Wednesday – Shamian Island, Dinner with a Friend, and Packing Up

Wednesday was another waiting day – this time waiting for the US Consulate to issue FangFang’s immigrant visa, so we could officially bring her into the United States. Assuming all went as expected (which it does, 99.9% of the time), our guide was to deliver it to me at our hotel around 4:30, but we had a free day until then.

We got up and did a little bit of packing and got ready for the day. FangFang loves lotion, which is great, because parents rubbing lotion on their kiddos is such a great way to get in some healthy, good touch. We adoptive mamas never stop thinking about attachment and bonding!

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Then we took a taxi over to Shamian Island for the morning. The island has a lot of western influence, and it also has a lot of history within the China adoption community. Years ago, the US Consulate used to be located there, and all American adopting families stayed on the island in the White Swan Hotel. A while ago, the consulate moved closer to downtown Guangzhou, and the White Swan underwent renovations and marketed itself more to a business clientele, and very few families now stay on the island at all, but it’s still a great place to visit. There are a lot of pedestrian walkways, and it has a quiet, relaxing feel. If I ever lived in China, I think it’s one place I’d love to live – so close to the city itself but a bit removed and so peaceful.

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We took some pictures of the girls with these statues with which adoptive families often photograph their kiddos.

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This was particularly sweet to me given my memories of this same spot from almost 4 years ago!

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We also walked around and did the last of our souvenir shopping, visiting Jenny’s (a shop that’s been around for years and years) and a Gift from China (a shop whose proceeds benefit care for orphans), and eating lunch at Lucy’s, a western-style restaurant.

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Then we headed back to the hotel for a nap for FangFang, some packing for me, and my appointment with our guide to get FangFang’s visa. I encountered some technology issues trying to get a few more things downloaded onto an iPad for Madeleine CaiQun and didn’t get as much packing done as I would have liked, which was frustrating. Danny and Sharon had gotten most of their packing done that morning.

We’d plan to meet up with a friend of ours for dinner that evening. Jackie is a former student of Matt’s, originally from Guangzhou and now returned there, helping students prepare their art portfolios to apply to schools within the United States. It was great to catch up with her, and having a Mandarin-speaker with you has its advantages – we were able to get a private room at the super-crowded restaurant and were definitely able to order better!

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And then it was back to the hotel for bedtime and packing! Packing days were a challenge for me. Being the primary caretaker of the kiddos meant that it was hard to get a solid block of time to devote to packing – the best times being during naptime and after bedtime, but those times necessitating packing in the dark. Finally I finished our packing around 1:30 in the morning and fell into bed, ready to head for home in the morning!

Tuesday – Consulate Appointment, Shopping, Touring, and the Pearl River Cruise

Today was a full day – much fuller than I actually anticipated it would be. I got less sleep than anticipated, but it was partly for a good reason. FangFang woke up around 4:00 needing her diaper changed, so I took care of that and put her back in her crib, but about 5 minutes later, she burst into tears and announced that she wanted to be in my bed. I put her in bed with me, fully expecting her to tell me immediately that she wanted to go back to her own bed, but she didn’t, and she actually slept with me for the rest of the night! Unfortunately our night ended at 6:30, much too early for this night owl, as we had to meet our guide in the lobby at 7:30 to head over for our Consulate Appointment.

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At the Consulate Appointment, you present your child’s information and medical exam results to the Consulate, you take an oath that it’s all correct to the best of your knowledge, and they take your child’s passport to work on issuing the visa. That was our last official appointment here in China! Now we wait for FangFang’s visa to be issued so that she can legally enter the United States, at which point she will become a US citizen! It should arrive tomorrow afternoon, though the consulate recommends that adoptive families not leave the area until 2 days after their appointment, just in case of an unexpected delay.

We took advantage of the rest of this day to do some more exploration of Guangzhou. I mentioned to our guide, Elsie, that we’d like to visit the pearl market and the jade market, and she said on the way back from the Consulate Appointment that if Danny and Sharon and Mei Mei could get ready, we could go in about 20 minutes, so we threw things together in our room and got ready to head out!

Elsie took us to a jade store she recommends and at which she can get a significant discount and then to a store for pearls, and we looked around a bit at the surrounding stores, as well.

