Home Again

June 30th, 2010

Everyone is home again. Anita arrived back in Kansas late in the evening on Monday. Lois is on her way tonight to the cabin after dropping off Jenae and Marc at home. Elmer took her out for a big steak dinner after she ate all that Chinese food for two weeks. Tim, Mia and Becca are staying overnight in Denver and will travel to Ulysses, Kansas tomorrow after a night’s sleep. Tim had a minor traffic mishap and rear ended another car in Denver. They are all fine and the Subaru seems fine, however, the other party will need a new rear bumper. Let’s hope they can make it the rest of the way without any more problems.

Thanks for following our journey back to China. After we are rested, I plan to reflect on some of the things we did or packed well and things we didn’t need. We hope this will be helpful to other future groups who participate in Crossroads Adoption Services Homeland Tours.

Anita

Hong Kong – Day 15

June 29th, 2010

Ahhhh… the joys of hiking, climbing and sweating till you drop.  We had not yet dropped on this fine, extremely hot, extremely humid day…BUT, if you would have given us another 30 minutes walking in the heat, heads may have rolled.  On that note, we had a great day!

We started out around 10am to get Subway sandwiches for our picnic.  That way we could stop whenever we needed to and feed our need for more energy.  We then began walking to the ferry to cross the harbor to Hong Kong island.  Before we could arrive there, we were all drenched in sweat.  Lois, being the smartest of the group, decided that our bodies were not made to walk in this heat and humidity and returned to the hotel.  The rest of us continued on.  Once on the ferry, we walked to the front of the boat to find an available section with air conditioning!  Ahhhhhh…….

Once on the other side of the harbor we walked in open skywalks and frigid shopping malls to THE escalator.  This is an outdoor escalator that goes down the hill during morning rush-hour, and around 10:20am every day, it switches and goes back up.  To prevent having to back-track on our journey, we only went up about half way and cut across on city streets.  At one time we were not sure which way to continue and asked a security guard outside a building.  She said the shortest path was through the zoo–where she was stationed.  Cool!   A short-cut and a zoo at the same time! We did not see any lions, tigers, or bears, but ran into a large netted area with many birds.  Mia was thrilled!

Moving on, we found the base of the tram, which is a two-car train that goes up the side of the mountain.  We took that to the top of the hill for lunch.  We exited the tram to find ourselves in the heart of commercialization.  We followed the heard through the vendors, up flights and flights of more escalators (we are professional escalator riders now) passing restaurant after restaurant, shop after shop to the top without any space for a picnic ANYWHERE!  Rather than parking our sweaty bodies in the middle of the sunny courtyard and hoping the other tourists did not trample our food, we all purchased a ice cream sunday from Burger King and unwrapped our Subway sandwiches on their tables.  I hope they didn’t mind.  They never said anything.

The view was worth it!  We did not pay to see the 360-degree view of the island, but what we did see was pleasantly exhilarating!  There was a lookout right outside Burger King’s doors and we were able to get some good pictures there.  We also found a playground for Mia and Becca to play on with another view on the other side of the island looking out over the ocean.

We returned down the tram, found the nearest subway station and took the subway back under the harbor to the mainland.  We went up the escalators to find ourselves in a mall.  They had us trapped and we had no idea how to get out of the mall!  We found a friendly young gal (next to the ice rink that Marc and Jenae were THRILLED to come across) who led us down a obscure hallway about a block (I must add here that there were signs posted on this long corridor that no bowling is permitted,) and down–you guessed it–an escalator to a bus station.  We found our way out of that and walked a few blocks before we found a taxi to return our aching legs, sweaty bodies, and tired girls back to the hotel.

Mia and Becca had a wonderful day as we toured Hong Kong.  We did not meet anyone that was any less that friendly and polite.  Although staying in Hong Kong was not part of the homeland tour and we had to fend for ourselves without the help of guides, the extra day was enjoyable to us and we would recommend the stay to anyone who wanted to see Hong Kong before they returned back home.

I am heading to bed to rest my achy legs.  I also have a looooooong plane ride tomorrow to think about all the things we have learned about our daughter’s homeland.  Thank you, China, for our wonderful trip and wonderful memories.  I hope to return again someday for another visit!

-Tim

Hong Kong – Day 14

June 28th, 2010

Today, our day began at 4:30 am to ride a van to Hong Kong. You may have noticed that this blog was not updated for a few days. We did have internet in Guanzhou, and to access local sites worked well, but we were never able to access the site to update it. However…. 4:30 must be a time when internet traffic is decreased and I can access US sites! Anita had already written the entries, so all I had to do was cut and paste. Now all I need to do is get caught up with the photos!

