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Archive for the ‘The Trip – Take 2’ Category

Things that happened today:

Somehow scored a private van for free to shuttle us and another family to the Hong Kong airport from the hotel instead of making us ride the ginormous shuttle bus with a billion other people – check (woot!).

Waited in line forever to check in with United where they couldn’t find the baby’s reservation – check. (They eventually found it.)

Changed our remaining yuan into US dollars – yes. I was good. We ended up with less than 100 Yuan left to convert (approximately $8).

Got fast tracked through the security family line – sort of.

Bought the most expensive bag of M&M’s EVER in the Hong Kong airport. NOTHING is cheap in that place.

Inserted ourselves into the pre pre-boarding line and successfully talked our way through so we could get the car seat installed – yep.

Flew for 11 hours + 5 hours with a 5YO and a 15 month old without going insane? Yep (mostly). The car seat was a godsend. So glad J stood his ground on this. Merry stayed in the seat probably 85% of the time and slept for a good portion of the first flight and almost all of the second flight – well, except for the last hour of the second flight which I spent handing her cheerios one by freaking one. That’s okay. All three of us girls snuck in a good nap on the second flight. I don’t normally sleep on planes so it was a nice treat for me and definitely helped pass the time.

I will admit that San Francisco almost did me in, though. We arrived half an hour late cutting our time to process immigration, customs, baggage recheck, and hoofing it to the gate to less than 1 hour and 50 minutes. Oh yeah, and they threw in not one, but TWO, last minute gate changes just for fun.

I won’t lie. It was tight and we wouldn’t have made it if the incoming plane hadn’t been running a few minutes late. And I think it’s pretty much a miracle that I didn’t die of a heart attack and/or J and I didn’t kill each other while trying to make it to the plane.

Our immigration officer was nice (but slow) and congratulated us (and Merry) after he completed our paperwork. I think he was just happy that we had everything since the people in front of us were disorganized and clearly got on his (and my) nerves. Customs waved us through after hearing our sad connection story and the baggage recheck guy helped us out as well. But of course we ended up with a TSA jerk who was too busy to check our stroller in a timely fashion as we went back through security so of course we ended up with his supervisor coming over to smooth things out and take care of it (OMG – deja vu).

I do have a few pictures from the day but none of Merry as she came through immigration to become our newest American citizen. Too crazy, stressed, and hectic (and I forgot for Ava, too so I figured I shouldn’t do it for one and not the other). I did explain to Merry that today was kind of a big deal even if she didn’t quite grasp the significance. She will later (I hope).

Anyhow, all that to say we are sort of home. Well, we’re in the US at an airport hotel anyway. We head to my mom’s tomorrow to pick up our dogs (oh, I have missed them) and then back to our house on Friday. I cannot wait to be home but I am so happy to have made it this far today.

I love the USA. I just do.

 

The (arguably) most important part of the whole trip, well – after Gotcha Day anway.

We had our consulate appointment!!

We had to be on the bus at some ungodly hour to be there first thing so breakfast was early, early, early. I don’t do early and J was annoying because he was hungry so we started out the day snarling at each other over the breakfast buffet. In his defense, he felt icky and looked worse – so much so that our guide (who was a bit overly concerned with our safety and welfare) kept asking him if he needed medicine, water, rest, etc. It really got old – I mean she asked him every 2 minutes – so I decided to further annoy him by also asking him the same things she did every 3 minutes.

The consulate experience was the same but different. For one thing, it was packed. There were lines of Chinese people waiting outside and inside. We, as US passport holders, also had to wait in line – however it was much shorter and moved much faster. That said, waiting in line with Chinese people is pretty much a free-for-all that really brings out the worst in me. There is no awareness of personal space or concern for smaller children or babies. J threw a few elbows with the best of them and we finally made it in after going through the TSA style security check and surrendering our cameras.

The oath used to be taken in a large room with lots of other families and it was really here that I could see the decrease in the number of people adopting. The adoption room is much smaller now with only about 20 seats. When we were there with Ava we took the oath in a huge room with probably 50 other families. This time there were seven. Five of those were from our group. I would say that only one of those kids were from the non-special needs program (and that’s just a guess on my part since they were the only non-Hague family).

