Friday, May 25, 2007

The HK Mouse! (May 25, 2007)

Well it is our last night before heading back to The States. We had a great day at Disneyland Hong Kong capped off by the fireworks show viewed from the window of our room with TV music accompaniment. It would be foolish to try to describe Disneyland but we can say that Peng was pretty happy with the whole experience. After a simple kiddy ride, we started with a 3D movie with wind, rain and smell effects shot in our face during the show. It was spectacular even for us. Peng has probably never seen a movie in a theatre before so he was literally laughing, screaming and rolling on the floor at various points during the showing. His other favorite was the Buzz Lightyear laser-shooting ride which we did 3 times in a row (lines were almost non-existent all day). I am sure David's brother Craig would not have approved, (he is a pancake natzi and Disney nazi—long story) but we took a break for a couple hours in the middle of the day to come back to the pool at the hotel. It was about 100 degrees and 99 percent humidity.

Well packing and posting need to be done. We look very forward to arriving in Atlanta late tomorrow night and getting back into our own beds on Sunday!

100 Turnstiles! (Thursday May 24, 2007)

Today was another busy travel day. The only thing that made the day fun was that Frank and his daughter, Sarah, came from Hong Kong to spend the day with us. Today is a national holiday in Hong Kong because it is Buddha's birthday and all of the schools are closed. We ate some breakfast and packed our bags and headed off for a morning at the Guangzhou Zoo. This zoo was very nice in many ways, but disappointing in others. The grounds were large, beautiful and well kept. There is a big pond in the middle of the zoo with beautiful swans, ducks and huge pelicans all happily doing their bird things. The monkey hill was a great habitat, and Peng was especially thrilled with the elephant who was reaching over his fence to eat the tree right above him. The big cats and bears, however, were in very small cages and were often pacing back and forth. We were really looking forward to the Giant Panda, but there was just a single one sleeping and we could not get very close. Unlike the rare chance to see a Panda in the US, this was nothing special to these zoo-goers—just another bear cage. We ate a nice lunch at the zoo restaurant and headed back to the hotel.

Peng was really happy that Frank spoke Mandarin and it was really nice for us as well. One of Peng's first questions was, “why can you speak Mandarin, but my parents can't?” followed by “how do you know them?”and “how old are they?” Peng really seemed to get along well with Frank and Frank was really great (and patient) with Peng. At the zoo Peng would tell Frank that if two adjoining cages were together which animal would win the fight, for instance, he was sure the elephant would beat the tiger. Peng also really wanted to know what we were doing the next day and the day after that—he seemed a bit anxious about these upcoming days. We also got to ask a lot of questions translated by Frank, which was phenomenal. Peng was first told about him being adopted about 2 months ago when our final approval was issued. This is when he moved back to the orphanage from the foster family. He also told us that he had one more foster-sibling that we had previously known about and we learned some of his favorite foods. It was great to have a translator and friend for Peng for the day.

After the zoo the travel fun began. Frank took the two Sarahs on a little shopping excursion while Heidi, David and Peng checked out, took the bags on a bus and went to the Consulate to do the final procedures and pickup his Visa. This took a couple hours and after finishing that, our bus dropped us off at the train station nearby. We met Frank & Co. there and started the trek. First we took at train to the Hong Kong Border. It was a really nice modern train that moved along pretty fast—at one point topping 125 MPH. Frank had bought Peng a “Transformers” model and they worked together on it while we traveled. When we arrived at the border we had to exit the train system, go through exit immigration, Hong Kong entry immigration, Hong Kong Customs, and then onto the Hong Kong subway system train. All of this with three kids, 4 backpacks, and 6 other suitcases. We made it through (thanks Frank!) and stopped at the university where Frank works and met his wife and other daughter for an excellent Chinese dinner at a campus restaurant. After dinner, Frank graciously offered to drive us to our hotel instead of us getting back onto the subway even though it is very much in the wrong direction from his house and quite a distance away. We arrived at our hotel, which is the Hong Kong Disney Hollywood Hotel at about 9:30pm (sorry Mom that we missed our skype). The hotel is very nice and Zion would love it. Zion is a big Mickey Mouse fan, and of course there are ears on everything from the elevator doors to the shower curtains. She would be constantly pointing and shouting “Mickey Mouse”. It made us miss her more, just seeing the symbols all over.

Treasures! (Wednesday May 23, 2007)

Today was another another easy day for the adoption process. We simply had to be available when our guide took our paperwork to the US Consulate in case there were any problems with the forms. We got a call around noon that everything was fine and headed off toward a market that was on the outskirts of our little hotel map. The market was big, several square blocks of what we thought were dried foods, but after talking to someone later we learned much of it was actually a medicine market. We saw all sorts of dried creatures—snakes, frogs, toads, eels, etc. At one store you could buy bundles of straight dried centipedes, each about 7 inches long. They would hook about 25 of them together with plastic bag material for packaging.

