Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Guangzhou-Last Day

Our last full day in Guangzhou started with breakfast and packing. We had a late check-out since we had to wait for Emma Claire's visa to be issued and it couldn't be picked up until 3:30 p.m.

We spent most of the day walking in Liuhua Lake Park near the hotel and lounging by the pool with Emma Claire.

Emma Claire dipping her toes in the pool with Aunt Deanna.

View of some of the apartments near our hotel in Guangzhou. We learned that 92% of all Chinese now live in apartments.

Restaurant on the lake in Liuhua park. It was a large park with many little lakes, an amusement park, walking trails and a museum.

At 4:15 p.m., we met Kelly in the lobby who had Emma Claire's visa and brown envelope containing all her immigration paperwork. We boarded a van and headed straight for the Guangzhou train station where we boarded a train headed for Hong Kong.

It was a two plus hour train ride. We got to see some farmer's in the fields, Shenzhen and the outskirts of Hong Kong. We also got to learn that Emma Claire sleeps in cars but not on trains or planes. She was very tired and frustrated by the time we reached Hong Kong. We got in later than we expected and when we finally made it to our hotel room it was 8:45 p.m.
View from our hotel room.

Looking at The Conrad hotel pool from our hotel in HK.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Consulate Appointment


The newest U.S. citizen.
We met our guide Kelly at 7:50 a.m. to head to our 8:30 a.m. U.S. Consulate appointment. There are 4 other GWCA families in Guangzhou right now, 3 on the same timeline as us, but our consulate appointment is a day earlier than the other three, so we went alone and had our 8:30 a.m. appointment with a large group of Holt families. The new consulate office just opened last week and it is very nice. While the process is significant, in that it is the last official step in bringing Emma Claire home and that it processes her paperwork to give her U.S. citizenship, it isn't the most heartwarming event. You take a number, like at a deli counter, have all the instructions told to you by the consular officer, take the oath on behalf of your child and then wait for your number to be called so you can communicate with the consulate official through a glass window about your child's paperwork.We were back at the hotel by 10:30 a.m. for Emma Claire's nap.
Waiting to get into the consulate.
To make the consulate appointment even more "special", I dressed Emma Claire in the same outfit Chloe wore in 2005 for her consulate appointment. It was also Chloe's red couch photo outfit at The White Swan Hotel, but there is no red couch anymore, so we settled for photos in the park and at the Marriott hotel courtyard.

Emma Claire and I today at the China Hotel, Marriott, after the consulate appointment.
At the waterfalls in the hotel courtyard.
Emma Claire on the swings.

Chloe and I at the White Swan Hotel after the consulate appointment--May 13, 2005. She is wearing the same outfit Emma Claire wore for her consulate appointment today. 
This afternoon our adoption group went to Yuntai Gardens and afterwards we went to eat at Tekila, a Mexican restaurant in Guangzhou. It was nice to go eat with the other two couples in our adoption group and their children. Probably not the best decision to send four Texans and two Californians to eat Mexican in China. Nevertheless, it was fun and we enjoyed ourselves for our last night in Guangzhou.
Yuntai Garden, looking at the greenhouse.
The Roman columns.

The water feature when you enter. It kept threatening to rain and it cooled off a lot, which made for a nice walk through the gardens.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Guangzhou-Shamian Island

Hopefully we returned to our regular sleep schedule as Emma Claire slept very well last night in the pack and play. Whatever disrupted her sleep the night before is hopefully a thing of the past.

This morning at breakfast I met Cyndi & Dean, another adoptive couple from our October LID Facebook group. They recieve their daughter this afternoon. In fact, there were about 5 other couples at breakfast this morning all preparing to meet their children today.

We went with our Great Wall group to Shamian Island today. During the Opium Wars, Shamian Island was divided amongst the French and British as a defense post along the Pearl River. The island reflects this in its western-style architecture. Shamian Island is also home to The White Swan Hotel, one of the best-known hotels in Guangzhou, that hosted many adoptive families. The White Swan is currenlty closed for renovations and the U.S. Consulate, which was next door to The White Swan has since moved off the island to a new location.
The White Swan Hotel under construction.
We stayed on Shamian and at The White Swan in 2005 when we adopted Chloe. Shamian is still as beautiful and peaceful, a oasis in the big, bustling city of Guangzhou, but many of the shops and restaurants are gone. Tourism to the island has decreased since The White Swan has closed.

