Tag Archives: China trip 2013

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.

Taking Your Whole Big Family To China

When my dear husband suggested we take our four children with us to China to adopt Leo, I thought he was crazy.  I had a long list of reasons why it was a bad idea.  But he listened to me, and I listened to him, and in the end I came to agree that there were a lot of good reasons why we should take them along.  I talked to several families who had taken a similar amount of children who were close in age to ours.  I remember asking one to write a blog post with her advice and suggestions.  But she never did, so I decided to write that post as my final post for National Adoption Month.  Because you know what?  Several people have asked me for the same sort of information since I’ve been home.  I guess there are a lot of us crazy families out there!


So let’s talk about what is involved in taking your whole big family to China.  I’m going to talk about the various aspects of the trip and talk about what worked for us, as well as give general cost information.  If you are still trying to decide whether or not you want to take your children, I think what is most important is to consider the personalities of your children.  How easy going are they?  What are they like when they get off their routine?  Are they picky eaters?  This trip is long, there are times where you will spend an entire day waiting around an airport or driving through traffic so you can travel to a different city.  The food is unfamiliar, the jet lag is exhausting, and you’ll be adding a new family member on top of all that!  This will work best if your children are fairly flexible, old enough to understand that sometimes they’re going to be bored, and tend to be adventurous.

1. FlightsIMG_2140

Airfare is your largest expense in the trip, and there really isn’t much you can do about it.  The fare will vary by season, and while most families will prefer to travel over summer vacation, this is the most expensive time to travel.  We were not able to travel immediately due to circumstances beyond our control and the month long delay bumped us from summer into the fall when fares drop.  Airlines started offering child fares again, and it turned out that delaying travel by a month saved us $1000 per person in airfare.  (There were six of us, so you do the math here.) This may or may not be an option for you, but it is something to keep in mind.

Keeping the children entertained for hours on a plane was one of my biggest fears.  In the end, that was the easiest part of the trip.  Before we bought our tickets we made sure the plane had individual video consoles for every seat.  This meant that each child could watch on demand movies or tv shows for pretty much the entire flight.  We tried to get them to sleep, but since we usually have strict media limits, they all kept saying they weren’t sleepy because they didn’t want the tv time to be over.  In the end, this was very helpful in overcoming jet lag.  We didn’t have to keep awake very long once we arrived in China, and we all got a good night’s sleep the first night.

2. Accommodations IMG_0071_2

Your hotel cost is the second most expensive part of the trip.  Chinese hotels have limits on how many people can stay in a room, just like US hotels. While I have heard of people cramming six or seven into a room, most people will probably need to get a second room or maybe more depending on your party size.  Children age twelve and up are considered adults, and usually the limit is three adults per room.  We had one twelve year old, so we averaged two adults and two children per room.  Hotels will bring a cot to fit in an extra person for fee that is usually around $50.

You will have some choice as to what type of room you will be staying in.  You can choose to have a room with two “twin” beds, which are similar to a US full size, or a suite that has one king size bed and a living room area.  Sometimes you can get adjoining rooms, and other times they are not available.  We were fortunate enough to be able to have two adjoining rooms at all three hotels.  For our time in Beijing we did not pay for a suite because we knew we would be out sightseeing most of the day and would only be in the room to sleep.  The other two cities we did get one suite and one standard room.  We thought the living room area would give us more room to relax during nap time or on rainy days, and we were very happy with this decision.  Many hotels will also have an “executive” option where you pay more per day but have access to more free bottled water, a lounge, and sometimes a light food buffet.  We didn’t choose this option and got along just fine without the executive perks.


Most families really look forward to the free breakfast buffet included with the room.  At all three hotels where we stayed, the amount of food was extravagant.  American, European, and Asian breakfast foods were provided.  Most people say that after eating the breakfast buffet, they only ate one other full meal a day, with just a snack to get by. One problem we ran into was that not all hotels had the policy that all guests could eat free, or that all children under a certain age could eat free.  Sometimes the breakfast was limited to two guests per room, which left us short a few breakfasts.  We had the option to pay for the buffet but at a cost of $20 or more per person.  Since we could feed our entire group of eight people for less than that at a Chinese restaurant, we opted to take turns going to the buffet and the other people would eat in the room or at another local dining option.

Eating the local cuisine will definitely save you a lot of money because it was much cheaper than eating at the western food places like KFC or Pizza Hut.  Our meals out for seven people cost between $12 and $20.  A good portion of that cost was for soda since we couldn’t drink the water, and we didn’t care for Chinese tea.  If you don’t like Asian food, then you will need to budget more for food each day.  Eating at the hotel will obviously be more expensive than wandering out on the streets to find local restaurants.

