Chengdu – Day 7 (Part 1)

June 21st, 2010

Today is the day Becca has been looking forward to ever since we started planning this trip. Today is the day she will hold a REAL baby panda.

Our day starts at 8:30 am with a van ride to the panda breeding center. Located outside the city, the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center is home to the giant panda and the red panda. We spent the morning with the pandas. The center takes a lot of care to transport bamboo from the mountains to the center as local farmers are commissioned to bring in bamboo daily. The center boasts a very high success rate for its breeding program; which is all done by artificial insemination. Many twins are born. As mother pandas only care for the one stronger baby in the wild, the second baby can be cared for by the staff.

Becca, Mia and Jenae each held an 8 month old panda so this was a dream come true. Our local city guide, Echo, was able to convince the staff that I, as a mother, should accompany my children into the room with the panda. This is not normal as others are not normally let in without paying the fee of 1,000 Yuan each (about $150 US for each to hold a panda). Instead the keeper takes the photo and everyone else waits outside unless you want to pay. The good news is the fee is a donation for panda research. Each person must cover themselves as to not transmit germs to the panda. You will notice each wearing a covering on their shoes, hands and body. Jenae went first and the panda even raised a paw and gave her a little scratch on the cheek but trust me she didn’t care! Becca went second. The panda was too big to sit on her lap or maybe her lap was too small and the panda kept wanting to slide off. In the end, Becca sat next to the panda and put her arm around it. She says she even rubbed its head and touched its ear. Mia was third. I had to laugh because those of you who know Mia understand that she is not one to want to be near animals.  Of course she couldn’t come all the way to Chengdu and not hold the famous panda. I have to laugh because I can even tell in the pictures that she is maintaining a distance from that panda. I’m so proud of her that she would even do it!

Our visit to the panda breeding center would never be complete without a stop in the gift shop where they sell everything panda. Lois found some collector spoons she had been searching for at the request of Glenda and Janet. Jenae purchased a beautiful panda fan. So that left Mia and Becca to buy out the store! Actually each picked four things (I had to limit it somewhere!). Each has a panda t-shirt, panda purse, panda bracelet and a stuffed panda. With that we said goodbye to the pandas.

Lunch was at a Sichuan style restaurant. Marc was very excited as this is his favorite style of Chinese food. Sichuan is know to be one of the spiciest in all of China; mostly know for the hot pot style. Our city guide, Echo, ordered a selection of regional dishes; some spicy and some not to please everyone. In my opinion, the food has been a great part of my China experience. In the US we really only eat Cantonese food and there is so much more to explore.

After lunch we explored DuFu’s Cottage. This area was a second home to DuFu who was a great poet in the 700′s AD. His poetry was all about the beauty of nature and he wrote over 200 poems about the Chengdu area. There is a replica of the cottage and the grounds and gardens are quite extensive. A beautiful place for a stroll amongst the towering bamboo and ponds filled with koi (muti-colored carp like fish).

We have left the afternoon free for nap time. Later we will check out the Chinese McDonalds and attend a cultural performance of the changing masks. Echo has promised after the show to let us in on the secret of how they change those masks so quickly.

Until later….

Anita

Xi’an to Chengdu – Day 6

June 20th, 2010

Happy Father’s Day! Today is a special day for dads celebrated in both the US and China. We wish our fathers a great day!

For Tim we celebrated by taking him to see the Terracotta Warriors and Horses. (I can’t forget the “and horses” as they are included every time the name is mentioned.) While we spent about 2.5 hours here, this is a site were you could spent days looking around and maybe not see everything. Xi’an has been the location of 13 dynasties so the area history is incredible. There are probably more treasures to be unearthed that are yet unrealized. At the site the original farmer that unearthed the head of the first warrior while digging a well in March 1974 was available to sign a new book about the warriors and horses; and yes I purchased a copy.

We visited a cultural center where they make the replica warriors. The girls could each use clay in a mold to shape a warrior. This was a fun way for the girls to get involved.

