decide to dress lightly excerpt that other buildings aren’t heated at all. The Beijing Civil Affairs office was in a very shiny new building. All digital everything. But the employees were bundled up for work in their winter coats because it was in the upper 50’s within the building.

You know how in the US people carry around insulated coffee mugs all the time? Sometimes they’ll go empty their drinks in the bathroom sink, then rinse out the mug to go get a refill. In China what everyone carries around in their thermos is green tea with the leaves still in it. I guess that can cause a real mess in the bathroom sink because I found one restroom with a trash can which had a sieve sitting on top of it. It’s specifically for people to dump their tea into.

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While we were at the notary office waiting for our paperwork to be completed our guide took us to the restaurant in the building to get lunch. They usually serve everyone hot tea automatically at restaurants, the way you get ice weather in the US. Iced drinks are considered unhealthy in China. At this restaurant we ordered a Sprite for Vincent, because he won’t drink hot tea, and nothing for August because we had a bottle wth water for him. When the waitress realized we didn’t order a drink for August, she came over and poured him a mug of boiling water. Boiling water is a common drink if you don’t care for tea, and it’s even served in the summer when you are hot and thirsty. Living in a country where every disposable cup of coffee comes with a warning label, it seems very strange to have a 2 year old served an open mug of visibly steaming water straight from the pot.

We ordered some chicken noodle soup thinking it might be a nice change for Vincent who mostly eats sweet and sour pork. We asked if it was a large bowl because bowls of soup here seem to only come in half gallon sizes. The guide told us only a small bowl was available. Sure enough, a gigantic bowl of soup came to the table. Don’t tell Vincent about the chicken’s feet that were in it. We ladled around them.

Finally, as strange as it sounds, my little post about the dumpling shop behind our hotel in Beijing is one of the most read posts on my blog. I know I have a lot of readers who will be traveling in the future on adoption trips so I wanted to help you out. We finally figured out how to get to the dumpling shop without having the concierge take us through the employee bike parking lot. You walk down Jinyu hutong street and turn into the alley next to the Waldorf Astoria. This is taking a right out of the Novotel Peace or crossing the street if you’re staying at the Peninsula. It’s not far at all off Wangfujing if you are at another hotel in that area. According to google maps the alley is probably Xitangzi Hutong. Look for the restaurant with red lanterns and yellow sign. We took a picture for you.


I’m having trouble keeping an Internet connection for more than a few minutes and I wasn’t able to upload any photos to the blog at all. I did get the pictures on Flickr so you can see the illustrations for this post there. I will edit the post to add the pictures later when I can get it to work.

Great Wall Visit

Tuesday we had nothing adoption related scheduled so we decided to plan an outing. It’s tricky to know what to do before you have your child because you don’t know how they will be grieving. Vincent wanted to see the Great Wall because he doesn’t remember his first trip. Since that’s mostly a long van ride and Matt could carry August in the backpack on the wall we thought it would be a good activity. Happily, today is his 7th birthday so this seemed like a great way to celebrate. I hired John “Yellow Car” (www.beijing-driver.com) on the recommendation of a friend. John is a Beijing native who has worked as a driver for his entire professional life. He speaks excellent English and loved to chat with us on the trip. He isn’t a tour guide but he does help you purchase the entrance tickets. He even had a spare cell phone to loan to customers so we could call him when we were ready to be picked up.

It was a beautiful sunny day–the sky was clear and blue. Yes, it was freezing but it was much warmer up on the wall than down at the bottom. There was hardly anyone there. We went to the Mutianyu section of the wall which is further away from Beijing from the section we visited last time. It is higher up on a mountain too. The nice thing about it for us is that you take a shuttle halfway up the mountain. Then you walk along a little street with restaurants and run the gauntlet of vendors. They were particularly aggressive since there were few customers available. At the end of the street you can take cable car up and down the mountain. At the top you can walk along the wall in two directions. If you walk to the right there is a toboggan ride down the mountain. Or you can take a ski lift from the cable car to the toboggan and skip the wall altogether. We walked to the left which John recommended as having the better view.


We stayed up on the wall quite a while. If it were warmer I think we could have packed a lunch and stayed all day. It’s so incredibly beautiful. We had a few China moments, too. We found a handicapped accessible ramp which was added.

 It was essentially a smooth path that you could use to roll Grandma straight down the side of the mountain. At another point Matt heard a noise he was trying to identify. “Is that someone raking leaves??” he finally guessed. We looked around a bit. Eventually we noticed a park employee at the foot of the wall diligently raking leaves next to the wall. A complete exercise in futility considering the miles of wall situated in the middle of the forest! There was no footpath or anything.

