Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Beijing Day 1; Part 1

First of all, I added a link on the top right margin that should take you to a link of our travel pics. However, since I can't view my blog after adding it, I have no idea if the link works. If not, click here to go to my album of Beijing pics so far. Shawn took another 150 pics, but those are not at my immediate disposal to add to a master album. My pics are not cleverly labeled yet and I have not dumped those that I'll determine "shot 15 of the same building" unnecessary. Bear with me! We're busy!

On with our day:

Shawn and I were both wide awake before the sun was up, despite getting no sleep on the plane ride in. I was personally on a full 24 hour cycle with about 1 hour of sleep in me… Needless to say, a very full day of sightseeing sounded a little more than overwhelming. I was feeling a bit queasy, which probably stemmed from excitement and a bit of dehydration.

We headed for breakfast at about 7am and had some of the best coffee east of Rome, at the buffet. I was thrilled to get some quality caffeine in my system at the beginning of a long trip that I had predetermined to be coffee free. The buffet wasn't large, but the selection was a good balance of east and west…and was included in our package, so no complaints.

Our guide Anna (who fessed up with some prying that her Chinese name is Mao Nai…or something like that) met us in the lobby at 9:30am and we were off to start day 1 of Beijing. On the way out, we found out that she is a student finishing her double major in Politics and English. She became a tour guide 6 months ago to help pay her way through school. She is a licensed Beijing tour guide and explained to us a bit about what it takes to get the badge. It sounds astonishingly difficult, including memorizing many, many books word for word. She knows her stuff, but don't interrupt her or she'll have to back up a page or two and start over!

She explained that she was required to take English beginning in middle school, but is only one of few schoolmates to pursue it as a degree. Upon further asking, she moved here from further north in China in order to get a guide job in time for the 2008 Olympics as a way to pay for school. I almost slipped and asked if she has any brothers or sisters…and then I remembered why we're here. Of course she doesn't. I caught myself just in time.

One thing we did notice is that there are LOTS of females here in the 20 to 30 age group and then almost none out and about younger than that. Every single child we saw today under the age of about 10 were boys. Another sobering reminder. As I looked around at the boys we saw, I wondered if he was that parent's first child or if he would be with them if he had a special need.

Another thing we've realized is that there are many things that don't translate well in China, even to those who speak fairly good English. We use words like 'stuff' and 'ya know' and 'kinda'… sentence fillers have no place in English to Chinese, and we confused her more than once by saying 'you know'… no she didn't know. There is also no sarcasm. Shawn and I are emperor and empress of sarcasm, but when our teeth were chattering from the cold and Shawn said "Man, it's warm out here"… She looked at him oddly as if to say "I'm not a man, and it is definitely not warm". We also realized that in our everyday life, we talk through things out loud to ourselves all the time, which is not done here. Shawn was trying to phrase something and was bargaining with himself about how to say it… she became more and more bewildered by the minute.

So, off to our first stops: Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City. I guess I was expecting Tiananmen Square to be something more than it was. It's vast, but not as grand as I thought it would be.

We crossed underground to The Forbidden City and it just immediately hits you that you are in China. I guess we knew that this place was big (9,999 rooms takes up a lot of space after all), however it just keeps going and going and going. Anna was at a full sprint through that place, and well, she's a petite Chinese girl…as if she doesn't get lost in a crowd there… We had to keep up with her or risk getting hopelessly lost. It was also absolutely freezing, which we were not prepared for at all. I'm not talking brisk or crisp (as stated), it was windy and extremely cold. Somehow, this fortress creates it's own wind force and Shawn and I, who are very used to high wind gusts where we live, almost couldn't handle it. If you are reading this and getting ready to travel through Beijing to your child… Pack for the weather report and then add one more layer for good measure. You'll need it!

Anyway, I won't give a Forbidden City history lesson here, but it really is something that we'll need to come back again to see at a slower (and warmer) pace. It was awe inspiring, not to mention a sobering view at how vain emperors can be!

After the obligatory stop at a trinket shop that spiffs the guides, we were on to lunch. I have no idea where we ate or what we ate, but Anna disappeared and food started coming…and coming. Thank goodness we have good chopstick skills or we would be hungry right now. I feel for anyone that comes here without this valuable skill. It ain't just for sushi anymore!