Many families pack extra food along.  One woman I spoke with said they packed an entire suitcase of food!   We packed light, but you will definitely want to pack at least some snacks for times when you are traveling or are too exhausted to go out and get food.  Foods that most people pack include oatmeal or cream of wheat packets (there is an electric kettle in the room), granola bars, peanut butter crackers, travel packs of peanut butter, applesauce, pudding, or fruit cups, and tuna in the vacuum sealed pouch with some mayo packets.  Anything you can think of that travels well and can be eaten straight out of the packet or prepared with boiling water will do.  I also packed some of those disposable plastic red Solo bowls and a ziplock with plastic forks, spoons, and knives.  This was really helpful for when we had takeout in the room, and you can take plastic forks along when you eat out for kids who are too young to eat with chopsticks.


You will need to decide if you want to travel straight to your province, or stop in either Beijing or Hong Kong for a day or two of sight-seeing.  If the budget is tight, then this is the best way to cut costs.  However, we felt that if we were going all that way, we didn’t want to miss out on seeing famous sights like the Great Wall!  You will pay per person for tours, and the ones we were offered ranged from $30 to $100+ per person.  This included transportation, English speaking guide services, and often a meal.  Some families will arrange for to use one of the several private guides recommended by others in the adoption community and this can be significantly cheaper than the tour companies.

We decided that touring in Beijing was important to us, and we did pay for extras like the guided tours because we knew those first two days would be rough while we were jet-lagged.  After that, we planned on seeing China without tours.  There are a lot of great things to see in Nanjing and Guangzhou, but we thought that just walking around in the hotel area to see the parks and shops would be entertaining as well.  That is what we did, and we had a great time.  I printed out maps ahead of time that showed the areas around our hotels as well as read up online to see what other adoptive parents said they liked to see and do at that location.  That’s how we ended up eating at the wonderfully tasty but still unnamed dumpling shop.  Guangzhou has a great subway system that is easy to navigate, so you can also try getting around that way.  Bringing Home Holland has very good directions on how to get from the China Hotel to the Safari Park on her blog.

We also felt that doing some fun touristy things on the front end of the tour would give us more flexibility after Leo joined our family.  Many children come with medical issues such as an ear infection.  It is not uncommon for them to grieve heavily through this transition time, and Leo had his sad moments.  We explained to the children that we might end up staying in the hotel all day if it seemed better for Leo, or because of poor weather.  I think we would have been more likely to have one of us and Linda take the older children out or down to swim in the hotel pool if Leo was grieving, but we wanted the children to understand that the trip was not a vacation, and to help them to empathize with Leo.  Things went very smoothly for us, but these are all things to consider when you are choosing whether or not to take your other children with you on the trip.

5. Packing IMG_2120

We packed so light that this picture shows all of our suitcases (minus three backpacks and my mother-in-law’s luggage).  It was great to not have to haul a huge amount through the airport!  Now, we were fortunate enough to travel in warm weather so we didn’t have to pack winter clothes for Beijing/Nanjing and summer clothes for Guangzhou.  My biggest advice here is to remember that you can buy pretty much anything you need in China–clothes, food, diapers and formula are all readily available.

In the carry on bag, I packed one outfit for everyone, medications, and toiletries in case our other two bags got lost.  The two larger bags I designated as the Beijing bag and the Nanjing bag.  I wanted to have everything we needed in Beijing in the Beijing bag so we wouldn’t even open the Nanjing bag until we arrived there.  The Beijing bag had outfits for the two days and swim gear while all of the baby stuff was in the Nanjing bag.  This system worked very all.  All of our important documents and electronics were in the backpacks we kept with us on the plane.

I packed about three pairs of shorts and four shirts for everyone, all mix and match.  Most of the shirts I packed for the children could fit at least two different children, so it was easy to find something that was clean enough to wear.  I mostly packed free activity related shirts for the kids that we could toss at the end of the trip.  For shoes, everyone but myself and my mother-in-law wore Keens.  We wore the same shoes every day, and that saved a lot of packing room.  Again, I know this isn’t possible for everyone due to weather or foot issues, but it worked out great for us.  We packed a reasonable amount of snacks and medicines, trusting that we could buy things we needed in China.  I only took one pack of American diapers, one bottle with two nipples, two sippy cups, and one can of formula.  I took most of the medicines out of their boxes or containers and packed them in snack sized ziplock bags, all clearly labeled with dosing information, and then packed the 15+ snack sized ziplocks into one quart sized one.  It saved a ton of space and kept everything together!  I highly recommend packing Melatonin to take in the evenings to help with jet lag.

IMG_1299Laundry is very expensive to have done at the hotels, and fairly expensive even sending out to a local place, just because you generate a lot of laundry.  I did all of our laundry by washing in the bathtub or sink.  I used Tide travel packets of soap, along with a bar of Fels-Naptha.  I found it worked best to just wash a few things every day.  We didn’t have any trouble getting things to dry, and you can finish off clothes that are a little damp by using the ironing board in the room.  I packed our clothes in large travel roll-up ziplock bags.  I was able to get one outfit for each of us (a full day’s set of clothing) in each bag.  It worked best if I took the time every evening to sort out what needed to be washed, what could be reworn, and sort clean clothing into outfits to go back into the bags.  It made it much easier to stay on top of the laundry and to have a clean outfit for everyone ready for the next day.

