Pictures will be going up
regularly now that we're back and settling in! In addition to the five
pictures we put up while still in China, you'll also now find the pictures
of our first meeting with our daughter! And
our really bad official adoption photo! And some shots of Sarah
since we arrived home, settling in as an American!
Here for pictures of the First Meeting!
Here for the five pictures we originally uploaded while still in China!
Another Photo We Can't
Resist Showing You:
The "Deer in the Headlights" Official Adoption Photo!
This log was most recently
updated from Washington on July 19, after our return home.
This log of our trip to bring Chang Xiao Chao/Sarah Grace Dunn to America
was kept regularly on a laptop throughout the trip. For convenience
of reading by family etc., we put the NEWEST entries on top,
that the story really begins at the bottom, but the important stuff (especially
July 2 and after, after we got her) is at the top. But there's also a
quick link to get to the account of our first two days if you haven't read
DIRECTLY TO THE ACCOUNT OF OUR FIRST TWO DAYS WITH XIAO CHAO (July 2-3)
Pictures of Our First Meeting
Other Pictures from China
Our Official Adoption Photo (Both Very Bad and Very Cute)
At Home in Virginia
July 13: Back in the USofA: A Quick Note from Los Angeles
July 12, Wrapping Up in Guangzhou, China
July 10-11: Guangzhou, Guangdong, China
July 9: Last Report from Changsha
July 8, Changsha, Hunan, China
July 7, Changsha, Hunan, China
July 6, Changsha, Hunan, China
July 5, Changsha, Hunan, China
July 4, Changsha, Hunan, China
July 2-3, Changsha, Hunan, China
July 2 morning, Changsha, Hunan, China
July 1 morning, Hong Kong
June 30 morning, Hong Kong
June 27, Los Angeles
If you haven't yet read the account of our first two days with our daughter. click here to go directly there. The text following begins with the latest entry; the earliest is at the bottom. For the pictures of our first meeting, click here. For other pictures, go here.
At Home in Virginia
Home in Virginia, July 19: (Mike Writing): Xiao Chao has left China; Sarah Grace is home in America. This entry will attempt to summarize the trip home and our first day here, since time, and time zone differences, have kept me from writing much since China. Tam and I may write follow-up memories before closing this log out as a permanent record of the trip.
Some of you may have wondered if we have been in LA since July 13, the date of my last "quick report". No, but we've been struggling to get back to a normal schedule. We -- Tam and I, not the baby -- have been exhausted and busy since returning, and the log never got finished. This will complete the basic narrative of bringing Xiao Chao/Sarah Grace home.
We left Guangzhou very early -- luggage out at 6:30, to the airport at 8:00 -- on Friday the 13th (!). After going through all the formalities of leaving China, checking bags, clearing our little Chinese to leave her country -- and then sat for an hour in the crowded airplane with no one explaining why we didn't take off. Then the flight to Hong Kong was only 35 or 40 minutes after sitting for longer.
In Hong Kong, we settled in to the transit lounge after check-in, and had lunch: all the Americans in the group, I think gravitated to the American fast food counters: hamburgers and hot dogs, despite plenty of good Chinese food. The Cathay Pacific work action had no effect, and soon we were on the plane home.
No problem there for Xiao Chao. We had bought her her own seat, and on take off -- as she had done in Guangzhou -- she actually reacted to pressure by falling asleep. She slept most of the flight back on her middle seat. Daddy made formula in the lavatory, we performed I think one diaper change only. We didn' t sleep much on the 14 hour flight, but she slept fine.
She wasn't too happy with all the luggage and immigration procedures at LAX, but eventually we got her cleared in, with her little immigration stamp. It says "employment approved", so I guess it's legal. to put her to work right away. This is about the age they start them in China... (To anyone with no sense of humor reading this, it's a joke. Please do not call the authorities. But it does say "employment approved".) Tam waited with her at immigration while I got the luggage, and says she looked at the American flag.
Two of our splurges were buying her her own seat on the long flight back -- more than worth it -- and staying overnight in LA so we could rest up before flying to the East Coast. That did not work so well. Trouble is, Sarah Grace didn't get the memo. She was still very much on China time, 12 hours round from the east, and at 3 am or so decided it was playtime. From then until we had to go to the airport at 6:30 she was wide awake and, it need hardly be said, so were we. Earlier we had taken her to dinner in a sports bar in the hotel, and she avidly watched baseball on a big screen. One less Chicom, one more Yank, as I've said ...
So out to LAX where we had breakfast at McDonald's, frustrating my hopes of not telling her about McDonald's until she's 30, and on to another, five hour flight.
Again, she slept much of the way. And then we were home.
Since then we've been fighting the adjustment to US time, and she's kept odd hours, but today (Thursday the 19th) she slept with only minor interruptions from 10 pm to 6:30 am, the first real American night... and she remains a delight. Bossy, yes, demanding, still clingy, but also a smiling little joy. She still insists on her three bottles of rice glop a day even when we feed her full meals of other stuff.
Though this brings our log up to our return, we will write more about our new little American. And our many pictures of the trip will soon go up as an album of Sarah Grace's journey home. We're grateful to all who've thanked us for making this log available.
July 13: Back in the USof A: A Quick Report
Los Angeles Airport Marriott, 10:01 pm Pacific Daylight Time, July 13: We're back in the USA. She's in America now, after a very long day that began when we got up at 5:30 am in Guangzhou. That was (I think) about 30 hours plus ago. A long wait for a short flight to Hong Kong, then Hong Kong airport, then a 13 hour flight to LA, then immigration, luggage, customs, checking in. She is in better shape than we are; she sleeps better on planes. Either when we get to DC, or in the air tomorrow, I'll record more about today. We're exhausted, she's hyper. But though she doesn't know it yet, she's an American now. Winning global geopolitics one baby at a time: one less little Chicom, one more Yank.
This day will be written up better when we're awake.
12: Wrapping Things Up in Guangzhou
Guangzhou, China, July 12, 9 pm: Mike Writing: This is actually my third entry for our last day in China and, barring something really startling, the last for now. Not only did we have an interesting dinner, but a lot of little things we haven't mentioned have occurred to me. So I'm going to do a kind of final wrap-up.
Guangzhou, China, July 12, 4:45 pm: Mike Writing: A later entry on our last full day in China. Despite some last minute glitches we've got her immigrant visa now. Tam has to fax a load of documents to Blue Cross to get her on our health plan, but that's no obstacle to getting her into the States.We hear Cathay Pacific is not cancelling flights to the states, and that we can through-check our luggage Guangzhou to LA. So things are looking up. Tomorrow will be as Tam put it, the day that never ends. Pretty accurate: We actually leave Hong Kong at 3:10 pm on July 13 and arrive in LA at 1:30 pm on July 13, seemingly an hour and a half before we leave. It's the International Date Line though, and a 13 hour flight. (It made more sense when the world was flat, you know.) Not to mention we're not in Hong Kong, and have to fly down from Guangzhou in the morning.
Miss New American to be is sleeping at the moment, like a baby in fact. She's still a bit bossy, I think because she's just overjoyed at the attention we've lavished on her. Clearly, she's never had anything like this in her little life, and so she demands more of it, and is somewhat insecure if we try to leave her to her own devices. At lunch she almost pulled the tablecloth (complete with beer and plates) off the table, and snatched away a newspaper I was trying to read. But she's also a little delight, and is smiling a lot now. Her Hunan "chili baby" personality comes across at times too, in a certain sauciness. The "strong personality" mentioned by the orphanage has clearly emerged, and she's going to fit right into this family: she's curious, interested, likes to see and do new things, but is easily bored, and really hates shopping. That fits us to a T.
Tam got her to try walking a bit, with help of course, and she seemed to enjoy it and be rather proud of herself. So I think progress will be rapid there. My comments of earlier today are below.
Guangzhou, China, July 12, 1:00 pm: Mike Writing:
entries will probably be our last from China. If
you haven't looked at the photos we put up yesterday yet, please do so.
leave Guangzhou early tomorrow morning and fly to Hong Kong, then have
an afternoon flight (we hope) to LA.
The Cathay Pacific work action is causing about 20 Cathay Pacific flights a day to be canceled; we hope ours isn't one of them. We wouldn't mind another night in Hong Kong, but -- even though Hong Kong is now officially Chinese -- while Americans need no visa, Chinese do, and one of us is traveling on a Chinese passport now. Besides, we're ready to get home to America, even if Southern California is not exactly home. If al goes as planned, we spend the night in LA and fly to Washington Saturday.
Most stuff is done now. There was a glitch yesterday when the consulate couldn't find their copy of the receipt that showed we paid our visa fee ($325--at every turn, there have been expenses); hopefully our facilitator, who now has our copy, can resolve any problem and deliver the visa this afternoon. Then it's just a matter of packing.
We took the Center of Attention out on a shopping tour this morning in the hot, humid weather, and she is no shopper, which also shows she fits in this family: neither of us enjoys shopping, except in bookstores. We bought her some things -- so she'll have stuff from China as she gets older -- and did some Christmas shopping yesterday and today. We bought her a couple of chops (the name stamps Chinese traditionally use), both with dragons since she was born in the year of the dragon, and one with just her Chinese name and one with both her Chinese name and "Sarah Grace". (There wasn't room for Dunn.) We've also bought some Chinese fairy tales in English for when she's older, etc. and -- though we swore we would not make a little "China doll" out of this little American, we did get her a couple of cute Chinese silk baby dresses.
In the local supermarket, we saw lots of American and British brands, including American snack foods, and such, (oh yes, and Haagen-Daasz) and I couldn't help noticing, Uncle Ben's rice. If selling Uncle Ben's in China isn't carrying coals to Newcastle, I don't know what is...
She continues to eat well. A full bottle at breakfast, then lots of fruit, plus some of Mom's scrambled eggs while we ate, and now she's having her noon bottle -- she loves to eat, and today Tam has been getting her to play more on her feet, trying to encourage her to crawl more and try standing more, since she obviously has the general idea but hasn't been encouraged to do it.
Though we still get the occasional crying for food, diaper, or just demanding attention, she doesn't seem to be getting the teething pain as often, and she smiles and laughs a lot. This is a happy baby, very different from the little girl who arrived 10 days ago.
July 10-11: First Days in Guangzhou
Tam has written more after Mike's: to go directly to Tam's observations, click here.