Although we found this whole area amazing, we were also in search of some small gifts for some people and (except for maybe Steven and David) didn't think dried spiraled eels would be that appreciated, not to mention hard to get through customs. We asked several people where you could buy beaded bracelets by pointing at the ones they would be wearing. Everyone seemed to be pointing us in the same direction and we even got a cardboard note that we could show to people along the way for further pointing.

As we walked we passed the wine store with the dead animals in the jugs with the fermenting wine. We saw lots of snakes of different kinds just aging in the jug of wine This is apparently a tradition—the most famous of which is Three-Treasure-Wine. Legend has it that it is made with a Dragon, a Phoenix and Tiger, but since dragons are hard to get into fermenting barrels (as Dave Barry would say--”and I am not making this up”) they use a snake, a chicken and a cat. They actually put these dead animals in the barrel, fill it up with wine and let it sit for years and sell it as a delicacy. Heidi, being the wine taster of the family, decided to try it.


Well on we went toward the jewelry place that everyone seemed to know about. We came out of the little street side shops and instantly we are in this huge, modern shopping street. There are Reebok stores, McDonalds, KFC, Electronics Dealers, huge advertising signs and a 40' wide video screen showing Western style content. It was like a small Times Square in the middle of the city. On the one side of this street was a mall and we decided to step inside. It was huge—6 stories tall with glass elevators and escalators going back and forth at several places along its length. Additionally more hallways led to more shops behind the ones facing the open atrium on each level. We estimated at least 300 stores—a huge mall. Not exactly what we were were looking for, but we found this bead shop on the second level and Heidi bought a few beads. We asked the shopkeeper where we could get bracelets and she tried to give us directions but finally said “follow me”. David decided to take a break from walking and get a drink at KFC—with the arrangement that Heidi and the kids would come there next.

The shopkeeper took Heidi through this back hallway to someplace where there were lots of beads and jewelry in every store. Heidi looked around and with so many beads in so many stores she decided that this was something David had to see and started back toward KFC. She couldn't find it—the mall was all there in all of its beaded size and glory but KFC was no longer on the second floor on the end. Finally she wrote down KFC on a paper for someone who sent her in the right direction, back to the first mall where the KFC is. Either it was some time-space-continuum-alternate-universe or there is a second identical size and shape mall, completely full of beads and jewelry. It is incredible.
300 stores of beads—a entire shop of blue beads, another of purple, and the next one half red and half yellow. Several more in a row of only green jade. One full store of just jewelry findings, more stores of just pearls. I think if I were reading this and had not seen it, I would be saying “right—the Sneaths had a bit too much Three-Treasure Wine” but it is there. All three hundred shops of roundish objects with a hole through the middle.

Well we found some nice things and headed back toward the hotel—stopping to buy a suitcase along the way. A large lightweight suitcase was about $12 and we always need big cases when we take stuff to the Dominican Republic so we got one. We stopped for spaghetti at a coffee shop and went back to the hotel, ending our last full day in China.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Monday May 21, 2007

Today was a travel day. We woke up at 6 am to eat some breakfast, pack and get ready for a 8 am bus ride to the airport. We got to the airport a good two hours before our flight delay, gate change and 40 minute wait on the tarmac. Peng waited pretty patiently the whole time and then it was the moment of his first airplane ride take-off. As we started speeding up he was just glued to the window until finally just before the nose came up he turned with a great big grin. He seemed to really enjoy the flight and the food on the plane until he fell asleep just before landing.

We had a van waiting to take us to the hotel, The Victory Hotel, on an island in the downtown section of Guangzhou. We had thought that perhaps this was the same place that we stayed when we adopted Sarah but upon entering it was clear that it is not. The number of westerners has dramatically increased since Nanjing, all here adopting children. There are 5 families just from our adoption agency that we will meet with tomorrow and fill out US Visa forms. Yea! Last time, the “filling of the forms” with multiple families took four hours.

After checking into our room we got on line and discovered that there is an Ikea Store here in Guangzhou. If you are not familiar with Ikea, they are a Swedish modern-style furniture store with a lot of other housewares and a cafe in each location. We often stop in the one in Virginia or Atlanta when we are traveling. The thought of Swedish meatballs for dinner sounded really good so off we went. We had planned to take a taxi but it turns out that Ikea is right outside the last stop on the subway line that passes a few blocks from the hotel, so we dropped our laundry off on the way to the metro and took a train to dinner at the Ikea Cafe. Ikea here is pretty similar to those in the states—maybe a bit smaller and with a better chopstick selection. Most of the items looked familiar and prices were very similar to those in the States.