It is still a great place to visit and stroll along the banks of the Pearl River and in the remaining shops that still cater to adoptive families who visit, but with The White Swan covered in scaffolding and the closing of many shops, it wasn't as I remembered. There is a Starbucks now that looks like it should be in Key West, not Guangzhou, and a Subway sandwich shop. It was hard for me to get my bearings. I did manage to find the storefront of the noodle shop Matt and I ate at literally every night (we loved their spicy, fried noodles), but it is now a ladies clothing shop.
The banks of the Pearl River.
Shamian Island.

Chinese military doing drills in one of the parks on Shamian Island.
Our group had about 2.5 hours to spend on Shamian. Deanna, Emma Claire and I went into a couple of the shops--We visited Michael's Place and bought a chop with Emma Claire's Chinese name and we also bought a wooden sword for Oliver.  We walked through the park and then decided to venture off the island and over the footbridge to QingPing Market. This is where my memory completely went blank.

During our stay in 2005, Matt, Chloe and I would venture off the island daily and walk the vendor stalls of QingPing Market and into the shopping area nearby. Literally everything and anything is hawked here. If it is possibly edible, then it's here--scorpions, monkey paw, pigeon, kittens--as our guide said, "We eat anything with legs except a table and chairs". You could also find merchants selling "LV" bags, knock-off Rolex watches and pirated DVDs. It was at this market that I went into complete panic mode in 2005 when my husband literally disappeared when we were looking in one merchant stall. As a first time mother in a foreign country, I started freaking out until Matt emerged from behind a fake wall where the merchant wanted to show Matt the watch he had that was "identical" (wink, wink) to Matt's Breitling watch he was wearing. It wasn't quite identical since it wasn't really a Breitling, but a fake Breitling. Despite my scare, Matt and I enjoyed walking the market stalls and the market each day. We liked escaping Shamian Island and making an adventure on the other side of the canal.

So, Deanna and I set out for adventure. We crossed the footbridge off of Shamian and that's where I looked at her and said, "I don't remember any of this". Turns out we took the wrong footbridge. We should have taken the footbridge that goes over the road and to the other side. Instead, we took the footbridge that goes to the Huadiwan Fish & Aquarium Market. While it wasn't what we originally set out to look for, we walked the rows and rows of stalls that were bringing in fish from the nearby docks on the Pearl River. Crab, lobster, sea slugs, sea worms and sea urchins all on display. Men were rolling huge vats with flopping fish to the markets. It was very interesting, but an assault on the nasal passages. The street is wet and full of puddles of fish guts, etc.
The stalls of the fish market.
There is a bicycle under those boxes that once contained fish.

After our little detour, we headed back to Shamian to give our olfactory glands a break. Much to our surprise after our excursion, we were still had an appetite and we went to have lunch at the Cow & Bridge Thai Restaurant, which still remains on the island from when we last were there.

Tonight we did paperwork in preparation for our U.S. Consulate appointment tomorrow morning. This is the last step in the adoption process for this trip.

And now for some Emma Claire cuteness:

We borrowed a stroller from the hotel. Emma Claire didnt seem to mind.

In the high chair at dinner.

First taste of ice cream. Lets just say she has a sweet tooth.






Sunday, July 28, 2013

Guangzhou-Day 2

Emma Claire was up and down all last night. I am uncertain as to what is upsetting her as she has slept so well since we got her. I am not certain if the flight and move to Guangzhou has disrupted her; all the happenings of the past week as finally caught up; if it is the new crib in the hotel room, which is a pack and play and she obviously doesn't like from her protests; teething (she now has 5 teeth and is cutting a 6th); or if she has an upset stomach. Emma Claire's orphanage used whatever formula was donated to them and when I got her I was given a three-day supply of the formula she was on, which was a Korean formula that was donated to the orphanage and you can't purchase in China. I have since had to move her over to Similac so I am not certain if it is upsetting her tummy. In all likelihood, her fitful sleeping is probably a combination of all of the above. Nevertheless, I ended up taking her out of the pack and play and moving her into bed with me as I was up and down every 15 minutes. She slept better once I put her in my bed and only woke up once crying. She woke up smiling and happy as usual and whatever was disturbing her sleep didn't seem to upset her while she was awake.