I teared up a bit while taking the oath. I know what this will mean to Merry in the future – it really is a bit like a golden ticket – so the significance is not lost on me. She didn’t care. She was more interested in pulling off her headband (how DO people get their kids to wear those things?) and undoing the velcro on her shoes. Ava was manic so I had to do the underarm get-your-attention pinch and the snarling under my breath detail of all the horrible things I would do to her once we got back to the room if she didn’t chill. She kind of chilled out a bit at that point so I didn’t have to torture her (much) after all.

We were the last people called up to complete our paperwork, knocked that out quickly, and then headed back downstairs to wait in the gazillion percent humidity (and the non air-conditioned lobby) for the bus to show up. J was alternately grouchy or looking like he was about to pass out so he went outside for some (questionable) air since it was actually cooler outside while I chatted with some of our travel group.

One of the other moms said the nicest thing to me in there while we were waiting. She said that of all the families that our family was the only one that  just seemed to gel immediately. From her perspective and viewpoint it seemed that we were the ones who had it all together, had the easiest transition, and just ‘fit’ right away. While I don’t know how true that it is in reality it made me feel good that it seemed that way to her. It has been an easy-ish transition (knock on wood) but Merry gets all the credit for that. She is one tough little girl to come through all this and still maintain her sunny personality.

J kept the girls again while I headed out to the Pearl market with some of our group. I knew what I wanted so our guide immediately bypassed the lower level shops and we went straight to the 5th floor. Merry now has a set of pearls which will be a gift at some significant event in her life, I have a new pearl bracelet – as do both Merry and Ava – and I also picked up a small piece of jade that is actually from her province. Her city is known for its jade so I really wanted to do this. I will display it now but Merry will get it when she has her own house and wants it. The other families left the Pearl Market early and my facilitator nearly had a heart attack when I decided to stay behind a little longer. Mind you, there was another CCAI guide there so it wasn’t like I would be alone AND last time I checked I’ve pretty much successfully navigated my way through a number of cities in the world so I’m pretty sure I could make it to the taxi station just down the road on my own. She was having none of that so she sent the rest of the group on their way and stayed with me. I kind of felt like I had a handler. We did have a really nice conversation on the way back to the hotel where she talked about her life in China and what is happening to the China adoption program.

Let me just add that China isn’t nearly as cheap as it used to be. Everything is more expensive and the exchange rate is significantly less than when we were in China before. Bottom line – pearls and jade aren’t the great deal they used to be. Still good – but not great.

Neither is Shamian Island. A whole group of us decided to blow off the Pearl River cruise and head over to Shamian for the afternoon/evening. I needed some larger size Chinese dresses to put up for Ava and I couldn’t resist the siren call of the squeaky shoes. Honestly though, I didn’t buy a lot (not nearly as much as I did with Ava) and I left ALL of the negotiating to J (he was finally feeling back to normal after a nap in the room and actually volunteered to come shopping with us – oh, wait. Maybe this means he was delirious.) and one of the other dads in our group. He’s an attorney by trade so he was determined to get the best deal he could and he was good at it. But – I thought the shopkeepers would be more open to wheeling and dealing due to the loss of business now that the White Swan is closed but I would say not so much. We talked to several of the shopkeepers and they are really feeling the loss in business. It was kind of sad really – we saw maybe one or two other adoptive families while  we were there. Otherwise, it was kind of deserted so when they spotted us (15 total, I think) they really swarmed us trying to get us to come in their shops.

We finished up the evening with dinner at Lucy’s. It was fine – they had A/C and cold Cokes, my kids outfits matched the tablecloths so I now know where the fabric for their shirts came from, and a great time was had by all. I have definitely found at least one new friend (and her mom) from our travel group that I’m sure we’ll keep in touch with.

Oh wait, the evening didn’t quite end there.

Remember I said the island was deserted. Well, the lack of people coming to the island means a lack of taxicabs dropping people off and picking up new ones. We didn’t even see one for ages so we decided to walk over to the Victory hotel to see if there would be more available over there. Ummm, not so much.

The first taxi who pulled over for us got cabjacked by some lady who saw me walking toward the cab, in the rain, while carrying a sleeping baby and dragging a tired preschooler. She just jumped right in and took off. Personally, I’m wishing super hot eternal hellfire on her for doing that. We finally caught another one about 10 minutes later so we managed to shove eight people into that one while another seven went into the next one that came along about 30 minutes later.

Hey, guess what? Another good day in Guangzhou!