Our last stop before heading to the airport was to a local residence. In Xi’an people have long lived in caves. Because of the denseness of the clay in the area caves do not fall in. As in other places in China homes are multi generational so in this case three generations lived together with the grandparents in the cave and their children and grandchildren in the adjoining newer construction. After taking a good look at their kitchen, Lois and I decided going back to a water barrel and using straw as fuel would be a challenge. The home is heated by coal and the heat is even pumped under the beds in the winter time. The older generation are very traditional–her pillow is a brick of yellow jade.

Goodbyes were said to the rest of the group. Mia and Becca had some tears saying goodbye to their friends. We flew China Southern Air about one hour to the city of Chengdu (pronounced chung-do). Tu escorted the rest of the group and Chiara is our facilitator for the rest of the tour. We arrived at our hotel and checked in. Becca is thrilled that everything is panda here. Tomorrow, Monday, she holds a panda!

Goodnight from Chengdu!

Anita

Xi’an – Day 5

June 19th, 2010

Hot and humid in Xi’an! Temp today was about 106 degrees F and very humid. I think I am ready to go back to the dry heat of Kansas–and remind me not to complain this summer when it is over 100 degrees F because it could be worse.

The express Z train arrived at Zi’an train station at about 8:10 am Saturday morning. The population of Xi’an is about 8 million people so it is small on a Chinese scale. The 10 minute walk from the station to our bus was hard. We wheeled our suitcases up and down stairs and up and down curbs and across streets. Mia and Becca had difficulty so Tim and I each had to pull two suitcases. We were thankful for the air conditioning on the bus! (Robb-thanks for loaning Mom a suitcase with wheels because I don’t think she would have made it carrying a suitcase.)

We proceeded to the hotel for breakfast and a needed shower. This may have been our first short tempered moment as we where all tired from the overnight trip (you only sleep about so well on the hard bunks on a train), we were all hungry and after sleeping in our clothes from the day before we all needed a shower. Our moods improved after breakfast as Becca found the pancakes on the buffet.

So far we have not had any illness on the trip even with the differences in food and spice we have not had any upset stomaches. I do have our first minor injury to report however. Lois had done so much walking in Beijing and even though her tennis shoes are comfortable she has a blister on her bunion. The blister is open and sore. Fortunately, we have U.S. doctor in our large travel group. Lois now has some of those second skin bandages to provide more protection while it heals. (Dad-don’t worry as I looked at it last night and it looks red and inflamed but there is no sign of infection just a blister smaller than a dime with the skin rubbed off so it looks sore.)

Our schedule in Xi’an was a little different than the itinerary due to the hot weather and the fact that we were all so tired. Our city guide, Jenny, arranged a laundry service for us that was less expensive than the hotel laundry. We sent our laundry out during the day and it was finished by  evening. For all the clothes for Tim, Mia, Becca and I the price was 188 Yuan so about $28 US.

The tours consisted of the Wild Goose Pagoda, an art museum, a walk on the city wall, followed by a 17 dumpling banquet and Tang dynasty show. The Wild Goose pagoda is a buddhist temple. This was a great opportunity for us as parents to explain another religion and reinforce our values in Christianity. Becca had some great questions and still can’t figure out why people would pray to a statue. At the art museum the girls received a calligraphy lesson. Becca had some one-on-one help from the instructor and used the ink and brush to write ma-ma in Chinese calligraphy. The old city wall still exists in Xi’an and is about 8 miles long if you would walk the flat top. People rent bicycles and ride it but it was just too h0t for us to consider an 8 miles bike ride.  Tim got one block with Marc and Jenae and promptly returned to the shade.

To cool off before dinner, all the girls swan in the hotel pool. The new experience for Mia and Becca was having to wear swimming caps in the pool. This was a great time for the girls to simply play. In the evening we had a dumpling banquet where we sampled 17 different dumplings from sweet to savory in all kinds of shapes and flavors. I have to admit that some dumplings were better than others. After the meal there was a show (think of it like a dinner theater setting). There was traditional costumes, which were very elaborate, signing and dancing. The costumes were simply beautiful!

