BeiHai – An Addendum

For posts like these, in which I’m telling the story of our days, I tend to look through my photos to remind myself of what we did and to help structure my writing. That means that if I don’t have any photos of an event, it might get less air time. I neglected to take photos of our lunch in Beihai, which means it was not discussed in great detail in my last blog post, about our entire day there. That situation should be remedied, and there are a few other notes I’d like to preserve here, as well.

At lunch, we had asked Glenn if there was anything for which the area or the restaurant at which we ate was known, and he said there was a soup in which they specialized – a pork and corn soup. We’re reasonably adventurous eaters in China, so we asked him to go ahead and order it. Interestingly enough, it comes out in a large clay pot, which is placed onto a gas burner in the middle of your table, which is then turned on.

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We opened the lid to look at it – the way Daniel described it when we were later discussing it was, “So you take the largest pork bone you think you’ve ever seen a dog chewing on and then multiply it by about four. You throw it into a pot of tepid water, along with some corn cobs.” I think that’s probably a pretty accurate description.

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So after the water boils for a while, you dish out some broth and corn cobs. At this point, you might be wondering how you’re supposed to eat corn cobs in soup – a reasonable question. It turns out the restaurant has you covered – they provide plastic gloves for you to slide onto your hands, and then you pick up your corn cobs out of your soup in order to eat them! That’s probably what you’d guessed, right? 🙂

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Also providing some moments of levity for us in the midst of a somewhat emotionally heavy day was the van in which we rode around the city. I don’t think we have any photos, but it had thick, sort of velour-ish curtains on every side and back window. What makes this more notable is that in China, drivers sometimes park their cars on sidewalks, which is what our driver did outside the restaurant. Getting up was fine, but I’m sure you can imagine that there might be some difficulty in backing a fully-window-curtained van off of the sidewalk and onto a reasonably busy road. Our driver’s strategy seemed to be to honk the horn and then start backing up and assume everyone would get out of his way! We made it out in one piece, at which time Danny and Sharon and I looked at each other and all started laughing.

One more note before I wrap this up 🙂 I’d mentioned in my blog post before we went to Beihai that this would be interesting in that it was a trip to a truly small city. It turns out I misunderstood what Glenn was saying – he’d been talking about its past population when he referenced the 60,000 number. Beihai’s current population is something like 1.5 million people – you know, just another small Chinese city!

Wednesday in Nanning – A Low-Key Day

Today was to be a low-key day, and for the most part, that’s what it was. Madeleine CaiQun and I were actually up pretty early – me because FangFang woke up and was crying for help getting her blankets and pillow rearranged, and then I was coughing and couldn’t get back to sleep, and Mei Mei because she had a bad dream. Once everyone was awake, we went downstairs to enjoy the hotel breakfast buffet. FangFang is always a little bit sad – though less so each time – when she wakes up, so she was not thrilled at waking up in and of itself. And she LOVES being in her stroller and often requests it upon waking – I think, honestly, because she’s not comfortable with intimacy with me yet and prefers sitting in the stroller to allowing me to hold her – so she was not thrilled that I wouldn’t let her stay in the stroller as we left the room to go to breakfast. As an adoptive mama who knows that one pathway to children’s hearts – particularly children who have spent any time in institutional care – is through their stomachs, I offered her a chocolate donut 🙂

We met Glenn around 10 and headed over to a park near our hotel. This park actually had a playground – not typical for the parks in China that I’ve seen – and Mei Mei was thankful!

ChenFang insisted that she wanted to go on a swing, too, but she was pretty obviously surprised by what it felt like and was ready to be done and get back into her stroller after a minute or so!

Mostly we walked around and enjoyed the scenery and talked with Glenn.

Madeleine CaiQun has not really enjoyed the walking involved in this trip, and she is often requesting to be worn in the Tula. Glenn tells us that in China, six-year-olds would never be carried like that, because they can walk. However, she is experiencing some jealousy and a bit of regression, and while we’re not going to cater to her every whim, I’m okay with her wanting to be worn some of the time.

Our breakfast had been large, so we just snacked in the room for lunch – instant oatmeal, granola bars, trail mix, and some of the odd flavored Pringles chips that you find only in China (cucumber flavor was alright; Mexican Tomato Chicken flavor was completely disgusting to everyone except FangFang). And then we went to Dairy Queen 🙂 It was a bit of a challenge ordering because of the different menus (and our not reading or speaking Mandarin), but we all managed to get something – I got a Mango Jelly blizzard!