July 11, 9:30 pm, Guangzhou, Mike Writing: Okay, I'm taking the liberty of adding a late addendum. If you just want to read our main story of our stay in Guangzhou, click here. But for those of you (the grandparents, in particular) who are willing to listen to stories about just how cute our child is, I couldn't resist the dinner story. People who are bored with other people's stories about how cute their babies are probably stopped reading this log a week ago anyway.
We've had a number of evenings where dinner was perfunctory because She Who Must Be Obeyed, once fed, did not see any reason why we should be allowed to go out. Tonight we decided to skip a dinner boat cruise on the Pearl River (who takes a dinner boat cruise with a baby?) and eat at the hotel. We decided to splurge and try a restaurant specializing in Chinese provincial food. (There are 11 restaurants, allegedly at least, in the White Swan, including French and Japanese ones.) I had a nice Szechuan hot beef and vermicelli dish; Tam had a chicken-wine dish from Shanghai, and Sarah Grace had a steamed rice-and-cheerios dish she invented on the spot. (After having had a full bottle at 6:30 or thereabouts.) She started with her usual approach of taking the rice from the ricebowl, putting it on the tablecloth, and then eating it. From time to time she would sweep everything, napkins, cheerios, whatever, off the table. At one point she swept several things into her diaper bag, and if we hadn't noticed in time we'd have made off with the little wicker holder for the wet washcloth put on Chinese tables for cleaning up. She ended up with very sticky hands, rice all over her face and other body parts, and something of a disaster for the tablecloth in this elegant restaurant.
But the high point was probably while Tam was eating and was holding her chopsticks in such a way that the blunt ends were pointed towards Sarah Grace's high chair. She leaned over, and put her mouth around the blunt ends. The wrong ends, in other words, but she'd picked up on the fact that you put chopsticks in your mouth. So Tam sought to show her how they properly work. And thus we actually got to show a Chinese-born person how to use chopsticks.
Of course, since we don't usually carry the video camera to elegant restaurants, none of this was recorded, except here in print.
I'm not sure if we've mentioned her shirt chewing. She doesn't like teething biscuits, teething rings, or pacifiers. Her approach to teething is to chew the collar of her little shirt. She even does it in her sleep. The pediatrician says it's normal. However, some of the nicer dresses we brought for her, including her nice red-white-and-blue dress from her grandparents which we wore to the Consulate today, just weren't designed for chewing. They have buttons, or emblems, or other stuff right where Xiao Chao wants to chew. So T-shirts are preferred. They chew better. Anybody looking for baby gifts: make sure the collar is chewable, please, and our daughter will like it better. Of course it kind of limits the dress-up capabilities.
July 11, 2 pm China Time, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China (Mike Writing): It's been two days since I've kept this log. They were packed and very tiring days, which probably have left both parents rather wearier than the baby, who's taking it in stride. So much interesting stuff to soak up ....
First of all, we do have some pictures, though I haven't developed many of the ones we've taken here (I'm saving the one of our first meeting because I'm worried it might not be done right here), but I have put up five shots of the little squirt. Click here to go see them. I have finally managed to get some of her smiling. She smiles often, but the pictures from the orphanage never showed a smile, and until today I just couldn't get her to do it when the camera was nearby. Now she has.
I really appreciate now the importance of our having nearly two full weeks with her before crossing the Pacific again. It really does give her time to get acquainted on her own turf (if orphanage babies' "turf" is really a luxury hotel), and everybody to have time together without normal everyday work and family duties. And of course, there's a lot of paperwork.
We're in Guangzhou, the great port city historically known in the West as Canton. Before I relate the last couple of days' events, I should note that this morning we went to the US Consulate General, for the processing of her visa. We dressed our new little American in the red, white and blue outfit her grandparents had sent her when they knew we'd have her by the fourth of July. The consulate here processes all of the many thousands of Chinese adoptions by US parents; wherever in China you adopt from you go out through Guangzhou.
The consulate was very friendly. Like American consulates most places, there were huge lines of locals waiting to apply for visas. (Ever notice there aren't huge lines of Americans waiting outside Chinese consulates? Other than us adoptive parents I mean.) And like most US agencies at home and abroad the decor was spartan government-issue, but I'll admit that however much I've lived and traveled abroad, there's a certain reassurance when I see that eagle on the wall. And without sounding jingoistic, I'll admit that when Tam and I walked our little red-white-and-blue clad Miss America out of the front door and saw the flag flying there, I teared up a little. She'll come to learn what it means, and why so many people are lining up outside the consulate hoping to get to the country we're about to take her to.
Another reason for emotion was that paperwork that began in 1999 has finally come to an end. More than two years of the paper chase and we're ready to bring her home. Oh, there'll still be some papers to be shown at the LA airport, and the Cathay Pacific work slowdown means our flight home from Hong Kong is in fact uncertain: Cathay Pacific is canceling many of their flights as the threatened strike became a work-to-rules work protest by the pilots. But that's okay: she's got her American visa approved. It actually will be delivered tomorrow, but it's been signed off on by the consulate.
That's this morning's news. And Sarah Grace Dunn continues to emerge as a little firecracker. Her "strong personality" is making itself felt, and she has clearly figured out that whatever exactly is going on here, this is a pretty good deal, with two people who pay lots of attention, play with her, feed her more or less on demand, feed her stuff a lot more interesting than rice cereal (though we still suck down three bottles of that a day too), and keep her in five-star hotels. Except for the five-star hotel part, it's permanent, no less. We just hope that she doesn't find our house inferior to the hotels.
To try to recap the last 48 hours or so since my last Changsha entry on Monday (it seems much longer): Everything went smoothly to and through the Changsha airport, but then we had a classic Third World local flight -- over an hour late, little information about why, overcrowded, families not seated together, air conditioning not working right. Well, I don't know why I say "Third World" since our United flight to LA had many of those same problems 10 days ago. But we didn't have 13 infants and a crew who didn't speak anything recognizable as English, even the parts that began "Ladies and Gentlemen..." As we were stuck waiting at the airport we decided to respond to the hot, humid day with a cold beer. And here in the country of Tsingtao and dozens of other good local beers, what was the only thing available at the airport? Pabst Blue Ribbon. Globalization yes, but Pabst Blue Ribbon?
Xiao Chao's first airplane flight was something we'd approached with some apprehension. How do you explain what pressure changes do to your inner ear to an infant? We'd planned to try to feed her during takeoff so she'd be sucking when the air pressure changed, but that plan went out the window due to the delay (her dinner was already late), and so Xiao Chao took her chow in the waiting area, Tam making the bottle on the spot. Many of the babies cried during takeoff and landing. Not ours. She seemed interested in most everything, particularly in the China Southern inflight magazine. She enjoys fingering magazines, brochures, etc., turning the pages, folding them, pulling on them, and occasionally chewing on them. She'll probably be a good reader once she discovers there's more to books than just something to chew.
She does not like water from a bottle, so we give her water in a water bottle cap or a spoon. (The Chinese don't use sippy cups and our attempt to introduce one has not met with much success.) But on the plane she drank water from an adult plastic glass, spilling much of it on the inflight magazine. I'm sure the next person in that seat will wonder what exactly happened to the magazine ... Anyway, when we landed, she looked at me with a "is that all there is?" look. No yelling; a few minor complaints now and then, but nothing bad. Our little seasoned traveler still has to survive a 14 hour trip to LA, as opposed to a 50 minute one, but she certainly handled it all with aplomb. And Tam and I weren't seated together, so we had to hand her back and forth a number of times.
As a result of all this we arrived late in Guangzhou, had to walk across a long parking lot in hot, humid weather to get to our bus, and finally got into our hotel rooms about 11 pm or after. Though the baby had eaten at the airport, not so Tam and I. It was still theoretically possible to get room service I think, but we were wiped out and had a few Chinese biscuits and a bag of cashews we'd picked up at the airport. Tam and I do not do well when we're traveling if we miss a meal, so we collapsed fairly soon.
We' ve been staying at the White Swan Hotel, the top-of-the-line five star in Guangzhou, an elegant place (though they won't change Visa travelers checks!). It has fish and a waterfall in the atrium, birds in a cage, and such -- and something like 11 restaurants and lots of fancy shops. It also is a block from the US Consulate General, so it's also the hotel of preference for adoptions, and here, our group of 13 babies is just one among many, the whole place being filled with Americans carrying Chinese babies, and stroller traffic jams at the elevators.
The White Swan is located on Shamian Island, in the Pearl River. Back in the days of the European Concessions in China, when Canton was a treaty port, the European traders and representatives were limited to this island. As a result it has plenty of old 19th century European architecture, a few churches (some still in use), and a number of consulates, including ours. It's also got parks, riverfront walks, and other pleasures.
The hotel restaurants are expensive, but just down the street is a little American-style joint called Lucy's, which makes decent hamburgers. So here in the center of Cantonese cuisine, Tam and I have on a couple of occasions indulged in hamburgers. There's a 7-11 across the street. (Yes, a real 7-11, logo and all. They even sell hot dogs. The staff are Chinese however, ruining my theory that since all the 7-11s in the US are run by Asians, those in Asia must be run by Americans. Oh well.
Enough travelogue. On to the important stuff: Sarah Grace, AKA Xiao Chao. Her medical exam said she had an upper respiratory infection, which may explain a slight hoarseness, but she doesn't seem sick. The doctor in our group said not to give her anything unless green stuff comes out of her nose, and it isn't. I think it's just the fairly chronic upper respiratory problem many people get in China; Tam has a mild case too. But they also said Xiao Chao's tonsils are big, so we will get her checked over.
Otherwise she seems fine. Interestingly, her orphanage medical report from May said she weighed nine kilograms (19.8 pounds), but her weighing yesterday showed her at something like 7.6 kilograms. I thought she was lighter than 20 pounds: she's only about 16. Since I don't think she's lost any weight here, I suspect the orphanage report was in error, or padded a bit. (They also described her as "walking", but as noted in earlier reports, she isn't: she can take a few steps if you hold her hands, and she's good at propelling herself on her arms; she rolls over well, but doesn't sit up by herself as well as she might. Most of the Chinese babies are developmentally behind American babies, and the reliance on walkers seems to have strengthened their arms more than their feet.)
But if she needs a bit of physical development, her mental acuity is amazing. We find it a stroke of good fortune that of the 13 babies in our group, we not only got the prettiest but also the smartest and best-behaved. (And this is based on a nonbiased poll of both of her parents.)
Pointing is big. Important things get two-handed pointing, but often the two hands are pointing in two different directions.
