Tag Archives: China trip 2013

Orphanage visit

We got up at 5 am this morning so we could be on the road by 7 am. Our plan was always that I would go with Leo, and one or two of the older children. But then Gregory really wanted to go, and Mary Evelyn sounded interested and Linda was dropping hints that she would kind of like to go too. The deciding factor was when Denise reported that she had confirmed with the orphanage director “and she say you bring your whole big family with you, okay?” While we were having lunch today the Director Chen told us that when she told the nannies that we would be visiting, they all begged for her to tell us to bring the whole family because they really wanted to see all of his siblings.

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So we got in the big van and headed out of town. Leo slept the first two hours, but he was increasingly apprehensive and scared after that. I’m sure he was thinking of the long van ride that brought him to us and wondering where this ride would end. The older two both played on their DS and the younger two listened to audiobooks and we all watched the Chinese countryside roll by. It looks a lot like any American countryside. There are a lot of rivers in the area. Denise told us that this town is a lobster town and that town cultures pearls in the river. We passed over one waterway that Denise said brought water from the Yangtze to Beijing. Matt was surprised that such a huge city could be in an area without a natural water source and asked Denise how that came to be. She said that Beijing was attractive to the emperor who moved the capital because of the Great Wall, so it had natural defenses, and also because of the people in the area. She said there is a minority group there who are not Han Chinese who are known for being industrious and energetic, and so it was though that they would be good administrators.

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Four hours later, we arrived in Lianyungang. Lianyungang is a coastal city, right across the bay from South Korea. Denise said that it is a vacation city, because people travel to see the famous Monkey King Mountain and visit the beach. It is also common to travel from there to vacation in South Korea, but that requires an $8000 deposit at the police station to make sure you return!

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We arrived at the orphanage and were given a very warm welcome. The nannies were just leaving for lunch and they all swarmed Leo, smiling, laughing, and take pictures of him and us. It was wonderful to see how excited they were to see him, and how happy he was to see them. It shows that he had a good bond with them. I met the woman who was his primary nanny until he was moved to foster care, the “grandmother” he was assigned through the Half the Sky program, and a woman who was introduced as his “recovery” nanny. I’m not sure what that was, but I got the impression she worked with him on activities to help him meet his developmental milestones.

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After the nannies left, we took a small tour of the orphanage. We were only shown the areas where Leo had been. We visited the baby room where the older babies were all getting ready for naps. Many of them sleep two to a crib because space is short. This set of buildings is about 20 years old, but they are going to be moving to a new facility before the end of the year. We were able to see the plans, but it was frankly very sad to see that they needed so much space. The director asked if we were planning to adopt again and tried to entice us with a very adorable little girl, saying she could tell we were short of girls. I made sure to move Matt along before he could get too attached. We saw the room where the toddlers play, as well as a sort of preschool that they had downstairs. I noticed they had bookcases in the hallway where children placed their shoes and they had put the child’s picture in each place so they know where their shoes go. Although the building is older, it was bright and cheerful. Just like a school, they had children’s artwork hanging everywhere in the classroom areas. In the stairwells they had pictures of children who had been adopted out of the orphanage.

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After the tour we went to the staff lunchroom to eat. The other blogs I had read where people visited the orphanage usually had the family eating out at a restaurant with the director. I wondered if that was too expensive because of our group size, but I didn’t have any regrets. We were served a mountain of food, and the director told us that some of the dishes were the same as the children were served for lunch that day. I loved that I was eating fish stew made from locally caught fish, and it was the same that the children ate. How wonderful that they get fresh cooked food every day. I guess I had thought they were getting the sort of factory made frozen foods that they serve in schools here in America!

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The director told me at lunch that about 100 babies are abandoned in the area each year and come into their care, but only about 30 are adopted out, most internationally. I have heard many adoptive parents say that when children in China “age out” meaning they can no longer be adopted at age 14, they are then turned out into the street. I read on the Love Without Boundaries website that they actually remain in care until age 18. Director Chen told me that the kids receive some education at the orphanage and those who are able to work, they try and train for some job. She said they try to help them get a job in town, or maybe they can work cleaning at the orphanage. For those who are disabled to the extent that they can’t work, the state will continue to care for them, and they will be moved to the home for the aged which is located in the same facility.