After our three hour van ride, we sadly dropped off Anita at the airport for her flight back to the US. Everyone was sad to see her leave our group! We continued on to our hotel and waited for Marc and Jenae to catch up as they took a train to Hong Kong. The girls watched cartoons and Lois and I may have nodded off a time or two while we waited.

We tried to have a more restful day while the rain fell. We had Subway for lunch which must have hit the spot because Becca scarfed down the bun and all on her six-inch turkey sub. The girls and Grandma found a good TV channel while Marc, Jenae and I went to get keys for our other two room which hadn’t been cleaned yet. (We were early for check-in, and they gave us one room, but we had to wait for the other two until later. Each room only sleeps two.) We toured the hotel, priced some of their restaurants and found the breakfast buffet. We returned to find two girls settling down for good afternoon nap, and once again, Marc, Jenae and I went for a walk to scope out a good place to eat for supper and possible breakfast goodies.

Supper was at a local restaurant where three food dishes and a small bowl of white rice still was too much to feed all of us. (Anita, the shrimp fried rice in Guanzhou was better!)

We found a platform to view the Hong Kong harbor and watch boats from sailboats to cruise ships pass by between us and the bright lights of the big skyscrapers across the water. It was a nice view of tall buildings and advertising lights. Much different from the mountainous view from the Great Wall! Neither better or worse—just different.

Tomorrow is our last day before we fly back to the home we haven’t seen in a few weeks. Ask me in two months which food I’m craving, how to say panda and bambo in mandarin, and if I can still use chopsticks like I could in China and Hong Kong. I will greatly miss some of this culture while I will welcome the familiarity of home. I will think of our guides (Jenny, David, Echo, Lucy) that helped us along the way to speak mandarin phrases and to teach us about the local history.

I better get going! I have pictures to copy off my camera and planning for another day yet!

-Tim

Guangzhou – Day 13

June 27th, 2010

Our day began at 9:20 am with a trip to a government store which specializes in porcelain to ship Mia’s baby basket. I am pleased to tell you they were more than accommodating. Who better to ship something so precious than people who ship extremely breakable things all over the world. For 800 Yuan, about $120 US, the basket is packed, shipped, insured and on its was to the US. (Granted it will take about 4-6 weeks to arrive.) The box is marked extra fragile as breakable glass stemware so it should be handled carefully. While we waited for the basket to be packaged there was plenty of time for shopping! Mia and Becca each had a lesson from an artist in hand painting at the store.

Today’s tours included the Folk Art Museum and the Five Rams Park and Statue. It rained on and off so we carried umbrellas. The Folk Art Museum shows off so many specialized art forms including furniture, porcelain, carving of ivory and bone as well as embroidery. I can now say that on this trip we have seen three of the four major embroideries of China and they are so beautiful with silk thread on silk that we may never see anything that will compare. Following another excellent group lunch we hiked up the stairs to the five rams statue. Becca was a celebrity once again as people requested to pose for a photograph with her.

Mia and Becca had requested a birthday party in China. For our last evening together we went to a local restaurant and ordered some of our favorite dishes. As a surprise for the girls, Chairia ordered a birthday cake complete with candles and brought it to the restaurant. I think all eyes were on us foreigners as we sang Happy Birthday and Mia and Becca blew out the candles. We cut the cake in generous servings and enjoyed. I have to say the cake was very good for a Chinese version of a birthday cake right down to the fresh strawberries on top. After dinner we returned to the hotel and gave Mia and Becca their gifts from Auntie Tu. Earlier in the trip, before we separated, Tu had left some gifts for the girls with Lois. We had decided we would wait until the end of the trip to give them to the girls. The gifts made the perfect ending to the evening.

Today was our final day in China. In the morning we travel to Hong Kong. I will leave from the Hong Kong airport alone while the rest of the party remains in Hong Kong for a couple of days before they return to the US. Soon we say our goodbyes to good friends and our beloved China. Tonight as I reflect on our journey I have often thought of how the red thread binds us together. That red invisible thread that binds us to others and how we affect others lives and them ours. The idea of that red thread is strong in the Chinese culture.

I remember an author once said how I am a better person for seeing the sun set on the other side of the world. That is exactly how I feel about China. This experience with Mia has been truly extraordinary. I am so thankful I am her mother and could share the smiles and the tears with her. I have been truly blessed to be able to share this experience with our extended family.