She's become very active, and very comfortable with us. Comfortable, did I say? I meant bossy. She has figured out that we are at her beck and call, and she becks and calls frequently. She's gotten very playful. The teething has eased up, seemingly. She hasn't been waking up at night, though she's been exhausted by the days and the heat, as we have. (It's even more humid than Changsha, and a temperature somewhere in the mid-90s.) She has thrown the occasional little mini-tantrum when we've had to be working on paperwork or otherwise just leaving her to play in her crib. She likes to throw things out of the crib so Daddy or Mommy have to pick them up. If you don't pick them up, she complains. The little girl who slept for 14 hours the day we got her and seemed aloof disappeared a long time ago.
She's very curious, as noted earlier: so much so we'll have to increase the babyproofing at home that we'd already done. She's into everything, reaches for everything, tries to see how it works. She's become more talkative in a baby-babble way, and can be quite expressive. While dropping things from her crib or her high chair has become a game, to see Daddy pick them up, when you hand her something she doesn't like she simply throws it, sometimes quite a distance. It does get the point across.
As I've said, she's older than most of the babies traveling in our group. (Somehow, after two weeks, the idea of 29 Americans with 13 babies traveling together doesn't seem that odd anymore.) She's also better behaved. She's quite a trouper. As I said, she handled the flight well. She complains when she gets tired, but she's been willing to go on excursions and sit in her highchair while we eat, though she has generally eaten first.
The rice cereal-and-milk formula these babies are used to reeks to high heaven, but despite being introduced to fruit and other foods, she still demands her 3 bottles of formula a day. It's thick rice cereal, and the nipples need to be especially wide for it to flow. As bad as it smells, though, I can honestly say that it smells no worse coming out that it did going in.
If I repeat myself on any anecdotes, I hope that readers will write it off as normal new father pride, and perhaps middle aged faulty memory. Tam introduced her to potato chips, which she liked; french fries have proven popular to play with but not to eat. In addition to potato chips, Tam let her play with the TV remote in Changsha, so she has the makings of a real American couch potato already. One day as I was watching CNN, suddenly there was a Japanese fellow reading the news in Japanese on the NHK network. Yes, Sarah Grace had the remote. And since Japanese is no stranger to her than English, why not?
Tam Writing: Ahem. My husband, seasoned Third World traveler that he is, perhaps does not properly appreciate how truly horrendous that flight was from Changsha to Guangzhou. He says he does appreciate it but it is so like countless other Third World flights, but for me, and little Sarah Grace, and the other American families, this was a nightmare. Yes, the plane was one hour late in taking off, seems like two. The announcer never did say exactly when they would be taking off, so the time seemed much much longer than it probably was. So instead of leaving Changsha at 8 or so, we left after 9 p.m. I did feed the baby at the airport, what a joy to try mixing the formula on my lap, using a chopstick, while Michael walked Sarah Grace up and down the waiting area. The flight was delayed in part we think because of the haze in the air created by farmers burning their rice fields, the smoke did indeed drift into the airport and waiting area, mixing with the smoke from the smokers. And I wonder why I am having respiratory tract problems!!! So we finally board, the plane is packed with Chinese men, very few women passengers, I never saw any. Our seats were all mixed up together, so the CCAI group spent time trying to switch seats so couples could be closer together to help with the baby. Michael was one row up and along the aisle from me. To China Southern's credit, they did pass out wet hand towels at the start of the flight, it was just so hot and humid. That helped. Also, I ordered just plain bottled water for a drink, and the glass was just the right size for Sarah, so she did indeed drink, making her mom happy, and she also spent a good deal of time just putting her hands in the cup of water. But it did cool her off and relax her. She never did really react to the change in pressure on takeoff and landing, she was too busy putting hands in the water glass and then turning and mutilating pages from the China Southern magazine. What a trooper. Then when we landed at Guanzhou, as tired as she was, she insisted on looking out the bus window, perhaps her all time favorite activity. Anyway, we stumbled into the White Swan, got her ready for bed, munched a few cashews and Chinese salty biscuits, and crashed ourselves. It's difficult to describe the exhaustion I in particular felt. But after a night's sleep of just seven hours, even that bit of time allowed me to feel a little better. And Sarah Grace just keeps on rolling. This kid is terrific.
Tam writing: Even though it is now Wednesday afternoon, and Sarah Grace
is sleeping peacefully in her crib for her afternoon nap, I wanted to backtrack
and write a little about the terrific day we had on Sunday in Changsha,
with Daphne and Ellen, our CCAI guides. The day's outing was a trip south
and east of the city, into the countryside. That area of Hunan is indeed
beautiful, with hills and mountains and cultivated fields going right up
to the edges of farm ponds and irrigation canals. Very efficient farming,
every scrap of tillable land is used. The fields are neat and tidy, the
crops mainly rice are lush. They do terracing farming, and the soil for
the rice paddies is so thick: I took a close look at one field, and the
foot prints of a farmer went down into the mud maybe about a foot, just
really great, great soil. The farms look prosperous, we saw what looked
like several fairly new farmhouses all two stories, we think that's because
they keep the animals on the first floor and the family lives up above.
I wouldn't mind living in a house like that, on a farm like that, until
you remember that THEY DON'T OWN THEIR LAND, the state does. But they are
allowed to sell their produce, or part of it, this too is a reform that
is just 20 or so years old. Anyway, really impressive farms, a tribute
to both the soil and the skills of the farmers. What was truly fun
and serendipitous about this trip was that Daphne did not prearrange a
visit to a farm. She just told the bus driver to stop at a random house,
and she would ask permission from the farmer for 28 Americans and their
13 babies to tromp into their house and look at their pigs and water buffalo!
And that's just what we did. We must have been very amusing to the farmer's
family, asking to see their pigs and water buffalo, as Michael said, it
would be like 28 Chinese parents coming through Falls Church and asking
to see our neighbor's dogs and cats! Anyway, the farmer's family was very
accomodating, and we got to see the first floor of their farmhouse, which
does house the pigs. There is also a kitchen on that first floor, and in
a bowl on a wooden table, someone had been preparing green beans. Just
an everyday sight on a farm in Hunan, China. Neat! While we were at this
farm, another neighboring farmer was there visiting, and when he learned
that we also wanted to see a water buffalo, he invited us over to his farm
to see his. So we trooped back onto our bus and drove a llittle ways down
to his place. Again, same story, beautiful rice paddies, a farm pond, on
which there were geese and a family of ducks, with young ones! Michael
took pictures. The farmer led his water buffalo down the path toward us,
the buffalo had a ring in his nose. At one point the animal just kept going,
getting a bit too close to Moms with babies, and sending them (me and Sarah
Grace included!) scurrying to the other side of the lane. A fun day.
July 9: Last Report from Changsha
July 9, 11:30 AM, Changsha, Hunan (Mike Writing): This will be my last Sarah Grace report from Changsha. We fly this evening to Guangzhou. This morning we got her PRC passport, allowing her to travel; we go to Guangzhou to get her American visa and immigration paperwork under way. Her Chinese passport will be a nice souvenir, but under the new law that went into effect in January, US citizenship will now be more or less automatic. (Strictly speaking, it will be automatic since the adoption is complete in China and we both traveled with her and will be returning her to the States. But there'll be some paperwork to get her a US passport.) Up until January you had to naturalize adopted babies. Her adoption is already final in China, so she's ours. But we have to do the paperwork to get her in the US since neither Tam nor I think the journalism profession in China offers us many opportunities. But till we get her home, two of us are traveling on US passports and little Miss Chang Xiao Chao will be traveling on a Chinese passport, in her Chinese name. Since she's used to Xiao Chao, we will break her into "Sarah Grace" gradually.
The teething has been bad. Last night was the first time she has awakened us frequently during the night. Tam is pretty wiped out from shortage of sleep; I seem to be a little better. Not that she was crying all night or anything: others have had that problem, but she's a sound sleeper until she wakes up The teething seems to be the problem. Baby Tylenol and Baby Orajel work, but we don't want to overuse them, and she's not into teething rings etc. She also has had a little eczema that bothers her, and we've been putting ointment on it. She scratches it in he sleep, then irritates it more. We've trimmed her fingernails but they need trimming again.
Other than getting her passport, this has been a quiet day and since she'll be traveling quite late, well past her bedtime, we're trying to get her as rested as possible -- us too. We may in fact miss dinner as we have to leave the hotel at 6 for an 8:10 flight to Guangzhou. She won't miss dinner as she has her chefs along and her bottles and thermos in the diaper bag.
Since we didn't have much going on this morning we decided to sleep in. She disagreed. We set the alarm for 7:30, but she was up at 6:30. We were obliged to concur.
At about 8 our time this morning her grandparents called from Colorado Springs. Since we haven't been using the phone much (mostly to call room service) she hasn't figured out phones yet, and so our efforts to get her to make sounds into the phone were to no avail. But we were able to give the grandparents a firsthand update.
We've taken a lot of pictures (I know, I know: they'll be developed soon) but so far I don't think we've captured her smile. She has a great smile, even a great laugh, but tends to not to them when the camera's on her. Partly it's because she usually smiles when she's in one of our arms, and that's not the time the camera is at the ready. Her passport photo doesn't show her smiling, either.
Needless to say we're a little apprehensive about the flight. These babies have certainly never been on an airplane and won't understand the pressure in their ears. Everybody says give her a bottle on takeoff so her ears won't be bothered, but she is not one to take a bottle unless she's hungry, and that will be past her mealtime. The good news is the flight to Guangzhou is only an hour, so it's a good rehearsal for the big 14 hour extravaganza from Hong Kong to LA next Friday.
We expect to enjoy internet access in Guangzhou as well. I will update when I can. I believe tomorrow is the day we get our visa photos taken and her medical exam, and then Wednesday morning we have an appointment at the US Consulate for the consular interview.
July 8: Day Seven with Our Daughter
Sunday, July 8, Changsha, Hunan: (Mike Writing): Amazingly, this is day seven with Xiao Chao; tomorrow will mark a full week since we got her. This is our last night in Changsha: late tomorrow we'll fly to Guangzhou and the next phase of this saga. I may not be able to post an entry tomorrow.
It's been a long, full day, and the world's greatest baby had been just that until bedtime, when we had a meltdown. When you consider how many new experiences and stimuli these babies have encountered in the past week, compared with the orphanage, I suppose it's no surprise they get overstimulated and a bit overwrought. But when she cries, it tears us apart, and when she melts down, so do we to some extent.