Back at the hotel we had a quick Skype call with Zion and called it a day. Peng seems to be a very sweet boy and started calling Heidi “mommy” today. He is very helpful, always holding doors and offering to carry bags. Tonight he made coffee for us in our room from the little drink bar. Trying to be appreciative but not really wanting coffee, we poured out most of it and left a small bit in the bottom of the cups like we had just finished drinking it. He noticed we were out and promptly made us more. I guess if you were going to pick a problem to have with a newly adopted son, him being overly helpful would probably be a good problem to pick. We have no complaints.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Saturday and Sunday May 19-20, 2007

Today was our tourist adventure day in LYG. We started the morning with breakfast at the hotel and met our guide, Allen, and driver around 9am. Allen brought his 12 year old son along which was nice for Peng to have someone to talk to.

We headed off to Monkey Hill, the “home” of the famous Chinese Monkey King found in literature. The hill is actually a pretty big mountain and fortunately, we decided to take the bus up to the first stop. Unfortunately, the bus driver had played too many video games as a teen but we survived the trip to the midway point of the mountain anyway. We got out of the bus and walked up some very steep steps to a Buddhist Temple area. On the way we encountered our first “wild” monkeys on the side of the path. There were three of them and they are wild in the sense that this is their habitat but it is obvious that they depend on humans for food. Heidi opened a PowerBar, for herself, and the monkeys recognized the sound of the wrapper crinkling and came running. We tried to stay clear of them as we could see from their interaction with others that will “attack” to get the food they want and scratch or bite if they think you are going to take their food from them. Still they were cute and Peng told us that he wants us to get him one.

We entered into a courtyard and one structure seemed to be the main temple building with three golden Buddha statues side-by-side, each about 15' tall. In front of that there was a large alter with smoke pouring out of the top. Like we had seen at the temple in Hong Kong, there were many people worshiping with various sizes of incense (some of them up to several inches in diameter and held in bundles). The pyromaniac side of David thought that any religion with this much importance in burning stuff must not be that bad. We found it interesting that both temples that we visited were both “working” temples and tourist traps at the same time. We saw actual monks and people sincerely bowing and worshiping with their incense while there are gobs of tourists, cameras and people selling souvenirs. We have seen this to a lesser degree in Cathedrals in Europe, but it is so intertwined and on top of each other that it just strikes us as odd.

From the Temple we went up some more steep steps to the Water Wall Cave. As you might imagine this is a cave with a wide sheet of water falling across the opening. Very beautiful. Sarah and Peng went through the water to the inside and back—Sarah walking carefully and Peng running at full speed on the wet rocks and laughing out loud. Ahh, boys.

From the water we took a cable car the rest of the way up the mountain to a peak which was a really fun ride. The view was fabulous and no one was scared, (well except maybe David a little bit--he is not a big fan of heights).

At the peak there is a statue and more monkeys. This is the tallest peak in the province at somewhere around 2000' feet above sea level. We took the cable car back the whole way to its lowest station figuring it must be safer than the bus with the crazy driver. At the bottom of the mountain there is a pond where coi fish live with the sole purpose of hoping tourists will give them food. If you walk near the water they see you and come running by the thousands. When you actually throw some bread they literally crawl on top of each other to get to the food. At times you can see fish that are above the water and suddenly start fighting for a hole to get back below. We have fed hungry fish in ponds before but this was amazing. I think with a loaf of bread you could walk across the pond on fish and never get your shoes wet.

Along the road we saw a very tall pagoda called the Asoka Pagoda—we were told is over 800 years old. It is the tallest pagada in the area at about 130 feet and withstood an earthquake of 8.5 magnitude at one point in its history. Leaving this area we grabbed a late lunch at a pizza restaurant and headed toward the seaside.

We passed by our hotel and went across an earthen dam (that we could see each night from our room) and onto an island. The dam is the longest in China at about 3 ½ miles long, with the Yellow Sea on the left and the protected shipping port on the right. This is one of the largest shipping ports in China and we saw some fairly large ships in the harbor. What was most interesting to us was the local fishing trade. As we drove around the island we saw hundreds of wooden fishing boats that were about 30' long—obviously not for deep sea trips. They were all unpainted and weathered and looked to be quite old—perhaps passed from generation to generation. Allen was really well versed in normal tourist attraction facts but did not know much about these boats or people. Many of the boats flew the bright red Chinese flag and the contrast to the weathered wood was beautiful.

To the sheer confusion of our guide, we spent a couple fascinating hours taking pictures of these boats in the sea with the sun setting, the fishermen unloading their catch and related fishing tasks. Heidi talked to a few fisherman through the translator and learned that their main catch was a large minnow looking creature that was processed into pig food. Further along the road there was a community of a hundred or so brick houses, most of which had been demolished. Allen told us that this area had been determined to be a development area for tourism and the people were compensated for their trouble and forced to move inland. It must be hard to move from this picturesque area to a land-locked, high rise world.