After lunch, we were whisked away to Temple of Heaven. How cool. Again, how much can you say about the biggest park in China? Except for the sub zero wind chill and no jacket, it was amazing. What struck me the most was that everything was built with color, numerology and the relationship of heaven and earth. I would have liked to stay here longer also, had it not been for gale force gusts of icy wind mixed with dust in my eyes.

To fill the time, Anna wanted to take us to the Pearl Factory, but something government related was going on, so she dropped us back at the hotel for a bit and will be back in an hour to pick us up for our Peking Duck dinner and Acrobat show. We may not post another update this evening, but if the duck is especially tasty, we might have something to say.

Tomorrow we brave The Great Wall, see Ming's Tomb, hunt for jade, and have a traditional Cantonese dinner.

A handful of today's pics in no particular order. See the link at the top of the post or in the right margin for the whole she-bang...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Arrived in Beijing in One Piece!

Good Wednesday AM from Beijing!

We got to our hotel safe and sound last night at about 10:30pm. After over a day of travel, we were pretty tired, so falling asleep on China's normal night schedule was no problem (staying asleep is another story). It is 4am and I have been wide awake for a few hours now.

Getting here was uneventful, if not mildly pleasant. We just can't say enough about Northwest Airlines. Shawn is a Silver Elite member, so we were able to board with First/Business Class, and we were automatically put in Coach Plus, which gives us a little more leg room and PC power at our seat.

On our flight from Seattle to Tokyo, we were served 2 full meals, which were both really good (and large portions), and several small snacks. Unlike our flight to Italy (on a different Airline), the flight attendants were really nice, and acted like they enjoyed their jobs.

Two movies, 18 Sudoku puzzles, and a dry MP3 player battery later, we arrived in Tokyo with less than an hour for our connecting flight to Beijing. I was nervous, but my world traveler husband confirmed that an hour is plenty of time to make a connection in Tokyo. He was right this time. Our flight wasn't even boarding yet, and the security checkpoint was far more organized than Sea-Tac.

Another 3 hours later, we arrived in Beijing and were met by our guide, Anna. She ushered us into the garage where we were met by our driver, Mr. Wu...who very obviously does not speak any English and isn't about to begin taking lessons.

Anna quickly explained the 5 traffic rings in Beijing, which if I understand her correctly, is their way of navigating traffic around the City Center while lessening the effects of traffic. Today, as we head out for our first full day here, we'll see exactly what traffic really is... a weekday in China's capital.

We are staying at the Central Holiday Inn and what we have seen so far is very nice. The room is clean and average in size, and Shawn is loving all the "kits" in the bathroom...those who don't know him also don't know that our guest bathroom is filled with little trinkets from hotel bathrooms around the world.

We meet Anna in the lobby at 9:30 to start our first day of sightseeing. On today's menu:

Forbidden City
Tienamen Square
Temple of Heaven
Peking Duck dinner
Acrobatics Show

Hopefully, we can fit some shopping in there somewhere. We would like to look at jade and pearls here.

I also forgot to mention that after carefully packing and repacking, both of our bags are beyond the in-China limit, meaning we will have to do some creative repacking before our bags will qualify for the flight to Hangzhou on Saturday. Shawn's bag weighed 52 pounds and mine weighed 55. Since 44 pounds is the limit per person, you can see that we have a problem! Most everything we packed is needed for our 2nd leg of the trip...oh yeah, a little boy that meets us in less than a week!! We have a duffel packed, so we'll use it to cart 19 pound as additional carry-on.

I think I'll try to get a bit more sleep before heading to breakfast. Hope all is well back home!

I'll have some pictures in my next post. There hasn't been much to take pictures of so far.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Off To Pick Up An Important Package

Ian turns 19 months old today...and when this monthly milestone comes around again, he will be home with us and legally our son.

Today is also the last day we will sleep in our own bed for a while. Our plane takes off tomorrow morning, and my next post will hopefully be from an airport somewhere in the world or a cozy Beijing hotel room.

It looks like the Beijing temps have conveniently dipped just in time for our trip, but looks like it will be sunny. Some pictures from a family in Beijing now show that the air quality is really bad, which we're hoping doesn't impede on our photo opps.

Thanks to everyone for following along. We hope Blogger works OK behind China's censorship walls. If not, family will most likely receive email from Shawn with links to our Kodak Gallery.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Surprise Update

I talked to our agency rep today to check and double check our paperwork. At the end of the call, she casually mentioned that they received a surprise update today on Ian. While we can't really complain, it seems so strange that they would send an update just days before we travel, especially when we had asked for something a few times with no response.