Anita

Guangzhou – Day 12

June 27th, 2010

We woke up early in Chenzhou this morning to catch the express train to Guangzhou. The bellboy had collected our luggage, we had checked out of the hotel and were boarded on the bus by 8 am.

The train station in Chenzhou is new and beautiful. With no major airport in the city (however one is planned for the future) the best way to travel is by train. We traveled on one of those new high speed trains that look like a big white bullet. Our trip was just over one hour reaching speeds of over 200 mph. The ride was perfectly smooth! We were warned that we needed to be ready to board the train when it stopped. The train actually only stops at a station for two minutes exactly so if you are getting on or off you really need to be ready. It was great to see the country side from the train instead of flying. This was a great addition to our journey.

Our city guide, Lucy, met us at the train station and took us to the Garden Hotel. We had considered staying at the White Swan but it is currently under construction for a remodel. The Garden Hotel is a 5+ star hotel is and is now the nicest hotel I have stayed in to date. Our room is a small suit and is truly lovely with a modern Asian flair.

After checking into the hotel we walked to a nearby restaurant for a group lunch. Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is know for its Cantonese style food. The would be the typical style food served at most Chinese restaurants in the US–only real and not processed. I think Mia ate at least five helpings of pork fried rice! YUM!

Our afternoon was spent shopping. But first we searched for a way to ship Mia’s baby basket to the US. FedEx wanted 6000 Yuan in cash; yes that really is about $1,000 US dollars to ship a package. Plan B was China Postal who had an office open at the White Swan Hotel. We ran into a problem when the basket doesn’t quite fit in the largest box they can ship to the US. Now we are on to plan C which involves enlisting the help of a government pottery retailer to ship the basket safely. The initial price quote was about $117 US to ship, however, the store will not reopen until about 10 am on Sunday morning. I may just need to buy that basket a suitcase and take it with me on the plane yet! We shopped around the White Swan hotel. Today there are fewer stores around the hotel than the last time we were here. We shopped a little; Lois and Jenae found some bolts of silk fabric and purchased a meter each of a few they really liked. We shopped a jade market. I made a few purchases but prices were a little high for my taste and the vendors weren’t as willing to negotiate.

Evening brought us back to the hotel tired from the long day. We are off to bed and I am hopeful this 5+ star hotel doesn’t have those hard Chinese beds!

Anita

Chenzhou – Day 11

June 25th, 2010

Today was the orphanage visit and our visit to Mia’s finding site. What an emotional day! The orphanage is now located in a new building. The original building is still standing behind the new structure. It is currently empty but we were able to look inside for Mia to see where she lived before we adopted her. Our tour of the new modern building consisted of viewing the nursery with 18 little girls age 6-8 months. And yes, I would have loved to take at least three home with me because that was about as many as I thought I could carry! We also visited a special needs room with children up to age 6 who were having lunch. Such beautiful children! The staff was very accommodating on the tour and allowed us to view Mia’s complete orphanage file. The deputy director gave me photo copies of some papers I had not seen before and made a gift to me of two photos of a very young Mia. As gifts, Mia and Becca each received an embroidered handkerchief from the deputy director.

We treated the deputy director and the office manager to lunch at a local restaurant. It was a great time to ask questions of them and them of us. We had a very nice visit while enjoying some local dishes. Mia’s favorite was the noodles. They tell me that very long noodles are served on one’s birthday to symbolize longevity. I think Mia ate five or more helpings of noodles! We made a gift of all of our left over food to be sent back to the older children at the orphanage. It was arranged with the restaurant that they would deliver while we continued of to Mia’s finding site.

Much to my surprise, the deputy director and office manager accompanied us to the Buddhist nunnery where Mia was first found as an infant. I was surprised again when we learned the nun, Jing Xin, who had originally found Mia was still there. We had brought a gift of a photo album just in case she was there even though we knew the chances were slim. We had a nice visit and as our third surprise we learned that she still had the original basket that Mia was found in. That old basket is now our most priceless souvenir. Now comes the matter of how to get it back to the US. Humm….FedEx here I come!

What an emotional day! It was so great we could share this moment with family. I think Lois gave Jing Xin the biggest hug I have ever seen. We are so thankful to her and hope we have brought her some relief knowing Mia is loved and cared for.