6. EntertainmentIMG_1392

There is a lot of time to fill in a two week trip to China.  We usually went out both in the morning and afternoon but we still had time in the hotel, in the van, and in the airport to kill.

I packed three backpacks: one for Matt and I to share, one for Mary Evelyn and Max (12 and 10), and one for Gregory and Vincent (7 and 4).  Mary Evelyn is wearing the Gregory/Vincent backpack here which doubled as our diaper bag when we went out.  The older two kids took their Nintendo DSes and I purchased a new game for each of them to help keep them entertained.  Gregory and Vincent took iPod shuffles filled with audiobooks.  Gregory loves to listen to audiobooks, and I purchased several new ones for him.  Vincent isn’t as occupied by audiobooks, but we already had an extra shuffle and he would listen to Winnie the Pooh or Beatrix Potter for half and hour at a time if needed.

IMG_1526Besides these bigger electronic items, each bag had items like a coloring book and crayons, word find book, packs of card games, travel play dough, colored pipe cleaners, and other little items that I picked up cheaply at a dollar store.  My mother in law Linda came armed with her own bag of entertainment and she saved us many times by pulling out some new little toy when tempers were running short and people were getting bored.

In the adult backpack we took our Ipad, which I used to blog and was our secret weapon during Leo’s naptime.  We were able to stream Netflix for American entertainment using a VPN to circumvent China’s internet restrictions.  Matt knew how to hook it up to the big screen TV provided at all the hotels so the kids could lounge around on the bed and watch a movie while the adults got some quiet recharging time.  We were also able to Facetime with Grandpa back home using the Ipad.

IMG_1348The last way to keep busy is the hotel pool.  I packed our swimsuits, swim diapers for Leo, goggles, and two swim rings which packed completely flat in the suitcase.  If you are traveling during cool weather, make sure you pick the items up during the summer when you can still get them in stores.  Check to see if your hotels have indoor or outdoor pools.  Many hotels require swim caps in China although we didn’t pack them and didn’t need them.

7. Bringing Extra HelpIMG_1519

We decided to see if my mother-in-law Linda would be interested in coming to China with us and we were so grateful that she said yes!  It was so helpful to have an extra set of hands so that our child to adult ratio was lower.  Our kids are old enough that we could have done it by ourselves, but it was much easier with Linda along.  If you’re thinking of bringing a friend or relative along, I’d recommend asking the same sorts of questions you would ask when thinking about bringing the children along.  Is this person an easy traveler?  Do you get along with them well?  You will be spending two weeks in close quarters, so you want to make sure that your companion won’t add friction to an already stressful trip.  Also consider whether they will be respectful of the attachment process.  Linda made sure she let us always carry, feed, and change Leo.  She mostly cared for the older children, and didn’t give any extra attention to Leo.  She asked me to take this picture as we were packing up to head home because she’d done such a good job of hanging back that she hadn’t ever held him like this before so they didn’t have any pictures together!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, I hope this has been helpful if you are thinking of taking several kids with you to China.  If there is something you are wondering about and I haven’t mentioned, please leave a comment and I can add to the article.  I’d like to thank Ann from Crazy For Kids, Mandy from Our Bigger Picture, and Yvette from Bringing Home Holland who all gave me advice and encouragement.  While we were on the trip, I met Kristi from Fireworks and Fireflies who is very experienced at taking a large family to China.

Some blog posts which were written after we traveled: Nicole at Living Out His Love has a post on her experience taking siblings to adopt.  A more recent post on traveling with a large family is here and they traveled with children in wheelchairs!  Jill Bevan at Hilltop Memories gives some great tips from her trip here. Remember, you can do it, and you will have lots of fun making memories on the trip of a lifetime!

Note: Our trip was in September 2013 so keep in mind that the prices or options may no longer be accurate.

Trip home

Boy, was that a long trip home! Matt said I had done my math wrong, and he was right. We got up at 4 pm EST on Thursday and didn’t walk in the door at Don and Linda’s house until 9 pm EST on Friday. For the most part, the flights went smoothly. We continually had a problem with our tickets, so for two of the three flights home we spent about 45 minutes at the check-in counter. This made gave us very little time to make it to the flight, and each time we had to go through security twice, and it seemed like we had to show our boarding passes and passports about four times each trip. It seems redundant to have to show our passports to get the boarding pass, the boarding passes and passports to be able to get on the plane, and then have the stewardess standing by the door to the plane request to see it all again! They actually held our flight for us in Shanghai, and we spent so much time getting processed through security and running from the domestic to international terminal with suitcases and a 30 pound toddler on my back that we didn’t even have time to use the restroom or get a drink of water. It was such a relief to step out into the cool weather at home after a week of being constantly sweaty in tropical Guangzhou.


