Saturday, December 31, 2011

Made in China

I realize it has been a while since our last update.  The reason: Parenting takes a lot of energy and makes me tired.  Parenting with severe jet lag makes me want to beat myself about the head with a blunt object.  Parenting does not always leave me wanting to write.  

That does not mean that there has been nothing to write about.  Our week in Guangzhou flew by.  I must say that China really grew on me.  After spending a couple days in Taiwan, my initial impression of China was not especially favorable in comparison.  However, the more time I spent in the mainland the more it impressed me.  The change that has happened there over the past 20 years is unreal.  There are very obvious differences between Chinese and American culture, but I suspect the differences now are much less pronounced than they were a generation ago.  It amazes me what people are capable of building when given the opportunity to pursue their own prosperity.  

Oh, and the food... magnificent!

Last Friday, December 23, we took a train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong.  In the short time we were there we got to meet more of Wendy's family.  One of her cousins is from Hong Kong and speaks English.  It was cool to hear someone speaking English with both a Chinese and British accent!  We only got to spend about 24 hours in HK, but it was enough time to know I'd like to go back.

Through all of our travels Sophia was amazing.  She has now spent over 24 hours of her life on airplanes, and only once did she cry - and then only briefly.  My kid can roll with the punches.  Just give her a xiāngjiāo (banana), and she is a happy kid!

We flew from Hong Kong to Taipei, changed planes, and then flew on to New York - all on Christmas Eve.  Literally the longest day of my life.  With time changes it was a 37 hour day!  Our long flight from Taipei to New York was about 15 hours long, and it was awesome.  I swear!  EVA Air has to be the best airline you've probably never heard of.  The service was amazing.  They really made our flights the easiest part of the trip.

We got home Christmas day about 5pm.  

Since then we've been dealing with jet lag and colds.  Wendy has had the worst of that.  My weird work schedule has gotten me somewhat accustomed to handling big changes to my sleep schedule.  Wendy and Sophia - not so much.  It's taken a week, but I think we are finally starting to settle in to Eastern Standard Time.  

Sophia met Augie, Foster and Bailey on Monday.  We brought home Lucky and Ellie Tuesday.  She was a bit overwhelmed at first.  I doubt she'd ever seen a dog or cat in person before.  

She's getting used to lots of kisses from lots of dogs.  

They're getting used to harvesting crumbs, scraps, and spills from the dining room floor.

She also loves learning what to call things.  Sophia is repeatedly asking, "who is this" in 
Chinese. Here she is learning the names of all the pups!

Oh, and the kid loves noodles.  I think noodles are more of a staple in Harbin than rice, and Sophie is certainly a fan!

We are so in love with this kid!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ann from Red Thread China

In Guangzhou China there lives a woman named Ann Yang.  She is a small, spritely Asian woman with short hair and boundless energy.  She has the exaggerated mannerisms of someone familiar with the art of making oneself understood in a foreign language.  She is jovial, and sweet.  She is smart and kind.  She is our friend.

Adoption is a process in which there are many more unknowns than knowns.  Mining for bits of information about your child and your timeline becomes an obsession.  Families proudly display their dates and positions in the process - mile markers  to help themselves and others quantify the wait.  
Still waiting for your Letter of Approval?  Well, ours took 62 days - just 2 more than the average! 
Why is it taking so long for our I-800 approval? So and so already got theirs and we sent ours 2 days earlier!
It's not really like running a marathon.  It's more like running a series of sprints.  You don't know how the long the race is going to be or when it's going to start.  You only know that somewhere over the final finish line waits the child you've grown to love but have yet to meet.

A few snapshots and a description pulled from the intake forms of an orphanage half a world away.  Although you'd give anything to reach out and give your child a hug, these are all you can hold.

Enter Ann at Red Thread China.  Through her website she gives parents the chance to affect the life of their waiting child in a small way. Perhaps more importantly she gives waiting parents the chance to feel in control again - if only for a moment.   For a small fee she will send a care package, translate a letter, and best of all - make a phone call to your child's orphanage on your behalf to request updates on her condition and an updated photo.   