We managed to start the day with a bath and an overdue shampoo. She has lovely black hair, the most hair of any baby in our group, but we'd taken our time washing it for fear of having difficulty. We did it in the tub, Tam having gotten advice from someone with older kids, and it worked. It relaxed her and the day started well. Daddy has started making up her bottles, and so far, she's been quite happy with his cooking.
Today's outing was a visit to the country. It was our only opportunity to see anything of rural China, so we decided it was important to go. We visited an outdoor market, which we're told is held only once a month; it reminded me of the weekly market days in the Middle Eastern villages, where everything is for sale. We saw chickens, peppers, wicker furniture, etc. Then we drove through various farmlands (rice paddies mostly, some other crops), and stopped to visit a couple of farmhouses. I had expected a Potemkin village type of trip, but in fact our guides just stopped more or less randomly and asked people if they'd mind if we came and took a look; the guide was determined to see that we got to get up close and personal with a water buffalo. The first place we stopped was raising pigs, in the room next to the kitchen; a big hog and her young, who were already pretty big. There was little birds nest over the door with baby birds in it. The farmhouses are mostly two story, big, surprisingly prosperous looking. The nearest village was named Tiao Ma (jumping horse).
Another local volunteered to show us his water buffalo. (Now, this is a bus full of Americans with Chinese babies showing up at your front door and asking to see your water buffalo. This may happen every day in China, but I keep imagining a busload of Chinese (with American babies) pulling into our driveway and asking if we have a dog they can gape at.) There were also ducks (including some mid-sized ducklings) of some Chinese sort and some geeselike birds. We being duck fanciers, we were pleased to encounter the ducks. The water buffalo came down to the road and showed a certain tendency to go where he wanted to (Americans trampled by water buffalo in freak attack...) but otherwise was as stolid as his Egyptian counterparts. He may have been bigger and with different types of horns, but otherwise was pretty reminiscent of your standard issue Egyptian gamusa, the type of water buffalo I've had the most experience with. (Well, not that much experience really. I've seen a lot of them and had some suspicious "beef" from time to time ...)
It was another hot, humid day. Xiao Chao fell asleep in my lap. We got back to the hotel in time for baby's lunch, after which she started to take her nap after playing for awhile. Today's new game includes pushing daddy's head backwards from the chin, and then later she discovered that she can move her stroller.
She did get a nap under way. But she woke crying, probably from a combination of a full diaper (definitely part of the problem) and teething. By the time this was taken care of, it was time for a 4 pm meeting of all the parents and babies, where everybody took photos, Daphne and Ellen (our CCAI guides) gave us some paperwork and souvenirs, etc. Xiao Chao was not happy: she hadn't had a full nap, and while we did manage to get her down on the floor with the other babies, she remained somewhat antisocial towards them.
She returned to the room with us but at 6 pm, without any opportunity for more nap, we all went across the street to dinner. She was in a good mood, happy, smiling, and after eating about 3/4 of her bottle at the hotel she then had steamed eggs and rice at the restaurant. By the time we got her home she was exhausted, and we brilliantly decided another bath would relax her. Instead it got her more hyper, and as we tried to get her to bed she threw up again, messing up the crib. She then cried and cried, as Tam and I tried to get her to sleep. I think she had overeaten a bit again, and was just overstimulated, hadn't had enough of an anfternoon nap, and just had too full a day. She's sleeping now, and Tam is also going out cold at only 8:30 pm.
Tam wants to write about today in the country as well, but she's out for the moment.
This was interrupted by another wake-up and crying jag. She seems to have another tooth coming in. She's been drooling a lot today, and I suspect that is a sign of teething.
July 7: Day Six with Xiao Chao: A Day in the Hotel
Changsha, Hunan, Saturday, July 6, 9 pm China time, Mike Writing: This entry is meant to reflect some thoughts about China, globalization, and such. Today's entries about Xiao Chao and her day (including last night's first upchuck on her Daddy) are found just below, and were posted a little earlier. Click here to go there.
These reflections are mostly personal, political, cultural. For Xiao Chao see below.
Somehow, through the whole cold war, I never got to a Communist country. Oh, there was a summer back in the 70s when I was supposed to teach in Graz, Austria for the summer and had a nice itinerary planned through Hungary and Czechoslovakia (remember Czechoslovakia?) and Yugolsavia (remember Yugoslavia?). Then the whole program got cancelled for lack of students. I've been in plenty of countries that called themselves "socialist" -- Egypt in the old days, Syria, Iraq -- but they never really meant it of course. Any European social democracy had more socialism than they did. So I never got to visit a Communist country. And then Communism imploded.
Of course, here I am now. In the People's Republic of China. Ruled by the Chinese Communist Party. Communist China. Red China. The Chicoms. A real Communist Country.
Not. If this is a Communist country, I'm a duckbilled platypus. This is post-Deng Xiaoping Communist China, which is building Marxism to fit Chinese conditions, which means building rampant capitalism. It's Marxism without all that Marx economic theory stuff, or the Maoist peasant revolution stuff, or -- well, gosh, what is left? Well, we've kept the Falun Gong at bay! We're totalitarian, sure, and the elite call themselves the Communist Party, sure, but they run a free market system, apparently without the basic safety nets of even the US, let alone Europe. Heck, they no longer even offer free primary education here. If Xiao Chao had remained in the orphanage, she wouldn't even have gotten a first grade education unless somebody paid her tuition! She'd be raising rice and looking at the hind end of a water buffalo for the rest of her life.
I mentioned the Johnny Walker Black and Remy Martin in the department store in an earlier entry. Globalization? I've seen two McDonalds and one KFC in Changsha, and that probably isn't all of them. This is Changsha, where Mao went to school, taught school, wrote poetry. Mao's still big here, but as noted elsewhere in these notes, more as a saint whose statue is kept on the bus dashboard, rather than anybody whose quaint political and economic ideas have any relevance today. He's the local hero, the local saint or wali (for the Mideast hands among you), and, oh, well, we're sorry about that (ahem) cultural revolution thing but, well, you know, we don't really admire his practices or anything ...
So what is globalization? Is this Tom Friedman's Lexus versus the Olive Tree? My friend and colleague Jon Alterman has a piece called "the Lexus hits an Olive Tree", a phrase I wish I'd thought of. (For those who haven't read Friedman, ignore this paragraph.) All I know is I'm sitting in Mao's home town (well, he was born in Shaoshan, an hour or so from here, but this is where he first hit it big), uploading to my website, making jokes about the leadership. My daughter has been watching CNN, the National Geographic Channel (and of course stuff in Chinese and Japanese, since it's all the same to her); today she had her first potato chip (Lay's -- blame Tam -- she's already had American junk food). We're drinking coke and there is Budweiser in the minibar, though we're drinking Tsingtao and the local brew, Baisha. (The grocery across the street sells, of all things, Pabst Blue Ribbon.) I bought Kodak film today for less than my local Safeway charges. And we E-mailed friends and relatives several times.
Anyway, such is Communism in its dying embers. It has become capitalism. The main differences with Hong Kong is that the latter has a real free press, and got an earlier start at rampant capitalism.
Okay, most of you want to read more about Xiao Chao anyway. Back to the main attraction in the center ring.
Changsha, Hunan, Saturday, July 6, 6 pm China time, Mike Writing: Last night proved a somewhat difficult one, and so today we decided to skip a trip to an embroidery factory and such and stay in the hotel (the Grand Sun City in Changsha) for a family day with Xiao Chao. I think she's been somewhat overstimulated by all the trips to various sightseeing venues in hot, humid weather. We've also been guilty of indulging her little appetites, and last night, after eating a whole banana, and then a whole bottle of rice formula, she proceeded to throw up on her Daddy for the first time. (Ah, the memories I'll treasure...and tell her prom date the story while he's waiting for her to get ready.) She also upchucked a bit in her crib, making a mess for her. After that, she was fine; I think we basically had been overfeeding her, and like a goldfish who will eat till it explodes, this young lady who never had anything but rice and milk in the orphanage has been gorging herself, probably afraid the gravy train is temporary. It's not, at least if we have any money left by the time we return to America. (America in Mandarin is Mei-guo, "beautiful country", and also a word that sounds a little like "America". China of course is Zhong-guo, "middle country" (or middle kingdom).
Anyway, she seems fine now except for continuing teething problems. She'll be happy and laughing one minute and crying the next, and if food and diaper don't explain it, we tend to try to address teething with infant Tylenol and baby oragel. The Chinese doctor came again today and said she's fine, though she has had a little eczema on her skin for several days. (The Chinese doctor also always comes during afternoon nap, wakes her up, pokes her and prods her, and leaves her screaming her head off.)
When she cries, however, it just tears our hearts out. If only we could ask her where it hurts. Sometimes she actually puts her finger in her mouth and seems to rub the sore spot, and then we hit it with a dab of baby oragel.
She has become very attached to us. We've heard stories of babies who,
days after joining their new parents, will still cry when they see Chinese
people because they miss their nannies and still find the roundeyed foreign
devils who've adopted them to be rather bizarre looking. But several times
today -- in the hotel's little bookstore/newsstand, and again at lunch,
the Chinese clerks/waitresses tried to pick her up and she cried to go
back to Mama. We don't seem to have the bonding problem some parents have
had. Nor do we seem to encounter a marked preference for one or the other:
we've heard stories of babies who love the Daddy but scorn the Mommy (they
never knew men in the orphanage so they gravitate to them), but not this
one: she seems to like us both. Today she seemed to like to have Mama carry
her about more than me, but other days it's the other way around.
July 6: Day Five with Xiao Chao
Addendum to July 6: After writing the account of the day's activities below, we received Xiao Chao's paperwork, and for the first time it contains information about when and where she was found. The "Abandonment certificate" says:
July 6, Friday, Changsha, Hunan (Mike Writing) (with some from Tam): It's our fifth day with her, and she continues to develop and emerge from her shell. All the babies are really flowering with the good food and constant attention which they never had in the orphanage. She's really a different little girl from the scared young thing who slept 12 hours on our first day with her. She's become a little pig at mealtime and in between: I think she must never have had enough in the orphanage and perhaps figures that she's not sure how long this gravy train is going to last but she might as well shovel it in while she can, before the vacation is over and it's back to the old routine. If only we could tell her that she's never going back to that, and that the gravy train is here to stay.Chang Xiaochao, female, born on 10 Apr. 2000, was found abandoned beside a head of Sanlu Bridge of Changde City on 13 May 2000. Li Jinzhi picked up the baby and sent her to our Institute for nursing through Changde Municipal Wuling District Civil Affairs Bureau on 1 May 2000. We can not find her natural parents and other relatives up to now.