We said goodbye to Allen, our guide, back at the hotel, ate some dinner and went to our room. As we have done most days when since we have been here, we made a Skype phone call to Heidi's mom and dad so that Zion does not forget who were are. We brought a small webcam so Zion can see us but we were very pleasantly surprised to not only talk to Zion but to see her for the first time (thanks Dad for buying the camera!). It made us miss Zion more but also it was comforting to see she looked very, very happy with Grandma. Peng looked in over our shoulder and I think is starting to get the fact that there is another kid in the Sneath clan.

On Sunday morning we hired a driver to take us back to Nanjing—again about a four hour trip. We arrived back at the same hotel where we had stayed before having not seen any other American, European or Canadian people at all for 3 days. At the hotel in Nanjing there are a number of other adopting families from the States. Our Nanjing guide, Linda, came by our room and gave Heidi and Sarah some very nice sets of 5 matching purses that nest inside each other—beautiful and unexpected presents. We also received Peng's passport and notarized and translated birth certificate, orphan documentation, and adoption decree. We have all of the paperwork that we came to Nanjing to get and we fly off to our next adventure on Monday morning.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Smoke and Mirrors

There is so much to write. Where do we start. I guess with interesting things we saw on the drive to LYG maybe. First, the highway was almost empty of cars, but, very nice. I don't know how old it is but it looked to have been open for a week. Vegetation on either side of the road got more lush as we approached LYG, to the point where cedars and popular Chinese trees completely lined the road. Also, all the farmland, which was shallow ponds and rice fields, was beautiful. Often we would see roto-tiller style machines driving through the water or water buffalo being worked by the farmers. There were canals, rivers, and even cement aqueducts throughout the farmland and often these canals would have boats that seemed way too big for their surroundings. The drive was beautiful and fascinating.

As we approached the city of LYG it became more urban but still prettier than Nanjing, the city from where we came. This city is about the size of Columbia, South Carolina, about 600,000 people and is friendlier than more colorful than our last location. It is just a more comfortable place to be.

We met our guide, Allen, at a predetermined spot that the driver and him had arranged. Heidi asked Allen about staying at a hotel near the water that she had read about, but Allen said it was better to stay in the center of the city. We checked into the hotel, called the Silver City International Hotel, AKA the Haze Motel. We realize we are not in Paris and try not to be too picky, but our first night was not a great experience. We asked for a non-smoking room but the whole hotel very much smelled like smoke. You could actually see it in the halls and lobby. We checked in after much discussion through Allen (the International Hotel had no one that spoke English) about bed size, internet access, smoking, breakfast, etc and we went to our room. It was actually kind of pretty and unique—hardwood floors and glass faced cabinets, and a great view of construction scaffolding, but the internet would not work. They told us to move to another room on another floor and off we went. The view of the corrogated metal roof was slightly better, but, of course the internet didn't work in the new room either. They sent the “Geek Squad” up to see us. The “Geek Squad” tech showed up smoking a cigarette and figured out the hotel-supplied cable was bad, gave us his cable and went on his way after exhaling an entire cigarette into our room. We decided we could survive and went off to find dinner.

On the way down the street we found a great series of paths off of the main road that comprised a large market. It was like the largest Dollar-Tree your mind could imagine all under the cover of faded PVC tarps. We found a nice lady who would play charades with us and help us buy candy for the orphanage kids. We needed 300 pieces and with a starting price of about 50 cents each we had some negotiating to do. We figured out that we could buy some candy by the kilogram and worked out a deal. Peng was a lot of fun in this market area. He is really becoming comfortable with us and very willing to point out the things that he wants, which are very, very numerous. Peng came out of the market with a few jello candies and a new wrist watch that is this huge super-hero looking plastic thing with a hinged door over the time display. It was about $1.10 and we figured afterwards that we should have bought several of them since they would probably last about 36 hours each. We bought a few other things and went to McDonald's for dinner.

We went back to the haze-motel and were tired and went to sleep on the box spring. In the morning after the toilet backed up and the shower wouldn't drain we packed up our bags in hopes of better options. We left our bags in the room and went downstairs where Allen told us to to go to get the breakfast that was included with the room. Apparently we had missed it as there was no one there. Allen arrived 15 minutes later and asked us how breakfast was. He inquired and we found out we were not on the right floor for the buffet and off we went through the haze-filled halls to breakfast, after which we took our bags, checked out and headed out to the waiting car. Bye-bye Silver Star International Hotel.