We stopped for dinner at KFC and then we walked to Super Wal-mart. Okay….I have to tell you that Wal-mart is basically the same on this continent as well. Lois took some fun photos and Marc bought some water for our train ride tomorrow. We leave early, before 8 am, tomorrow for the train station.

Goodnight from Chenzhou!

Anita

Changsha to Chenzhou – Day 10

June 24th, 2010

This was our final morning in Changsha. We had a tour of the embroidery institute. China has four major styles of embroidery of which Hunan has one.  I had purchased a picture of a lotus flower on our last visit and was looking to add another to our collection. I think we all spent a little more time (and money) than we maybe had anticipated in the gift shop as then it was lunch time.

We returned to the Dolton Hotel to check out and ate a group lunch at a restaurant just down the block. I still think the Dolton has some of the best customer service I have ever seen. The staff are available from the moment you step from you vehicle at the front door to welcome you. For international travelers the staff speaks pretty good English. It is so clean and beautiful as you walk into the marble lobby. I guess it really meets my expectations of what a five star hotel should be. If you are ever in Changsha I would highly recommend it!  Mia tried walking out the front door with her shoe untied and two doormen had her stop so one of them could tie her shoe for her.

The afternoon consisted of a van ride (about 5 hours) from Changsha south to Chenzhou. We did our best to keep everyone entertained. Our facilitator, Chirara, is just excellent as she played Go Fish and talked with Mia and Becca. Our city guide, Smile, has accompanied us too. It was nice to see some of Hunan from the road instead of flying. The area is lush and green. The primary crop is rice and we could see many rice patties as we drove along. Chenzhou is a city of 7 million. It looks very much under construction everywhere. Three years ago there was a major ice storm here and the city was out of power for more than two weeks. (I’m sure those of you at Pioneer Electric in Kansas can relate!)

The English here in Chenzhou, even at the hotel, is limited. We struggle to use picture menus in the hotel restaurant. It seems there may not be as many western travelers here as in some of the other major cities.

Tomorrow is a big day for our family in Chenzhou. We will leave at 10 am to visit Mia’s orphanage. We have prepared gift bags to take to the director for himself and his staff containing things made in the US. Jenae and Marc were able to obtain all sizes of Post-it Notes from 3M in Minneapolis, MN. Lois asked department stores in St Cloud, MN for donations of cosmetics and perfume and was very successful. Tim asked for a donation from  the Park  Salon in Park Rapids, MN and they donated sample size hair care products. We also purchased liquid lip gloss and men’s and women’s travel size deodorant. There are three medium size and two small size gift bags full for us to take. Tim also made a photo album with pictures of Mia which we will leave with the orphanage. It turned out really neat!

After we treat the deputy director from the orphanage to lunch we will travel to Mia’s finding site. I feel like my emotions run high as this will be the closest I will ever be to her biological family.

Goodnight from Chenzhou!

Anita

Changsha – Day 9

June 23rd, 2010

Good morning Changsha! For those from group 82 I can tell you that the Dolton Hotel looks just the same as we remember. In China so many things are changing and there is construction everywhere. After 5.5 years I anticipated that we would not be able to see things that were so familiar.

Our first stop today was Civil Affairs. I couldn’t believe it! It is just the same! We pulled into the parking lot and there was the building. We took the elevator up to the third floor and stepped off the elevator and to the right was the waiting room with the same wooden chairs and benches. The door way was the notary’s office with the same round table. (This is where we in group 82 first met our girls!) A welcome home sign had been ready for Mia and she was very pleased. The staff had a gift for Mia including a silk fan, a cross stitch pattern for her to complete, a map of China and a map of Hunan. We spent some time as a family reminiscing and talking about the adoption process. Mia took everything in stride but some of us held back tears with all the emotion.We spent about an hour at Civil Affairs. Now our orphanage visit fee is paid and we can visit Chenzhou Children’s Welfare Institute in a few days.

It rained lightly on and off today. We were able to visit Yuelu Academy between rain showers. Now a part of Hunan University, Yuelu Academy is about 1000 years old. Famous people are from Hunan including Chairman Mao who attended the university here and was an instructor for a short time. This part of the university is now operated as a museum.

Following another excellent group lunch we toured the Hunan Provincial Museum (Han tomb). Mia and Becca were excited to see the mummy. Lady Dao is a 2000 year old mummy and has been the topic of National Geographic specials. She is not old and dried out like Egyptian mummies instead she has skin and organs and is very well preserved. The museum has an excellent wealth on information also on the history of Hunan Province. Hunan is the cradle of China has has history dating back to at least 1700 BC. We all feel now that our US history is so recent in comparison.