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After we finished lunch we said goodbye to the director. She said we must come back to visit when Leo was older, maybe ten years from now. She said that would give us enough time to save up enough money to bring the rest of the family to visit with him! Then she said that she would be retired by that time, but not to worry because her apartment is very close to the orphanage so she can still come by when we visit to see us all again. She was such a great person, you can tell she really has a heart for the children.

For such a long drive, we really weren’t there very long. We were able to stop by Leo’s finding place on the way out and take a picture for him. Leo napped the first two hours home again. When he woke up he actually seemed much happier than before. I guess he decided he wanted to stay with us, because he wasn’t at all upset that we didn’t leave him at the orphanage. However, he has decided that Matt is his favorite parent and now he doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. If Matt sets him down for an instant he will immediately start to cry. I’m not insulted because I know this is a normal behavior and it doesn’t last forever.

We are exhausted from the long day, so we just had a quick supper at the hotel with food that we had packed. Now we’re getting ready for bed. I’m having a lot of trouble keeping an internet connection so I will upload the pictures tomorrow.

Confucius Temple

Today was one of our days off because we didn’t have anything adoption related to do. We were still pretty footsore from our walk around the city yesterday, but we still met Denise at 9 am. Fortunately this time the Confucius Temple area really was a short walk and there weren’t even any major streets to cross to get there. We didn’t actually enter the Confucius Temple, but we saw it, along with the river and all of the nice shops. It was interesting to see signs that Denise said were from the Ming dynasty era. One was mentioning Nanjing as a center of education because it used to be where scholars would take their exams to enter the imperial service, and the other said “Black coats only” which Denise said referred to the imperial guard.

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We were able to do a little shopping. Matt pointed out that the mall prices seem like normal prices to us, but when you get out and see what regular prices are in the rest of China, it’s easy to see why Denise says the mall is so overpriced. I’m doing most of my shopping in Guangzhou so I don’t have to carry things around through our in China flights. But I want to make sure I buy some items from Leo’s home province. One of Nanjing’s local things are “rain flower stones” which are pretty agate stones from the river. They are usually shown in water because they make pretty patterns when the sun shines in. We bought a few of those, along with some local tea which is also named rain flower. Many adoptive parents buy a “chop” for their child, which is a decorative stamp that has their child’s name carved on it. We bought one for Leo made from rain flower stone, and had his Chinese name carved on it.

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While the chop was being carved, Denise pointed to some glass beads and remarked that they came from Leo’s home city. I decided to buy one and have it made into a necklace. It was a large glass bead which had been hand painted with a design on the inside of the bead. When I chose one, the seller asked if I’d like to have it personalized, so I had Leo’s name painted on the inside as well. The man took out the tiniest paintbrush I’ve ever seen and sat down in front of a magnifying glass and painted the characters for YuQiang on the inside of the bead. I then chose a red thread for the necklace, because Leo’s foster mother gave him a bracelet made of red thread, which also has significance in the adoption community. It’s a very beautiful necklace, but I forgot to take a picture so you’ll just have to squint at the other pictures to try and see it.

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We asked Denise to take our picture here because you can see what she calls “the city’s animal.” I’m not sure there is an English name for this mythical creature (how would you translate something like manticore to another language, right?) He is one of the nine sons of the dragon. Anyway, this creature is known for eating a lot but never going to the bathroom. She says “Always in, never out.” So he guards the city gate to keep the luck going in, but never out and many shops have him guard the door to keep the money coming in, but never going out.

After we did our shopping, we made sure to ask Denise to take us by a place to buy Nanjing salted duck to take back to the hotel. She said she wasn’t sure we would like it, so we bought half a salted duck and half a roasted duck. Later, Matt made a trip to the mall and bought some rice and side dishes and we ate it all for supper in the hotel. Contrary to Denise’s predictions, we all loved the salted duck and found the roasted duck to be bland.