FangFang is definitely stepping up her attempts to reject me and bond with Sharon. She cried for about 5 minutes straight at Dairy Queen because I wouldn’t let her sit next to Sharon and let Sharon feed her – until I finally got a bite of ice cream into her mouth, and she was willing to sacrifice her desire for Sharon in favor of her desire for more ice cream 🙂

I feel like I’m making it up as I go in terms of how to live out the specifics of encouraging FangFang to form her primary attachment with me while we’re in country with Danny and Sharon. When both parents travel and one is rejected in favor of the other, it can be really hard emotionally, but it’s pretty straightforward practically – there’s a pretty standard course of action to take in that scenario. However, when you’re traveling as one parent with two non-parents, it’s not quite so simple even from a practical standpoint. Everyone agrees that the parent should be the primary person to meet the child’s needs…but everyone also agrees that flexibility is key while in China, and sometimes “ideal in a perfect world” is not the same as “would actually work well in this situation right now.” For the moment, I’m meeting all of FangFang’s basic needs – I change her diapers, I get her dressed and undressed, and I feed her. I’m also trying to be proactive in engaging her playfully – I tickle her and play peekaboo with her and play with play-doh with her. Today I puckered up my lips to blow a kiss to her, and she leaned in for an actual kiss, which was encouraging, and we’ve been blowing kisses back and forth. I always have her sitting next to me at restaurants, and I push the stroller when we’re out and about. Sharon isn’t specifically seeking her out but does respond to her when she interacts playfully, and I think that’s alright. The biggest un-crossable line for me right now is that if I offer her something (i.e. ice cream), I’m not going to let her succeed in turning me down and requesting that same thing from Sharon instead. Treats come from Mom 🙂 It is tricky, though. It seems a little mean to pull her away from someone she’s seeking, but it is for her benefit – in just over a week, Sharon will head home to Washington, D.C., and FangFang will be left with just me, so the beginnings of her most primary relationship need to be with me.

After Dairy Queen I put FangFang down for her nap, and I did a few more sink-loads of laundry. We should have a washer in the apartment in which we’re staying in Guangzhou, but I need to have at least enough clean clothes for everyone to get us there! Madeleine CaiQun took a bath while I did laundry. This girl LOVES her bath time, so she’s been very much enjoying playing in the water for an hour or so each day while FangFang naps.

Once FangFang got up, we broke out the play-doh for a bit, and then we headed back to the mall down the street to do a bit of shopping and have dinner. Madeleine CaiQun had been insisting that she’d seen a shark in a tank at the mall. None of the rest of us had seen it at all, but she said it was there, and we promised to look. We walked all around the 5th floor – nothing. We said we’d go up to the 6th floor, and we started to make our lap, and we hadn’t gone too far before she said, “Guys! Stop!” and there it was! We weren’t sure what to expect from her description of a shark in a tank…but it turns out there really was a shark in a tank at the mall! Why? It’s completely unclear. But there was a shark in a tank 🙂

After we found the shark, we had dinner (back to Grandma’s Home – it was very good again!) and then did a little bit of shopping before heading back to our hotel. We made a quick stop in our room, and then Danny and FangFang and I went back to Walmart to pick up a few necessities (more water and more suckers!) and get some things to take for donations to the orphanage tomorrow.

I put FangFang in the Ergo for that brief trip, and she was NOT pleased. I’d tried it earlier in the afternoon to an even more disgruntled reaction, but I wanted to try it again to see if it would be at all an option for us for our day trip tomorrow, since Glenn’s advice was to leave the beloved stroller at the hotel. She doesn’t seem physically uncomfortable in it, but the emotional intensity of our closeness is pretty overwhelming for her. Her first reaction was to cry and arch away, but when I offered a sucker, she stopped crying and just leaned away from me and was rarely willing to make eye contact or even look up at me. So…for the moment, it’s an option, though it’s not ideal. But when we got back to the hotel room, I took her out of the Ergo and let her scoot herself around for a little while, and she was back to her happy little self, jabbering away and wanting to be tickled and laughing her adorable little laugh 🙂