Afternoon was free time! Mia and Becca checked out the swimming pool on 9th floor. In China you must wear a swimming cap while in the pool. While the kids went swimming, Lois and I walked the streets of Changsha in search of a book store. I wanted to buy some children’s books written in both English and Chinese. We had a bit of a language barrier in the store at first but between our few words of Chinese, the clerks few words of English and a lot of had signals we were successful. Lois had fun visiting with a 10 year old boy who was studying English in school. I think this was a great opportunity for him to practice!

We spent the evening relaxing and reading our new books.

Goodnight from Changsha!

Anita

Chengdu to Changsha – Day 8

June 22nd, 2010

This morning we again packed our suitcases to move to another city. Our final stops in Chengdu consisted of a Buddhist temple and a lesson in silk, weaving and brocade.

From an architectural standpoint the temples are quite intricate and amazing. This temple was the largest in Chengdu complete with dormitories for the monks. The attached gardens were quite lovely for a stroll. This was the first time I had seen a pond full of turtles because usually is it koi. In China turtles are the symbol for longevity and the people buy the turtles in the markets in the city and bring them to this temple pond and set them free.

We received quite an education in the silk worm and how silk goes from the cocoon to the finished fabric. I really liked the opportunity for hands on learning, both for the adults and the kids. We felt cocoons, saw the worm, stretched the silk fibers and saw the process all the way to the loom. Chengdu is know for silk brocade. The bedding in particular from this region is very impressive. Basically, they stretch flat about 1.5 KG of silk and use it as the batting for inside the comforter. At this point it looks very much like a down comforter only lighter weight. The duvet covers and pillow cases/shams are all silk brocade. Beautiful! Too bad I don’t have a home to put it in at the moment. What is the cost on something like this? Complete set for a king size bed is about 2980 Yuan or about $425 US. The great news is that they ship for another $60 US and I have their business card.

Our last lunch in Chengdu was at a beautiful restaurant where we once again sampled many local and regional dishes. Marc says this was the best meal to date. This restaurant was simply gorgeous!  And it had the cleanest restrooms we had been in in China to date. That may sound a bit strange but we really did appreciate the cleanliness……if only you had seem some of the facilities you would understand.

We arrived at the airport for a 4:05 pm flight to Changsha. Goodbyes to our city guide, Echo, were difficult with tears from both Mia and Becca who both had liked her very much. The flight was about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Changsha is the capital city of Hunan province with a population of about 6.8 million. It is considered a middle sized city. Mia was born in southern Hunan and lived in an orphanage there for the first 15 months of her life.

Now our journey begins for Mia. Our city guide, Smile, greeted Mia with her Chinese name, Zheng Fu. She sometimes uses her English name and sometimes her Chinese name as we travel. I am so pleased we kept her Chinese name as her middle name to allow her to do either. Mia’s face was glued to the bus window all the way to the hotel. (I think she was trying to take it all in.) We arrived at the Dolton Hotel were we had stayed on the original adoption trip. The Dolton looks just the same as we had remembered it. I am flooded with memories of my first days with Mia. It is so nice to be able to share it with the rest of my family as they accompany Tim and I this time on the journey.

Goodnight from Changsha!

Anita

Chengdu – Day 7 (Part 2)

June 21st, 2010

Dinner was on our own following our rest time in the afternoon. Becca has still not been eating what I would consider a normal amount for her. Her diet is consisting of mostly white rice with soy sauce, with the exception of the hotel breakfasts where they have some western food options including pancakes. I decided we would try the Chinese McDonald’s to see if I could talk her into eating something there.  Mia and Becca both ordered a chicken nuggets kids meal and a strawberry shake. With the exception of the dipping sauces, which were only hot chili or sweet & sour, we had success as she finished her entire meal. While we were at McDonald’s, Marc and Jenae found a DQ which served ice cream but no food. Jenae says the ice cream format was the same as in the US except for the different tea ice cream options. Very interesting!

Evening was an optional Sichuan Opera and variety show. Included were singing, dancing, opera, a puppet show, hand puppets in shapes of all types of animals and fire breathing and the changing masks. Jenae loved the musician and purchased a CD. Mia and Becca preferred the fire breathing and the changing masks which is very popular.

The show ended late and we are for bed. Tomorrow we say goodbye to Chengdu and fly to Changsha which is the capital city of Hunan Provance. Mia was born in southern Hunan and now we will began tours closer to home for her.

Anita