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We’ve been in China for a full week now, and I would say we’re still in the honeymoon period. So far every morning we all choose Chinese foods for breakfast along with our normal American ones. Usually we have steamed buns and dumplings with our bacon and eggs. Other than getting ice cream cones at the McDonald’s at the mall, we have eaten Chinese food for every meal. Chinese Chinese food is much better than American style Chinese food. I hear things get more rough the second week, and I’m sure we’ll be craving a hamburger and fries soon.

Tomorrow we will travel to visit Leo’s orphanage. We will be gone basically all day, about 12 hours. I may or may not update tomorrow night before bed, so don’t be concerned if you don’t hear from me until Friday morning. Which would be Thursday night in America. Leo had his sad moments again today, but he spend a lot more time playing with the other children. He walked around more, exploring the 2nd room in our suite. He gave me a spontaneous hug and kiss, and called me Mama once! He also had hugs for Matt and the other children and called Linda Nai-Nai, which is Chinese for your grandmother on your father’s side.

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Adoption finalized/City wall

Just a note for those subscribed by e-mail–I’m having to upload the entry several times to get all the pictures included, so you might want to click through to make sure you are reading the final version.

Today Leo woke up and was disappointed to see that he wasn’t back home with his foster family. He is very stoic though, and has only had a few periods of crying today. Mostly he looks forlorn, sad, or confused. We got him down to breakfast and he ate a bowl of congee (the Chinese version of oatmeal, made of rice cooked down to a porridge consistency), some steamed buns, and fruit. We tried him on two different kinds of fruit that he made a face at before I remembered the picture we had of him with the watermelon. Mary Evelyn handed over one of her pieces and he ate it right away.

After breakfast, Matt and I met Denise in the lobby to go back to Civil Affairs to finalize the adoption. Leo is still very curious, and looks around at everything as we are driving. Finalizing the adoption took a surprisingly short amount of time. We left the other children back at the hotel with Linda thinking we would spare them an hour of tedious paperwork but apparently international adoption involves fewer signatures than buying a house. Leo loved getting his red fingerprint stamped on the paperwork. We got him an extra piece of paper and let him stamp all over it.
He was very excited to see the orphanage director and her associate again. It was great to see his real personality as he laughed and played with them, giving them hugs and kisses. He even gave Matt and I a kiss when they told him to. But it was hard on him when they left again.

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We had worked out a schedule for the week with Denise. We would like to visit his orphanage in Lianyungang, which is a 4 hour drive. Denise has now gotten us permission from both the civil authorities and the orphanage director. We had another optional trip, which Denise said she doubted we would want to do if we visited the orphanage. For the visit, we have to pay a fee which will cover a van rental, driver, and having Denise for the day. The other trip is basically the same. She said “You see lake, there water and trees. I think you see these at home before, right? I think you not want to pay if you go to the orphanage.” We agreed, but I asked if there were other things we could see within walking distance of the hotel. She said that she would return to drop off the adoption decree and we could walk to see the city walls at that time. Then tomorrow morning, we will walk to the Confucius Temple area, which is a kind of touristy pedestrian park area. We came home and let Leo take a nap, then met Denise again at 3 pm.

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Denise warned us that it would be a 15 minute walk, and worried that Vincent might get tired. We tried not to laugh at her too much. Which reminds me of a story I didn’t tell you about Sunday. When we were in the Beijing airport, we stopped next to one of those moving sidewalks to use the restroom. While we were piling our stuff on the floor, Vincent reached up and grabbed onto the moving handrail, tucked up his feet, and let it carry him a few feet down from us while giggling his head off. He did not appreciate Matt plucking him off the conveyor belt and stopping his fun.

Anyway, we put Leo in the ergo carrier, which he loves, and walked to the city walls. If we had any idea how many intersections we needed to cross, we would have just gone to walk in the nice sedate mall some more. But no one died. The city wall was very impressive. Denise said that it was built about 600 years ago by the Ming emperor who eventually moved the capital to Beijing. She said he required the craftsmen to sign their name on each brick to insure the highest quality of the bricks. There was even a large ramp so that they could bring horses to the top of the wall.

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We then walked to a riverside park and followed the wall along the river for a while. We saw many people relaxing. If we were a spectacle before as the crazy white family with four kids, we are even more of one now that we’re the crazy white family with four kids and a Chinese baby. People would call out to each other to turn around and look so no one would miss us. Several people asked Denise questions. But everyone is very friendly and good-natured, so we haven’t been bothered by the attention. We met a grandfather walking his 18 month old granddaughter who had a bird perched on her stroller.