Off to bed. Becca already slept through half the show. Mia is staying in Grandma Lois’ room again at this hotel. I will give her a kiss goodnight for us all.

Anita

Beijing to Xi’an – Day 4

June 19th, 2010

Thanks for bearing with us….we are now back to internet access at the hotel in Xi’an (pronounced she-ann).

On our final morning in Beijing we visited a private elementary boarding school. It was interesting to see a change in our girls behavior while we were at the school. There was no joking and messing around and all the girls were on their best behavior. This boarding school houses the children dormitory style with four to a room with two bunk beds and a small bath to each room. The school children live at the school from Monday through Friday and then return home on the weekends. Following a Chinese school shooting not long ago, schools are no longer open to visitors; in fact this school only allows one parent to pick up or drop off their student.  So glad we had connections as Tu’s daughter was a student there. This school is a language school. The children we visited were in the third grade (about age 10). We were able to participate in their English class. I think this was a great experience for both parents and all the students (the visiting ones and those in the class).

Lunch was at a hotel with an Chinese and Western buffet. The kids, big ones and small ones including adults, were all thrilled to have ice cream for dessert. This was the first ice cream since we left the States.  Ice cream flavors in the buffet are unique and included: kiwi, cherry, peach, green tea, strawberry, some sort of nut and chocolate that tasted like a tootsie roll. Marc’s favorite was the peach. I think we each had two bowls full!

The afternoon was spent by attempting to learn how to tie Chinese knots and paper cutting. This turned out to be a lot more challenging than we anticipated. Becca did a great job with the paper cutting. Tim and Jenae hung in there on the paper cutting right up until the end.

Next was the best part of my day….shopping! We had about 1.5 hours at the “fish” market to do some power shopping. We decided to divide and conquer. Tim took our guide, Chiara (I may have her name spelled wrong), to the third floor for pearl shopping. Those two did a great job—I love the way the bargaining happens in these markets. The vendors have a whole different and reduced price when a Chinese speaking person is involved. On that note: Celia, Rae, Kris and Ann you will be pleased to know we were successful in the pearl market.

I would have loved to shop more but we had reservations to eat the Beijing Duck (also known as Peking Duck). The meal was good and we left for the train station with all of our stomachs “Thanksgiving full”.

Our train departed Beijing headed direct to Xi’an for a non-stop 11 hour trip. We traveled on a Z train which is the fastest with no stops. As a note to remember the Z plus the number trains are the fastest and the T then the number trains are the slowest. Each family had a private sleeper compartment for four people. Mia and Becca called the top bunk and Tim and I slept on the bottom bunks. Next compartment over was Lois and Jenae in bottom bunks and Marc and Chiara in top bunks. Marc enjoyed the train except for the cigarette smoke coming from down the hall. (A lot of Chinese men smoke…) We were all rocked to sleep by the movement of the train.

Goodbye Beijing!

Anita

The Great Wall – Day 3

June 17th, 2010

Today was our big day of tours in Beijing. Tours began at 8:00 am with a walking tour of Tienanmen Square followed by a tour of the Forbidden City and a walk on The Great Wall of China. Weather today was rainy in the morning which thankfully cleared off by about lunch time. Our rain ponchos really came in handy today. In addition, Tu made a gift of different colored umbrellas to the girls. Auntie Tu was even able to gift both Mia and Becca umbrellas in their favorite colors as Mia’s is orange and Becca’s is pink.

Following a walk through from south to north of Tienanmen Square, including a stop to pose for a group photo, we entered the Forbidden City. This lead to a cultural learning experience for Becca of a different sort. For those of you who have traveled you are well aware that the restroom facilities are different than the western accommodations we are accustomed to. Well today was Becca’s first experience with using an Asian toilet. Becca tried to tell me she wanted to use a “real” restroom but as I told her that is as real as it gets in China. Jenae, who was also in the restroom at the same time, said she enjoyed my tutorial as I was in the stall with Becca trying to give her a little advise. Please understand this all comes from a child who doesn’t want to go on a tree (or in Kansas as Mia says, on a weed). I guess learning comes in all different ways!