Tam writing: This morning after a good night's sleep, she woke up and flashed about five smiles at us, happy to see us, happy to anticipate the coming bottle of formula from Mom. I was awake in the early morning hours, and listened in the darkness to the Chinese public address system blare out "early morning rising music", alongside the closer sounds of my daughter sucking on her shirt, and just listening to those sounds in wonderment that all this is really happening. What a challenging, exciting and exhausting, but also truly blessed time. I am so grateful for so many things: near the top of the list is the fact that out of the 13 babies, we have the one who sleeps through the night, who then has parents who sleep through the night, who then are able to be better parents during the day. I'm also grateful for this wonderful husband, who is such a terrific Dad to Xiao Chao. This morning, at the museum (see notes below), he was pointing out the various window exhibits and explaining things to her, while she was doing her own pointing. I'm also grateful for the totally superb work and presence of our CCAI guides, Daphne and her sister Ellen, who are doing a phenomenal job. And I'm also grateful for all of the dear, special friends back in Washington and the United States (sometimes they seem to be two separate entities!) who have supported and encouraged us in this long journey and adventure.
(Mike writing again): Let me add, since Tam threw me a compliment, that she's also proving to be a wonderful Mom, as I always knew she would. She seems to have an instinct for this.
Xiao Chao is also so much more extroverted than in her first day or two with us. She's pointing, babbling, interested and eager. When on the bus tours, she may be dead tired and her head falling over, but she's reluctant to sleep: she's afraid she'll miss something. Right now she's asleep with a diaper that needs changing (based on a smell test) but we're waiting till she wakes up rather than interrupt her sleep.
She's learned to feed herself cheerios, to take fruit from her plate, put it on the tray of her high chair, and then feed it to herself -- why she moves it to the tray is not so clear, but it makes sense to her -- and she is eating fruits of several kinds (watermelon, canteloupe, peaches), rice, steamed eggs (a local egg custard thing), cheerios, Ritz crackers, etc. Though Hunan babies are known as "chili babies" because of the hot food here, Tam would not let me offer her a pepper at breakfast. Tam seems to think I'm strange to eat peppers at breakfast. (Wakes you up faster than coffee!)
My shoulder is achy from carrying her, not because she's heavy (she ain't heavy, mister, she's my daughter!) but because she won't stay in a normal carrying position but either goes limp in odd positions or squirms for a better position. She's taken to pulling herself up on Daddy either by gripping his shirt and climbing or in one case gripping his beard. (Didn't hurt too much. Really.)
We have learned that we must indeed nap when she does or pay the price. Yesterday we didn't, and well before she was ready to quit for the night, we were exhausted. We don't want to lose our own alertness at times when she might need us. We are older than most new parents, but so far, we're doing okay.
She's smiling more, too. All the babies started with such serious faces. She's bigger and older than most of the babies in the 13-baby group (itself something of an experience, needless to say, as the stroller train deploys into restaurants or on tour), and she's not real sociable around them. Seems to think they're boring (just babies!).
Though her medical report claimed she could walk, it's with reluctance and with somebody or something to hold on to. The orphanage seems to use walkers heavily, and walkers tend to underdevelop their little legs, since the walker holds them up. Her arms are powerful (see beard-yanking story above), and if her legs were as strong as her arms I think she'd be walking readily. (I realize that once she is, and then running, this may not seem like such a good thing.) In fact, she does not like to be on the floor at all. She doesn't like to get down and play on the floor, even if we try to do it with her. She likes her crib if we're nearby, but doesn't like us to be out of her sight.
It's been over a week now since we left home, and we head home in another week. On Monday, after a full 8 days in Changsha, we'll go to Guangzhou (Canton) to proceed with the American side of her paperwork. The upside of the paperwork story is that while you're waiting for stuff to be processed, you get to know your daughter on something like her own turf. On the other hand, I'm sure she's never seen anything like a five-star hotel before. The parents who adopted from Changsha itself (ours came from Changde, several hours away) visited the orphanage. They said the smell was terrible in the heat and humidity (the orphanages aren't air conditioned). I'm just as glad we've only seen photos of her orphanage.
Today's event was a tour of a famous Buddhist temple in town and of the Hunan Provincial Museum, best known for a 2,100 lady they dug up in a Western Han dynasty tomb nearby in an extremely good state of preservation. The 2,100 year old lady is older even than any current member of the Politburo, though perhaps better preserved. As usual she (Xiao Chao, not the 2100 year old lady!) loved looking out the bus window: it's much more interesting than television. At the temple we burned joss sticks and got a blessing for the babies, but again the high humidity made it rather depleting. After the museum visit, we had a good Hunan lunch, with one table (ours) allowed to have real hot food, though none of it was particularly violent. Then back to crash at the hotel, where this is being written. We are probably not going to go on some of the remaining tours: the heat takes something out of both us and Xiao Chao.
July 5: Day Four with Xiao Chao/Sarah Grace
Note: Tam hadn't written anything since Hong Kong. She's now written some memories on days one and two. We're putting them here as they were written July 5, but crosslinking to Mike's earlier comments on the same events. Mike's July 5 narrative follows Tam's two items.
Tam Writing (finally!): Scene 2, Day Two: Tuesday, July 3, Trip to the Chinese Notary/Register's Office: The babies have been with us for less than 24 hours now, and we pack them, the overstuffed diaper bags, blitzed parents and babies onto the CCAI air-conditioned chartered bus to go to the Chinese government offices for more paperwork. This account is from Sarah Grace's perspective, as related by her Mom: The man has me in his arms in the bus seat, next to a window, on the shady side. Hey, this is neat, you can look out this window and see so much NEAT STUFF happening: there goes three buses and three people on one motorcycle! There are men working on construction on the street side, there are women with umbrellas to keep out the sun, there are kids walking and jumping. Taxi horns honk, jack hammers drill, Chinese music plays from a little local restaurant, this is so neat! I love watching this stuff!! I've discovered that I can't just jump out the window and join the action, though, this glass keeps me inside. Now the bus has stopped and we're going inside this building. Only some of the rooms are air-conditioned. Mom has brought a new toy, a book, Touch and Feel Farm, that's fun. We are first to see the first government official, who puts my right foot in red ink and stamps it on some papers, and has Mom and Dad do the same with their thumbs. Now more waiting. Waiting for the parents and 13 babies takes a long long time, we start to get restless. After we get a family picture taken , we go to a second room, hot and stuffy, and wait some more for the second government guy. This is taking too long! I'm getting hungry! Where's my bottle? Mom took the stuff into the bathroom to make it for me. She brings it back. She offers it to me. Hey! What's the matter with you! This bottle is too runny! You know I don't like it runny! You made three bottles for me so far and they were just right, what kind of operation are you running here! What do you mean, you don't have more? I WANT MY BOTTLE NOW! I WANT IT THE WAY I LIKE IT!! No, I don't want my diaper changed now! No, I don't want water! NO, I don't want the whole Ritz cracker, I want Dad to break it into little pieces for me and put them in my mouth one at a time. I don't care that there's Ritz cracker crumbs all over the official's table! Now it's time to go back on the bus. Exhausted parents pack up rifled diaper bags, exhausted babies, leave the governement offices, and return to the bus. The government official's office looks trashed: cracker crumbs on tables and on the floor, waste baskets filled with used diapers, wipes, etc. End of scene... (For Michael's account of these events on Day Two, please click here.)
Day One: Although I'm writing this on July 5, I'm going to do this quickly so I don't forget, and so many other filled moments and days just crowd out the FIRST DAY. We gathered in a conference room at the hotel downstairs int he morning to fill out more paperwork (the papers we would need for Tuesday at the Government offices), as we wait for the babies to arive. The 2 Changsha babies come first, they are closest to the hotel from an orphanage aaoubt five minutes walk awy from the hotel. Then the 8 Yueyang babies come. Finally the three Changde babies come, Xiao Chao is first. She only cries a little bit when handed to us, I take her and begin to talk reassuringly to her. The Orphanage Director, Assistant Director and Chief of the Nannies comes to deliver the Changde babies, none of her personal nannies comes, maybe that's a good thing as far as the separation goes. We take her up to our room, we make abottle for her which she accepts and downs (although because I did not know better it is only about half the amount she is used to getting, I do not figure out until a couple days later to just double the formula amount right away as we mix it up for her),and we change her diaper, and put her down for a nap about 2:30. The doctor comes and rudely disturbs her sleep in checking her out, she pronounces her fine and healthy. She goes back to sleep. And sleeps. And sleeps, and sleeps, until finally at 2:30 a.m., I can stand it no longer and I get her up, just to change her diaper. We give her another bottle which she sucks down, then puts her back to bed. She sleeps for another several hours, we have to get her up to start the day of the exhausting government office visits. We are elated that she takes the bottles, and that she sleeps so soundly, that is her way of coping with all oft his tremendous change in her life. Very very little crying. (The other babies are more than making up her share, one cries and screams constantly, missing her nanny so greatly, I feel for the new parents, they like us are first timers.) For Mike's account of Day one, click here.
Changha, Hunan, July 5, Mike Writing (afternoon): Today -- Thursday, July 5 -- is our fourth day with Xiao Chao. It seems much longer, and I don't mean that in a negative way: it just seems like we've been parents a while now and that Hong Kong and Los Angeles (not to mention Washington) are a long way behind us. In fact we left LA a week ago today. Our lives have changed so, that it's hard to picture getting back to work, though since I don't think I'd make much of a living here in Changsha, I obviously will have to.
Xiao Chao/Sarah Grace is blossoming. Part of it is just new energy from good feeding. These kids have been fed nothing but rice and milk at the orphanage. A few days of fruit, steamed eggs, bits and pieces of our meals, and her rice formula, and she's probably had more nutrients in four days than in an average month in the orphanage. Stimulus too: we've had her out with us on the field trips, eating with us in restaurants, etc. I mentioned in yesterday's notes that she'd started pointing, verbalizing more, and was showing a willingness to try walking with us holding her hands. She wasn't doing any of that the first two days, though the medical reports claimed she could. Part of it was probably just fear and disorientation after being dropped in with these odd-looking foreign devils. But she's really coming out, interacting more, smiling occasionally (she gave Tam a big one today), and pointing at everything. "Pah" or "Bah" seems to accompany some of the pointing. Though she's nearly 15 months old, on the first day or two she acted more like an infant of less than a year; now she's starting to behave more like a toddler. She's also become a squirm worm: the new energy means she's not content to be held when interesting stuff is happening.