Both girls are asleep now, and I’m going to join them shortly. Please be praying for our trip to Beihai tomorrow. Please pray for Madeleine CaiQun’s heart as she continues to adjust to being a big sister again. Please pray for the logistics of train travel with a new-to-our-family 3-year-old with OI, and please pray for the emotions of returning to a place at which she lived for quite a while and perhaps seeing people she knew before her time at her foster home (and almost certainly seeing the people who brought her to us on Monday). Glenn has told us we should not expect to be allowed to enter the orphanage and the baby rooms themselves, as we do not have any official permission to do so, but I’d love it if you’d pray that something would change, and we’d be able to go in. It has happened before. I’d love to have as much information possible for FangFang as she gets older. We’ll also visit her finding spot and perhaps see some more of the city which her birth parents may call home. It sounds as if it’s a pretty small city – actually small, not just small by Chinese standards! Glenn estimated its population as around 60,000 people, so that should be really interesting in and of itself, as every city I’ve visited thus far in China has been home to millions of people. I also may not get to update tomorrow night – we will return to Nanning around dinner time, and then on Friday we will take the train to Guangzhou, so we’ll need to get most of our suitcases packed up again tomorrow night. If you don’t hear any official update from me tomorrow, please be praying for our travel day and for our settling into the apartments we’ve reserved in Guangzhou (and that they’d be alright). Thanks for following along and supporting us and praying for us in this journey, friends!

Travel Day – Hong Kong to Nanning (By Way of Guangzhou)

We set alarms for 6:30 yesterday morning, but we woke before that anyway. Our agency had booked us on the 9:24 train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, and we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to get to the train station and figure out exactly where we were supposed to be. We checked out of our hotel around 7:45, and the concierge called a taxi for us to head to the train station. We’re rather a sight – Madeleine CaiQun and I have 2 suitcases and 2 backpacks between us, and Daniel and Sharon have 3 suitcases, a backpack, and a large purse, so the taxi drivers use cables to secure our luggage inside the trunks, which don’t close once our suitcases are inside.

The train station was just about a mile from our hotel, and we made it there in plenty of time to figure out where to go. Our agency had sent our train tickets to our hotel in Hong Kong, so we didn’t need to purchase anything, just to wait for our train. Daniel walked over to the other part of the train station and got us some drinks and pastries (the pineapple puff was awesome!) to have for a light breakfast, and then we waited for boarding to begin for our train.

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Once we went through security, we were able to use the bathroom once more (up through this point we’d seen squatty potties everywhere, but there had always been an option for western toilets, too!), and then we boarded our train. It was really pretty straightforward. The train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou is not a bullet train, but it’s a very nice way to travel. I love being able to look out the window as we ride and see more of the areas through which we’re traveling.

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Netflix’s announcement just prior to our departure for China that they would allow downloads of some shows, so they could be watched without Internet access, has been such a blessing for us – Madeleine CaiQun has greatly enjoyed being able to watch shows on an iPad while we’ve done our plane and train travel!

We made it to Guangzhou just as planned, and a guide met us at the station and helped us get to the van, where a driver drove us across Guangzhou to another train station, where we would catch a train to Nanning a couple hours later. To say that this train station is huge is an understatement.

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Guangzhou is pretty western for a city in China, but it’s still a major change coming from Hong Kong. We were able to find a restaurant in the train station at which we could order from picture menus, so we got some lunch, then had our first squatty potty experience, and then Daniel got us some snacks and water (or what he thought was water!) at a convenience store. It turns out he actually bought us some lime and mango flavored waters!

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We made it to our bullet train to Nanning and got settled in for the ride. It was awesome to see even just these little glimpses of China through the train window as we traveled. It’s such a beautiful country with an amazingly rich history.

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We arrived in Nanning just a few minutes later than scheduled and stopped in the bathrooms (squatty potties again – resulting in a necessary outfit change for MCQ) before setting out to look for our guide. This was probably the most stressful part of our trip so far. Nanning is a gigantic city (Wikipedia lists its population as 6.9 million), so its train station is rather large. We just knew that our guide was supposed to meet us at the train station but didn’t know where, and he didn’t know where to meet us, and he couldn’t enter the train station, since he didn’t have a ticket, and we wouldn’t have been able to re-enter after we chose an exit from which to leave. Finally I turned on the international calling plan I’d activated for my phone just in case of emergency and called him (twice), once with the assistance of a bilingual woman sent over by a police officer to help us (can you tell we’re conspicuous here?), and we finally connected, about an hour after we were supposed to meet up. We made it to our hotel then, though, and we got some dinner at one of the restaurants here.

