Tag Archives: China trip 2016

Travel Home

Thursday morning we woke up to a message from the airline in our inbox warning us that our travel was likely to be disrupted due to the massive snow storm pending on the east coast. They were offering people the chance to change their flights at no fee and keeping the same fare you had paid for the original tickets. We were able to get in touch with our travel agent (the amazing Sue Sorrels) who worked after hours to get us rebooked. Initially it looked as if we would have to delay our return until Sunday because the flights were completely full with everyone else switching flights, too. She was eventually able to get us tickets to fly to San Francisco on Friday although we would have two connecting flights to get home. Beggars can’t be choosers, so we took the tickets and quickly got moving on returning home a day earlier. We began packing up and going over what other travel arrangements needed to be changed. Thursday was the day I had planned to do all of my shopping but in the end I only had time to run out for a little over an hour to get some souvenirs for the kids.

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This is what a shop selling decorations for the spring festival looks like. Apologies for the quality of photos in this post. I think they were all taken in a hurry with my cell phone. Almost as soon as I returned to the hotel, we shoved the gifts into the suitcase and went down to the lobby to check out. Originally we were going to travel to Hong Kong on Friday morning, spend the day there, then travel out Saturday morning. We lost the cost of the hotel room in HK Friday night because we had booked nonrefundable thinking there was no way we would travel home earlier, only later. Of course, we were happy to be out a little bit of money to be home a full day earlier. The bonus of not having to spend 24 hours camping out in an airport somewhere was nice too.

Our agency helped us to rebook our train tickets to Hong Kong as well as a van to take us to the train station because we didn’t want to split up into two taxis. We waited in the lobby for a few minutes for our agency people to arrive with the new train tickets and August’s visa. While we were waiting, Vincent lived out every kid’s dream by riding the escalator in the lobby up and down about 20 times. You can see that the last dregs of Christmas decorations are still up at our hotel.

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We got to the train station and on our train uneventfully. The train station is definitely more of the authentic Chinese experience than the airport. Few people speak English and only the most important signage is in English. Our agency people had given us instructions on where to go and how to get on the train. There were crowds of people everywhere so we shameless shoved like everyone else to stay together going through security or on escalators in the Chinese manner. Did I mention that the elevators were well hidden so we we had to haul luggage and the stroller up and down about 6 escalators? Once on the train, it was a better experience than a flight. Very comfortable and smooth. We missed the scenery since it was already dark but nothing we could do about that. We knew we had really arrived in Hong Kong when the train station people directed us to the “lift” rather than the elevator.

When we arrived in Hong Kong we then had to get to our hotel near the airport. The train station is not close to the airport. We had planned to take public transportation there but we were tired with a lot of luggage and one of the very persistent taxi drivers following us around wore us down. He assured us that we would all fit in the taxi with luggage, plus he offered us a very cheap fare for which he would accept Chinese cash. This would save us the headache of changing money, plus get us to the bed at the hotel faster so we agreed. He got our luggage in the trunk using a system of bungee cords to hold the lid down, stowing the last few bits in the back seat. Matt rode up front with him. On the left, because the driver is on the right, British style.

In the end, I think we would have gladly paid the driver more in exchange for silence. Our trip over to the airport island was like something out of a movie. Weaving in and out of traffic at breakneck speed, the taxi driver kept up a monologue. Bizarrely, he kept throwing in phrases in Spanish, which he said he was learning because he knew all the young people in America are mad to learn Spanish right now. Mostly he was railing against China and “the f*cking stupid Chinese.” He said he was Chinese himself, so it was fine that he had these opinions. He also occasionally added that he was sure our son was smart, of course, not like the rest of them. We were spared the last 10 minutes of his ranting when August threw a well timed tantrum which was too loud for him to talk over. We were so glad to see our hotel!