These ladies are FAST at putting together the pearl necklaces!
These ladies are FAST at putting together the pearl necklaces!
a pedestrian street near the Jade and Pearl Market building
a pedestrian street near the Jade and Pearl Market building

By the time we were done, we weren’t sure there was enough time to head back to the hotel and grab lunch in that area before we’d need to meet up with the rest of our group for the afternoon’s activities, so Elsie recommended a restaurant near our meeting spot, and we enjoyed a good lunch there!

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Then we met up with the rest of our group and went over to the GuangXiao Temple, an active Buddhist temple, which we enjoyed exploring, and Elsie told us some about its history and about Buddhism and its presence in China.

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Next we went to the One-link Market for toys and gifts. It’s sort of like a Chinese version of a combination of Pier One, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, and a flea market. Here was a store at which we bought a few things.

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Shopping there with 2 small children was actually pretty stressful for me. The aisles are super narrow, so it’s impossible to keep far enough to the center that your kids cannot touch items on either side of the aisle, and it’s not laid out in any sort of logical fashion, so it’s not like you can just go in with an idea of what you want and get it – you have to wander and look around. And there are no western toilets. But…we were only there for about an hour and a half, and Daniel and Sharon had a number of gifts they wanted to buy and were able to get a lot there, and I was thankful we made it out without breaking anything.

We’d wanted to do the Pearl River Cruise, and its dock was near the One-link Market, whereas our hotel was across town, and Elsie wasn’t sure we’d have time to make it there and back before the cruise would depart, so we just went straight to the dock after our time at the market. We’d left for the pearl and jade market earlier thinking we’d just do that and then be back at the hotel to pack up for the rest of the day, so it was a little stressful not getting to return, but we made the best of it.

We actually arrived too early to board the boat itself, so we walked around some, saw some more sights, and found a western toilet for Madeleine CaiQun! And little FangFang, on her third day running of no-afternoon-nap (because her mommy keeps accepting offers for afternoon plans), took a brief snooze in the stroller 🙂

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Then we walked back to the dock for the Pearl River Cruise. We went ahead and did the dinner buffet with it, and the food was fine, though not spectacular. What really makes this a fun activity is getting to see all the lights, including those on the Canton Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world.

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Then it was back to the hotel for a little bit of play time and getting ready for bed! FangFang couldn’t decide (or enjoyed making me go back and forth) whether she wanted to sleep in her crib or my bed, but she ultimately ended up in her bed, and we’ll see where she finishes the night!

There are some things we’re planning to do tomorrow, but we don’t have any early morning deadlines, so I’m hoping to get some good sleep tonight! It’s hard to believe, but tomorrow is our last full day in Guangzhou! I love being in China, in spite of its challenges, but I am so looking forward to being home and seeing Matt and Miranda and Atticus, plus my mom and my other family members who are arriving for Christmas. I’m also fantasizing about potable tap water and widespread availability of western toilets. There is so much I love about China, and I hope it’s not too many years before I’m back here again, but I also cannot wait to get home!!

Monday – Safari Park

Today is another day of waiting for FangFang’s medical exam results, so we got up reasonably early and packed up to head to the Chimelong Safari Park. Last time I was in Guangzhou, we’d visited the zoo, but most of the kids in our group were younger that time, and I’d heard the safari park was great for slightly older kids. Our guide recommended it and offered to set up a driver for us, so we wouldn’t have to take a taxi or the subway, so we went for it!

We started off our visit with the “Safari On Wheels” – basically a zoo tram through a number of different animal habitats. That part was very cool – we were so close to so many animals!

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People could also drive their cars individually on this same path, which many did, and it was clear that they did not take these signs seriously –

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We saw person after person hanging out through their sunroof windows throwing food to the animals!

After our tram ride, we ate a bit of lunch and then walked through the rest of the park. One of the first exhibits we saw was that of the white tigers. They were actually finishing up a show in which they suspend pieces of meat above the water so that the tigers will jump to get them and then fall into the water. We weren’t thrilled with that idea…but it was nice to see the tigers!

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The highlight of my day came around the giraffe exhibit. For 15 yuan (about $2) you could buy a leafy branch to feed to the giraffes. I bought one for each of my kiddos and got FangFang out of the stroller so she could participate. The giraffes grab on and tug pretty hard, and Madeleine CaiQun lost her whole branch to the giraffe right away, and while FangFang wouldn’t hold it herself, she LOVED seeing the giraffe eat the leaves when I held out our branch. I bought a few more, and both girls were so happy about it.