We went to the Chen Clan Academy today. It brought back lots of memories of my last visit to Guangzhou when we adopted Chloe. I remember walking around with a sleeping Chloe in the baby carrier. Today, I walked around with a squirmy Emma Claire, who made no bones about letting us know that she doesn't much care for the hot, humid climate of southern China. She's developed a prickly heat rash on her face since we sat in the HOT airport in Harbin waiting for our flight and the heat and humidity of Guangzhou isn't helping it. We ended up sitting with her in front of a oscillating fan, which kept her happy.
Dragon carvings on the roof of the Chen Family Academy.

Entrance to the temple.

Our guide, Kelley, giving us some background info on the temple.

More of the roofline.

A street vendor outside of the temple selling sugar cane stalks he grinds into juice.

The Chen Clan Academy (or Chen Family Temple) houses the Guangdong Folk Art Museum and has beautiful architecture, wood carvings and stone carvings. Deanna and I purchased some artwork as it is reasonably priced at the temple. I have always adored Jinshan paintings and purchased one.

My Jinshan painting I purchased. I just love these brightly colored folk art paintings.

After the Chen Family Temple, we went to the Pearl Market, which is a six story complex of vendors selling pearls, jade and all sorts of costume jewelry. Our guide took us to specific vendors that she thought offered the best value. Our first stop was to look a pearls. I purchased three pearl necklaces, one for Chloe, one for Emma Claire and one for myself. I chose the tri-color strand of pearls which are white, pink and purple. I thought they were beautiful. The price of the pearls is about 1/3 of what they would cost in the States. After you choose the pearls the ladies begin stringing them and making them into a necklace. It is so interesting to watch and they make it look so easy.

Emma Claire and I picking out pearls.

The three pearl necklaces I bought. The one for me is to the left. I purchased a lesser quality (i.e. cheaper--about 1/2 the price of the girl's necklaces) than the ones for the girls because I liked the colors and a bit of the irregular shapes in the different pearls.

We also looked at jade and Deanna bought a small jade necklace for herself.

While I was paying for the pearls, Deanna was holding Emma Claire for me and a lady came by and asked if I was Emma Claire's mother. I responded "yes", and she said she thought so because she looks like me.

A storm came through late this afternoon and it got pretty nasty out so we opted to stay close to the hotel. We didn't want to walk the 10-15 minutes in the rain to the recommended Chinese restaurants, so we hemmed and hawed and ultimately decided to go to the Lebanese restaurant, 1001 Nights, just outside the hotel. I know we came to China and then opted for Lebanese food, but what a great choice it turned out to be!! The staff was very friendly, Emma Claire got to relax on a giant leather couch and it was some of the best lamb we'd ever eaten. We made the right choice, especially since it was lightning and pouring rain.



The view of the storm rolling in from our hotel room.


Emma Claire relaxing on the leather dining couch. She doesn't like the camera flash and is making a grouchy face.
 
And, more Emma Claire cuteness---
 
This is Emma Claire's preferred "relaxing" position.



Emma Claire's visa photo.






Saturday, July 27, 2013

Guangzhou

 

We were tired since arriving in late last night and I woke up to Matt and the kids ringing me on my iPad to FaceTime. It was 7:30 a.m. By the time I talked to Matt and the children, got dressed and headed down to breakfast it was 8:30 a.m. and the restaurant that serves the breakfast was packed. It took about 5 minutes for me to turn to Deanna and say, “I miss Harbin.”
It’s like we’ve gone from one extreme to the other. We went from being the only Americans with a Chinese baby in a place that spoke little to no English to a western-chain hotel full of Americans with Chinese children.  
Many families look forward to Guangzhou, and I did too, but I am not liking the giant, impersonal Marriott we are staying in that offers a westernized version of China for its western clients. On one side is a McDonald’s, inside is a Starbucks and on the other side is a 7-Eleven. There is one family in our Great Wall group that couldn’t be more pleased to be in Guangzhou. They disliked the province their daughter was in, said it was hot and boring, and are very pleased to be in Guangzhou at the Marriott. I just don’t feel that way.
I liked Heilongjiang and Harbin. And while it is considered by many in China to be a “westernized” city when it comes to architecture and layout, it doesn’t cater to westerners and I liked that. I can make it two weeks in China without a venti latte a Quarter Pounder with cheese and fries.
Let’s just say I’m looking forward to getting out and about and away from the hotel on our free days.  
With that said, it is nice to meet other adoptive families. We had breakfast this morning with a very nice lady who was adopting a toddler. This is her 9th international adoption. She is traveling with her sister-in-law and the hotel restaurant seated the two pairs of women together and away from everyone else. It gave us all a good laugh and we vowed to stick together since we will be here the same amount of time.
But, today was all about the medical exam that is required for a visa to enter the U.S. We met our Guangzhou guide, Kelley, and two other GWCA families and boarded the bus for the short ride to the medical exam. First stop was a photo for the visa, second stop was height and weight. Emma Claire weighs 19 lbs. (the same weight as her sister at the same age). There was also a stop for ear, nose and throat as well as head circumference and general physical check-up. Emma Claire got a clean bill of health and two doctors told me she was very healthy.