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When we reached the end of the river walkway, Denise said that we should go back a different way, since we had gone so far. We followed her along through the backstreets of Nanjing. It was similar to our hutong tour in Beijing. We saw so many little shops where the owners had children playing out front next to where their laundry was hanging. People gathered to smoke and play cards. People were walking dogs, or riding bikes, or talking to neighbors. It was really a lot of fun at first, but the walk went on and on. Denise let us through one street after another. There weren’t really any crazy street crossings taking this back way, but often she preferred to walk in the street when a perfectly good sidewalk was available, so there were always motorbikes and the occasional taxi zooming pack. Finally, a good two hours after we started off on our walk, we made it back to the hotel. Denise even took us to a good restaurant across the street which was cafeteria style (tonight’s total was $10) and helped Matt to order before she headed home.

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After supper we came back to the hotel and gave Leo his first bath. He finally perked up a bit and started to play with the children again. He’s been clinging to either me or Matt all day and not as interested in playing with them. As bedtime approached, he started to sag and make this little grunting noise he makes when he’s trying not to cry. He lost his battle and started to have another good cry. I just patted him and said soothing things to him. We know he misses his foster family. It is great that he likes me and Matt and lets us hold him, feed him, and care for him. That means that he will build a strong attachment to us. But it will take time. The children are doing well with understanding why he is sad. Vincent came over to pat his back and tried to comfort him by saying “You know, I was about your age when Mama and Papa came to get me, too.” The orphanage visit on Thursday might be hard for him, but I hope it will also help him to have some closure, too. Being able to see everyone one last time and say goodbye can be important, even for a little guy.

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Meeting Leo

As you probably knew, today really dragged by. This morning we ate another big breakfast, then Matt and Linda took the kids swimming while I did laundry. Lots of laundry. After that we just sat around played cards or things like that until 2:30 finally rolled around. Denise came with the van and we drove to the Civil Affairs building. Leo was already there, and Denise was actually trying to drag us in because Matt was trying to show Linda how to use our camera to take a video. Then we went in, and there he was!

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We spoke to him and gave him a sucker. Matt tried holding him first and he started to cry. Then I took a ball out of the backpack and distracted him with that so he ended up in my lap. We passed him back and forth as we filled out guardianship papers and the children talked to him and rolled the ball with him. It really wasn’t long at all until we were out of the Civil Affairs office. We will come back tomorrow to finalize the adoption. Today we are his guardians for a 24 hour “harmonious period.”

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Denise then took us to a local store so we could buy any baby supplies we needed. I brought some of the clothing that I had packed and it seemed to fit fine, so we mostly bought some snacks for him. Then we headed back to the hotel. Leo was mostly withdrawn in the van and at the store, looking around with a hesitant look on his face and not saying anything. Once we got back to the hotel he looked around at the tv and beds and burst into tears. He just cried and cried for probably 10 minutes. Matt left with Denise to get some food. I changed his diaper and then offered him a box of milk. He was very thirsty and gulped down the milk. After that, he seemed to really settle in well. He started playing with some of the toys that we brought.

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After he had some food and more milk, he was having a lot of fun. He loved the giant green balloon and chased his brothers around whacking them with it. He was giggling and laughing. He liked Mary Evelyn too, and she got the only hug and kiss from him. He had a 10 year old foster sister in his foster home, so I wonder that helped. When it got close to his bedtime he started yawning and rubbing his eyes. We got him changed and he sat on my lap while I read Frog and Toad to Vincent. I stood rocking him and patting his back for a bit and then put him in the crib. He was asleep about one minute later. We definitely had a good first day together.

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Travel to Nanjing

I have to tell you that I’m a little envious of you, my few readers. I’m sitting here in the hotel on Monday morning with 7 hours to wait until we meet Leo. But you can wake up on Monday morning and sit there and read all about our meeting while you drink your coffee!