Everyone else went to bed pretty soon after that, but we’re running out of some necessary clothes items (I packed pretty light, but I should have brought a few more pairs of pants for Madeleine CaiQun), so I stayed up and did some laundry in the sink and texted with Matt for a little while.

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I’m feeling somewhat lonely and overwhelmed here, being here without Matt and Miranda and Atticus and really experiencing how much there is for me to do here and knowing that we’re about to add our new little one into that mix. We’ll meet her in about 6 hours, and I pray that she is open to receiving love and care from me and from her big sister and that I’m able to do all that I need to do. I’m hoping to get some Walmart shopping and some unpacking and general preparations done before then. Please pray for our precious girl as she prepares to join our family, and please pray for my morning to set us up well for that transition!

Hong Kong Day Two

We were all awake by about 6:00 am on our second day in Hong Kong, courtesy of jetlag! This was the morning view from our hotel room – Hong Kong is beautiful!

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We got a relaxing start to the day, though, using our complimentary breakfast coupons for a hotel breakfast – it wasn’t as extravagant as the hotel breakfasts in China, but it was still pretty awesome!

We decided to go out to Lantau to see the monastery and Big Buddha there. There was a rather expensive day-tour option, but we figured we’d be able to get there ourselves and didn’t necessarily need for it to take all day. Danny researched the metro, and we opted for that. We could have gotten on at the stop right by our hotel, but then we would have had to transfer lines, and we weren’t sure how complicated that would be, so we decided instead to walk about a mile through the city to another station on the line we’d need to take to get out to Lantau.

Little did we know, that would be a bit more complex than we were anticipating! First we found a travel agency at which our hotel concierge had told us we could buy the cable car tickets, and we purchased them there to avoid the line at the site, and then we continued on our way walking. I actually really enjoyed walking through Hong Kong and seeing more of it. To me the city seems like an interesting mix of China, Europe, and New York City.

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At one point we took a “shortcut” through a park – that ended up requiring us to double back and come out through the same entrance through which we’d come into the park. But it was a pleasant detour – we saw some of the older men and women doing their morning exercises and singing and enjoyed seeing the flowers and the turtles.

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After that, it turned out to be rather a longer walk than we’d anticipated, though, and it was a walk that took us through a large construction site, and as we walked through the pedestrian path, all the construction workers were coming through and grabbing their lunches and were clearly a bit surprised to see us. When I stopped and asked someone, “Kowloon Station?” she nodded and pointed in the direction we were heading, so we just kept walking, not at all certain of our path!

Honestly, I think there’s great value in having experiences like that – being in a foreign country in which you don’t speak the language, being an ethnic minority, feeling somewhat out of place and knowing that you are, to some extent, at the mercy of strangers. And even in that experience, we knew we were so much less vulnerable than so many people in the world today. We have cash with us and access to more, and we carry US passports. There are millions of people in the world who face truly dangerous situations on a daily basis, and our experience was nothing like that. I still believe there is tremendous value in putting ourselves in situations in which we have experiences outside of those of our normal realm. It was also yet another reminder of the scariness of the situation FangFang is going to be facing so very soon. She’ll be handed over to orphanage officials, who will then hand her over to us, people she’s never met before and about whom she knows next to nothing. I pray we can assure her of our love and her safety early and that she begins to trust that we will care for her well.

Anyway, as we continued walking, we finally saw some signs indicating that we should turn right and began walking toward a large building, which we did with relief. However, when we entered, we saw…this:

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It’s an ice skating rink! That was not what we were expecting! However, it turned out that if we walked around the ice skating rink and through the mall to which it was attached, we continued to see signs directing us toward Kowloon Station. We followed those and eventually arrived at the metro station. Phew! It actually was very easy to negotiate, so we bought our tickets out to Tung Chung, and the metro ride itself went very well. Our family dynamic was clearly interesting to some of the older passengers on the train who pointed at Madeleine CaiQun and stared at her and talked amongst themselves. She just stared right back 🙂

Once we got out to Tung Chung, we got in line for the cable cars. Looking at them, the prospect of riding on them is a bit anxiety-producing! It’s about a 25 minute ride up mountains, over water and trees and buildings. We opted not to pay extra for the cable cars with the clear bottoms!