The medical clinic.
After the medical, Kelley took us to Wal-Mart to buy some water and other supplies. Emma Claire fell asleep right after we boarded the bus and I opted to stay on board with the driver while everyone else went in to shop. There is no parking in front of the Wal-Mart, so the driver circled the block and then parked outside some shops to wait.  We were to return for the others in 30 minutes and I people watched and snapped some photos from the van. I was intrigued by the street cafĂ© owner who was washing bok choy and placing it on bamboo skewers to steam. I was thinking it looked good until she scratched her head with the one skewer and then used it. I also watched the hair salon owner sweep all the hair that had fallen on her salon floor into the street. Who needs a dust bin for those things anyway? 
Mom and two kids (one in front, one in back) on a bike in the rain.


Sweeping the hair out of the barbershop and into the street by the outdoor dining tables.

Outdoor cafe.

Delivering groceries via bicycle.
 
For the rest of the afternoon, we stayed at the hotel and let Emma Claire catch up on sleep. I think the flight and a new place has stressed her a bit and she slept very fitfully last night and at naptime. We took it easy, played indoors with her, washed some clothes in the hotel room and then headed out for dinner just down the street at a restaurant that specialized in seafood. Emma Claire was mesmerized by the large tanks of grouper, lobster, and crabs.

My go to lunch while we let Emma Claire nap. Less than $1 and very spicy!
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to purchase a bottle of Chinese wine from one of the big three Chinese wine producers. We had read an article while we were in Harbin on the rise of Chinese wines and wanted to give it a try.  As Deanna put it, “It isn’t horrible, but it isn’t good either.”

Perhaps not the best vintage.
I got two photos today from family that made me smile. One is of Chloe and Oliver on a hike with Matt at Bear Mountain. When I spoke with Oliver about the hike, he told me all about the food he ate on the hike. He apparently worked up an appetite as he ran the majority of the trail.
Chloe and Oliver at Bear Mountain.
The other photo I received is of the quilt my Aunt Millie made for Emma Claire. It's really beautiful and the quilt pattern is called Emma's Star.
The quilt my Aunt Millie made for Emma Claire. The pattern is called "Emma's Star".

Friday, July 26, 2013

Goodbye Heilongjiang, Hello Guangzhou

It was our last day in Harbin. It was a bittersweet feeling, leaving Emma Claire's birth province, but I was also looking forward to heading south, where there would be their adoptive families and we could finish the adoption process to bring Emma Claire home.

Lynne, from the Heilongjiang Civil Affairs office came by our hotel room this morning to bring Emma Claire's Chinese passport. She also brought by a photo book filled with pictures from Gotcha and Adoption Day. I also received Emma Clare's finding ad.
Emma Claire's Chinese passport photo page. She is in an enormous shirt that was obviously too large/an adult shirt.


The photo book given to me by the Civil Affairs office.


Each amity that adopts from Harbin signs a notebook and writes a note. I thought that was a very nice tradition. 

We headed to he airport around noon for our 2:30 pm flight. We quickly learned that domestic China ar travel means one thing---DELAYS. I think every flight in the airport was delayed and every flight ad a gate change. It was comical watching everyone constantly move from gate to gate. 

Once again we were on display. I thought we would get a reprieve when a tour group of European high school students came through, but no, all eyes on the 5'9" blonde lady holding the Chinese baby.i also got lots of unsolicited parenting tips like Emma Claire was dressed to warmly (the airport was a stifling 80 degrees), she needed to be in split pants and she was fussy because she was hot (she was fussy because she was tired).

Finally after a 2.5 hour delay we boarded and headed to Guangzhou. We flew on Shenzhen Airlines which insisted on playing "Welcome to the Hotel California" and showing segments f Hollywood movies instead of the complete movie. We also earned that Emma Claire will sleep in a car, while being held, but NOT on an airplane. She was good, but she was squirmy.
Looking at Heilongjiang from the air.


The first flight.