Since Leo is barely under 2, we decided to purchase a lap ticket for the flights home. We figured he would be clingy and not want to sit in his own seat, anyway. He slept most of the flight from Guangzhou to Shanghai on my lap, and during the flight from Shanghai to Seattle he often shared Vincent’s seat. That flight was the worst trip we had because Leo spent a few hours in the middle crying. Fortunately, he wasn’t very loud and the noise of the plane drowned out most of the sound. Vincent and Leo slept several hours of the long flight, and Gregory took a half-hour nap. None of the adults did more than doze off for 5 minutes here and there. We finally arrived at Seattle, and while we were processed through customs Leo’s magic brown envelope was opened and he became the newest US citizen. He looks pretty happy at the thought but really, he was just happy to be off that plane!


I was dreading the flight from Seattle to Cincinnati, but we were all so exhausted that everyone but Linda slept pretty much the entire four hour flight. Gregory was asleep before take-off and I woke him up as we were landing. Even Mary Evelyn fell asleep for the first time on the trip. Matt’s dad met us at the airport along with his sister and her family. It was great to see some familiar faces, and to be back home in America. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest impression. Mary Evelyn remarked “You know, I was never homesick for America when we were in China, but it is *really* nice to use a restroom with lots of toilet paper and soap and not a single squatty potty!”


One thing that I had wondered about was how the Chinese people would react to seeing Leo be a part of our family. While the Chinese adoption program is common knowledge here in America, most people in China don’t seem to be aware of it. It is common for someone to approach a family’s guide and ask why the American couple has a Chinese baby. Of course, it is similar here in America. Most people are unaware that some American children are adopted out of the country each year (most are private infant adoptions, but a few foster kids will find a permanent family in Canada). I know Americans feel both angry and ashamed that we do not have homes for all of our children, and I expected the Chinese to feel the same way.

It really didn’t seem that way, though. The most negative reaction I came across was when we were flying from Nanjing to Guangzhou. As we exited the plane there were two Chinese women waiting to clean the plane and I heard one say to the other “orphanage baby” in English. For the most part, people have made very positive remarks. At the end of our long flight home, a Chinese stewardess came by to coo over Leo and said “You have changed his future. He had no future in China without a family, and now his future is bright. He is fortunate to have these brothers and sister, and now he will have many opportunities in American.”

That’s it for today. We need to get back home to our real house where I am actually looking forward washing laundry using my labor saving washing and drying machines! I do anticipate writing a few more posts over the next week or two letting you know how Leo is adjusting, how his doctor’s appointments went, and things along those lines. Thanks again to all of you who followed along on our journey!

Last day in China

I thought 16 days in China would be a really long trip, but I’m sad that it’s time to leave. We have truly enjoyed our days here, and I wish that China were closer so visiting regularly would be an option.

This morning we visited the tomb of the Nanyue king. This was an ancient king who ruled over a small kingdom here in the south of China before an Emperor began to rule most of the country. The tomb museum is on the same block as our hotel, and I have heard from many people that the tomb was found when they were building the hotel, so they had to move the hotel site.


The museum was large, modern, and air-conditioned which is something that we really appreciate in this sweltering city. They had a large collection of ceramic pillows. They looked quite beautiful, but not especially comfortable. We saw many artifacts which were uncovered in the tomb, as well as the king’s jade burial suit. The suit was made of many small tiles of jade, sewn together with red silk thread. There were also many jade discs buried on and under the body.


The best part of the museum was that they had preserved the burial site. There are no artifacts remaining, but we could walk down into the tomb and through the rooms. You could even see traces of painting on some of the walls. Mary Evelyn said the museum was well worth the $2 admission charge.


We spent nap time packing up our suitcases, then we went for one last walk in Yuexiu Park. After supper, Linda and I walked down my favorite traditional street one last time while she looked for a few more souvenirs to buy. It’s an early bedtime for everyone tonight since we have to be in the van on the way to the airport at 5 am. We should land at our home airport around 7:30 pm the same day, despite traveling for over 20 hours.

Shopping day

I want to thank everyone who has left messages either on the blog, via Facebook, or sent e-mails. I have appreciated them all. I really look forward to checking my e-mail when I wake up to see the messages that you have left. Thanks for following along and resisting the temptation to point out all the errors in my exhausted-right-before-bed blog posts. I also wanted to mention that if you like seeing the pictures of China life, I have been updating Flickr daily as well. There are usually at least 10 additional pictures that you can see by clicking through on the right to the Flickr page.

This morning Matt was left at the hotel with the four boys to wait for paperwork to arrive while Linda, Mary Evelyn, and I had a girls’ morning out shopping. I hired a local women who offers a guided shopping service. She used to work at a touristy store, and now she takes adoptive families to the wholesale shops where the touristy shops buy their wares to sell. We were completely amazed to walk into a huge multi-level mall which had nothing but jewelry stores. Linda and I really had a lot of fun looking at everything and making our purchases, but I think Mary Evelyn was regretting agreeing to come along.