The highlight for Mia today was going to The Great Wall. As I understand it there was a debate between siblings as Tim counted 809 steps from the parking lot level to the top of the mountain and Jenae counted 810. In the end that was just too many uneven steps for me so Lois and I waited at a vantage point after walking some of the wall and just enjoyed the view. I was able to find “I climbed the Great Wall” t-shirts for Mia and Becca who ran ahead of all the adults both up and down all those stairs.

Our trip to the Great Wall also consisted of a couple of extra stops. First to a Jade factory where we had an education about jade and jade carving followed by some time to shop. We also had a drive through the Olympic Park in Beijing from the 2008 Summer Olympics complete with our photo op near the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube. (Jenae was just thrilled!) Lastly we stopped at Dr. Tea for a tea ceremony and sampled four different teas.

We had a very full day and are exhausted. It seems that Becca is a sort of celebrity here in China. Tu had told me early in the trip that the Chinese people would like Becca because she is such a pretty little girl and has such a light complexion. Today women would come up and touch her when we walked along our tour, people waved to her and gave me the thumbs up and many Chinese people asked to pose with her to have their picture taken. I was not offended because this happened to so many of us on our last visit when we adopted. Many people, women in particular, would come up to us and touch our child or tell us how she was a lucky baby. I do hope however that Becca doesn’t let this go to her head. It seems at the moment she prefers to pose in others pictures more than those involving our family……hummm….

Goodnight from China. Tomorrow will be a big day as we go to an elementary school, learn to do paper cut and Chinese knots at the Cultural Village, shop at the pearl market, eat Peking Duck and finally take a sleeper train to Xian. As we will be in between hotels our next blog post may be a little delayed as we search for internet access which may take until we arrive at our next hotel.

Anita

End of Day 2 in Bejing

June 16th, 2010

Day 2 kept us very busy with activities. Following breakfast at the hotel we had our orientation meeting with Tu Yune. This is the first time we were able to meet all the families and extended families we were officially traveling with. We are a group of 21 people total across four families with a total of six young children. In the meeting Tu expressed her admiration for all of us as parents and how this trip would be different for our original adoption trip. Her ideas included the group seeming more relaxed this time then when she was with us before. No doubt the difference is less worry for your child and having mustered up the courage to travel half way around the world without knowing the language to meet the child in the photograph.

Following our orientation meeting the large group of 21 was loaded on a bus in front of the hotel and we were off. We had a rickshaw tour of the old Hutongs located around the outside of the Forbidden City. The home we toured was a 300 year old Hutong. Sidebar: for those who do not know what a Hutong is it means narrow ally.  Hutongs are set up in a quadrangle around  a center courtyard area. Currently there are 11 families living in the one quadrangle we visited. The lady of the house taught us to make leek dumplings and we enjoyed a lunch she had made for us. The Houtog tour concluded with a trip to the top of the bell tower. Lois waited at the bottom as she didn’t want to tackle the 75 very steep and uneven stairs. Time was left at the end of this tour for some shopping on Smoke Street (now renovated and full of small shops across the alleyway). Becca, my little born shopper, was thrilled that we were given about 40 minutes to shop. Becca bought herself a purse, a silk sleeveless dress and a sun dress. She even had the kindness to think of Mia, who had already returned to the bus with Grandma Lois, and bought her a dress as well. Becca negotatied well (with a little of my help) and bought Mia’s dress for 50 Yuan when the asking price was 135 Yuan. Looks like we have a shrewd negotiator in the making.

Mia and Becca have now made friends with the other girls on the trip. It seems we have two groups of girls. The three “big” girls soon to be age 10 spend a lot of time together and tonight the “little” girls are doing the same. The little girls have taken to sitting together on the bus and the three hold hands as they walk along with Mia on one side and Becca on the other. Today I have more of those great photos that I lovingly call “Chinese girls and Becca”.

We all opted to attend the optional evening tour to attend a performance by the Chinese acrobats. The was truly outstanding – so much better than any I have see in the US. The current performance is the “Flying Acrobatic Show”. Following the show we opted for a quick pizza at Pizza Hut. As you tell from the photo, Becca didn’t make it to the time the pizza arrived at our table; her first full day in China was just too much for her!