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And then, I don’t really know what prompted it, but FangFang decided it was time to snuggle up to me!

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And then she puckered her lips for some kisses!

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It can be so easy for me to focus on her preference for Sharon – her constant calls for “jiuma! jiuma!” – that I can miss the growth that really is occurring in FangFang’s and my relationship. We have a long way to go – which is to be expected! We’ve known each other for only a week! – but we’re making progress each day.

The moment ended, though, and we moved on to see some more animals!

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Daniel bought some bananas to feed to the elephants, and though the girls didn’t quite have the arm strength to make the throws themselves, they enjoyed that experience, as well!

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After feeding the elephants, we finally made it over to see the pandas! This was one of the highlights of the safari park for me. These are the triplet pandas born a couple years ago!

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Making that exhibit even more enjoyable was the attendant near the exhibit, who spoke very good English and talked with us all about pandas – it was great to learn more about them!

The last animal we saw was the pygmy hippo – I don’t think I’d ever seen one before!

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Then it was back to the hotel! We stopped and got ourselves some 4 yuan ice cream cones at McDonald’s before going in – FangFang was quite impressed 🙂

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And then we ended up back at Macau Street Restaurant for dinner!

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There was time for a little bit of play afterwards, and then our no-napping-again-today baby needed to get to bed. I think I actually let her stay up too late, because she was very tired and cried for quite a while at bedtime. It’s hard to distinguish between grief and a tired 3-year-old’s anger at having to stop playing and go to sleep, and I think both were probably at work tonight. She finally did fall asleep, though, and after some more playtime, Madeleine CaiQun did, as well.

FangFang and I have an 8:30 AM Consulate Appointment tomorrow morning, for which we need to be in the hotel lobby at 7:30 – eek! – not this night owl’s favorite plan! But it’s for a good reason 🙂 Then I think we’ll have some more sightseeing with our guide in the afternoon and evening. We’ll be home on Friday, which still feels so far away, but we really only have 2 more days in Guangzhou, which is crazy. It seems like this trip has been so long, and yet there are also ways in which it feels like we just got here. I can’t wait to see the rest of my babies – and yet my heart also harbors sadness for FangFang at this next loss she will experience, leaving her language and her culture, probably not to return for several more years at least. And yet, she is now a precious and beloved member of a family that adores her, and she’s about to become an American citizen and be connected with some of the best doctors in the world for treating OI. I think the benefits outweigh the costs, but the costs are still significant – but while we mourn for those, we celebrate that she is coming home, that we are all going home soon!

Sunday – Resting, Touring, and Waiting

Adoption is always a game of “hurry up and wait,” and your time in China is no exception. You get to Asia, and you spend a couple days adjusting to the time change before getting your child; you get your child, then you hang out in province for a couple days waiting for their passport to be ready; you get to Guangzhou and do your child’s medical exam, and then you wait for its results; then you do your Consulate Appointment, and then you wait for your child’s visa to be issued. Right now we’re in the stage in which we’re waiting for the results of our child’s medical exam – in particular the TB test results – so that we can go to the Consulate Appointment.

On Sunday morning we slept in and played a bit. I picked up a new “diaper bag” for our time in China – I’d been so focused on condensing and packing so as to get everything to China that I hadn’t really thought about how I’d carry things around once here. At pretty much all times, I need to have all of my break box supplies, some diapers and wipes and extra clothes for the girls, and bathroom supplies (one should not assume that a public bathroom in China will have toilet paper, a sink, or soap). And sometimes I need to have water bottles, snacks, forks for the girls to use to eat, and some entertainment – but not all of that fits well in my backpack. Saturday night we made a quick stop at the shops near our hotel, and I bought a cheap bag with a fun pattern that coordinates well with our stroller 🙂

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Madeleine CaiQun has quite an imagination and has LOVED being able to make up stories and scripts to play with her stuffed animals and toys and involving others in them, particularly her Uncle Danny. As the second child, she’s not often given an opportunity to be in charge, so she is loving this!