Our guide asked us what sort of items we wanted to buy, and then took us to a variety of stores. She took us to all of these little back alley places. We didn’t see anyone who wasn’t Chinese, so I know we were hitting the local spots. We stopped at a store that sold traditional Chinese clothing. I was trying on a dress when the guide said that I would need to get a XXL. I said to Linda that shopping in Chinese sizes sure kept you humble. The guide asked what size I wore in America, and I said that I was usually considered a small in American sizes. She said something to the store owner and they both chuckled. But I liked my dress just fine, despite the XXL on the tag. The boys liked their outfits, too.


While I was gone shopping, Matt was finishing up some odds and ends with our agency. We got Leo’s visa in, and the “magical” brown envelope which will turn him into a citizen once the immigration officer opens it, so long as we can complete the quest of traveling home without losing it or damaging the envelope. While Matt was down in our agency’s office, I had him take a red couch photo of Leo. Back when China adoption was in full swing, pretty much everyone stayed at the same hotel on Shamian Island. The hotel had red couches in the lobby, and it became a tradition to take a picture of your child on the couch. Now the consulate and medical exam building are no longer on Shamian Island and the White Swan Hotel is closed for renovation, but our agency bought one of the red couches so that parents can keep up the tradition. It was close to Leo’s naptime, so the pictures of him by himself weren’t that great. I’ll show one with his brothers instead.


It was almost supper time by the time we were able to get Leo’s passport with visa, so we didn’t have time to go out and do anything this afternoon. We decided to get takeout from one of the many restaurants in the hotel, finish off the last half of the cake (delicious, by the way!), and go swimming one last time. Tomorrow is our last full day in China, so we need to make sure our suits are dry in time for tomorrow’s major packing party.

Consulate Appointment day

Today was our appointment at the US Consulate. The medical exam results from Saturday were in, and it was time to go apply for a visa for Leo. I don’t have any pictures for this portion of the post because the consulate doesn’t allow: cameras, cell phones, backpacks, wristwatches, ink pens, or strollers. The consulate just moved to this new location recently, and it was a complex with a few buildings. The back part had a high privacy fence and as we came around the front, there was a blue plastic barricade. There were a lot of Chinese people waiting around the barricade area, I assume because they came with people who were inside. We went through the barricade, and then to a separate security building. We had to show our passports and when our name was matched to the appointment list, we were let into the inner courtyard.

Once we entered the main building, we were sent to a separate area upstairs. We could see the main area down below where Chinese citizens waited in a long line that snaked around like the wait for a popular amusement park ride. Our room was specifically for adoptions and there was a playhouse and several toys for children. We sat with our paperwork and waited with the other families who had this appointment time. After a few minutes an American man began to give us instructions by using a microphone on the other side of bulletproof glass. Apparently, they don’t take any chances even though we all went through security. Unfortunately, because of the tile floor, lots of of shiny wall surfaces, and a large amount of loud children, it was difficult for all of us to understand him. Eventually we rose to take “the oath.” I’ve read several accounts of people who said they teared up taking the oath so I assumed it was like the promises we made to China to care for Leo, to not abuse him, to love him, and provide him with an education. What really happened was that we swore we hadn’t falsified any documents. A little anti-climactic, but okay. Then we were called to the window one by one while a consulate employee went over our paperwork. We left Leo’s passport and it will be returned tomorrow with a US entry visa sticker in it.

After we got home, we decided to go back to the street where we found three bakeries and buy a cake to celebrate. While the consulate employee stressed that Leo is not a citizen and won’t be until his paperwork is processed when we return to the US, we don’t anticipate having a lot of time to celebrate before we have to run and catch our connecting flight. We choose one cake, but the employee talked us out of it, making faces to indicate that she didn’t think we would like it. We chose the one she recommended, and then headed back. Mary Evelyn wanted to stop in a tea shop to buy a tea pot, so we made another stop.


The owner went through a little ritual to give us samples of tea. There was a machine that cleaned and sterilized the little cups, so she removed some cups from that. There was one of the great instant tea pots they have here that boil water in 30 seconds. She put loose tea leaves in a small pot and poured the water over it after covering it with a lid. She then poured out a sample of tea over an area that had a decorative drain to catch any tea that spilled out. She also filtered out the tea leaves for us. The Chinese usually drink their tea with the leaves still in it. On the street you see many people with water bottles that have tea leaves floating around on the bottom slung over the handlebars of their bikes. After we bought some tea, we made a quick stop at the McDonald’s that is right next to our hotel. Leo decided he also likes fries.


After naptime (and more laundry), we were ready to get out of the hotel room again. We decided to go back to Yuexiu Park since it seemed like we had just scratched the surface there. We rented a stroller from the hotel to see if Leo liked that any more than the ergo carrier. He really gets unhappy in the heat, and being strapped to someone’s back can heat you up fast. We had another really great walk in the park. We found the old Guangzhou city walls that were built during the Ming dynasty.