Day 18 was kind of a down day for us. We had a little bit of paperwork to do in the AM but we were able to have a leisurely breakfast before J took the girls back to the room while I met up with the group to prepare the documents that the US consulate needs to issue Merry’s immigration visa.

We met up in a conference room with our facilitator and knocked out the paperwork pretty quickly. J was feeling a bit headache-y so I came and took Ava for a meander around the hotel (which is huge) while he and Merry napped. Ava and I checked out the executive lounge for some water and lollipops and then headed to the play area to let her burn off some energy. The play area is outdoors on the 4th floor in a nicely landscaped rooftop garden (with an enormous waterfall) so the deal was that I would let her play if she let me take some pictures afterward.

She played. We ran into some of our travel mates so we chatted while Ava totally scammed one of other dads into pushing her on the swing set (which she could have done by herself, btw). It was a bit warm (who am I kidding – it was horribly hot at 89 degrees with 80% humidity) so she begrudgingly smiled for a few pictures (still on the camera – sorry) before we went in search of the pool.

Jackpot! We found it. So now I had to convince J to suit up and take the girls in. He still wasn’t feeling the greatest but he rallied and dove (figuratively) right in. Ava (as always) loveslovesloves the water and I think Merry will be the same. J took her in the pool for the first time (her little 6-9 month bathing suit just falling off of her – we secured it with hair ties) and she thought it was just marvelous. We didn’t keep her in long but she had great fun and then kicked back in the poolside lounge chair with me to watch her big sister play. We met up with yet another family there so it was nice to just sit back and chat.

Nap and lunchtime followed before we headed out for a short city tour and the obligatory official shopping trip.

We went to the 6 Banyan Trees temple, which is a Buddhist temple that J and I had visited before with Ava. I’ll spare you the history lesson on the place but we were a bit disappointed to find that you can no longer climb to the top of the pagoda. I’m sure some tourist fell and that was the end of that. We did participate in a short Buddhist blessing ceremony where the monks wished good things for our new children and our families. It was quite interesting. Some families opted not to participate due to the feeling that it conflicted with their own personal religious beliefs but I saw it as more of a goodbye to China for Merry as opposed to a religious ceremony for me. It was lovely. Both Merry and Ava were fascinated by the monks chanting and I just appreciate anyone that wishes us good luck and a happy life and family.

But then, about 15 minutes after we got there, Merry started breaking out in an awful heat rash. She has always seemed sensitive to heat and sun but this had me seriously worried. The doctor in our group checked her out – mentioning that the antibiotic might be intensifying the sun sensitivity (despite the sunscreen and hat that we had on her) so we kind of rushed through the rest of the temple complex and got her back on the air-conditioned bus. She perked right up once she cooled down so we planned that she and J would stay on the bus at the next stop since he wasn’t feeling all that great either.

Except no. The bus driver kicked him off so he had to run to catch up with us – and as soon as Merry started getting hot (which was pretty much immediately since it was over 90 degrees by this point) she started breaking out again.

I was so mad. And upset. And concerned. So I basically saw none of the museum/ancestral home we were visiting other than the inside of the solitary air conditioned room that housed the old embroidery. J wandered around and took a few pictures (also still on the camera) so maybe I can get an idea from there.

Shopping next. In an air conditioned store. And since I’m a good little tourist with Chinese money (which doesn’t seem like real money to me) in my pocket to spend then I did. I bought Merry a beautiful jade bracelet to put up for her years from now. And I bought a circular jade pendant for me since that is something I wished I’d bought last time. And I bought a couple of dresses for the girls. And I bought…

Well, you get the picture.

I did tell our guide that I hoped her commission was good since I (along with others) dropped a ton of cash there. But after hitting the jade market I’m actually happy with the jade I bought. It is a beautiful color and is class A jade – which I’m realizing is actually kind of hard to find in China anymore.

By this time, J was feeling really bad and Merry was in a mood due to lack of sleep and the heat so we headed back to the room as soon as possible.

And then, because I am a stellar wife, I left both kids with my sickish husband and ran away with another mom in our group to scrounge free food and, more importantly, guava margaritas in the executive lounge. It was a good night – great conversation with another mom who gets it (they also have an older daughter from China) and some me time which came just when I most needed it in order to recharge my batteries.

