Monthly Archives: January 2016

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.

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” ( 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.

Sunday in Beijing

We made it to China! As expected the trip was long and exhausting. I think people in our family have an immunity to sleeping on airplanes. We had been awake for about 26 hours by the time we could finally collapse into our beds at the hotel. Vincent did well on the plane. I think he watched the first half of every movie on the kid’s menu of the in flight entertainment system. He also requested Sprite at every opportunity. Once we landed in Beijing we still had to go through customs, be cleared to enter the country (we appreciated that families with children were moved to the express lane), and claim our baggage. At that point we were finally able to meet our guide Nancy. She told us that she now works in the office rather than as a tour guide but she had agreed to be our guide again because she likes to see previous families. We had transported a suitcase of medical supplies for New Hope Foundation in Beijing and she helped us to meet up with their representative to hand over the suitcase.

Nancy got checked in at our hotel, then told us what time she would meet us on Sunday morning. We are staying at the same hotel as our last trip but we will be in Beijing for a week this time. The hotel is a French chain so the staff at the front desk speak excellent French but only moderately good English. Bus loads of Air France employees are dropped off at regular intervals from the airport. The hotel has a European feel. The pastry selection at the breakfast buffet is amazing and I appreciate the cold meat and cheese area. We could live without the European style shower though, which is a handheld model attached to the wall at waist height.

That’s pretty much our Friday and Saturday. This morning we were up bright and early due to jet lag. We decided to attend the 6:15 Mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral which is very close to our hotel. Then we ate breakfast on our way back in. We still had an hour to video chat with the children back home before meeting Nancy. Then we headed to the Summer Palace. We did pack masks to wear because the pollution index is so much higher than on our previous trip. You can feel the pollution as a burning in your nose, sinuses, and the back of your throat.

Although it’s cold, it was a great day to walk around there. The lake was frozen and people were ice skating, ice biking, pretty much ice-anythinging. The architecture is beautiful and the mountain view picturesque. We liked it better than the Forbidden City which was more austere. We spent probably two hours there, walking around. As always, Nancy did a great job telling us about the history. Nancy was so tickled that Vincent has been learning Chinese. She would quiz him on characters. We came to one place where a man was writing characters on the pavement with water using a giant sponge paintbrush. When he asked if anyone wanted to try, Nancy (standing behind Vincent in the photo below) immediately volunteered Vincent. The whole crowd was delighted when he wrote the characters for China and the number one.

From the Summer Palace we went for the obligatory sales visit to the silk factory, then got to eat lunch. Nancy took us to a place which specialized in “old Beijing food.” We had a sour beef and egg dish as well as hand pulled noodles with soy bean sauce which are native Beijing dishes. Another dish was a breaded and fried chicken cut into pieces but arranged on the plate with the head in front. Nancy teased me, asking if I could eat the chicken while it looked at me but I replied that I was raised on a farm so it didn’t bother me at all. I don’t think she had met an American before who had eaten rabbit, pig tongue, and frog legs as a child. She asked hopefully if I had tried donkey too but I told her that isn’t a common farm animal where I’m from.

After lunch we went to the Temple of Heaven. Like the Summer Palace, it seems to be visited by locals more for the public park than for the historical site. I really wish our public parks had the same sense of community and camaraderie that you feel in parks in China. We passed older women dancing to music, a men’s group singing old Red party songs, a line of people playing cards or chess, and individuals singing or playing the traditional Chinese erhu. Where the playground would be in an American park there was an area full of exercise and agility/massage equipment filled with older Chinese citizens earnestly getting in their daily activity. We eventually made it up to the Temple of Heaven, then headed back to the hotel where we said goodbye to Nancy. We will have a different guide for our adoption trips the rest of the week. We will leave at 6:30 am tomorrow to meet August.

Itinerary: Adoption #2


Welcome to all of the No Hands But Ours readers who are stopping by to read along on our adoption journey. It’s less than a week until we leave for China! I will try to blog every day that we are in China. I usually only put 3-5 photos in a blog post for ease of reading. However, if you click through the Flickr thingy on the right then you can see additional photos. Yes, I know everyone else switched to Instagram 5 years ago. I had a Flickr account um, 10 years ago, so I find it easier to post pictures there.

There will be a few differences between our first adoption trip to China in 2013 and this one. The biggest is that we will not be taking our whole big family to China with us. Our older children have school commitments that they cannot easily miss, and mostly we can’t afford to take everyone again. It was the trip of a lifetime, no regrets there, but this time it will be  ourselves and one child. Our son Vincent (the youngest in the picture above) will be coming along with us while the other children stay at home with their grandmother. He is wonderful with small children, he doesn’t remember our first trip to China, and he even speaks a little Chinese. A few of you might remember that Vincent used to think that he was also adopted from China. He asked us to sign him up at the local Chinese school while he was still a little confused about that, so we will see how helpful that will be for us.


We leave on January 8th for China and will arrive in Beijing on the 9th in the late afternoon. Our son August is from the Beijing CWI so we will spend a full week in Beijing this time. Beijing is in the northern part of China, about the same latitude as Philadelphia, PA. Which means it will be cold! Beijing has a population similar to Chicago. We will be touring the Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven on Sunday, hopefully with Nancy who was our guide previously.

Leo’s orphanage was located about 4 hours away from the provincial capital so we did not meet him until late Monday afternoon. For this adoption we will be meeting August early Monday morning in a reception room at his orphanage. Although we will be at his orphanage we will not be allowed to tour it the way we did Leo’s orphanage. We have various adoption related appointments throughout the week. Vincent expressed a desire to see the Great Wall (again) so as long as August is doing well we will probably fit that in.

On Friday the 15th we will fly to Guangzhou in southern China. All adoption trips end in Guangzhou because that is where the American consulate is located.  It’s hard to find an East Coast city on the same latitude, but Key West, FL is closest.  Packing for 2 seasons means we will be taking almost the same amount of luggage as we did on our first trip with twice the amount of travelers!  Guangzhou is the 3rd largest city in China. Our consulate appointment will be on Wednesday the 20th because the Beijing municipality doesn’t prepare the child’s passport in advance, so we will wait to receive that by mail. As long as all goes well, we should receive our visa on Thursday. While we are in Guangzhou Vincent will turn 7 and August will turn 3 just two days later.


This time we will be flying out of Hong Kong instead of Guangzhou. We plan to check out of our hotel early Friday morning and take a train to Hong Kong. For those of you reading along because you will be traveling in the upcoming months, we are using the Planet R-H plan rather than staying at one of the hotels attached to the airport. Stay tuned to see how it turns out. Hopefully we will have time to see a little of Hong Kong in the afternoon. On Saturday morning we begin our journey home. We land in our home city around 8 pm on the 23rd. I can’t think of a better way to spend most of January!