What was our highlight for today – the rickshaw tour won out.

Good morning Beijing – Start day 2

June 15th, 2010

With the smaller room sizes in some hotels in China, Mia and Becca are taking turns staying with Grandma Lois in her room. Last night was Mia’s turn to stay with Grandma in her room directly across the hall.

The time difference in China is 11 hours ahead of Central Standard Time in the US. We were all so tired from traveling last night so we went to bed early. The problem with early was Mia & Becca were awake at 4:30 am local time.The good news seems to be the cartoons on television are just as fun in China–even if she doesn’t now the language.

Today is a festival day in China, the Duan Wu Jie (Rice dumpling festival) and Qu Yuan. The festival always falls on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. To celebrate the people eat Zongzi or a glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves for flavor. The day is marked by eating Zongzi and racing dragon boats.

The is the start to our first fun day in China!

Anita

Arrive in Beijing – Day 0 & 1

June 15th, 2010

We arrived in Beijing after almost 12 hours of being in the plane since San Francisco. All flights were on time with no storms or delays.  Sadly, Anita and I are not ones to sleep well on airplanes and are pretty exhausted. Mia and Becca met two new friends on the plane that were sitting a row back from us.  The oldest girl is five years old and did not speak English.  Regardless, crayons, play dough and friendship bracelets kept them entertained. Mia’s first revelation came on that flight as she decided that the other little girls looked just like her.

The flight was long for us all but we did see Yosemite National Park from the air – thanks to Marc for pointing it out! The flight path from San Francisco to Beijing took us right along the Alaskan coastline and Lois was eager to check that out.

Once in Beijing, Tu met us at the airport with a van driver and we traveled on to the Jinglun Hotel.

Anita then took the girls to get a bite to eat (truthfully they didn’t eat more that a bite or two) while Jenae, Marc and I went to look for a grocery store to purchase water.  We never found it, but that doesn’t mean it is not there!

Becca fell asleep within minutes of laying down in the bed, and I hope to be there soon!

Good night!

Tim

Arrived in Denver

June 13th, 2010

We arrived in Denver about 8 pm (Mountain Time). The road trip from Kansas was uneventful; just the way I like it! Mia and Becca started with the “are we there yet” about an hour before we arrived. We are all checked into the hotel but as you can tell from the picture, Becca and Mia "ready to sleep"so far the girls are much too excited to sleep.

We will depart from Denver International at 8:20 am Monday for the first leg of our journey to San Francisco where we will transfer to our flight to Beijing.  We meet the rest of our travel group (my mother Lois, Tim’s sister Jenae and her husband Marc) at the Denver airport as they arrive from Minneapolis/St Paul.

Mia and Becca want you all to know that we have designated travel buddies. Becca is to keep track of me and Mia is to keep track of her Dad.

Goodnight from Denver as we all try to sleep fast in anticipation of our long awaited trip.

Anita

Crossroads China Heritage Tour Itinerary

June 4th, 2010

June 14 (Mon)/ Day 0: Travel Day
Flights from Minneapolis to Denver, Denver to San Francisco, San Francisco to Beijing

June 15 (Tue)/Day 1: Beijing
3:15 pm: Arrive in Beijing
Private van to hotel
Stay at Jinglun Hotel (5 star)

June 16 (Wed) / Day 2: Beijing
8:00 am: Breakfast at hotel
9:30 am: Orientation meeting
11:00 am to around 3:00pm: Hutong Rickshaw tour to see old Beijing residential areas, visit Bell tower and drum tower, visit a local Beijing resident’s house and learn to make dumplings and eat dumplings for lunch.
3:30 pm to early evening: Shopping at Silk market
Dinner on our own
Evening Optional: Acrobatic Show

June 17 (Thu) / Day 3: Beijing
7:30 am: Breakfast at hotel
8:00 am: Tour Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City
Lunch
Afternoon: Visit Badaling Great Wall
Dinner on our own