It was actually nice to have his first measurements since he was 9 months old (which would have come in handy when I was splurging on clothes that definitely won't fit him now). I graphed out his weight, length, and head circ. and feel pretty good about his stats. He was a little peanut when he was found at 3 months, but bounced back well. I am keeping in mind that the charts I used are outdated (circa 1993)and are based on nude weight. If I take into account probable layering in his 3 and 9 month weights, they're not too terribly accurate. I've seen summer pics of him and it doesn't look like they layer too much in the warmer months and/or on the older kids, so I think there's a chance that the 18 month stats are accurate give or take. We shall see, shortly!

Today's report also noted that:

"He mimics words well, such as MaMa (!!!!!!!) and Ah-Yee" "He likes to listen to music and gets along well with other children".

There was a bit more, but there were a few things in these sentences that stuck with me: He said Mama! (Who knows if he knows what that means), he is mimicking words (which is a big deal for a boy with possible hearing loss), and he likes music (which could be a generalization that they use for all kids)but might also indicate success with his hearing.

We leave in less than a week now and we're definitely starting to get antsy to hold our son. I've been counting down for some time now, but we're at that point where I can almost reach out and touch November 6th (gotcha day)... in 2 weeks time, I'll be a parent...I mean, a MaMa!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Itinerary Final Draft

We finally received the final itinerary from our agency. I think they were waiting to see if any other families received TA and CA in line with ours before they could bill us. Ultimately, I just wanted the flight date and times for our in China flights. It appears that we will be our own travel group for the entire trip. A family who just received TA to their little girl from Ian's orphanage were sadly unable to obtain a Consulate Appointment in time to travel in early November.

Nevertheless, we are so excited to have extra time in Hangzhou. We had a choice to fly from Beijing to Hangzhou on the 3rd, 4th, or 5th, but we feel like we will have seen as much of Beijing as we'll need by then and it will be a good 10 to 20 degrees warmer in Hangzhou...Any extra time we have would much better be spent in our son's province taking in as much as we can of his region.

It looks like Ian doesn't come up from Hangzhou until the 6th. This means we'll have 2 full days to sightsee before he comes, although we would much rather have him with us. We are considering going up to Shanghai for a day, but I'm getting conflicting reports as to whether it's worth it or not. Some say definitely, while others say we don't have enough time to truly enjoy it. There is so much to see and do in Hangzhou, so we can easily spend the time there or go into the countryside a bit to a tea plantation or other regional locale.

Based on the final itinerary, this will be our timeline:

10/29: Leave Seattle
10/30: Arrive Beijing (Late)
11/3: Depart Beijing/Arrive Hangzhou, Zhejiang
11/6: Ian Comes to Hangzhou! Finally a Family!
11/11: Depart Hangzhou/Arrive Guangzhou (Happy 20th B-Day Ashlee!!)
11/13: Consulate Appointment...It's Official!
11/16: Depart Guangzhou! Ian becomes an American Citizen

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Much Ado About Cargo Room

There comes a time on just about every blog where the author begins blogging about random stuff... In many cases, it's because without some reason to reach out, especially this close to travel, one might go crazy. I'm at that point.

Rather than fill you all in on what I ate for breakfast or the latest cute anecdote of Polli the Wonder Frenchie, I thought I might mention the vehicle I hope to have in the next 6 months or so... I'm currently smitten with the GMC Acadia.

I feel like my beloved Spongebob mobile (Honda Element) may be wearing out it's welcome soon. We'll see how I feel when Ian comes, but although it is the perfect car for me now, I have a hard time believing that I will be able to easily maneuver the clamshell doors around a the rain... in a parking lot. It's already hard enough to get Polli in and out without a lot of work, so I can't imagine what it will be like with a squirming toddler. We shall see. I hope to be pleasantly surprised.

In the meantime, I have been pondering what I would get when I do get a new vehicle. It WILL NOT...I repeat WILL NOT be a mini-van. No offense to all you MV folks. I just don't want one. I will however take the next best thing...a crossover. What I didn't want was a big beast...Shawn already has one of those. I also didn't want a regular car (no room for a dog crate)... So a crossover it is!

The GMC Acadia is new, well made, reasonably priced, seats 8, and is highly configurable....for a crate, Costco trip, grandparent visit, etc. It also has 2 sunroofs, drop down theater, and a heads up display, which is pretty cool. It would be great if the side door slid rather than opened out, but then I suppose it would be a minivan.