We found Ann's website through one of the internet message boards that are gathering places for families expecting an adoption.  There are a few websites like Ann's.  During a period of our wait when we were receiving no updated information from our adoption agency I contacted them all to ask them to request updates on our behalf.  All the rest failed, but Ann came through.  Within 2 days of my first contact with her Ann got us Sophia's updated measurements.  A couple weeks later we had new photos.  For Sophie's 3rd birthday we were able to send her a cake, a stuffed animal, and candy.  Ann translated 2 letters for us - one to Sophia and one to her caretakers.  She got us photos of the birthday party.  

She gave us hope.

When Ann moved to Guangzhou she spoke no English, and worked in a shop on Shaiman Island.  The U.S. Consulate used to be located on Shaiman Island, so all American adoptions funneled through there.  Ann taught herself English by talking to the customers at the shop.  

She taught herself English!  As someone who has been trying to learn Mandarin Chinese with the help of software, and books, and family and friends - the fact that she taught herself English blows me away.

She grew up in a country that has not always rewarded ambition and self direction.  Yet, she saw a need and took the initiative.  She started her website and filled a void.  She is a self made success.  She is my hero!

33 years ago Wendy's dad brought his family to the United States, learned a new language, taught himself the restaurant business, and lived what we call the American dream.  How cool is it that 3 decades later the world has grown so small that the same dream lives on in Guangzhou China!

Among the services Ann offers is Tour Guide / Personal Shopping Assistant.  Today we arranged for her to meet us at our hotel for some shopping.  Wendy's Mom and Aunt, Wai Po and Yi Po, have been all over Guangzhou exploring it since we've been here, so we didn't really need Ann's help.  

But we really wanted to meet her to thank her for her assistance during our wait, and we didn't want to assume that she would want to meet us.  

We spent a couple hours with her walking from shop to shop in one of the busiest shopping districts I have ever seen.  There are 9 million people in Guangzhou, and apparently they all shop in the same place.  

Pushing a stroller through heavy foot traffic made a helluva ride for Sophia!  

Wendy was in search of a purse and a string of pearls.  Ann knew the best places to look for both.  It was fun watching a half dozen Chinese women haggling over prices.  Donald Trump has nothing on these ladies.  

I got involved only once, and I'm proud to say that I came out on top of the negotiations.  
Wendy was looking at a pair of headphones for Sophia to wear while playing with language apps on the iPad on our flight home.  The shop keeper asked for 25 Yuan.  I came back with a low ball offer of 15.  She countered with 20.  I acted shocked and disrespected.  I made a final offer of 18 Yuan.  There was a standoff.  The tension was thick.  The shopkeeper blinked.  I saved 2 Kuai!  32 American Cents!  Score one for the white boy!

Thanks Ann, for a fun day of shopping.  Good Lord, did I just say fun day of shopping?

When we got back to the hotel Wendy and Sophia worked a bit on English words.  It is really cool to hear her learning new words.  She has such small voice - our little mouse.

Tomorrow Sophia's TB test will be read.  Shouldn't be a problem - we can barely tell where it was administered.  Then Wendy's dad arrived from Taiwan.  He'll be with us for the rest of the trip.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Goodbye Harbin. Hello Guangzhou!

No blog post yesterday as took a 4 hour flight from Harbin to Guangzhou.  Harbin is one of China's northernmost cities, while Guangzhou is one of its southernmost.  Quite a difference in climate.

With about 30 minutes remaining in our flight aboard Shenzen Airlines the flight attendants led the passengers in a series of exercises and stretches.  I'm not sure that would work on an airline back home.

Guangzhou is a city of 10.8 million people.  To put that in perspective it has over 2.5 million people more than New York City.  It is still only the 5th largest city in China.