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Since we were only in Hong Kong about 12 hours we didn’t get a chance to see much of other than the view from our hotel lobby. We took the hotel shuttle next door to the airport the next morning. When we checked in, the woman at the airline desk said that she could not get any seats for us together, only 4 seats in random locations. That clearly wasn’t going to work, so she wanted to reroute us. She asked why we wanted to go to San Francisco when our ultimate destination was in the midwest? We explained about avoiding the path of the snowstorm. She wanted to put us on a flight to Newark which was leaving in an hour. She said she could seat us 2 and 2 right together, plus it would cut out our 2nd connecting flight. This was highly tempting, but we didn’t want to get stranded in Newark. We asked if the connecting flight was likely to be delayed but she did not give us the impression that she really understood this “snow” stuff we were talking about or how it could cause flight delays. Our understanding of the storm is that it wasn’t supposed to hit Newark until Saturday so we decided to take our chances and book the flight.

Matt was at the desk with her for almost an hour working on changing the flights and getting checked in. This gave us little time to catch the flight to Newark. We had to really rush through security but we did make it in time. The plane had already started boarding but it was still 20 minutes left to takeoff. While Matt was still at the check in desk, Vincent and I found this great Chinese dragon display in the airport when we were walking August around to keep him happy.

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The flight to Newark was long at almost 15 hours, but went relatively smoothly. August slept for probably 3 hours total during the flight. He didn’t cry much and was fairly happy playing with the small bag of toys which I brought. There was a teenage Asian girl on the other side of him who smiled so big when I strapped him in that I thought she surely hadn’t flown before. No one is happy to have a toddler next to them on a flight! On my other side was an American expat living in Hong Kong who had adopted herself twenty years ago. She and I enjoyed talking to each other. The biggest challenge with August was that he was still on hunger strike on the plane. I think he ate 2 dinner rolls, 3 cookies, and drank about 3 oz of water the entire trip. One of the cookies was donated by the Asian teenager when she saw it was the only thing he was eating out of the breakfast provided.

We arrived in Newark and were processed by immigration in only 5 minutes. It took closer to 45 minutes our last trip. We sat down to wait for our connecting flight. Three of us ate supper but August spat out the yogurt we tried to feed him because it had granola in it. He finally broke down into a huge screaming fit from exhaustion and I assume hunger, too. He eventually fell asleep in his stroller. Vincent finished his food, said “I’m going to go to sleep now” then curled up into a tiny ball in his seat, instantly asleep. The snow was hitting DC really hard the hour we were waiting in Newark but it was only light flurries there. No delays.

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August was not happy to be on another plane but he cried less than 5 minutes before falling asleep again. All four of us slept from takeoff to landing on our 2 hour connecting flight. The only other touchy moment came when we were waiting for our baggage. I went over to sit down in some chairs while Matt kept an eye out for the luggage. I guess August assumed the chairs meant we were waiting for another flight because he screamed bloody murder for the 10 minutes it took for the baggage to all show up. Occasionally he would point down the corridor as if to say that we needed to leave NOW. He was perfectly happy sitting in his stroller in the freezing cold while we waited for the parking lot shuttle. He even seemed to feel that the car ride home was progress. He did very well meeting the other children at home and ate a full bowl of oatmeal mixed with yogurt before bed. He slept pretty much the full night, waking a few times with bad dreams.

We’ve been having a slow day today but things have gone well with August. He was quickly following the other children around playing. He doesn’t like the dogs but I think he will come around to them sooner than Leo did. He even tried 4 bites of chili at supper before eating a reasonable portion of macaroni and cheese mixed with some scrambled eggs. Hopefully as he continues to settle in his appetite will improve. Currently the only thing in his life he can control is what he eats or drinks so it’s not surprising that he’s exerting control there.

Thank you to everyone who read along on our journey! We appreciate all of the prayers, comments, and messages we’ve received.

 

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Travel Update

Due to the impending snow disaster on the East coast we are in the process of changing our flights. We will be leaving on Friday instead of Saturday. We are frantically trying to pack while rebooking hotel and train reservations. I feel sad that we lost the day to do all of our “one last time” things but will be so glad to be home with our family one day sooner. I will not have time to blog further until we’re home but didn’t want anyone to worry about the radio silence for the next 2 or 3 days. Hopefully I will be able to update you on the craziness from the comfort of my home on Sunday.