If you're still reading, thanks for letting me drone on about nothing...We travel in just over a week and I needed a reason to be off topic, even if only for a few minutes.

OK, back to planning. I'm sure there's a list to rewrite or a floor to clean somewhere!

Friday, October 12, 2007

So Much Can Happen in a Year

One year ago today, I posted the first post on my blog. It was only a couple of weeks into our paperchase and at that point, we had yet to tell our family of our plans to adopt. We were 7 months away from laying eyes on our son for the first time.

At that point, the little lady above was the center of our universe and in many ways, still is. The closer we get to travel, the more we realize just how much we'll really REALLY miss her while we're gone. Boy will life be different for her when we get home!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Travel Visas Have Arrived!

Our travel visa's arrived today! We applied for them a month ago, but the travel agency we used held onto our applications until they had a handful to send to San Francisco…which made me a little nervous. To avoid the risk of a once in a lifetime FedEx snafu, I decided to drive the 2 hours round trip to pick them up. No reason to tempt fate!

Also today, I heard back from our agency that my request to put us in a different hotel in Guangzhou has succeeded. I had hoped that we could get in at The Victory hotel, or in a dream world, the Westin or Holiday Inn (yes, they're actually pretty nice there). Our agency is still using the White Swan as their primary hotel (for those not in the know, it's one of the main hotels in Guangzhou used to house US adoptive families during the last week of the trip). Luckily, the were able to get us scheduled at The Victory, which has drinkable water from the faucets (!!!) and the rooms are bigger than the White Swan. I've read mixed reviews from other adoptive families about which is a better hotel, so it probably doesn't matter either way. By the time we get to this point of the trip, I doubt I'll even know the difference. Shawn certainly won't.... He'll just show up and I'll do all the stressing.

We don't have our final itinerary yet, but it does not look like we'll be with any other families, at least in Beijing and Hangzhou. One other Hangzhou family with our agency is waiting for Travel Approval, but it all depends on when they can get their Consulate appointment. Chances are we'll have a guide to ourselves, which is fine with us. I am sad that several online friends will be in Guangzhou the week before us, and some the week after us. It looks like the knock down drag out fight that Shawn and I had about when to leave for China (he wanted to leave no earlier than the 27th/28th; I wanted to leave no later than the 20th/21st) would have definitely worked in my favor had I won the battle. Oh well. He owes me... There's probably some nice jade jewelry in China that will make up for it.

Also in the news this week: Ian has his first doctor's appointment scheduled. He sees IA Pediatrician Julian Davies at University of Washington Adoption Medicine on Monday, December 4th.Dr. Davies reviewed his file for us and is a highly respected Adoption Doc in our area (same goes for his practice partner Julie Bledsoe who has 2 daughters adopted from China). For those looking for an IA Pediatrician to review Special Needs files, I highly recommend their services and their website offers a wealth of information on Adoption Medicine: From that appointment, we'll make a plan for him to see an audiologist to test his hearing.

As of today, I have 11 days of work left! I'm not even counting the weekends in my countdown…just work days. Hopefully the time flies by. In exactly 3 weeks, we'll be looking out at the world from atop The Great Wall! In 4 weeks, I'll be a veteran mom of 72 hours! Is the world ready for me?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Just When You Think You Know...

This card came in the mail today from my mother-in-law...and right on time. I had a bit of a rough day yesterday. I liked this card a lot. She always know just when you need something sappy to put a big lump in your throat.

One month from today, we will be meeting our son for the first time. What was I doing a month ago? Dragging through a post Labor Day work week... which seems like just yesterday.

Expiration Dates

I have nothing important to say. Live goes on, red X's slowly ticking away the days on the calendar. I'm counting in so many ways now: One more Costco trip; 2 more mortgage payments; 4 more Survivor episodes; 4 more weekends (chances to sleep in); 4 more tanks of gas…

And finally, as I opened my yogurt this morning, I notice that the expiration date is 11/07/07. When this yogurt goes bad, I'll be a new mom. The things this process drives us to think about. If I were pregnant, I would be big as a house and saying "get this kid out of me" "epidural, NOW!"… That kind of stuff. I feel just about that fidgety. "Get me on the plane, now!" That's what I'm feeling today.

So as the days countdown and we wait for our travel visas to come back, I'll sit here eating my yogurt…thinking about what life will be like a month from now.