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Having requested some restaurant recommendations beyond those in the hotel itself, we ventured out in search of a restaurant called “Muslim Chicken” but without an English sign announcing it as such. For those who may follow after us, to get there, you go past the Starbucks and exit out of the hotel near the entrance to the Food Street restaurant. Walk past the 7-11, and keep going until you get to the Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King. It’s the first restaurant after that – its identification sign (which is not in English) has a green background. I think we could have ordered better, but our food was pretty good, and all of us ate a decent meal for about $11.

Then we headed back to the hotel and got ready to head out for some touring. First we visited the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. I didn’t really know anything about Dr. Sun Yat-sen before that, so it was an interesting introduction to his role in China’s history. Plus it is beautiful!

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Next we headed over to the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall / Temple / Academy. It has been a place of worship and a school and is currently a museum of folk art.

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We saw beautiful paintings, furniture, and carvings of wood, ivory, and bone.

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I got fewer pictures than I would have liked, but that was in part because I spent much of our time there walking around holding FangFang, and she even let me wear her in the Ergo for part of the time!

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At times it seems that her preference for Sharon gets stronger by the day, but I also need to continue to remind myself that her tolerance of – and yes, even bonding with – me is also increasing. And she had been with us for less than a week at this point. That’s barely any time. Our time in China can feel so long, but in terms of bonding, it’s really so short. FangFang’s comfort level with all of us has increased dramatically in just this small amount of time, and that’s something for which we can be quite thankful.

We also did just a little bit of shopping, Danny and Sharon more than me. Paying for the costs associated with this adoption has pretty well wiped us out financially for the moment, but it is so important to us to incorporate elements of our daughters’ birth culture into our family’s life, so I came to China with a few specific items in mind that I was hoping to bring home.

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One of the fun parts of this trip is connecting with other adoptive families. I’ve been thinking this trip about how I’d talk with people about what it’s like to prepare for an international adoption trip. I think the way I’d describe it is that it’s like preparing to give birth, while at the same time preparing to travel overseas for several weeks to a country in which you do not speak the language, and instead of your child being a baby, you are instead handed an older child with definite thoughts, opinions, preferences, and feelings, all of which they may or may not be able to communicate effectively to you. Whether your trip goes well or not, it is stressful! It is so nice to connect with other families going through the same thing.

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After our time at the Chen Family Academy, we went back to our hotel and ventured out in search of dinner. We were looking for a noodle and dumpling place, which we did not find, but we instead ended up at the Macau Street Restaurant, a place at which we’d eaten with our travel group on our last trip! It was particularly memorable because, on our last trip, Miranda had insisted that these individually packaged wipes were “money,” and we brought several of them home with us, and the kids still play with them 🙂 We requested a few extra to bring home from this trip, as well.

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For those looking for good places to eat around the China Hotel in the future, head left out of the hotel, past the McDonald’s, past the shops and then the next hotel, go around the bend, and it’ll be soon after that. It was another good meal 🙂

After that it was back to the hotel, where I put FangFang to bed – she hadn’t napped and was quite tired! Daniel and Sharon and I stayed up chatting for a while, and then it was bedtime for everyone!

Friday – a Travel Day

Friday was a travel day for us, going from Nanning to Guangzhou. We worked on packing up all of our stuff, a somewhat stressful process, as we had acquired some extra things and an extra person and would need to negotiate both train stations and the train with my 2 suitcases for the kiddos and me, Danny and Sharon’s 3 suitcases, our new stroller for FangFang, and 3 backpacks and a large purse. Packing up took us most of the morning, and we just had time for a quick bite for lunch, so we walked over to the mall attached to the hotel and had lunch at the same restaurant we’d eaten at for dinner the night before. Not a lot of restaurants in that mall had English or picture menus, so we figured we’d just go to the place we knew would work. Our lunch experience that day was less ideal, though – the servers seemed to find us an interesting attraction, and several of them stood around watching us eat and competing for FangFang’s attention. I was quite ready to go by the time we were done eating.

Unfortunately, the hotel hadn’t made a record of our request for a late checkout (which they’d approved the day before), so our keys had been deactivated while we were out. It took us quite a while to get someone to help us get into our rooms and get our luggage, so by the time we checked out, we were running about 15 minutes late, and I was worried we might miss our train. Thankfully we arrived in time, but we were at the back of the line to board, which was somewhat problematic given the amount of luggage we had. We managed to get on board, but it was hard to get spots for all of our stuff, and we ended up with suitcases and stroller distributed all throughout the train car. Travel days are always stressful, but it felt like we’d run a marathon by the time we even got on the train.