We found Zhenhai Tower, and watched a team practicing on the soccer field. We walked to the Sun Yat-sen memorial, and found a wonderful view of the city close to sunset.


Then we walked back to the hotel. Matt picked up some carry-out and decided what to order by asking the guy at the stand what was most popular. We all ate noodles and mystery meat and then had the cake for dessert. The bakery lady had given us a birthday party in a box, including little paper plates that said happy birthday, a cake server, forks, and a pack of candles. I saved the candles for Leo’s real birthday next week. It was the perfect end to a great day.


Yuexiu Park

Monday was another free day for us, but we will be busy tomorrow. We basically did the same thing today as we did yesterday. We had made plans to go to the Guangzhou Safari Park with another family, but decided to stay close to the hotel after all. Leo does not like the heat, and the Safari Park is more of an all day event. After breakfast we decided to visit the other park near the hotel, Yuexiu Park. Yuexiu Park is so huge that I printed off an extra page from google maps to be able to get most of it on a page. I think it’s Guangzhou’s version of Central Park. Yuexiu Park is home to Guangzhou’s famous five goat statue.


Legend has it that five deities came to Guangzhou riding on five goats, and they blessed Guangdong Province with a wonderful climate that insured plentiful harvests for the people who live here. You see the five goats statue everywhere as a symbol of the city. This park was different from yesterday’s park but we enjoyed it as well. Yuexiu is very much like walking through the zoo’s rainforest climate biosphere, only you never get to leave the biosphere.


We came back to the hotel for a light lunch and nap for Leo. We headed out to walk in the neighborhood we had eaten at on Sunday to look for an early supper. We found a large restaurant this time, and they had a menu that was written in English for us, but no pictures. I decided that the picture menu is better, because I’d rather not know what all my options are. There were regular exotic fare such as snails or eel, along with pretty much all of the pig–feet, ears, offal. I was just thinking that pig offal was a mistranslation of intestines until I turned the page and saw cow intestines offered as well. We picked some items that were safe to eat and had a good supper.


I don’t think I’ve mentioned before, but the tap water in China is not drinkable. Apparently their pipes are old, and sometimes sewage seeps in. So when we eat out, we can’t order water because you don’t know if they will be serving tap water or not. You can request bottled water, but restaurants offer name brand Evian instead of Chinese bottled water, so it is about three times the cost of soda. We order soda and usually it is served European style, that is warm with no free refills. It’s nice when they keep the cans or bottles in a refrigerator and we can drink it cold. Occasionally it is served with ice, which we really shouldn’t have because we don’t know if they’ve made it from tap water or not. So far the time or two we’ve had ice, we just try to drink the Coke quickly enough that the ice doesn’t melt. Restaurants do not keep western style utensils around, so it’s chopsticks or large soup spoons. I try to pack a long a couple of plastic forks for the younger two, who haven’t quite mastered chopsticks yet. Finally, while it isn’t as annoying as the national habit of hand-washing without soap, one thing that I dislike about Chinese restaurants is that half the time they don’t provide any napkins. If they do, the Chinese style napkins are basically a box of tissues. If someone happens to spill a drink then you have to use up half a box!


After we finished eating we stopped into a large Chinese bakery. They had lots of western desserts and many interesting cakes. We bought some bread and a few samples of desserts to try back at the hotel. Then we went swimming in the evening. Leo loved the water again. It turned to be a sort of boy adoption pool party as we were joined by three other couples adopting boys. Two Spanish speaking couples were adopting boys who were under 18 months, and then there was another American couple with a son about Leo’s age.


We have just three days left in China, and we are starting to be ready to get back home. We have really loved our time here, but we are getting very tired of living in a hotel! Earlier today Matt wanted something to eat but he was tired of the granola bars and other easy to pack food that we had in the room. He remembered that the hotel convenience store had some cans of Campbell’s soup so he decided to go buy one of those. He got down to the store and saw that his choices were oxtail soup and borscht. He bought the oxtail soup, but saw that it wasn’t a pull-top lid. He stopped by the front desk to ask if the hotel had a can-opener that he could use. They told him to call the help line from his room and housekeeping could bring one up. He went upstairs and called the help line. The nice lady didn’t understand the world “can-opener.” Matt googled the Chinese word for can-opener. She said she would send someone right up. A few minutes later a uniformed staff person knocked on the door. He requested the can, and then said he would be back in a few minutes, and left with the can. Five minutes later, Matt finally had an open can of oxtail soup. It was tasty, but I’m not sure anything would be worth all that trouble!

Liuhua Lake Park

We had today free, and we enjoyed being able to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast. After breakfast we decided to go to one of the two large parks that are nearby the hotel. It isn’t oppressively hot out but it is very humid. It feels like a steamy bathroom after a shower out there. As we walked the short distance to the park, we saw several people who had set out wares on blankets to try and interest the tourists from the two large hotels.