Our hotel is the Holiday Shifu Guangzhou.  It is located on a pedestrian street which when viewed from our 10th floor window looks very much like I expected China to look.  The masses of people walking along appear to be shoulder to shoulder and never ending.  

This morning Sophia had her medical exam and TB test.  Monday we will go back to have the TB test read.  Tomorrow we have a day to explore Guangzhou.  

Sophia has been much warmer to me today.  I awoke twice last night to feel her touching my face.  This morning she wanted to be loving, and I held her during most of her medical exams.  We bought her a stroller this morning, which she seems to enjoy.   She also played with her new toothbrush for the first time with us.  We were told that she hadn't brushed her teeth before which was hard to believe given the good appearance of her teeth.  Now that I've seen her use a tooth brush I am even more dubious that she had never done it before.

It's interesting to watch her personality begin to emerge as she begins to feel more comfortable with us.  She has an infectious smile that engulfs her face and causes her eyes to squint completely closed.  When she begins to laugh she tends to rock forward, almost losing her balance in the process. 

Her upper body has developed a disproportionate strength in compensation for the lack of muscular control she has in her legs.  Sometimes when she crawls she drags her legs, but she certainly can use them for propulsion when she so chooses.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mao's Milkshake and Sophie's Choice (for now)

I don't know what they put in the milkshakes at McDonald's in China, but it's laid waste to my gut ... while Miss Sophia is doing her best to break my heart.  Right now the going is tough in Harbin.

Tuesday while Sophia napped I took a long walk through downtown Harbin.  I left our hotel and walk down to the frozen Songhua River.  The ice festival will be getting underway next month, but the festivities on the river are already in high gear.  I walked halfway across the river and then turned and walked back.  I then followed Zhongyang Street, a pedestrian mall, from beginning to end - about a mile and a half.  It was a blustery cold day as most are here in Harbin.  Artisans were working on ice sculptures in the street.  

Large blocks of ice - approximately 3' by 3' by 4' - are put into place with forklifts then the positions are finely adjusted by hand.  The gaps are then filled with water which quickly freezes securing the structure in place.  Then the sculptures begin meticulously shaving away the block until a new form emerges.  It is really quite a fascinating process and it all takes place in temperatures that rarely rise above the teens.

I had intended to stop somewhere along the way and check out a Russian restaurant I had heard good things about.  I reached the end of Zhongyang Street and having not seen the restaurant turned back expecting to find it on my return.  No dice, so I chose the next best thing - McDonald's.  There is a McDonald's less than a block from our hotel, and I was cold and hungry so in I went.  The menu is entirely in Chinese - shocking, I know!  I got a Double Cheeseburger, Fries and a Coke Zero to go.  When I got back to our room I found that the Double Cheeseburger I had intended to order turned out to be just a Cheeseburger.  No big deal and probably better for my waist line, still it aggravated me that I was unable to communicate something even as simple as that.  So, yesterday I decided to try it again.

This time I employed a brilliant strategy of consulting the McDonald's Chinese website: .  I looked up what I wanted and then took pictures of the item to be sure that there would be no mistake.  I proudly marched up to the counter, and producing my iPhone announced that I wanted:

Zhe ge-
Zhe ge -

and Zhe ge -

and as a little celebration of my ingenuity, I though I'd have Zhe ge, too -


I paid 30 yuan (about 5 dollars), took my food and returned to the hotel.  Wendy was mildly amused that my little plan had worked.  She suggested that I was single handedly setting back China's opinion of America to pre-Nixonian levels.  I reveled in my victory, small though it may be. 

When I got to the vanilla shake I discovered that there was some sort of fruit in the bottom of the cup.  Now, had I known this was not just a run of the mill McDonald's vanilla shake I probably would have passed.  However, I have been making a concerted effort on this trip to try new things.  A little fruity surprise in the bottom of my milkshake does not exactly make me a renaissance man, but I pressed on with the certainty that it would make me a better man.  