Consulate Appointment

When I last left off we were going to the Pearl River cruise. In the end, we decided that Matt should stay home with August because we weren’t sure how well he would do in the evening. Vincent and I went with the other families in our group. Guangzhou is home to the Canton tower which I think was the tallest TV tower in the world for a short time. The night River cruise is a popular attraction because so many of the bridges and buildings along the river are covered with decorative lights. The food on the cruise is notoriously um, adventurous so our agency has the tradition of ordering Papa John’s to be delivered to the boat right before launch. Vincent and I shared the pizza. It was the first American food we’ve had on the trip besides the McDonald’s at the airport. The weather was great for the trip and the scenery was beautiful. The cruise also included a woman playing a traditional Chinese instrument.

We had to be up early today for our appointment at the US consulate which is the entire reason for our weeklong stay in Guangzhou. The consulate in Guangzhou is the only consulate in China which processes the immigrant visas for children adopted by US families which will bestow citizenship upon entry to the US.  Our visit with Leo was uneventful but this trip was more high stress. First, we were the only family with our agency who had a Wednesday appointment. Our agency was able to arrange for us to ride with some families with a different agency who were staying at the same hotel. I had been talking to a friend with that agency who told me that the meeting time in the lobby was earlier than my agency facilitator had told us. We showed up at the earlier time but no one from our agency was there with our paperwork. Matt went to try and track down our paperwork while I talked to the big agency group. Their agency facilitator said she wasn’t aware of any of this then promptly loaded up the van and left without us! Fortunately Matt showed up at this point with our agency person and the paperwork. The group which had left was NOT the one we were supposed to ride with so all was well.

I have no pictures from the consulate because cameras and cell phones are on the long list of items you aren’t allowed to take. When you come to the front of the consulate there is a huge crowd of people. A long line of them are waiting to try and enter while others are there waiting for friends or family trying to enter. As a US citizen you get to walk right in past everyone waiting. It makes you keenly aware of the privilege you have. After we got inside there was another long wait as everyone’s paperwork was processed. We took an oath that nothing in our paperwork was falsified then the details of immigration at the port of entry were gone over. Finally it was time for individual interviews. When it was almost our turn a woman came in who had apparently had a paperwork issue. She thought she had corrected it but she was told it was not corrected. She burst into tears and left. Then the people immediately in front of us had their adoption certificate scrutinized. The consulate officer was holding it up to the light and frowning. Apparently he decided it was legit but I was biting my nails over our outcome by this point. We had an uneventful interview so we should have August’s visa tomorrow. The woman who had such a problem was able to get it resolved and she rode back to the hotel with us. Happy ending all around!

It was well after noon when we returned to the hotel. We fed August and got him down for a nap. Matt got takeout from the noodle place. I think I will have eaten my weight in cumin beef noodles by the end of the week. We were so worn out by the long morning that we didn’t do much in the evening. It’s rainy here too, so not the best weather for walking in the park. We met the other families in our travel group up in the lobby for a group photo. Afterwards we walked across the street to buy a roasted duck. Well, half of a roasted duck. We kept seeing the happy roasted duck restaurant sign on our walks and couldn’t resist trying it. They didn’t have an English menu but the guy at the counter spoke English. We were happily surprised that August loved the duck. He kept yelling for more every time he thought we were going to stop feeding him.

August was talking up a storm after our visit to the safari park. I recorded about a minute of video of him pointing to the park map and talking nonstop. I asked one of our guides to watch it so he could translate. He said that other than “push the stroller” he couldn’t understand any of it. He said it was just baby talk. He does use some Mandarin phrases regularly. His favorite is “Yao bu yao” which means literally “want? not want?” Sometimes he will use it in context such as by grabbing something out of the suitcase and asking us if we want it or not. Other times it’s more of a rallying cry. We kind of wonder if he thinks it’s the only intelligible thing we can say.