She's quite well-behaved. Of the 13 babies here in our group, she's one of the four older ones, older than a year (one is 25 months, but is no bigger than the rest. Actually Xiao Chao is probably taller than the 2 year old.) The teething-related cries of yesterday haven't happened today; perhaps the tooth is in. Her apparent constipation of the first few days also is past, adding to the diaper challenge but ending the long wait. She's a bit clingy: she'll ride in her stroller only if it's moving; leave her strapped in it stopped and she'll cry to be picked up.
Today we hauled her off for a tour of the Yue Lu Academy on the campus of Hunan University, across the Xiang River from Changsha. It's at the base of the Yue Lu Mountain, and was founded in 976 or some such date (about like al-Azhar in age, then) under the Song Dynasty. The old academy was destroyed by Japanese bombing during the war in the 30s, but rebuilt (I think the guide said with some Japanese help) in 1980 from old photographs. There's a lovely lecture hall, Confucian temple, gardens, an Imperial library which again houses ancient manuscripts (the original collection was destroyed by the Japanese, but many more have been donated.) There's a big statue of Mao in the midst of the campus. The Great Helmsman studied at the university for two years. (Did he flunk out or was he kicked out? Nobody told us.) As we crossed the river, they told us that Orange Island, in the middle of the river, is famous because Mao wrote a famous poem about it. As I think I've mentioned, this area is Mao's home turf. Although nobody seems to follow his philosophical advice, he's the hometown hero. (I think it worth noting that Mao was from Hunan and Deng Xiaoping from Sichuan (Szechuan): both lived to very ripe old ages despite being chain smokers. I think it must be the hot peppers.)
The only problem was, the day was incredibly hot and very, very humid. Cairo right along the Nile in July, the Persian Gulf without air conditioning, New Orleans in August: that sort of day. Everyone was wilting, including the 13 babies, who were melting down in more than one sense of the term as the wagon train of strollers made its way through the temples etc. Then we attended a concert of ancient Chinese music on ancient Chinese instruments (classical music with baby accompaniment) before heading on to lunch.
Lunch was at a food court of food from around China next to the Dolton Hotel, another of the five stars in town. We'd read about it beforehand (which was good, since the guides never explained what was going on). Problem was, the babies hadn't yet had their noon feeding, so Tam was mixing rice formula as lunch was being served. I was trying to hold the squirm worm, who becomes agitated when she sees her lunch being prepared. She managed to break one china soup spoon, and nearly yank other plates off the table, but once the bottle was done, we enjoyed another fine Chinese meal. I still haven't had a really hot Hunan meal, perhaps because everything is being gentled down for the foreign devils. (I did have a gloriously hot dish in a Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong of all places, something called Tiger Peppers.)
Changsha is not one of the big southeastern boom cities, but skyscrapers are going up around town and we saw a McDonalds and a KFC (in Hunan!), so China's new prosperity is being felt here too.
The heat and the stimulation sort of overburdened the baby a bit, so she's napping right now, while her Baba writes up the day for whoever, if anyone, is following this log. (She'll hopefully read it someday, and that is really who it's for.)
The Fourth of July: Day Three with Xiao Chao
Changsha, Hunan, July 4, Mike Writing: Today was July 4, and even if Tam and I have given up our independence for a good cause, we celebrated the newest American in a place far from home. We dressed her in a red, white and blue outfit her grandparents had sent her, and posed her with a little American flag we'd brought over.
It was an interesting day, at least if you've never been a parent before: we learned more about each other, she showed new talents and new temper, and she and we got to know each other better. I also solved the problem of Internet access, and a few hours ago uploaded the earlier version of this page. It's nice to know I can keep it up to date, and if I can get pictures developed and scanned, can upload them as well.
We deliberately got up earlier today in order to make sure we had time to get breakfast for ourselves after feeding She Who Must Be Obeyed, but she was slow to get going and we're still wrestling with the formula stuff, so we barely made it. Today's big expedition was a shopping trip to a place called Apollo Commercial Plaza, a very non-Communist shopping plaza with absolutely everything imaginable, from a fully stocked supermarket that would outstrip many American ones to a department store with everything including baby stuff; I even saw Remy Martin, Johnny Walker Black, and other such items being sold in this Worker's and Peasant's Paradise, though somehow I don't think Workers and Peasants were buying them. We bought our daughter a stroller (to be donated to an orphanage when we leave China; we have one at home), shoes, a dress, a teething ring (more later on said subject), and other things. But while, as yesterday, she loved looking out the window on the bus ride into town, she was wiped by the time we left: too much input, too many overstimulating experiences, and too much noise. We got her back, washed her (it was very hot and humid and she was dripping), and she was not happy.
She has been teething, and today something on the lower left seems to be bothering her. We've used a little Infant Tylenol, several applications of baby Orajel, and lots of distraction, but it still hurts when she hurts: she's cried more today than in previous days, but it's pretty clear from her gestures that it's the teething.
We ordered 12 more bags of the special rice formula she was raised on because she seemed to really love it. But then while waiting for them to be delivered we tried her on a commercial Nestle rice formula and she seemed to prefer that. We now have 12 bags to carry around with us, though.
In addition to the thick rice/milk formula the Chinese babies eat, she's been fed steamed eggs, a custard-like Chinese dish the babies love, and has also shown a love of Ritz Crackers, canteloupe, watermelon, a bit of regular rice, and some other odds and ends. But an attempt to feed her part of an Oreo as her first introduction to chocolate was a washout. In fact, though this little girl was raised in an orphanage, it's hard to predict what will or won't impress her. We waited a couple of days before showing her television for the first time, but she just sort of shrugged it off. She much prefers looking out the window of the bus.
I should add, before I forget it, that the bus we've been driven around on has, in the middle of its dashboard, a little statue of Chairman Mao, just about the size and positioning of the traditional plastic Jesus statue in the US. Changsha has deep Mao connections: his home town, Shaoshan, is about an hour away, he went to school and taught school here, and founded his first Party cell here, and wrote a lot of poetry about Changsha. Today, he has become a secular saint, or perhaps not such a secular one: I got the impression the dashboard statue was not a political statement but a good luck charm. Wherever the Great Helmsman may be now (and I'm sure he's surprised to be there), I wonder what he thinks of his sainthood.
Until today we let She Who Must Be Obeyed dictate our schedule, and as I noted earlier ate either room service or instant stuff for two days. Today we dragged her to a restaurant twice, having decided this was her debut day. It worked. She likes semi-solid food, she likes playing with silverware (spoons only: we don't trust her with knives, forks, or chopsticks), and she reluctantlly has started to try a high chair, though she prefers to be held. She's a little clingy still -- who wouldn't be if raised in an orphanage? -- but will now tolerate a high chair if she has playthings. (Stacking cups are the big thing at the moment, the rattle now being so day-before-yesterday she won't even look at it.) Her new stroller is tolerated if it's moving, but she won't tolerate sitting around strapped in without movement.
Because of the teeth and the various heavy-duty overstimulations of the day, she was hard to get to sleep this afternoon, but we were all supposed to have dinner together at a local restaurant, so we had to wake her, feed her, and pack her off in her stroller before she was ready. She pouted a bit till they brought out the steamed eggs. She eats like a trencherman, but we're still waiting for the first bowel movement since we got her. The doctors say don't worry, it'll come. But it keeps going in one end and not coming out the other.
Sorry if that's in poor taste: when one is traveling in a group of 13 babies and their parents, such matters are common ground for conversation.
Anyway, she walked a bit, with help -- walkies holding on to us -- for the second time with us today, and she has taken to pointing to things. These may have been things she did regularly at the orphanage, but we hadn't seen them till she got comfortable with us. She's verbalizing much more too. It could be fluent Mandarin I suppose, for all we can tell, but it sounds like your standard ga-ga-goo-goo, which I think it is.
She's an endless entertainment center of her own. We love her dearly. And she smiled several times today, though it's still a bit rare. (I'd swear she laughed at least once, though with the teething, she's also cried more today than earlier days.)
More tomorrow ...
Our First Days Together
Please note that what follows, though written by Mike on the dates shown, is also retold by Tam on July 5, and there are crosslinks to Tam's accounts of the same events.
Tuesday, July 3, 5:45 pm, Changsha, Hunan (Mike Writing): Although Xiao Chao/Sarah Grace has been with us for only about 29 hours, fatherhood is already beginning to feel normal. Yes, diaper changes and feedings take precedence over just about everything else. Yes, Tam and I are staying in the provincial capital of Hunan, center of one of the great regional cuisines of China (and me a hot pepper lover), but we have eaten most of our meals either from room service or (for lunch today) instant ramen-type noodle soup, since our new social secretary has a schedule of her own to be followed. She Who Must Be Obeyed is sleeping now (so is Tam for that matter), so I thought I'd take a moment to record the events of the last two days for the record.
Yesterday morning (Monday, July 2) we and the rest of the group we're traveling with got up in the morning to face what is known in the adoption biz as "Gotcha" day: after two years plus, the day you finally get your daughter. The group is a big one: adopting 13 girls, with either two parents or one parent and another friend or relative along (usually if one parent had to stay home with older children.) Many are on their second Chinese adoption. Some have older biological children. Several of us are parents for the first time. For Tam's account of our first meeting with Xiao Chao, please click here and go to her July 5 account.
The agency set up a meeting for paperwork and other busy work for the morning, to keep us busy until the babies came. The babies were due around 10:30 or 11:00 am. But eight babies were coming from Yueyang in the northeastern part of Hunan, several hours' drive; three, including Xiao Chao, were coming from Changde, about three hours plus to the northwest, and only two were coming from here in Changsha. Needless to say, things did not move on schedule.The Changsha babies came first. Then there was word the others were delayed. We were led off to a grocery store to buy bottles, etc., to keep us busy. Then the eight Yueyang babies arrived. One by one they made their appearance and were given to the new parents, who then took them to their rooms. The three families from Changde were left waiting. We each agreed to take videos and stills of the others' first meetings when they arrived, though that got a little confused and we won't know what's on some of the cameras till we have a chance to develop or play back.