The day got much better from there. We first went to the orphanage where we met the woman who is the director. The man that was introduced as the director in Nanjing was there as well but apparently he had been demoted in the last two days or some other language barrier issue. Peng went running off to see people and places and we tried to keep up with cameras and video recorders whirling. Most of the children were at the nearby school but there were perhaps 30 children in a preschool classroom and in a room of children with various disabilities. Peng was really good with both of these groups of kids—very patient and loving. He was totally comfortable in this orphanage environment and it was fun to see him so relaxed. We got to ask the director a lot of questions as we walked around.

Back outside we met Peng's foster father of the past three years, who works at he orphanage. He seemed very nice, humble and down to earth guy. We could tell that he was sad and happy for Peng at the same time. He reminded David a bit of his father—a simple, practical man. We interviewed him for a few minutes and he recommended that we be strict with Peng when we asked what advise he had. He said Peng has a lot of potential if he is kept under control. I think we can see the potential part is true already.

Our next stop was the orphanage director's office where she gave us fresh fruit and tea. We were able to look at Peng's official document file, and saw a few papers that we had not seen before concerning where and how he was found. We got copies of all of these documents. Just before we left, Peng's foster brother (that we never had heard of before) came into the office in tears. Peng seemed a bit detached from the trauma of leaving the orphanage in general and especially with this boy. With some prodding they hugged, we said our thank-yous and good-byes and left with at feeling of finality in our hearts.

From the orphanage we went to the bridge where Peng was found. This bridge is not over water as we expected but actually an underpass under a train track where he was discovered. The underpass is just a few buildings away from a police station and it seems obvious that the person who left him intended for him to quickly end up there. We asked at the police station if it was possible to see the police record of this incident (not surprisingly, it isn't) and asked merchants near of the bridge if they remember him being found (not surprisingly, they don't). We checked at a supermarket to where the woman who found him used to work to see if she was still employed there (not surprisingly, she isn't) Of course, at the bridge, once again the cameras whirled.

We left the bridge area and went to the school where Peng attended classes. After the orphanage experience we thought he would enjoy this as well, but instead he hid below the seat of the van so he couldn't be seen by the kids in the courtyard. He refused to get out of the van and explained through the translator that he didn't want to see some kids—the bullies. School was on lunch break but eventually a few of the kids figured out he was in the van and a crowd gathered. He ended up speaking with some of the kids and proudly showed off his calculator that has been attached to his belt since the first hour we were together. One boy, identified as his best friend, got in the van with Peng and they talked for a minute. In the end he seemed happy to have been there.

We grabbed some lunch and went back by the school after their lunch break was over. Heidi went in with Allen and got to talk to the principal and Peng's teacher. She said he was a good student and was usually quiet until he really got to know someone. We had previously been told we would not be allowed to video at the school but we were thrilled that this was allowed when Heidi went back in. Overall we were really pleased that were able to see and document as much of Peng's life in LYG as we did.

Following this adventure we headed toward our new hotel near the water. This area is somewhat outside the city and is very new and beautiful. Our hotel is more than we expected—clean, friendly, and with a great view of the Yellow Sea from our window (for the same $50/night we paid for smog). The hotel is a huge expanse of a half-a-dozen restaurants, shops, and entertainment. Our only “complaint” is trying to find our room—number 470. There are signs saying 453-489 down one hall but it is not there. Down a different hall labeled 429-490 there is another sign saying 425-439 which is where you actually have to go. Finally take the wing with the 445-467 sign and there it is, next to last room on the left—room 470. Of course Peng now knows how to find the room, but directionally-challenged Heidi is still trying to figure out where to get a hotel GPS! We got settled in and went to the “Western Restaurant” for a very good dinner of assorted pasta dishes. Peng again tried to order three sugar-filled drinks, dessert and no main course. We compromised on two drinks and a rice dish. He is starting to talk to people more so we have to be careful that he doesn't tell the waitress what he wants without our approval—we have no idea what he is telling them.

After dinner we had a family ping-pong session. Peng was grinnin' like a mule eatin' briars. In typical boy fashion, he would smash the ball as hard as he could across the room and laugh uncontrollably. You would think ping-pong would be fairly subdued but Peng managed to briefly get a ball into the small recessed lighting cove, and tear a 10 inch hole in his day-old pants.

Peng seemed to make a lot of progress with us today. He has learned to take pictures with Heidi's cameras which he thinks is just great. He shot hundreds of pictures of anything from his foot to 50 or so shots of the TV show he was watching

Thursday, May 17, 2007

All Boy!

Peng is all boy, let me tell you. I obviously have never had a boy, though Zion comes close. Today we took the kids to a play place inside a store. There was this kiddie car that you could ride down a ramp that was like 18" tall at the highest point. Peng loved it. Next thing David notices is him up in the play area - picture one of those McDonalds things, carrying the car through this tube up over us. We hear a terrific CRASH! The child tried to ride the little car down the big corkscrew slide.