Since I don’t have any more interesting things to write I will close out with a picture of the infamous macaron Christmas tree from the breakfast buffet. Now missing one pink macaron from the bottom row.

I Don’t Even Know What Day We’re On

After our very long excursion yesterday we all slept in this morning. We went down to breakfast where August again would only eat yogurt and broth. We went back to the room for about half an hour. August wasn’t happy so we decided to go out for a walk. We went to Yuexiu Park again. Over the weekend they had put up a big spring festival decorative entrance. Decorations aren’t quite everywhere but people are definitely getting ready for the year of the monkey.

We walked around the park for a bit but were caught by a pop up shower as we were approaching the Ming dynasty era city wall. I remembered that there was supposed to be a museum in the Zhenhai tower just a little way up the hill. We walked up and saw that the entrance fee was only going to run us $2.50. Sounded like a great way to get out of the rain!

The tower is a 5 story structure. According to the museum it is one of the four most famous such towers in China but I can’t say that we’ve heard of any of them. This one dates back to the 1600s but was remodeled to become the Guangzhou museum in recent decades. It was used as a military stronghold at several points in the past so there were cannons displayed in the front lawn.


The first floor of the museum contained displays about the origin myth of Guangzhou, a story involving 5 deities/fairies who landed in this area on goats to bless Canton with a good climate and plentiful harvest. As you went up each story you traveled forward through the eras. The top floor involved the modern era with Guangzhou’s involvement in western culture. You could also walk out onto the balcony to admire the view. The two points which stuck out most strongly from the museum are that the Cantonese are very proud of their long history of involvement with the West and the Chinese are still very sore about the Opium wars.


August was starting to get unhappy by the end of the trip so we headed back to the hotel. The afternoon has been pretty low key. I attended an exit meeting with our agency representatives and Matt took the boys to the hotel garden/playground. This evening we will be going on the Pearl River cruise to admire the lights and architecture in downtown Guangzhou. It will be late when we return and we leave for the American consulate tomorrow morning so I decided to write this entry early.

Just as a reminder, I’m posting additional photos on the Flickr site. If you receive the blog entries through a subscription service then you will need to visit the blog page then click through the Flickr widget in the upper right hand corner of the page.

Safari Park

The Chimelong Safari Park is probably the favorite destination of adoptive parents in Guangzhou. We didn’t go last time because Leo started getting unhappy after about an hour outside and everyone told us it is an all day trip. After our malaise yesterday we decided to sign up for the organized tour offered by our agency so that we would be motivated to leave the hotel. August does well enough on outings. Plus, the weather is gorgeous. We left the hotel at 9:30 am and didn’t return until 5 pm, so it is quite a trip. It took us about an hour to get to the Chimelong complex. Besides the safari park they had a circus, water park, and a couple of other amusement park options.

We started off on the safari ride, where you ride in a train/car kind of thing that drives you through for a safari. The animals were all contained in different areas, but you did get to see them fairly close. There were park employees feeding the animals as you went by. I don’t know if we got there at feeding time or if they feed them all day. It was pretty fun regardless.

After the train ride we walked through a Jurassic Park kind of area. There were huge animatronic dinosaurs. One spat water at you as you walked by. There was a cave to walk through where a huge T-Rex loomed over you. It as Vincent’s favorite part. He wanted to know if we could look at more dinosaurs. As we were heading to the parking lot at the end of the day he asked if we could go through the dinosaur part one more time.

Then we toured the the normal zoo part the rest of the day. It was similar to a zoo in America but kind of on steroids. For example, they didn’t have have koalas, they had 50 koalas. You got to walk through and see so many of the best animals rather than maybe 6 at most in one or two exhibits. One of their specialities is white tigers. If our tour guide is to be believed a quarter of all the white tigers in the world reside in this park. We watched a white tiger feeding session. They put raw meat on a cord and enticed the Tigers to climb poles, jump off rocks, and jump into water to get the meat. At another point you could feed the giraffes.