It was one pm when the Changde babies arrived. The first to be announced was Xiao Chao. We recognized her before she was even fully in the room: the full head of black hair seen in her pictures was still there (the Yueyang babies had all had their heads shaved before coming). I fumbled with picture taking as she was handed to Tam. She cried for a brief time. We both tried to use a few words of Mandarin to say that we loved her and things would be alright, that we were her Mama and Baba. I took her next. We learned that the babies had not been fed on the long, hot trip (it's in the mid-90s and high humidity) and needed a change and a meal. So we took her to the room, changed her diaper for the first time, and Tam set about following the directions given that morning for making the rice cereal/milk formula mix that the Chinese babies are used to. Xiao Chao gulped it down eagerly. Though she seemed a bit scared -- I suspect she was terrified of these foreign devils she'd never seen anything like before, and of traveling farther in a car than she'd ever been before -- she ate heartily. (That has been a constant with her: good eater.)
In the conference room where the first meeting took place, we had given her a little stuffed lamb we had brought down as a first toy for her. She wanted nothing to do with it. When we got to the room, however, we dug out a complicated rattle with moving parts and lots of color and stuff, and she was fascinated. She played with it while the bottle was being prepared. She looked at us with a lot of confusion and I suspect a bit of fear, but ate well and soon went to sleep. According to her normal schedule, she naps from 12:30 to 2:30 and then has an afternoon snack. But the morning and early afternoon had been very strange for her, traumatic I'm sure -- leaving the only home she'd ever known, the orphanage, traveling for hours, meeting strange-looking people -- so we let her continue to sleep. Around 5 in the afternoon the doctor -- a female pediatrician hired by the agency and speaking only Chinese -- came by. She woke her up, then started doing those things doctors do -- tapping her knee with a hammer, ramming a tongue depressor deep in her mouth -- and Xiao Chao let her, and us, know that this was not a good idea. She screamed for the first time, and cried and cried. The doctor said she had a slight cough and possibly the beginnings of a cold, but that she would check her again tomorrow before medicating her. When the doctor left, it took some time to get her back to sleep, and so having compounded the grievances of an already bad day, we decided to let her sleep as long as she liked. And sleep. And sleep. We debated whether to wake her for her evening bottle, and let her sleep instead, assuming she'd let us know when she was hungry.
During this period, I also sat down and tried to write down an account of my own feelings and emotions towards my new daughter, and how I felt about fatherhood. It's very subjective, but I'm putting it up unchanged: to read it, go to Michael's First Reflections.
The orphanage director from Changde came by, with the Assistant Director and someone I think may have been the Chief Nanny, sat in our room and answered a few questions. They didn't know much: we will soon get her "abandonment certificate" which will tell us more about where she was found, etc. Her own nanny did not come to Changsha from Changde. The Assistant Director had forgotten to bring the two disposable cameras we had sent so that pictures of her could be taken in the orphanage. They have promised to send them before we leave Changsha. During the meeting with the Director, we handed over the $3000 "donation", the orphanage's fee. The orphanage, the Registry Office, and the Notary who handle the adoption papers do not accept checks or credit cards, or anything so soft as Chinese money, only greenbacks. Ben Franklins in good condition, new face, etc. Since those fees total $3,850, we have been carrying $4,000 in fairly new hundred dollar bills in a money belt for days. Needless to say, we have been glad to finally part with the cash. Most of our travel money is in travelers checks or will be put on credit cards, but not the fees.
Tam woke me about 2:30 am to say that the baby surely needed a diaper change and some food, so we did gently wake her, change her, and feed her. This was done by around 3:00 am, and since that was 12 hours earlier on the east coast of the US and earlier still in Colorado, we called Tam's parents to let them know they were grandparents. After Tam had talked for a while, she handed the phone to me. While we were talking, Tam was rubbing Xiao Chao's belly, and then kissed her on the stomach. She smiled. It was the first smile. Tam did it again. She smiled again. I reported her first smile to the grandparents. These Chinese orphanage babies don't seem to smile much. I suspect with good reason. We are working on changing that.
We got her back to sleep around 4 am. Unfortunately, this morning (Tuesday, July 3) was the crucial day for the actual adoption paperwork. Nobody got to sleep in, least of all Xiao Chao, who had to go apply for her Chinese passport as well as complete the actual adoption formalities. We got up a little before 7 for an 8:30 departure, but Xiao Chao was a bit slow to awaken and it took a while to get her formula ready. By the time she was fed and ready, we had to rush to try to get some breakfast before departure. I sat with her at the table while Tam brought breakfast buffet stuff to us both. Xiao Chao quickly reached for some canteloupe and after she played with it for a while (she finds food fun to play with) I cut a little piece and gave it to her. She promptly wanted more. I tried the same with watermelon but she went back to the canteloupe. We were short on time and I think she had more breakfast than I did. Then we realized we needed a sun hat for her and Tam ran up to get one. She came back and realized that she had forgotten the gifts for the registrar and the notary. (You must give gifts to Chinese officials, but not cash, since that would be bribery. We gave a set of US commemorative stamps and an MGM Wizard of Oz pen set. We are told these are the proper sorts of gifts.) Finally we set out.
We had already known that our daughter is a curious sort, an investigator who wants to know how things work, a tactile sort who wants to touch everything. We had been told she got a little carsick on the long, hot ride from Changde to Changsha, so were weren't sure what she'd make of the bus ride to the Civil Affairs Office. She loved it. We had sat in a seat with the curtain closed because of the hot sun, but she quickly started peeking through the curtain so we drew it back. She was fascinated by the passing scene: people, bicycles, cars, trucks, a big city, stuff she'd never seen. She was glued to the window, and even bumped her head a time or two trying to go through it. She was mesmerized. Most of the other babies weren't looking out of the bus at all. She takes after her parents: she looks at things, sees things others miss. She's curious, intelligent, a sponge for new input. She loved the bus ride. (So did I. My first real street-level view of a Chinese city -- 1997 notwithstanding, no one believes Hong Kong is a Chinese city -- and I was reminded forceably of Cairo in ways that I still have to try to put into words. Not of Cairo today, or of any other Arab city, but of Cairo in the 1970s. Nasser and Zhou Enlai were good buddies, and maybe they shared architectural plans or something. I'll comment more on this somewhere. Except for the fact that I can't read a word of the signs, both general ambience, quality of street pavement and architecture remind me of Cairo in the 70s. So does the climate.)
Not so the bureaucratic stuff. The actual forms had mostly been filled out ahead of time, and if there'd only been two or three babies in our group, we probably could have been done in a short time. But with 13 babies, it takes a while. First we all waited in a big waiting room, decorated with Disney characters. (I have seen Disney characters on a Iraqi elementary school wall in Baghdad, and now in an office operated by cadres of the Chinese Communist Party. Disney may have been the cutting edge of what we now call globalization. Mickey is probably better known around the world than any other figure.)
For Tam's account of the trip to the Register and Notary, written on July 5, please click here. Mike's account continues below.
Then we went in for a meeting with a Registry official, a friendly woman who basically had Tam and I give our thumbprints and Xiao Chao her footprint on the adoption document. At each stage we are asked to check all the English language spellings; if somebody's name or address is misspelled anywhere, it can prevent our getting her American visa.) By the time all 13 families went through this process, the babies were getting a bit restive. There was air conditioning of a sort, but only if you were close to a vent. When all this was done, we went up a flight of stairs to the notary's offices. This was even hotter. For some reason, we had discovered earlier, the notary documents for those adopting from Changsha, Changde, and Yueyang were all slightly different from each other, even though all are in the same province, Hunan. Each group was also handled differently. I understand the Yueyang people had a fairly full interview about their reasons for adopting, while we got a short one asking when we were married, what we did for a living, how much we make, and that was pretty much it. But the whole process, with 13 babies, took forever. The babies were crying. Xiao Chao, who had been one of the best babies of the lot, started going ballistic, melting down. We changed her diaper but that wasn't the problem. Tam went to the bathroom to make up a new bottle (we'd brought a thermos and her rice formula), and she gulped down the half bottle Tam came back with, so Tam went back to make more. This however was too liquid (or something) and she rejected it, as she rejected both apple juice and water. One of the other parents had some Ritz crackers, and she seemed happy with eating tiny bites of these -- another new taste. But it was hot and humid, and because of her sleeping we had still not given her a bath, and she was melting down. Xiao Chao was crying more than at any time since we'd gotten her.
The one distraction was a pen in my pocket. She had already been playing with it: it was shiny, tactile, and could be pulled out of my pocket with ease. It could be dropped, and Daddy would pick it up. She had already discovered the popular baby game of dropping stuff on the floor so Daddy will pick it up, which I understand is universal. But at one point she was so tired that when I tried to distract her by waving the pen in front of her, she grabbed it and, instead of dropping it, threw it some distance. This is not a child who likes bureaucracy.
Finally the last Ben Franklins were handed over and the gifts given, and we proceeded to the bus. The good news is that this is our last major paperwork until the American Consulate in Guangzhou, which I'm sure will have more functional air conditioning. But we have to wait here till Friday till her paperwork comes back and till Monday for her Chinese passport, so we have several days of sightseeing in Changsha.
A major topic of conversation had already been whether your baby had yet had a BM since you got her, and as we boarded the bus we thought we detected nasal evidence that Xiao Chao had done so. It later proved to be erroneous, and was presumably another baby providing the odor, but we decided that that was why she was upset. Tam sat next to the window with her for the bus ride back, but instead of avidly watching the world go by this time, she conked out cold.
When we got her back to the hotel, we changed her diaper and gave her her first bath. She had been used to one in the morning and one at night, but her late sleeping the night before and early appointments this morning meant we hadn't bathed her, on a hot, humid summer day. It seemed to help. Afterwards we left her for awhile in just her diaper, but she seemed uncomfortable. The Chinese always overlayer and overclothe their kids, and I don't think she was comfortable with only a diaper on. So we dressed her.
I had meanwhile gone to the grocery store. There's a store across the street. Since I speak very little Chinese ("I love you", "Good baby", "I'm your Baba", plus "hello" and "thank you"), shopping is mostly a case of looking for obvious logos (Oreos, Pringles, other junk food which has spanned the world) or things with pictures on them (we bought two ramen-type soups with nothing but the photo to go on, but they were fine), or things in clear plastic. But even some of the latter aren't identifiable: odd fruits or vegetables or something. And even some things with English on them aren't very clear: what on earth is "pork floss"?
Anyway I came back from the grocery and found that Tam was still trying to get Xiao Chao to take her nap. After sleeping all afternoon and night the day before, she was tired but unwilling to sleep. She had discovered stacking cups, and was playing with them. She had previously only been comfortable in her crib or in our arms, but was now sitting up on the bed, playing with her toys. As I laid out the groceries for Tam to see, she started playing with them. A round tube of Oreos proved particularly interesting, as she kept trying to stand it on its end. Since another family had already said that their baby, who had obviously never tasted chocolate, had really loved her first taste of an Oreo, we decided to show her what was inside her favorite new plaything.