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At the top of the mountain, there are some restaurants and shops, and we were all hungry and chose a restaurant at which to eat before continuing any further. We enjoyed some squid ink pasta, teriyaki chicken ramen, fried pumpkin, and spring rolls.

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Then we walked farther up toward the Buddhist monastery, encountering some oxen along the way. Honestly, we’re still not really sure about the connection there.

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We looked around at the monastery first.

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And then we headed up the steps toward the Big Buddha. Danny volunteered to carry Madeleine CaiQun up the stairs in the Tula after she announced that she was far too tired to climb them all! At the top we walked around the outside of the Buddha and went inside the lower level, where there is some history about its construction and about Buddhism and its practice there.

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By that time it was getting close to evening, so we made the climb back down the stairs (this time with Mei Mei on my back) and then waited in line for our cable car back down the mountain.

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This time we opted to take a metro all the way back to the stop near our hotel – definitely a good choice! By the time we got back, we were all wiped out. We had dinner at the restaurant at our hotel, and Madeleine CaiQun was ready for bed immediately thereafter.

Daniel and Sharon and I then worked on getting our luggage packed up again and making our plans for the next day.

It was a short visit to Hong Kong, only two days, but we had a really good time. We’re still on an early schedule, but we’ve – for the most part – adjusted pretty well to the time change, and it’s nice to have that behind us as we head toward meeting FangFang! And of course, it was great to get to see a part of the world we hadn’t experienced before and enjoy learning more about Hong Kong and its history.

Some Thank Yous and Our Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Pre-Travel Sale

This is going to be my last blog post about money, as it relates to this adoption. Some of you might want to stop reading right now, but if you’re a friend or family member or a follower of our adoption journey, I am asking you to hear me out 🙂 After this post, I’ll be on to talking about bigger and better things – things like bonding and attachment in adoption and some ways in which you can be praying for us as we go to China to adopt FangFang – in short, the beginnings of the real work of adoption and parenting. Before I do that, though, I’m going to write about finances one more time. Money isn’t the most important thing, not even close – but it’s important, and it matters, and what we do with our money is a reflection of what truly matters to us in our hearts.

First, we want to say a huge thank you to those who have already contributed toward the costs of our bringing FangFang home. Those of you who have bought artworks or offered financial gifts have played a huge part in making it possible for us to complete her adoption. THANK YOU. Not only has your financial support been so incredibly helpful from a practical perspective, but it has been a tremendous encouragement to us. We know that you want to partner with us in doing something that reaches beyond just us and beyond just you, in bringing our precious girl home and into our family. All children deserve families; she deserves a family; and we are grateful for your part in making that a reality. We know that you are with us for real. Not just when it’s convenient and not just when it costs you nothing, you are truly with us. Thank you.

To the friends from high school who have reached out and contributed, thank you. To the friends from college who have given gifts and purchased artworks, thank you. To our moms and dads and brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles, we thank you. To friends from our church in Chicagoland and friends from our church here in Missouri, thank you. To our friends in the art community, thank you. To friends who may not fit into any of those categories, thank you. So many of you from so many different times and places in our lives have come together to make the completion of this journey a reality. We see you standing with us, and it makes such a difference to us. We know, and ChenFang will know, that even before she was here, even before she was officially a part of our family, she was loved and cared for by so many.

We are so close to being fully funded to cover the rest of the costs associated with finalizing ChenFang’s adoption. In an attempt to get us as close to that number as possible, we are offering some additional artworks for sale in Matt’s etsy shop. He uploaded a number of prints over the weekend, all of which are priced to sell – there are 6 images remaining for $40 or less. These are a couple of my favorites.

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If you’re doing some Black Friday or Cyber Monday Christmas shopping this weekend, would you consider purchasing a print or a painting for someone on your list? If you’re sharing with others a list of items you might appreciate receiving as Christmas gifts this year, would you consider including one of Matt’s prints or paintings on that list? It would be tremendously helpful and a great encouragement to us.

Or of course, if you would like to make a straight financial contribution, you may do that, as well, at this link, or there are instructions in this post for mailing a check.

Thank you all for partnering with us, for helping to bring our sweet little girl home and into our family. It means the world to us.