Other than the weird heat rash thing and J being slightly under the weather – it was another good day.

(I love Guangzhou!)

 

With bated breath we headed to the visa medical appointment. Merry was loaded up with ibuprofen and we headed out thinking good thoughts of a normal temperature and a patient child(ren).

We made it to the new building with no issues. The medical exam used to be done on Shamian Island but it’s moved to a a newer, more spacious (and much cleaner) building in Guangzhou (no idea where it’s located – we took a bus so I didn’t pay attention). It wasn’t any less crowded but they do have a separate waiting and exam area for adoption visas so at least we were out of the main drag while we waited. Ordinary Chinese citizens in need of vaccinations, exams, etc. for immigration or visa purposes must also use this clinic so overall it was quite crowded. They also do the visa photo there now as well. This used to be done separately so we found it quite convenient to have everything in one place.

The new building:

Yep – we’re in the right place:

The visa photo was done first. Painless (maybe because I didn’t do it). J handled that part while I wrangled Ava.

Then we headed back to the medical exam area.

We got there early so it was deserted.

(Note the Mickey Mouse on the floor. I swear there is something Disney every time we turn around.)

(Note also how empty it is. This did not last.)

See. Starting to fill up. (And I have no idea where Merry is in this picture. Presumably J had her.) This wasn’t even close to how busy it was just a few minutes later. It was packed in there.

We waited a while – rather impatiently I might add, while the doctors and nurses socialized so I snapped some pictures. The one below isn’t the greatest (out of focus and J is missing the top of his head) but I loved the smile on Merry’s face.

Merry did great, of course. She had a fine time playing with the doctors as they tried to examine her.

And there wasn’t even one tear when they looked in her ears or mouth. As much as she hates anything on her face I totally expected drama so it was a nice surprise that it went smoothly.

Aaaannnndddd her temp was normal. You have no idea how tense I was until they said that she was good. I will attribute some of that to the Motrin we’d given her beforehand, some to the antibiotic we started a couple of days prior, and some to all the good thoughts and prayers from everyone.

They also weighed and measured her.

New stats (approximately since I’m working from memory) and a few other tidbits:

29 inches tall

17.5 pounds

I would like to point out that she has gained 2(!) pounds since we met her. This little girl was ready to eat food and eat she has. Cleft or not, she eats pretty much anything and everything and gets MAD if you are eating in front of her and don’t share it.

She also has 4 teeth (she’s sprouted 2 since we’ve gotten her and I expect another within the next few days) and is starting to walk a little bit holding on to only one hand instead of 2. She is standing on her own easily and is getting braver every day. She loves being held and carried though and we are happy to oblige.

Once our medical was done in typical Chinese fashion – with no real order or lines – we snapped a sister picture (or 12) while waiting for the other families in our group to finish.

 

Again – not the greatest shot since it was taken quickly (and is clearly out of focus – no idea why) but it was the only one where they were both smiling and it didn’t look like Ava was contemplating tossing her down the stairs.

After we got back to the hotel and let the girls take a quick nap we took a taxi over to Shamian Island with a few of our travel mates. What a trip down memory lane that was. Good because it reminded me of being there with Ava but bad for a few reasons – the White Swan is closed and looks deserted, very few adoptive families around anymore, more than a few of the shops have closed down due to the lack of business, tons of staring and pointing at Merry, and because I quickly remembered how much I hated bargaining with Chinese shop owners. They’re just sooooo much better at it than I am and I really hate arguing with someone for a price difference of 10 yuan.

It was Saturday and the island was packed There were bridal photo shoots and fashion models EVERYwhere. And it was hot. Really hot so we we hit a few stores for the only pair of squeaky shoes (at Sherry’s place) that I could find in Merry’s size (she has really tiny feet), a pair of flip-flops for Ava that have already started falling apart, and a quick dinner at Lucy’s before we were just done.

It was a good day.

WE MADE IT TO GUANGZHOU!!!! YAY!!!!

Walking to baggage claim in that airport was like slipping on a comfortable pair of shoes. I have great memories there (except it being where I chipped a tooth on our last trip here – which kind of sucked) so it felt good to be there again. It also felt humid. Really, really humid – like break a dripping sweat after you’ve walked 1/4 mile to the bus carrying a baby like a kangaroo while toting your 5 year old’s carry on backpack and pulling the husband’s carry on.