I asked Wendy if she'd like to try it, and she said no.  She didn't want to eat any dairy products.  Not a surprise from my lactose intolerant wife.  She did take just a small sip to try to help me identify the mystery fruit, but that was all.  

I finished my feast, and we put Sophia down for a nap.  The plan was for Wendy to go to lunch with Wai Po and Yi Po while Sophia slept.  Sophia had other plans.  She refused to go to sleep.  Finally, I laid down and distracted her so Wendy could slip out.  Eventually she realized Mama was gone and then the fun began.  

A 5 alarm meltdown.  Screaming.  Sobbing.  Heavy streams of snot.  The full treatment.  I turned on some children's music and proceeded to dance her about the room until she eventually fell asleep in my arms.  Jackpot!  Dad of the year!  Now to just lay her down on the bed and... as soon as laid her down she woke up, and this time she kicked up the tantrum a notch.

I scooped her back up and began dancing routine again.  This time it took longer, but I was able to get her to sleep again.  I decided to continue rocking her a while longer to be sure she was deeply asleep this time before I laid her down again.  That's when the phone rang.  From then on she was inconsolable.  

When Wendy finally returned my arms were like rubber bands from holding our daughter for an hour and a half.  My back ached from the pacing and dancing, and my nerves were just on the cusp of being frazzled.  Not only that, but I was just beginning to feel a bit of a rumbly sensation in my gut.  

Sophia quieted immediately when she saw Mama.  I was in the middle of describing our ordeal when I was gripped with a fierce sensation demanding my immediate attention.  

I'll skip about an hour's worth of agony and pick up the tale where Wendy came into the bathroom to find me lying naked on the cold marble floor in a pool of sweat and agony begging her to open the window to let in some air.  I have never had an experience so miserable.  It felt as if something were trying to rip me apart from the inside.  Wendy thought I might die - I hoped I would.  

The rest of the night I wore a path between the bed and the bathroom.  It is about 27 hours later now and I am still cramping quite a bit.  Tomorrow we fly from Harbin to Guangzhou - a 4 and a half hour flight.  I am certainly hoping the antibiotics I am taking have done their job by then.  

Of course, my stomach is likely to like me again before my daughter.  Sophia doesn't want much to do with me now.  It sucks to want so badly to hold her only to see her cry when I try to pick her up or touch her.  I know this is only temporary, and I even expected it.  It still sucks that for now she has made her choice, and it's decidedly not me. 

However, when you look at these pictures Wendy took today, it's not hard to see the reason for her choice.

This morning after breakfast, Wai Po and Yi Po tried to get Sophia to smile while Wendy was taking pictures. Little did they know, Wendy was photographing all three of them. Sophia kept turning around to see who was grabbing her legs. 

Wai Po doing PT with Sophia before lunch today.


Sophia working on her leg lifts.

Thank you JoJo (uncle in Chinese) for the cool iPad!

Mostly Wordless Wednesday

Mao took his revenge on me this afternoon.  Tomorrow perhaps I'll share that story in graphic detail.  For now we'll get on with what you've all come here to see: 10 photos, 2 videos - WORDLESS WEDNESDAY. (click photos to see them full size)

Ok, maybe just a few words of thanks to Wai Po and Yi Po (Grandma and Auntie).  First, they are pronounced: Why Poh and Ee Poh (I realize I should include some phonetic pronunciations for the Mandarin).  Grandma (Wendy's Mom - Mrs. Yang or Ma) and Aunt Connie (Wendy's Mom's Sister).  I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate them being with us.  They are making Sophia's transition to our family so much better for her, and us. 

Being able to speak to Sophia in her own language is, of course, important.  However, there is much more to communication than words (as the first part of today's blog entry will hopefully attest).  The patience, love and kindness they have shown Sophia and Sophia's new parents can never be repaid.  Hopefully one day we'll have a chance to pay it forward instead.

I am too new at parenting to know if it's true that it takes a village to raise a child.  I can say for sure that it's better with a family.