When we were finished we summoned John to pick us up. We were hungry so he took us to a local place to eat. I know quite a lot of it was due to a long walk in the cold fresh air but it was one of the best meals we’ve eaten in China. There was soup with little pebble sized dumplings, the doughy American kind, not the filled Chinese kind. We also had a pork dish with peppers and onions. It was heavy on garlic and chili sauce but wasn’t spicy. The pork tasted like cured country ham. Vincent had sweet and sour pork, and we also had a vegetable dish.


Although August was silent and solemn most of the day, he began to perk up after his nap on the ride home. Vincent was playing his DS. August decided to try and grab it. I heard him call Vincent older brother in Chinese but Vincent was soon shouting no at him in Chinese. Brothers already! A few people have asked me how Vincent and August are getting along. Vincent usually gets along well with toddlers because he’s nonstop action. However, August likes to do things like set out all the stacking cups in a pattern then carefully put a toy car in each. He does not like Vincent interrupting his precision concentration by tossing a balloon into the middle of it to try and entice him into a game. I wouldn’t say he dislikes Vincent but he definitely isn’t entertained by him the way I thought he would.

Since we got back to the hotel this afternoon August has seemed much more comfortable. Instead of sitting in one spot he has been walking around the room. He has been smiling at us as he does things like dump everything out of the suitcases. We were very shocked when he started talking after all that silence. We don’t know enough Mandarin to understand everything he’s saying but at one point when Vincent got out a water bottle, August said “Older brother drink water?” very clearly. Early this morning when we were video chatting with our children back home he ran over when he heard them on the iPad. He waved and said “Hi!” In English. So far today he has said hi, no, and more in English. A few minutes ago he was dancing around singing “I’m little brother! I’m little brother!” in Chinese (I’m pretty sure that’s what he was saying). We’re so excited to see more of his personality coming out.

Night Life

We are here in China between Christmas and Chinese New Year. In America we are rather Chinese-centric by using that name because many Asian countries celebrate the lunar new year. Here in China they call it the Spring Festival. The national holiday lasts two weeks but just as Christmas isn’t really one day in America, so the Spring Festival goes on for about a month. In the evenings the street outside our hotel is full of decorative lights. When I asked our guide what they were for, she sort of shrugged and indicated they were good for either Christmas or Spring Festival. There are lots of lights, but also some which are definitely Christmas and others which are definitely Spring Festival.


On Monday night we walked down to the Wangfujing area which is close to our hotel. In the evenings there is a night market which is also called snack street. It is a long area of vendors which sell anything you can eat on a stick. Fruit, candies, ducks, squid, starfish . . . We came on our last trip but didn’t buy anything. This time we decided to try a favorite Beijing street food called candy haws. They are Hawthorn apples, which are about the size of an apricot with a candy apple coating. They had a slight tart flavor which was great with the candy coating. I can see why they’re so popular.

We did have to cross the street to get to snack street. Crossing the street in China is not for the faint-hearted. All of the traffic signals and signs are more like traffic suggestions. People do whatever they can get away with. To cross the street you may or may not wait for the crosswalk light. What you really must wait for is a large group of people to cross with. You want about 6 minimum to dissuade a standard car. Sometimes there aren’t enough people waiting to cross. At that point it becomes necessary to debate a little about which 1 or 2 people you want to cross with. You don’t want to be crossing when the other person goes and jumps in front of a car, which you obviously don’t want to do, so then you’re stuck standing in the middle of traffic without a shield. Monday evening we were standing on the street corner trying to decide which individuals looked crazy and which looked safe to cross with when one of them decided to let us know they knew English by replying “Cross with us!” We did, and we’re still alive.


Today we once again headed out to the shopping district in the evening. August has a lower limb difference which means he can’t walk any great distance. He’s a big kid, so a stroller would be very helpful when we are out and about. We started out at the mall. As we were coming in a young couple who spoke excellent English engaged us in conversation. Sometimes people do that. Usually they are being friendly but sometimes they’re trying to scam you. When we had talked for a few minutes without any sort of invitation or sales pitch, I asked if they knew a store in the mall where we might find a stroller. They said yes and offered to show us the way but the way was headed out of the mall. We hesitated, but they pointed to a store a few doors down in the same shopping district. We followed them to a large department store. Every few feet an employee was stationed to make a sales pitch but the entire place was empty except for us. They did have a selection of about 6 strollers. The first one we were shown was more than we wanted to pay, though probably what we would have paid in the mall. We said we didn’t want to spend that much and turned around as if we were heading back to the mall. Lo and behold, it turned out that the stroller next to it was just that day marked down for the Spring Festival sale. It was basically the same stroller in pink (guess we won’t get a lot of use out of it back home) only now half price. Matt went to pay and reported later that the cashier chewed out the salesman for the markdown. As we headed out our new friends then started pushing us to go see their stall where they sold something or other. We thanked them for their help but firmly insisted we needed to get the little guys back out of the cold and ditched them as quickly as possible.