Sunday was just a travel day. I had no idea a one hour flight would take nearly all day. We didn’t have any delays, it was just going from one thing to another. We packed up, checked out of the hotel, and drove 45 minutes to the Beijing airport. I got a chance to get a picture of the really cool toll plaza for the interstate:

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I have no memory of the Beijing airport from our arrival, but it is absolutely amazing. I couldn’t get a picture to do it justice, but it is a huge ceiling which stretches on forever. Nancy said it is the largest air terminal in the world.

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We went through security there, got a snack and waited for our flight. For the flights there, you all crowd onto a bus and they drive you out onto the runway and then you walk up steps into the plane. A friend had warned me, so we checked our carry-on bag and just brought the backpacks. So there was the normal waiting there, then the flight, and we landed in Nanjing. As an aside, while I know the phoenix is an important mythological creature, I don’t think anything that dies a fiery death is a good symbol to choose for your airline. I’m not sure if you can see the picture on the sign, but it says “Welcome to Nanjing.”

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We met our new guide, Denise, and she told us a bit about the history of Nanjing and what the city is known for as we had another 45 minute drive to the hotel. Nanjing has huge city walls, the longest in China according to Denise, and we drove by as the sun was setting.

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We were completely exhausted by the time we got to our rooms at around 6:30 pm. We unpacked a little and then went to the mall that is attached to the hotel to buy food and get supper. It was very crowded. The mall was having their 5th anniversary celebration so there was special entertainment. We got some noodles for supper and then came back for bed.

Leo’s orphanage is not in Nanjing, but he will be transported here because it is the provincial capital. It is a four hour drive from his orphanage, so that is why it will be late afternoon before we meet him at the Civil Affairs building. I will try to at least post a picture by the time people will be getting up in the morning but it might be bedtime here before I sit down to write out all the details. It will be a long and scary day for Leo, so please keep in him your prayers.

Snack street

Last night (Saturday evening) was our last night in Beijing so we wanted to go out and see a few more sights after we spend some time in the hotel recovering from the morning of walking. I got in touch with an adoptive friend, Jennifer, that I knew through an online group and we decided to meet downstairs in the lobby. Our two families walked down the street a few blocks to Snack Street, which is also called the night market, because it is only open for a few hours in the evening. The children and I had looked at pictures online and they were excited to see the starfish, squid, and other gross things in person. What the internet doesn’t convey is the nauseating smell! Some areas were okay, but others we just kept walking quickly because the smell was so terrible.

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Not all of the food was gross. Quite a lot of it looked great. There were bowls of noodles, some baked goods, and every person who was selling fruit on a stick would gesture to our children and wave their fruit sticks enticingly at them. One stall had little pots and I was curious what they contained but we didn’t see an english sign for them. A few stalls were selling food that met Muslim standards. The most popular stall by far was one selling a large haunch of roasted lamb on a stick.

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After we finished the line of stalls we stopped for a bit to decide what to do next. Our original plan had been to eat Beijing (Peking) duck tonight. But we were still really full from our huge lunch and Nancy had warned us that on a Saturday night it might be difficult to get seating for a party as large as ours without a reservation. We decided not to worry about the Beijing duck and we would get something light if we got hungrier later. We then headed over to a different street to visit St. Joseph Cathedral, which was built on the site of one of the original Jesuit missionary houses from the 1600’s. It had a nice public gathering area in front, but the church was closed with locked gates. We had hoped to be able to go to Mass here on one of our days since the Beijing bishop is recognized by the Vatican but the only Mass time is 6:15 am, so we never made it.

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From St. Joseph’s we walked back to the area before the night market, which was a large shopping area that had a Times Square feel with large glowing billboards. There was a multistory mall, which we entered through the Apple store. It was like any mall in America, with many of the same stores like Forever 21, only the signs were in Chinese. The mall had escalators for each floor, but since it had so many stories it also had “express” escalators that take up two stories at a time. We ended up eating some noodles at a shop there before heading back home.

