No pictures today. We took them but I am too tired to even transfer them from the camera – much less upload them. Our internet here is, ummm, slow (to say the least). I will do my best to do a picture catch up post tomorrow once we get to Zhengzhou. We fly early tomorrow morning.
Today we went to the Beijing Zoo. By ourselves even though it nearly gave our guide hives that we took off on our own. He was appalled (“but you have to cross the street to catch a taxi back” and “it will cost you about 40 yuan each way”) but we managed to handle it with no problems. 40RMB is about $6, by the way. It didn’t break the bank.
What did annoy me was that our guide approached us this AM and told us we needed to pay 500RMB for our participation in the tour yesterday. We did not plan on touring with them due to the cost quoted by CCAI but were instead going to go on our own. He told us to hop on the bus with them to catch a ride despite me telling him that we were not participating in the group tour and he assured us it was pay as you go for our own tickets, etc. It’s not the amount of money exactly but the way it was handled and dictated to us after the fact. I gotta say, I’ve been really happy with CCAI overall but the experience we’ve had with the travel department has been the one sour spot in the process.
The zoo was interesting. I’ll spare you the history lesson about the grounds but they were old (Qing dynasty era) and beautiful. The animal enclosures, however, are a different story. They don’t even attempt to mimic a natural setting but are instead small and sparse. Everything was mostly clean and the animals appeared healthy but it left the animal lover in me a bit sad. People didn’t hesitate to feed the animals anything and everything despite signs to the contrary and there was no shortage of people throwing trash into the animals’ areas. I don’t love zoos anywhere but this one did make me appreciate the effort the US puts into their zoos these days.
Ava did enjoy herself though. The monkeys were cool (aren’t they always?) and we saw a teeny-tiny baby monkey hanging out with his mom. We saw penguins and tigers and pandas, too. Ava crashed hard in the stroller (yeah, I won on taking it today) so we only stayed about 3 hours before heading back to the hotel where we spent the rest of the afternoon packing, napping, watching movies, and just taking it easy. We all needed the downtime.
It’s been a bit of an unexpected strain on us in dealing with all the stares we get with Ava. I realize that staring is culturally different here and is not considered rude the way we Americans normally interpret it (aggression) but it gets tiresome. It is constant. The younger people seem much more likely to smile at us but the older generation does not seem to look upon us as kindly. I finally figured out that if we stare back it generally seems to stop them a bit quicker but we have been approached a few times. Most have been older women who are curious but kind and a quick answer that she is American tends to stop the conversation there. We’ve also had a couple interactions where the tone of voice isn’t so friendly and we simply walk away at that point. Thankfully Ava seems oblivious to most of this.
What’s great is that kids are kids and they are all friendly. So cute seeing her make little friends despite the language barriers. Why can’t adults be like that, too?
Another thing that is bothering me a lot more this time (likely because I’m more attuned to who’s around me with Ava) is how many disabled beggars there are. It is so heartbreaking to see them and I wish we could help them all – but we can’t because the minute we do then we would be swarmed. It just hurts my heart to know that we have so much in the US and a social support system that helps those who are unable to support themselves while people in other countries have so little – with the reasons for that absolutely out of their control. I swear, next time someone asks me why we adopted from China instead of one from our own country I’m gonna stick them on a plane and let them see how some people have to survive in a country without Medicaid and a decent social welfare system that at least allows most people some sort of a safety net. We did give a few yuan to a very kind elderly lady who was begging outside the zoo today since she heard J trying to buy tickets and she walked over and helped us buy the right ones. She was so grateful for us giving her less than $1 USD. No one else was even acknowledging her but they had no problem buying junk souvenirs and snacks from the many street vendors outside the gate.
I hate to end on a downer so I will instead reiterate how proud I am of Ava. She hasn’t been perfect but I can tolerate the extra attitude and over-dramatic moments since she’s barely 5 years old and is handling this trip better than most adults.
Merry day is in two days. Please send your best thoughts or prayers or whatever you do that this goes well for her and for us.