Gotta love it.

Here is one of my three sweeties here in China. We took a photo of Sarah with Ronnie when we adopted her. I really can't stand McDs, but it has a picture menu, and it is easier to play charades there than in, say the sidewalk cafe where the dumplings hold things you may not wish for, but you can't tell by looking at the outside of them. We will brave the Chinese food again tomorrow, but tonight was ice cream and fries and corn. Yes, corn is the default McD's side item, not fries.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Welcome Peng

Our connectivity to update this blog is limited so here are some basics--maybe some photos soon. (the last 2 posts were added after this one, so scroll down to catch up)

Earlier today we pretty much stayed at or near the Hotel. Sarah got her hair cut by a very nice lady in the hotel salon (who seemed VERY worried that she was going to mess it up. She go the end of her long hair in the back trimmed and got a tapered bangs look to her one side in the front. The piece they cut off to make the bangs was about a foot long. Sarah looks about 2 years older now—kind of scary to think about!

Well just about 3 hours ago we went to some Province Minister of such-and-such Affairs Office (I'm pretty sure that is what it said above the door) and picked up Peng. He is great—such a cute kid. He is about 2" shorter than Sarah and probably wears a 5/6 right now. He is obviously a bit scared, but has been well prepared, knew who we were and understood he was going with us. We could tell that they coached him a lot to smile when we got there and we were encouraged that one of the the two sets of photos that we had sent (thanks Lance!) was with him. The orphanage director and two nannies came with him and we got a chance to ask as many questions as we wanted (through the translator). Peng has been out of his foster family for since March, just staying at the orphanage. The foster family that he was with for the previous two years lives very near the orphanage and his foster father actually works at the orphanage. His foster sister is 16 years old and that is the onl!
y foster family that he has been with since he arrived at about one-and-a-half years old. They brought photos of the foster family for us and pictures of Lian Yun Peng (yes, he goes by his WHOLE name in school) from different times in his recent life. The director was not like we expected, totally laid back. He said we could come visit and see the orphanage and meet the foster family and see where he went to school. It was obvious the nannies and the director were crazy about him and knew him very well. They say he is "active." Well, we know what that means now thanks to Zion, but we haven't seen any evidence yet. They also said he is good at school. We asked how many friends he has and he said "35" - every kid in his class. At the orphanage it seems he was called by a nickname, Xiao Hei, which is pronounced something like Shou Hay, and it means dark skin. This led to an animated discussion among us and the caretakers about Zion after YunPeng said he was darker than Sara!
h. I think they are very close in color, actually.

From the office we came back to the hotel and filled out more paperwork for tomorrow. Legally we are just fostering him tonight and will adopt him formally tomorrow. From that point on, all of the paperwork is getting his Chinese passport and US entrance visa. Here is the blog update. I guess China will not let people maintain blogs so we have to post this through a remote connection that is very slow. It is not fancy and does not have pictures yet but here is what is going on today.

From the hotel, we dropped off some laundry at a cleaners down the street (have you every had your dirty underwear counted on the side of a busy street?). Next stop was KFC for some ice cream—it was a pretty big hit. Sarah was somewhat bummed that he doesn't want to hold her hand but overall is doing very well in the early stages of her second excursion into big sisterhood.

We have met a few other kids from his same orphanage here at the hotel who are all in the 4 year to 10 year old range. One family is from Iowa, one from Virginia and I can't remember where the other one is from.

They seem to be doing well and were playing together in the hall. This evening has been spent in the room and Peng seems to be loosening up some. He played with a little calculator a lot, read some Chinese books, played with an draw/erase toy, listened to some music on a little mp3 player and watched a bit of cartoons on TV. He started moving around more freely and just seemed to be more comfortable. Good signs so far as he has just fallen asleep.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mainland China, finally

We finally arrived. David said on the flight to be prepared in case they handed us Peng when we got here. That didn't happen, we get him at 3:30 tomorrow. The hotel is interesting and our room overlooks the back of a 70's style, massive satellite dish and a very old temple lit up like a Chinese version of South of the Border. We discovered another family adopting with our same agency in the next room, which is a nice surprise

Sunday, May 13, 2007

High rise living

We can't get to our blogs here, so a friend is posting for us.

New York city touches it - barely, but there is really no place in the US that teems with high rise apartments like the cities weÕve seen here. I found my sense of individuality rapidly evaporating as we drove into Shenzhen today - a sprawling, super tall city that has grown like a steel and glass clad dandelion since Hong Kong was reclaimed by China. An article in yesterday's paper discussed the top three fears of high rise dwellers. Number one was . . . guess. No, not fire, that was number two. Falling out of the window or balcony, number three. Number one turned out to be elevators. Any elevator stress, from robbery in an elevator, to elevators not working.