We arrived in Guangzhou at 10:00 and no one was there to meet us. Deanna was ready to catch a cab when Kelly, our agency guide for the week came in to the airport. In the end, we didn't get to our hotel until 11:30 pm. Emma Claire was very tired, but we still had smiles from her.

Guangzhou certainly has a different feel than Harbin. Last time I was here, we stayed at the White Swan Hotel on Shamian Island. i cant wait to see Guangzhou in the daylight and experience it from a different area. 

As soon as we walked into the lobby of the Marriott, there were about 5 American families with their Chinese children sitting in the lobby. It feels good not to stick out like a sore thumb!!

Tomorrow is Emma Claire's medical check up and Deanna and I MUST find the launderer. 


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Harbin - Day 6 - Lions & Tigers & Ligers

Today is our last full day in Harbin. Tomorrow we fly out to Guangzhou to complete the U.S. side of the adoption after we receive Emma Claire's Chinese passport.

While I have enjoyed my stay in Harbin and getting to know Emma Claire's province, I must admit that I am looking forward to being able to blend in a little more as Guangzhou will have many other families who are adopting. This morning at breakfast, the manager had the wait staff place a wooden screen around us so we couldn't be seen. Very, very odd. We are still uncertain if it was for our privacy or if it was to shield the Chinese guests from the two American ladies with the Chinese baby. They weren't even shy that the screen was for us. It surrounded us. I could barely push my chair out and squeeze through to be out of our "corner" to go and get a refill of coffee. 

Emma Claire took a nap after breakfast and I ran to Wal-Mart to pick up some baby items. I walked by the fruits and noticed two varieties of melon that I had never seen. I was trying to determine what they were exactly when a older Chinese woman noticed me, grabbed my hand and began a lecture in Mandarin in how to pick the best melon. She was very animated in showing me how to look at the stem of the melon. She then selected one, gave me a thumbs up and placed it in my arms and directed me to the weight scales where a Wal-Mart employee was waiting to weigh and tag it with a price. Somehow I went into Wal-Mart for baby wipes and came out with (what we have now determined thanks to the Internet) a Korean melon. 

In the late morning, we headed out to the Siberian Tiger Preserve, which is a popular tourist destination in Harbin. 
Tiger park entrance.

Emma Claire wasn't impressed much.
 

The preserve is well-known for allowing visitors to purchase live chickens, rabbits, goats and cows and feeding them to the tigers. The growth in Harbin is astounding, and the preserve is surrounded by western style high rise apartment buildings on all sides. 
The Siberian tigers with the amazing growth/sprawl in the background.

You board a bus and drive through the preserve where the very large and impressive Siberian tigers are lounging and waiting for someone to pay the 60 yuan and have a chicken thrown at them. 

A tour bus driving through the preserve.


The size of the tigers was amazing.



They kind of know the meal truck which throws out the live food....

The truck selling live chickens, rabbits, etc.

There are also lions lazing about.



After the drive through the preserve, everyone disembarks for a walking tour. This is truly where the live animal feeding occurs. We saw several people purchase chickens and have them thrown into the tigers and another who opted to have the chicken ziplined to the tree, where it hung until a very large tiger crawled up the tree to retrieve it. Others opted to feed the tigers steak through the protective cage.
 

Chickens for sale.
 


Feeding time.


This tiger made off with the live chicken.

The tigers are truly impressive to see up so close. There are other big cats on display, like a Liger.


After our morning excursion, we returned to the hotel and decided to be adventurous and head out to lunch at a well-known Russian restaurant, Katusha, said to have the best Russian food in China, and next door to our hotel, which we just figured out after a week here. Best news, their menus are in three languages--Chinese, Russian and English! It was great food, much better than the pseudo-Chinese/Russian food we had earlier in the week.

Tonight we went to eat Dongbei cuisine, which is the traditional dishes of Northeast China. Sophie has been a really good sport as Deanna and I have asked to go to restaurants out of her southeast China comfort zone. It's been fun to discover new foods and cuisines with Sophie as our guide. We said tonight that there are many cultural norms when dining out that we as Americans would never pick up on without some guidance, like napkins are an extra charge and aren't free, a lot of sit-down restaurants are pay up front and you get a discount on your food for paying with a credit card instead of cash.

Tomorrow we leave the northernmost "major" city of China and head to one of the southernmost cities. It's a four and a half hour flight, so it will be a first run through with Emma Claire before the long haul flight next Thursday. We're hoping for a nice flight with NONE of the delays typical of domestic Chinese air travel. 









 
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