June 18 (Fri) / Day 4: Beijing/ to Xian at night
7:30 am: Breakfast at hotel
Visit an elementary school in Beijing (Boarding school, grade 3 class, kids’ age is around 9.5 or 10, born in the year 2000. We’ll be in a 45 minute English class and will have chance to talk to the students.)
Lunch
Afternoon: Drive past Olympic Park to see bird’s nest from a distance, visit a local Folklore village outside Beijing to experience how to do paper-cut and make Chinese ties.
5:30 pm: Dinner at Beijing Duck Restaurant
8:00 pm: Be at train station; take an overnight sleeper train to Xian at 9:25pm

June 19 (Sat)/Day 5: Xian
Morning: Arrive in Xian at 8:05 am, check into hotel, stay at New World Grand hotel (4 star).
Meet the local guide and tour Great Wild Goose Pagoda after breakfast.
Lunch
Afternoon: Tour Terra-Cotta Warriors, on the way, may visit a folklore village or a jade factory if time permits.
Evening: Dumpling banquet and Tang Dynasty Dancing performances

June 20 (Sun)/Day 6: Xian /Chengdu
Morning: Breakfast at hotel.
Tour old city and bike riding on city wall
Brush painting class
Lunch
Afternoon: Fly to Chengdu (18:50-20:10)
Dinner on our own
Yinhe Dynasty Hotel (4 star)

June 21 (Mon) / Day 7: Chengdu

Morning: Breakfast at hotel.
Visit Panda Breeding Research Base where you will observe the giant pandas at close range. (This will be the highlight of the trip for Becca when she can hug a real panda!)
Lunch
Afternoon: Visit Du Fu Cottage and Sichuan Embroidery Factory
Dinner on our own
Evening: Variety Show includes Changing Masks and Sichuan Opera

June 22 (Tue) / Day 8: Chengdu
Morning: Breakfast at hotel.
Tour Wenshu Accademy (An ancient buddist temple)
Lunch
Afternoon: fly to Changsha, departs at 16:10, arrives Changsha at 17:45.
Dolton International Hotel (5 star)
Dinner on our own

June 23 (Wed) / Day 9: Changsha
Morning: Breakfast at hotel.
Visit Civil Affairs department
Tour Yuelu academy
Lunch
Afternoon: Visit and shop Hunan Silk Embroidery factory
Dinner on our own

June 24 (Thu) / Day 10: Changsha/ to Chenzhou
Morning: Breakfast at hotel.
Tour Hunan Provincial Museum (Han tomb)
Lunch
Afternoon: Travel to Chenzhou city
Hotel: Chen Zhou Hua Tian Hotel (5 star)
Dinner on our own

June 25 (Fri) / Day 11: Chenzhou
Morning: Breakfast at hotel.
Visit orphanage and meet the directors, staff and caretakers
Lunch with orphanage directors and staff
Afternoon: Visit Mia’s finding place
Dinner on our own

June 26 (Sat) / Day 12: Chenzhou/Guangzhou
Morning: Breakfast at hotel.
Travel to Guangzhou by train (one hour)
Check into Garden Hotel Guangzhou (5+ star).
Lunch
Afternoon: Shop around White Swan Hotel
Dinner on our own

June 27 (Sun) / Day 13: Guangzhou
Morning: Breakfast at hotel.
Tour Guangdong Folk Art museum
Tour Six Banyan Buddhist Temple
Lunch at Cantonese restaurant
Afternoon: Tour either Guangzhou Zoo or Yuexiu Park (with the five rams statue)
Dinner on our own
Optional: Pear River Cruise

June 28 (Mon) / Day 14: Guangzhou to Hong Kong
Morning: Travel to Hong Kong at 5:30am to catch Anita’s flight departing at 11:45am from Hong Kong to US.

June 29 (Tue) / Day 15: Hong Kong
Site seeing in Hong Kong

June 30 (Wed) / Day 16: Hong Kong to US
Morning: Travel to Hong Kong International Airport for flight from Hong Kong to US.