Tomorrow is a free day. We’re headed to see a different section of the Great Wall. The stroller will be no use to us there. But perhaps we’ll take another night stroll once we’re back.

Adoption Day

It’s late afternoon on Monday so it seems early to write a post for the day but I know everyone is looking forward to hearing how things went. We got up very early this morning. We met our guide in the lobby at 6:30 am. She said that the orphanage is in another part of Beijing and with rush hour traffic she expected it to be an hour long drive. We arrived at the orphanage as the sun was coming up. The lobby lights didn’t even seem to be on but the door was open.

We were shown into an empty waiting room. With adoptions from China the policy is that you have a 24 hour “harmonious period” while you have custody of the child but the adoption is not yet finalized. This is to give you a chance to decide if you want to proceed. I had been warned that this orphanage does not practice the harmonious period. I had joked with a friend that we would have a harmonious 20 minutes. What actually happened is that we filled out the adoption paperwork before they even brought August in to meet us!

August was brought in by the orphanage director. In all of the photos and over 7 minutes of video we received he is always very serious. He never says a word and we’ve only seen one brief smile. We actually asked in an update request if he could talk but the response was not clear so we had no expectations there. The director set him down with a bag of snacks. She told him to share the crackers with us and he replied back to her! We didn’t hear what he said but it was a two word response. As we spoke to him, and gradually moved him from the director’s arms to ours he remained solemn. The orphanage director and other employee kept talkin to encourage him. They took lots of photos of us together.

After we finished at the orphanage we had to drive to the civil affairs bureau which was another long drive.  Several people, including August, took a nap. He seems very stoic. He has only cried a little but tries to avoid eye contact. We continued to wait at the civil affairs bureau. There were two more couples who arrived at the orphanage to adopt as we were finishing. Apparently we were waiting for them to arrive at civil affairs along with an orphanage employee. One of the other couples arrived first and we began to chat while we waited for the orphanage employee. In an incredible occurrence, we realized that they were the Spanish couple which was adopting with us in Nanjing in 2013! The wife said “Our destinies are surely entwined together!”

They remembered that we had brought our other children with us last time. They have 4 boys and are adopting their first daughter. The husband told us that they had applied to adopt from China through the standard process in 2006. They had 3 biological children and one domestic adoption before they were matched from China, all boys. This was their first adoption through the special needs program. The husband is an architect who designs hospitals so he and Matt had a long discussion about the special requirements for radiation departments.


Eventually we got to the paperwork part of the visit. When it was time for August to put his handprint on the forms he was very uncooperative.  He clinched his little hand into a fist. Our guide kept trying to get him to spread it out. Even after she got the red ink on it, it took several tries to get the handprint onto the paperwork. Everyone chuckled at him. He was happier after we wiped his hand off but he kept frowning at the red ink residue.

From the civil affairs bureau we visited August’s finding spot. We then came back to the hotel. Matt went out to get lunch. August had ignored the little bag of toys we brought previously but in the hotel room he was very curious about them. He packed and unpacked the bag, stacked the items, and poked at the carrot nose on Vincent’s small stuffed Olaf. When Matt returned he ate a good lunch. We hadn’t been able to get him to drink anything all day. After trying two different containers we decided to switch to plain water in case he didn’t like the juice. Matt pulled up a website to find out to say “drink water” in Chinese. When August heard the voice from the computer, he looked up and said “drink water” very clearly! He repeated it for Matt when he tried. He actually drank the water too. He handed the bottle back to Matt and made a thank you gesture, kind of bowing with his hands together. This was all very exciting, though he hasn’t spoken since then. It’s good to know that he can communicate. I’m sure he will open up more over the next few days as he begins to feel comfortable with us.


August came to us in a very nice outfit. Two outfits if you count the under layer. We’ve peeled off an item or two but when we took off his hat he put it back on again. He smells like soap so he must have had an early bath this morning. When I took his hat off I saw that the back of his head is beautifully round. My adoption friends will appreciate the rarity of that. Now he has taken a long nap and is up and playing again. He is very seriously trying to crack the code of the stacking cups and taking peeks at us when he thinks we aren’t looking. He’s such a brave little guy!

There are more pictures on the Flickr site. There is a link to the upper right of the blog. We’ve got the date stamp turned off now! They still aren’t as nice as the ones my mother in law took so I guess we don’t have her magic touch.