Our friends here live in a house. Four stories, sided completely with small, rectangular tiles. Siu Lor (Frank's wife) really disliked high rise living and is willing to commute 1.5 hours each way daily in order to live in the countryside of Hong Kong. I asked Frank about the elevators, as he grew up on the 20something floor of a high rise.
“did your elevator ever break?”
“oh yes.”
“I think I would have stayed home”
“not if you have to go to school. Besides, it's good exercise.”
I got the feeling that it wasn't a one time thing growing up.

I tried to picture myself going up 20 flights. We had a fire drill at work and my calves ached for three days after going DOWN 15 flights. And, I discovered that most people don't order take out to their apartments. If they order food, they come down and get it. So much for my resolution to the elevator dilemma. I could stay in my apartment, but I would starve.

I wonder if the childhood elevator trauma had any impact on Frank's holiday tradition of hiking mountains? His goal is to hike each mountain in mainland China. Siu Lor and the kids sometimes go part way with him, then return to the hotel for ice cream to await his return. For practice, they go walking every Sunday for two to four hours. Even the four year old, Esther, can keep up, which I find amazing since Frank is 6' 4” tall, and Esther is about the size of Zion.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Hong Kong day 2

Yesterday we played tourists, with Frank and his family as terrific guides. We grabbed a bite at a gigantic mall before meeting them. Hot lemon tea is a favorite here and Heidi loves it. There was an ice skating rink in the middle of the mall and David noted that the lighting selections were one of the few brands of stage lighting NOT made in Asia, but rather manufactured State side.

Our first tour stop was a Taoist temple - lots of richly decorated roofs, and people wafting incense. Beautiful gardens, too. I'm blown away by the gorgeous green space in this city. Trees and flowers are tucked in all over the place. Hong Kong is also amazingly clean and it is probably the easiest place to find a clean bathroom of any large city we've visited. Also, the subway is simple to navigate and when it stops, it doesn't sling you around the car. There are “quiet cars” too. We wished we had used the subway from the airport instead of the hotel service - it would have been much faster and immensely cheaper.

Next stop was a lot of fun - riding a double decker electric tram. The trams are quite skinny and the system is 100 years old. We sat in the top level and had a great mini tour of Hong Kong shopping districts. Side streets were walking street markets, and the avenues where we traveled were full of pedestrians, double decker buses, the trams, taxis and nice cars. Cost for a tram ride was about 25 cents.

Our next stop was another tram, this one counter balanced on steel cable with another tram, pulling each other up and back from The Peak at about a 45 degree angle. Steep and very neat. The view from The Peak was intense to say the least.
And, the building you go through to get to the observatory is quite an architectural treat as well, and like much of what we have seen of Hong Kong, FULL of escalators. One high point for us South Carolinians was the Bubba Gump shrimp restaurant, where we paused with many other tourists for photos.

After the tram, we headed to the university where Frank is a professor and dined in their club house. Very yummy food and desserts, including sushi with strongly flavored wasabi. We talked about adoption, and teaching and kids. Frank informed us that our son will likely not have had ANY English. This was not terribly encouraging, so we are glad to have friends at home that will help him once we get back.
Sarah decided to spend the night with her new friends Sarah and Esther, so David and I hopped back on the subway to our hotel, where we then Skyped with Zion and Mom, then crashed for the night, which both of our knees really needed by then.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Hong Kong

We made it. Room is amazing. They offered us the $1000 a night room for $70 more, but we passed. I guess at midnight they figured it wasn't going to rent. It would have been cool to see it, I'm sure. But our room is nothing to sneeze at. There is a window between the bedroom and the bathroom, which was a bit disconcerting until we found the shade. Glass sinks and counter are stylish - overall a design I really like.

We can see Victoria Harbour out the window, and I've been time lapsing it since we got up on my video camera. It is very hazy, but amazingly cool to watch the collection of floating things.
David turned on the tv and stared for a long time at images of basketball, trying desperately to figure out what the chinese characters were for numbers so he could determine the score. !!!!"This morning he was very happy (understatement)to find ESPN in English, and is now watching the Utah Jazz struggle. We talked to Zion and Mom this morning on Skype. Pretty great to be able to show them the room on the camera and hear Zion yell "Daddy!!" Sarah also talked to Louis and Lydia on Skype.

The Flights

Dallas, TX:

First flight went without a hitch, but I can tell that David is truly exhausted. I hope he can sleep on the next one. Sarah played in the blue glass sound installation near our gate.