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We stopped by the restroom before going back to the hotel because the kids had all had a full can of Coke. I’m not sure how they work these things out, but based on my experience in Beijing it seems like Coke has an exclusive contract for all of China. Not that I’m complaining! Anyway, I haven’t mentioned the restrooms yet. First, most places have what are called “squatty potties.” I’ll try to get a picture later if you don’t know what one looks like. Sometimes they will have one Western style toilet at the end. I actually don’t mind the squatty potty. It’s nice and sanitary because you don’t touch anything. Bathrooms may or may not supply toilet paper, and if they do it’s by the door and not in the stall. I brought travel kleenex packs to pass out as needed. You toss the used tissue in a trash can by the door, because the sewage system here can’t handle toilet paper, so most of the stalls do not smell nice. But I am not bothered by any of that. The thing that I find most difficult is that there is no soap provided, only sinks. I carry hand sanitizer for us, but when we are at a restaurant I really try not to think about how the people preparing our food do not have soap available to wash their hands with after using the bathroom!

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Forbidden City

This morning Nancy came bearing a gift–a red folder with an update on Leo. It had some new pictures, Chinese phrases, advice on getting around in China and things along those lines.

We went out this morning to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. As we approached Tiananmen Square, we got to urban Beijing that I was expecting when we got here. There were people everywhere and 12 lanes of traffic. I was very glad to see an underpass so we didn’t have to cross the street. As large as the Square was, the crowd was never shoulder to shoulder crowded, just state fair on a Saturday crowded. There were lots of tour groups and sellers with Chinese army hats and things like that.

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Chinese ladies here certainly take their sun protection seriously. I’ve only seen face masks on commuters. Most women were wearing large sun hats or carrying umbrellas. I saw quite a few Muslim Chinese women wearing hijab. Our guide Nancy was wearing a full array including a light jacket, gloves for her hands, a sun hat, and an umbrella. When her umbrella broke, she purchased a new one from a street vendor. Again, we attracted a lot of attention. One man counted the number of children in english and then gave Matt a thumb’s up. For the first time someone wanted a picture of Mary Evelyn with her daughters and as I thought, Mary Evelyn was less enthusiastic than the boys to have her picture made with strangers.

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The children got tired of the Forbidden City pretty quickly. I think we were expecting to walk from room to room, but instead it was open area to open area. It was another clear day, but hot and sunny since most of the areas didn’t have any shade. Like our visit to the Great Wall, it was very impressive to walk on something that is older than our country.

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Some parts in the outer area had been well preserved but I was surprised at the poor condition of the inner areas where the Emperor and his concubines lived. There were windows where you could look in and see the furniture and everything was covered in dust. The wood in the ceiling above was rotting away. I hope they eventually restore those areas.

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When we finished at the Forbidden City we stopped for lunch where we met Sue, a staff person from Holt. We shared several dishes of food. We were so hot from the Forbidden City that we paid to buy an extra liter of Coke to share because there are no free refills. Nancy keeps marveling at how independent Vincent is. She tells us that since most people have only one child, they are usually spoiled and it is normal to see parents hand feeding children until they are 6 or older.

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We were pretty wiped out after the food, but we still had to go to the silk factory for another sales pitch. It was very fascinating to hear about the two types of cocoons, to see how the threads were spun, and we all got to help stretch silk batting out for a quilt. Once we were done there we finally got to come back to the hotel for a rest. We are planning to go out again for our last night in Beijing. Tomorrow morning we will pack up and fly to Nanjing in the early afternoon.

I’ve had a lot of trouble staying connected to the internet while I was writing this post, so I apologize if the formatting is strange or if the pictures don’t quite match up with the text.

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The dumpling shop

After swimming yesterday it was time for our first trip out to an actual restaurant. We just wanted to sleep when we got in on Thursday. Several of the adoptive families had talked about this great dumpling restaurant that is behind our hotel The Novatel Peace. The problem was that it was hard to find more specific directions other than “behind the hotel” and it doesn’t have an english sign so we couldn’t google the name. We finally decided to just ask the concierge. He said “Dumpling shop? Yes! Follow me!” and he led us through a door the left marked Employees Only. We went through several back hallways and out a back door into the employee parking lot, which was full of bicycles and had a guard stationed.

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The dumpling shop was in a hutong, and the owner said we could eat outside or in one of the little rooms. We choose outside and were seated in one of the little courtyards. There was a beautiful tree growing up to shade the table.