Liuhua park was beautiful. On the map it looked like a park with a series of lakes. On the ground, it looked like one huge lake with many walkways across and around it. There was a huge marble building right in the center, but somehow we never made it to that building. I think you can tell from this picture that we’re all starting to get tired of smiling for pictures in front of interesting landmarks.


We saw all kinds of interesting things. There were many people fishing from the banks, and one guy who set up an elaborate net and pulled fish into a boat. There was an exercise area that was packed with people young to old using the equipment. People were playing instruments, and badminton. There was a ladies fan-dancing class and rental paddle boats. We found one building that we could enter and it was had a display of local artists’ work.


We enjoyed the walk but we were hot and tired when we got back to the hotel. We had a light lunch and put Leo down for his nap. After he woke up, we decided to go swimming at the hotel pool. It is outdoors on the fourth floor, and it was perfect weather for a swim. I didn’t take the camera because I assumed that Leo would just cry and cling to Matt, but I was completely wrong, so I’ll take the camera next time. He was a little hesitant at first, but then the he had a lot of fun. He was splashing and laughing. He even let me hold him a little at the end. We swam for close to two hours, and then decided to just order Papa Johns for supper. The Chinese don’t eat much dairy and they usually think American melted cheese food is gross, so I was also surprised when Leo loved the pizza and ate a slice and a half.


Other than still being suspicious of me, he’s still doing very well. He hasn’t had any more grieving times since we visited his orphanage. He sleeps well at night and takes a long nap. He spends time playing with the other children every day. He still thinks Mary Evelyn is special. He laughs and runs over to Matt when he sees him put on the ergo carrier. He’s a happy little guy, just like Director Chen said. We think we’re pretty lucky to have him!

Medical exam day

Matt went out bright and early today for the medical exam. He didn’t take any pictures since he was on his own, but he said everything went well for the exam. After he got back we had a few hours before I needed to go downstairs to fill out paperwork so we decided to go out to lunch. Matt was finally started to crave some American food, so he wanted to go across the street to eat at the Coffee Cafe, which the guide had suggested. I guess everyone else thought it sounded like a good idea because there were two other families with our group there. Our table had a combination of pancakes, sandwiches, and hamburgers and it was good, but we had some Western food sticker shock at the bill. One of the perks of liking Asian food is that it really saves you a lot of money when you’re traveling.


After we ate, we went back to the hotel so Leo could take a nap. He is still doing well, and turning into a very happy boy, just as the orphanage director said. He still prefers Matt to anyone else, but unless he’s very tired or something he will let me hold him in small amounts. He is a surprisingly picky eater for someone who loves to eat. Matt says he’s the equivalent to an American kid who only eats fries and chicken nuggets. He will eat congee, steamed buns, and watermelon for breakfast, but no other fruit. Oatmeal is the only American food we have tried him on that he will eat. He also loves rice. Matt was asking our guide for the correct way to order rice while we were in the van once and Leo perked right up at all the talk about “mi fan.” Although the orphanage personnel were quite adamant that he doesn’t take a bottle anymore, he has no idea how to drink from a cup, and he found drinking from a sippy cup (the kind without a valve because he can’t form a suction) frustrating. He is very comfortable drinking from a bottle though, so that is what we’re sticking with until we get back home.


I spent about an hour downstairs filling out paperwork for our consulate appointment. Once I got back then we decided to go walk around and find a place to eat. It is very warm and humid in Guangzhou. You see a lot of Spanish moss on trees, and palm trees as well. Again, we felt very safe walking around and had no problem finding lots of little shops and places to eat. We found one where they spoke no English but had a picture menu so we pointed at a few things and waited for the food. They first brought out three pots of what seemed to be duck broth. It was so delicious! Leo just ate and ate it, refusing even to take a bite of his beloved rice until Matt had the idea to pour some of the broth over the rice. Then the main dishes came out and we all shared them. They were all very tasty. We are teaching the children the cardinal rule of being a good traveler–if you like what you eat, then don’t ask what it is! And the total for tonight’s meal was $12 for the eight of us. I think we’ll stick with Asian food!


On the way back to the hotel, Matt stopped in a local bakery to buy some moon cakes for us to sample. The mid-autumn festival is approaching and moon cakes are a special food associated with the festival. In the airport we saw many people with gift bags of moon cakes with them. Our hotel has a large area near the door where people walk in off the street and buy moon cakes. I’ve walked by there four times, and each time it has been packed with people. They have a giant moon cake for sale in a shop off the lobby. We only bought three to sample because Chinese desserts aren’t usually what American’s consider good in a dessert. We really like sweet desserts. The moon cakes weren’t bad (unlike the green gelatinous bean curd covered with raw garlic sauce that we had at the orphanage) but we decided the next time we go by the bakery we’ll get a cake instead of the 12 pack of moon cakes.