This flight, we have two window seats near each other and one aisle seat. This next flight is FULL, and 14.5 hours long, not including boarding time. Ugh. The prize at the end is worth it, though. I'm glad it is on Korean Air. The non USA airlines seem to treat passengers much more like humans.

As far as feelings about what we are going to do, hmmm, I really haven't thought as much about Peng and the adoption today. Trying to concentrate on spending some time with Sarah and catching up on an issue of Dwell Magazine and trying too hard not to think about being packed like a sardine for 15 hours.

Sarah tried to teach me to knit. Ha!
Incheon, Korea:

We reached Korea. I slept most of the flight - 6 hours, woke up, then 4 hours, woke up, then some more. David and Sarah slept about 4 hours and watched some movies and Sarah read her book about Raccoons. In Korea, we spent $20 to buy a water (our unopened Korea Air waters were confiscated in immigration), a coffee, a tea, a muffin and a small ham and cheese sandwich and three green plastic toothpics.

I sat next to a really interesting doctor who was born in the Philippines. She talked about life in Manilla when the Japanese took over. She was in school, and remembers them burning all the English books. If a student didn't get all their Japanese work correct, she had to stand with arms outstretched for hours. Because she learned to speak Japanese, she would go to the prison where her grandfather (previously a political official) was held, carrying two baskets of fish dinner. She would tell the guard that he could have one dinner if she could go see her grandpa. I asked if he survived the imprisonment and she said yes, but that he died shortly after becuase he was tortured. Very matter of factly she talked about the types of torture used to try and get names of people sympathetic to the US and allies or against the Japanese. She also talked about running home through back roads and climbing over fences and such to get home quickly when the bombers came. To this day she says she kneels down when she hears planes that sound like bombers. She lived many years in Italy, Texas, where she was the town's only doctor. Amazing stories about that, too. Her life would make a movie.

David is now lying down on the bench in the waiting area, and we have about 30 minutes before boarding the last leg into Hong Kong. I think this flight will be 3 hours. We are all ready to arrive. Sarah is enjoying watching all the adorable Asian kids with their spiky black hair and cute faces moving through the airport.
Flight to Hong Kong:

Korean Air is wonderful. The attendants can make trips up and down the aisles with all sorts of interesting goodies - like seaweed soup, peanuts, dinner, ice cream, and have all the trash picked up faster than an American flight can do the opening drink service. I saved two tubes of spice paste for my friend Wade, who really likes the Korean food at the Blue Cactus Cafe at home. We'll see if they make it through security.

I'm sortof wishing I'd taken my friend Emily's advice and packed some funny reading material, like David Sedaris, rather than The Rape of Nanking. I wanted to get a sense of the history of Nanjing (previously Nanking), but it is pretty gruesome. We might try to hit the commemorative museum while we are there, though. One fact: if all the bodies of the people murdered in the 7 weeks the Japanese destroyed Nanjing were laid next to each other holding hands, they would span 200 miles.

I'm going to let Sarah type now, as she is almost done with her book.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

9 hours to take off

In less than 6.5 hours we head to the airport. Had a fantastic time hanging out with friends Laura and Brian, who have a precious Ethiopian son, and Mindi and Butch, whose family will head to Ethiopia any day and get a sister and brother for their two birth children. I can hardly believe we are almost on our way.

VERY thankful to a dear friend who gave us some good sleeping pills, which are the plan for the Dallas to Korea flight. If we sleep the 7 hours they are good for, it will be the first seven in a row we've had in many weeks.

Also tried out our skype (cinegirlsc if you are a skype user) and found we can talk and video to Mom and Zion. I hope this helps Zion not feel so separated from us. Honestly, David, Sarah and I are having a tougher time with it than Zion. She is just thrilled to be with "ga-mah."

As of this afternoon, we did not know what we were doing once our plane landed in mainland China - no hotel, no guide info, nada. It was a bit disconcerting. But, tonight we got the phone number for the agency person in Nanjing. I feel better now.

David is at 2:15 left in his Jazz b-ball game, so he is happily winding down. Laura posted pictures of the evening on her blog:

Monday, May 07, 2007

Sarah is blogging

Sarah is also blogging the trip. We have not figured out how to have two profiles on the same blog, but she is posting with my name at if you want to check out her comments.

Last minute frenzy

So, I had to expedite the visas for China because you can't get them at the airport. I downloaded the forms and am reading all this stuff about how you have to have a third party do it for you and you must have 6 months left on your passport, yada yada. Download three forms, fill them out . . . and suddenly . . . NO, it can not be. How on earth can Sarah's passport be about to expire??? She hasn't even lived here 10 years yet.

Fact. For those of you, like me, who evidently can't read, let me tell you a secret - children's passports are only good for 5 years, not 10.

The madness began.
And, for the low price of a Yugo car (no pun intended), we now have everything we need to go to China,


Thank God.