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We ordered a pork rib soup which came in a huge tureen, and several different kinds of dumplings. While we were waiting for the food, Vincent fell asleep at the table. The other children watched a mother cat and kitten walking across the roof above the courtyard. We managed to wake Vincent up and eat by enticing him with Sprite. We were all completely stuffed, and the bill came to $20!

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A few odds and ends stories. When we first got off the plane, everything was kind of crazy. Matt was asking an attendant where the nearest bathroom was for Max, who was puking again while Linda sponged him off. Gregory was trying to lay down on the floor to sleep, Mary Evelyn was guarding the stack of backpacks and luggage. I was keeping an eye on Vincent who looked up at me and said “Mama? Do dey have potties in China? Because I need one!”

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Also, at the Great Wall yesterday we had our first taste of our caucasian celebrity status. We had been warned that many Chinese have not seen caucasians before, and it is not rude to stare in China. The boys were very popular and we were stopped several times by people wanting to have their picture taken with Gregory and Vincent or Max. Even at the jade factory where their main business is tourists, we were the only people eating (I told you Nancy had a great schedule!) and the waitresses gathered around to gaze at the boys adoringly while we ate. Nancy said it will be even worse today at the Forbidden City. Okay, we’re off for the day!

Great Wall and Hutong Tour

Before I start talking about the Great Wall, Gregory would like me to tell you about the breakfast buffet at our hotel. He says that buffet isn’t the right word, it should be called something like “Food Fantasy.” I didn’t take any pictures, but there was a European/American section with pancakes, waffles, pastries, cereal, fruit, and yogurt. There was a Japanese section with sushi. There was a Chinese section with dumplings and grilled fish. Oh, and an omelet bar. Sadly for Gregory, he did not have enough time to finish his third plate because we were just out of time and had to meet our guide.

We are the only people who signed up for tours this time, so it was just us, Nancy, and the driver. There are several sections of the Great Wall where people usually tour, and we went to the closest section which is about an hour outside of Beijing, depending on the traffic. Nancy told us that Beijing is mostly a new city because the government has systematically bulldozed down the older housing sections and replaced them with large apartment buildings, so most of the city looked like this driving through:

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As we drove out of the city, you could see the mountains ahead, and then we could see some of the Great Wall going up the mountain! Nancy told us repeatedly that we were extremely lucky because she has never seen such good weather. There is absolutely no smog, a beautiful blue sky, and a nice breeze. It was the perfect day to climb the Great Wall. Or at least a tiny section of it.

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Everyone was very excited, so there was a festive atmosphere. People were smiling at each other and giving encouragement to those who took a little longer. The steps are uneven, with some being close together and other far apart. They all had grooves or missing chunks. Nancy told us that most of the Great Wall is crumbling and too dangerous to climb except for these few preserved areas around Beijing. Linda recently had knee-replacement surgery because she said she wanted to be able to climb the Great Wall and it was a great motivator for her physical therapy. She was able to make it to the 3rd tower.

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It was so beautiful there, we all could have stayed for much longer. But Nancy has lots of plans, so we kept going. She has a great schedule too, because there were lots of busses pulling in as we left but it didn’t seem crowded while we were there. Next we went to the government jade factory. We were able to see someone carving a jade family ball and many samples of exquisite jade carving craftsmanship. We had lunch at the restaurant upstairs, and then headed back into Beijing. I thought you might appreciate Gregory’s pirate face for the giant jade boat.

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The next stop was the hutong tour. Hutongs are the old city dwellings, which were small houses with courtyards which grew into a maze of dwellings. We were driven in rickshaws in the small alleys. It was nice to see people sitting around and chatting. There were many people playing majong, having a drink, hanging laundry, or reading a kindle. It definitely had more of a community feel than the giant apartment buildings. We had the opportunity to tour the inside of one, and when we talked with the owner we found that she was born in the same month and year as Linda. The hutong tour was the last stop on our schedule for the day. We spent some time resting when we got back, and now the kids are downstairs swimming in the hotel pool with Matt and Grandma. I have figured out how to add pictures to the blog entries but it looks as if it is publishing the entry every time I add a picture, so I apologize if you are seeing it several times in a reader.

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