Travel to Guangzhou

Yesterday (Friday) was our day to check out of our hotel in Nanjing and fly to Guangzhou where we will stay for our last week in China. While in Nanjing we were staying in a suite at the Holiday Inn. The attached mall was nice, because we could go out and walk around easily if we wanted. The suite had one room with a king size bed where Matt and I slept with Vincent and Leo slept in a crib. The other room had two beds that were about the size of a double bed. Linda and Mary Evelyn slept in one and Max and Gregory in the other. The Holiday Inn wasn’t quite as fancy as the Novatel Peace in Beijing, but it was quite comfortable for us.


As we were taking the elevator down with our luggage, we shared the elevator with a Chinese gentleman who spoke excellent English. He looked around the elevator and asked “These all your family?” When I said yes, he smiled and nodded and then gestured toward Leo. “This is your youngest?” I said yes again, and he said politely but in a slightly confused way “He look . . . Chinese?” So I explained that we had just adopted him, and then he nodded in understanding.

We went back to the Nanjing airport with Denise and the same driver we have had all week. Denise mused on the food in Guangzhou, remarking that the Cantonese “are very adventurous eaters. They eat cat, snake, monkey brains . . .” Many people warned us to avoid domestic flights in China, but really we haven’t had any trouble with the flights. The airport bathrooms have a good supply of soap and Western toilets. We haven’t had any trouble communicating with the security personnel and the signs are in dual Chinese and English. One thing that I have noticed is that the female security guards and all the stewardesses are gorgeous. There is not an old or homely one to be found. Another interesting custom is having the person you should address questions to being indicated by the person wearing a beauty pageant style sash. It looks perfectly natural on the lovely baggage claim girl, but the male security guard in his black police uniform looks a little silly in the red sash with a bow at the waist.

Many domestic flights are delayed, but so far we have been lucky enough to avoid that. As we waited in the terminal for it to be time to climb onto the bus to take us to our plane we heard two other flights to Guangzhou announced as delayed. We chuckled as the English announcement apologized for the delay and suggested delayed passengers should relax and rest in the waiting area. It was swelteringly hot and the waiting area was standing room only. Not relaxing at all! We have been fed on both our domestic flights even though they were short, and the food is much better than on US domestic flights. We arrived in Guangzhou at about 6:30 and then had another long drive to the China Hotel.


Guangzhou will be our home for the next week. The adoption has been completed as far as China is concerned, but now we have some things to do for the American side. This morning (Saturday) Matt took Leo for a medical exam. This afternoon we will complete paperwork for Leo’s visa. He will travel home on his Chinese passport, so he needs a visa to enter the US. We don’t have any plans on Sunday or Monday, but Tuesday is our appointment at the US Consulate. We will receive the paperwork that we need to make Leo a citizen once he is processed through customs on entering the US. His visa should be ready on Tuesday afternoon, and then we are free to leave. As I mentioned before, we will not be flying home until Friday morning for various travel related reasons. But our suite here at the China Hotel will be a luxurious home for us for the next week. It is larger than the apartment Matt and I had for four years during his time in graduate school! It is a similar set up to the last suite, only we have an extra half bath which is always a nice perk when you have 7 people living here (plus one in diapers).


I don’t expect us to do a lot of touring here, but there is a lot that is walking distance from the China Hotel. There are two different large parks adjacent to the hotel. We won’t even have to make a crazy Chinese street crossing because there are underpasses leading to the parks. There is also the tomb of an ancient Chinese king next door to the hotel, so there is plenty to keep us busy on our free days.


Since I don’t have a lot more to say today, I thought I’d tell you about laundry. The hotels here don’t have washers and dryers for our use, and the hotel laundry service has dry-cleaning prices. There are local options for us to send our laundry out, but even at a more reasonable dollar an item price, it really adds up for a family our size. I wanted to pack light, so I did not pack 16 outfits per person. We were lucky as to our travel time, because those who travel during cool weather need to pack for two different seasons because when it’s snowing in Beijing, it is warm and sunny in Guangzhou. We packed a reasonable amount of mix and match clothing, and I wash the laundry in the bathtub.


Washing is actually the easy part, it’s the drying that’s a challenge. It is difficult to get the water wrung out so the clothing can dry sooner. I mostly hang the clothing in the closet to dry, but there is a surprising amount of places in the suite to hang laundry to dry. The Holiday Inn suite had a retractable clothesline over the bathtub. After seeing all the Chinese laundry hanging out on balconies and in the street, I don’t even think that the maids think we’re weird. It does take some planning because we have to have enough time for the clothing to dry before we can pack it. The iron provided by the hotel helps with the last bit of dampness. I packed the clothing in large packing ziploc bags, and I try to keep putting the outfits for one day back in a bag as the clean laundry dries to try and keep things organized better. That’s it for today, hopefully I will have more Guangzhou pictures for you tomorrow.