But wait – first I have to tell you that we had to have our luggage ready to leave Zhengzhou at 1PM today. We had it waiting outside the room by 11AM. We had to be in the lobby at 1:30PM and we were there by 1:15. Now everyone who knows me knows that I am late for everything so this is significant and should illustrate how much I wanted out of that city.

Our luggage wasn’t overweight this time but we still had a gazillion pieces so while I was waiting on J to check it all I had a great conversation with a young Australian guy who was heading home after working as a volunteer with Eagles Wings China. He was nice and said he really appreciated seeing us all with our new kids especially after spending the time volunteering there. I wish I could have spoken to him more in depth but I was keeping one eyeball on Ava to make sure she didn’t wander too far and I fear I didn’t give the conversation the time and attention I would have liked.

Security was fun. Let’s just say the pat down was a LOT more familiar than one would get from TSA in the US. They do give you a same sex screener but they patted down and scanned every single person coming through. Good thing it’s a smallish airport. They even scanned Ava, who handled it like a champ, and had me take Merry out of the Ergo to scan her as well. The agent was so nice – guess she owed it to me after the intimacy we just shared – and helped me get Merry back in the Ergo and then snapped it closed for me. In all seriousness, neither J or I really minded. Guess we fly too much to care anymore.

The flight boarded a little late with the typical pushing and shoving consistent with Chinese people queuing for anything. Fortunately we (a) have this all figured out now and (b) I turn into a Mama bear when anyone attempts to get between me and Ava so we didn’t have a problem getting on board in a timely fashion.

And then we sat on the tarmac for 90 minutes.

I think that it was because of fog/smog. Don’t know – can’t understand Chinese and by the time they got to the English translation the Chinese people were hooting and hollering over the Chinese language announcement so we never could hear what the reason was. I’ll be honest – I was a bit wigged out at the thought of spending another night there so I was willing that pilot to just take off already. Who needs visibility anyway? He’s got radar. The great thing about Asian airlines though is that they believe in feeding you so as soon as the natives got restless the flight attendants were handing out water and dinner – which kept most everyone occupied until the pilot said heck with it and took off with no change in conditions that I could see.

The flight itself was uneventful. Merry was active (kind of glad she’s not walking yet – makes it easier) and a little fussy since she hadn’t yet napped. J finally made her get in the Ergo at which time she promptly fell asleep. She slept on him for about an hour of the two hour flight during which time I did more flash cards than I care to remember and played Strawberry Shortcake sticker book (which is not good for me because Ava wants to put the stickers everywhere but the pages they’re supposed to go on and this drives the orderly OCD part of my brain absolutely bananas).

Our facilitator, Kathy, is soooooo nice and really well organized so that made things easy when we arrived. We made it to the hotel and checked in with no incident and I am so in love with our room I want to move in and live here forever. This hotel has not missed a beat so far and I am just delighted to be here. It is spacious (we splurged on a suite here – best decision EVER) and clean. After the Crowne Plaza in ZZ I really, really appreciate that. The bed is American style with 9 (count ’em – NINE) feather pillows. This is soooooo much nicer than the White Swan so I’m not missing that experience at all.

Little Miss Merry is still giving us (me) fits. She had very little  fever (if any) at all today but has started to get warm again tonight and we are, of course, out of ibuprofen. She is definitely better after a couple days of the antibiotics – less raspy and is no longer digging at her ears – but I think this fever thing is multifactorial as she is also most certainly teething. She popped out a new tooth last night and has a back molar that has started to poke through as well. Poor kid. She is pretty much refusing a bottle at this point  unless I force it. That said, I discovered quite by accident that she can/will sip from a water bottle if you hold it and control the flow of liquid. She was so thirsty at the airport I decided to try it with her and, lo and behold, it worked (mostly). She is so enamored of this new skill that she had to test it out for her formula before bed – the only way she’d take any significant amount of it was in an empty water bottle. I complied. She drank. It’s all good.

Oh yeah, and we got her passport. Yeah, that’s right. We got it – literally – just moments before we got on the bus to head to the airport. I might have done a little bit of  the Snoopy dance when they handed it to me. Assuming she does okay at the medical appointment tomorrow (where we really, really need her fever to be down) then we are in good shape.

No pictures – I think I only took one or two and they were with J’s phone.

So, so glad to be here. I feel like I can finally relax a little.