What the biggest attraction is at the park is the pandas. About a year ago this zoo had the only known surviving panda triplets in the world. They have panda triplet signs everywhere! The panda area went on and on. The Kung Fu Panda movie tie-in signs were everywhere. The amount of panda merch you could buy was endless. When our guide finally let us stop for lunch it was at a restaurant which had a panda exhibit on one side so you could watch a mother panda with baby while you ate. Super adorable!


August started out well enough. He seemed to enjoy the animals, especially the pandas. However, his hunger strike at breakfast paired with lack of nap meant the afternoon was challenging. He started throwing tantrums toward the end. He fell asleep in the van on the way back, but raged for a while when he woke up back at the room. I eventually got him to let me snuggle him on my lap while I sang to him. Then he ate a huge supper. The happy kicked in shortly thereafter. He has been looking at thei safar park map and telling me all about it in excited Chinese while I write this.

One of our guides in Beijing commented that he thought August looked like he was from the south, particularly his round eyes. Looking around in Guangzhou, I can kind of see what he means although August is very fair completed compared to the Cantonese. I decided to ask our (very talkative) guide for the safari park what he thought. He said that he didn’t feel there was really in difference in how northern and southern Chinese people look. Which I thought was a little humorous because he looks very typically Cantonese to me. Even more humorously, he went on to comment several times throughout the day that he found the resemblance between Matt and August to be uncanny excepting the hair and eye color, of course. What do you think, twinsies?

Sunday in Guangzhou

Today the jet lag seemed to hit us pretty hard. You’d think we’d be really settled into China time but instead we were all ready for bed at noon. It seemed much more like midnight. Vincent was not his usual self and he joined us in nap time. Although we made plans a few different times, in the end we didn’t venture much past the hotel.

After breakfast we visited the park next door in an effort to stay awake until nap time. Yes, I know we took the picture on the wrong side of the goat statue. There was a long line on the right side of the goat statue. Anyway, it has finally stopped raining. It was a gorgeous day, like April back home. Sunny and a nice cool breeze. After a nice walk we headed back to the hotel for the middle part of the day.

We then went out for a late lunch/early supper at the same noodle shop where we ate yesterday. It was close and tasty. At that point we decided that we just weren’t feeling up to the trip we had planned. Instead we headed down the street to pick up the birthday cake we had ordered for Vincent and August yesterday. On our way back in to the hotel we picked up the train tickets to Hong Kong for Friday. In the afternoon we spent some time watching Netflix. We also visited the garden within the hotel. There is a small play area, plus a waterfall leading to a small stream. Vincent really liked it, telling me we needed to take some pictures there. He ran a few laps around. Even August asked to get out of his stroller. Holding my hand he lead me all around the garden a few times.

Then it was back to the room for cake time. Although August’s orphanage doesn’t allow parents to send cakes, he did seem familiar with cake. That is the most sincere smile I’ve seen from him! He kept saying little brother, I guess because he was afraid only big brother would get the cake. He ate almost all the apple slices off the top although we haven’t been able to get him to eat any fruit before now. He really enjoyed the cake. We all enjoyed the cake, except we wished we could be all sharing it as a family. Sorry Mary Evelyn, Max, Gregory, and Leo that you only get to see the picture!

August had a harder day in some respects. He has been yelling at us more and throwing tantrums. It’s a positive development compared to his default of withdrawal. Three is a challenging age, but he’s more than entitled to feel angry about the situation. He wasn’t given any choice in the matter nor does he understand what is happening. It’s good that he feels safe enough to let his feelings out. On the other hand, he wanted to snuggle with me after his bath tonight. I think the cake created a lot of goodwill. I chatted with him, saying I love you in Chinese. He parroted it back to me in the tiniest whisper possible! I got him to say that he loved Papa and older brother the same way. I don’t know if he understands that either, but it was still a wonderful moment for us.

Settling Into Guangzhou

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


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


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


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