Bust. She did not seem to like the Oreo. Perhaps this child does not like chocolate, though in all other ways she seems normal. Perhaps it's just too unfamiliar a new taste for her. Perhaps she will not have to worry about weight or dentists like the rest of us.
Finally, after hours of trying, we got her to take her nap. Sure enough, the doctor came back in time to wake her up once again with tongue depressors and a stethoscope, and once again, she screamed. The doctor said her cold signs were much better, a little heat rash was no problem, and not to worry about the BM delay. Meanwhile we had an upset, awake, and yelling baby. Eventually she went back to sleep. As I write this, Tam's getting her evening formula ready before we wake her.
Monday morning, July 2, Changsha, Hunan (Mike Writing): By the time this can be posted to the web, probably no one will read this part, but I'm including it for completeness. It is the last entry before we get Xiao Chao/Sarah Grace (later this morning), and since the account of our first day with her will be in this log before this section is posted to the web, probably no one at all willcare about anything up to that time. We don't blame you. We include it for competeness and for the record, for when she is old enough to want to read about these days when we brought her from China. And because by lunchtime today we won't even remember our names, let alone where we were yesterday.
Typhoon Durian held off the coast enough to allow us to depart Hong Kong on time, and we were able to depart smoothly enough on a China Southern flight to Changsha. We arrived just as it was getting dark, and noticed from the air that there were few electric lights visible in rural China. The temperature on the ground was 35 Celsius even though the sun was down (about 95 Farenheit, I think), and the humidity was horrendous, comparable to Cairo right along the Nile or a Persian Gulf city without the air conditioning. And the entrance hall of the airport was indeed un air-conditioned, and didn't even have fans. The immigration lines made no distinction between Chinese and non-Chinese, and it took a long time to get through. But once we had collected luggage and cleared customs, Daphne and her sister Ellen -- the CCAI agency people here -- met us with buses, cold towels, bottled water, and new pictures of our little ones! Daphne seems highly efficient, confident, outgoing, well-organized. No offense to the CCAI people in Hong Kong, but she and her sister seem to have the system down and have everything figured out.
Our group -- 13 babies, 29 parents and other companion travelers (grandparents etc.) -- have taken over the 19th floor of the Grand Sun City Hotel, a high rise five star in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province. The hotel staff have created a baby play area in front of the elevators, with toys, a slide, a walker, and other stuff.
We're up for a 6:30 wakeup and a 7:00 breakfast followed by a meeting followed by -- the babies. And sometime after that, hours, days, whenever, we'll write up our account. (How well, often, and whether she sleeps will be important in determining that.) And it will go on the web when I can get it there.
Sunday morning, July 1, Hong Kong: (Mike Writing): Sarah Grace Day Minus One! We leave this afternoon for Changsha, Hunan, and will meet Xiao Chao tomorrow. Yesterday proved to be a frustrating, tiring day. Problems getting connected, service problems in the otherwise luxurious hotel, a long tour we found exhausting which spent too much time on shopping and too little on sightseeing. Oh yes, and Cathay Pacific pilots are about to go on strike, and Typhoon Durian is ramping up off the coast and unsettling the weather. But other than that ... We made the mistake of doing too much on too little sleep, and paid the price in mood and weariness, which is silly of us because we've done more global travel than most of the people on this group adventure, and should have known better. The good news is that our lack of sleep in coming days, though inevitable, will be for a far better reason. I think I'll avoid cataloguing complaints about the day, and just say that we're eager to get on to China and do what we came to do. I don't know when we'll be updating again: not tomorrow, when we need to get to know our daughter, and after that, I don't know about connectivity to update. That we're doing this at all is from out here would have seemed impossible a few years ago.
Sunday morning, July 1, Hong Kong (Tam Writing): Yes, yesterday was not one of our better days. Everything seemed to fall apart (when we are tired and hungry, then a series of small problems seems larger and more troubling than perhaps they are). But the good news today is that we did get a really fine Cantonese meal last night in the hotel, and MIchael was treated to some truly hot spicy green "Tiger Peppers." That made his night and helped erase the day's frustrations. Also, we had a very good long night's sleep, so we are in much better shape physically and in much better spirits. Yesterday we did enjoy, in the morning, going off by ourselves to ride the famous "Star Ferry" across the bay. Then, we ate a dim sum lunch with the rest of the CCAI group. We then rode in our chartered bus with our guide, "Matthew" up to the top of Victoria's Peak, but it was very rainy and cloudy so we didn't see much. But the winding drive up was filled with plenty of beautiful glimpses of the bay down below. Really magnificent sights. After that we rode in little sampans in the fishing village in Aberdeen, that was fun and neat to experience the bay from that perspective. The day ended with two more stops at a jewelry making and shopping facility, and Stanley market, but by that time Michael and I were really dragging, and getting frustrated with these stops, we just are not shoppers. Oh well. That's all past us now, and we are much closer to getting our Chang Xiao Chao!
4:00 am Hong Kong Time, Saturday, June 30: (Tam Writing): We are up at the moment, having slept for a couple of hours in our room in the luxurious (and we do mean luxurious!) Shangri-la Hotel, right on the Kowloon waterfront. Our hotel room (#1221) looks out over the water, and hopefully in daylight we will see Victoria Peak looming above the other side. For now, the bright lights of the other side shine through our windows, beautiful!! Michael has figured out how to set up the laptop, and so we will upload this to the website as well. A few notes about our airplane trip: Cathay Pacific is the way to travel!! Although coach was still cramped, the service was terrific, and each seat has a little computer screen in front where you can punch up a map of the route, and see where the plane is along it, along with current miles covered, miles to go before destination, times in original starting place, time in destination and Greenwich Mean Time. I thought it was neat that we saw us cross the International Date Line on the screen as we did it! The screen also has data like current altitude of the plane, speed, head and tail winds, etc. Very neat. Michael and I were very fortunate in that we slept more than we thought we would, so we landed at Hong Kong in actually not too bad a shape. Others in the group were a wreck. We met our CCAI guide, Juan (pronounced JoAnn) at the airport after we'd gone through passport control, baggage claim, and customs (all very efficient and smooth). She led us to two buses which then took us to the hotel. When we got here, we explored all the amenities in our room, (which include soft slippers and plush soft terrycloth robes, an umbrella, complimentary water and a plate of two apples, along with a lovely tea set in a woven basket, with hot tea!) cracked open a couple of beers, and enjoyed the tremendous view of the waterfront. Because we were not feeling too tired, we then went out to explore the hotel and walked around outside the hotel for a bit. I should say that all this is happening in the 11:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. time frame here, but we felt that the exercise would do our legs good, and we really enjoyed exploring this magnificent hotel. Truly gorgeous! Our impression is that at least where we are, it is very safe, we see people walking along the waterfront in these late hours.
Same time and place, Mike writing: Unlike Tam, I've been to Hong
Kong before, back in (I think) 1987. The original reason for the visit
has sort of faded with time but I ended up getting a full briefing on the
place from the Brits, Americans, and Chinese, thanks to Clare Hollingworth
of the Daily Telegraph, one of the last of the WWII generation of British
women correspondents; she used the Foreign Correspondents' Club as a base,
which is also known as the site of much of John LeCarre's "The Honourable
Schoolboy". So Hong Kong then, as I experienced it, was very much the outpost
of the British Empire. Fourteen years later, I'm back. First impressions
are that becoming a "Special Administrative Region" of China hasn't made
much visible difference, except that 14 years mean the skyline is even
more dramatic and impressive. The Queen isn't on the money and the Union
Jack is gone, but you don't see the red flag either, and superficially
at least things still are as they were (Victoria Harbour, Victoria Peak,
Princess Margaret Road etc. haven't been renamed). Double decker buses,
driving on the left side of the road, etc., of course aren't the sort of
things that change. Our hotel is just a couple of blocks from the Peninsula,
and I hope our short visit allows for a peek in to see if there have been
any changes to that bastion of Empire. I've always been fond of the old
British colonial era luxury hotels -- the King David in Jerusalem, Old
Winter Palace in Luxor, Old Cataract in Aswan, Raffles in Singapore --
and wish I'd been around before Shepheards in Cairo burned (though I remember
the later Shepheards, and the original Semiramis, since replaced). Anyway
this rambling isn't about our trip, is it? Someday Sarah Grace will read
this and wonder why I wasn't writing about her. We ARE thinking about her
lot. Tomorrow (well, today, since it's now become 4:30 am)
we spend in Hong Kong, the day after that we fly to Changsha, and the day
after that -- is Baby Day!
27, Los Angeles: The voyage to bring Xiao Chao home began routinely
enough with a typical United Airlines sardine class coast-to-coast flight,
overbooked and packed to the gills, not enough movie headphones or pasta
lunches to reach the back rows where we were, no legroom and, somehow,
two different families split up in seating until we managed to horsetrade
everybody around till they were seated with their own kin. Since we've
heard so many good things about Cathay Pacific, which will take us from
LA to Hong Kong tomorrow, a flight on the DC to LA United Pack-'em-tight-in-the-Boxcar
was a reminder of how uncomfortable US airlines (at least for those of
us consigned to Coach) have become. Perhaps we're just old geezers fondly
remembering the "good old days" but there DID used to be more legroom in
In LA, we're at an airport Howard Johnson's, an older type HJ (we get a Marriott on the return flight, and it's much nicer and down the street), but we are convinced we were right to fly to LA a day early. For one thing, the problem of delayed flights and missed connections is so bad this summer that we wouldn't want to risk missing our Hong Kong flight. And for another, it at least gives us one night to adjust three of the hours of time difference before making the big jump to China time, which is 12 hours after Washington (normally it would be 13, but China and Hong Kong don't apparently have daylight time in summer).
The area of airport hotels around LAX is not exactly a vacation in Southern California. The palm trees and the lovely weather are a clue that you are indeed there, as is the fact that there's both a "Teachings of Buddha" and a Spanish Bible in the drawer along with the usual Gideon Bible, but the area is not, shall we say, exactly a day at the beach, even though the hotels are nice enough. I (Mike speaking here) admit that (except for the climate, obviously) I've always preferred San Francisco to LA and have never been a great California lover in any event, though I have many friends here.
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