We started out with Madeleine CaiQun, FangFang, and me sitting together with Danny and Sharon in the row in front of us.

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That didn’t last long, though. FangFang made her preference for Sharon very clear, so I passed her forward, and she sat with Sharon and Danny for a while. I was a little sad but figured I’d also been so emotionally and physically taxed all week, it wouldn’t hurt me to sit and read a book for a bit, so I tried to enjoy the break.

At some point, Sharon handed FangFang back to me, and she was quite disgruntled, making her dissatisfaction clear to everyone in the train car. I offered suckers, iPad, and toys, and I tried walking up and down the aisles with her, all to no avail. She was having none of it, not interested at all in being with me. After what felt like an eternity of trying to calm her (all the while being the object of the attention of a good number of people on the train), I asked Sharon to take her back, and she calmed immediately.

I may or may not have spent a good amount of time crying after that. I’d worked so hard to get to China to adopt this child, I’d spent hours researching osteogenesis imperfecta to know how best to care for her, I’d worked hour after hour of extra work time to earn money to bring her home, and she wanted nothing to do with me. Intellectually, I knew that I could expect nothing from her. I do the right thing because it’s what I’m called to do, not in order to obtain any sort of positive emotional response from her. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it still hurts when it happens. I knew she could reject me. Kids coming from orphanages or foster homes often have trouble attaching to more than one person at a time, and they’ll often choose one adult to whom to attach and completely reject all others. I don’t think I had sufficiently considered the possibility that even though Danny and Sharon and I were clear on what the ideal scenario would be, and they were going to leave the attempts to build a relationship with FangFang to me, she might choose to attach to them anyway. All things considered, this is far from the worst case scenario. She wasn’t rejecting me outright – she just preferred Sharon. She’d still play with me and interact with me, and she understood that I was her source of food and diaper changes and getting all basic needs met. She was beginning to bond with me to some degree – she just preferred Sharon. And experiencing her refusal to spend any time at all with me that afternoon was so hard. I felt like I’d hit a new low.

I kept reminding myself of the advice my friend Becky had given me about pursuing and caring for FangFang but letting her receive comfort from Sharon if that’s what she wanted, plus the counsel of so many adoptive mamas (counsel that I myself have given to others), that China is all about survival. It still stung. I also felt like I was experiencing the reality of how different God’s love is from mine – Romans 5:7-8 says, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God makes the first move. He moves toward us even while we are rejecting Him, and He does so joyfully. When my daughter rejects me, I want to cry and have a pity party. I get over it, and I do move toward her, but it’s hard. 

We finally arrived in Guangzhou, and thankfully it was easy enough to find our guide at the train station. The elevator wasn’t working, so we had to do multiple trips down the escalator to get all of our suitcases down, but it worked, and we connected with Elsie, and we were relieved to be there. She took us over to the Pengman Apartments, where we’d reserved a 2-bedroom apartment for our week in Guangzhou. Our agency usually has families stay at the Garden, which is a beautiful hotel, but it doesn’t have great room configurations for a party of our composition. We’d need to meet our guide there, though, so we wanted to be nearby, and the Pengman Apartments were right across the alley. They’d offer us more space for a much lower price.

There had been an unfavorable report about them recently in one of the Facebook groups to which I belong, but we were hoping our experience would be alright. I think the place is fine – but it’s really just adequate. At first we agreed it would be okay. And I was excited that the other family from our agency who is in Guangzhou this week was also staying there. They actually came down to see us and give us some restaurant recommendations right away, and it was great to see them. But over dinner that night (at Pizza Hut, given that it was 9:00 PM by the time we were heading out for dinner), I told Danny and Sharon that I didn’t think I wanted to go through the hassle of switching, but if I had it to do over again, I would have reserved us a place somewhere else, probably the China Hotel. Sharon seemed relieved, and Danny said he really didn’t think it would be that big of a deal to switch, and in fact, they could probably do it the next morning while I was at the medical exam with FangFang.

We discussed it more after we’d gotten the kids in bed (at 11:00 PM), and I texted with Matt a bit, and we decided to make the switch. It wasn’t that the Pengman Apartments were horrible. In terms of general quality, they’re maybe one step below a Motel 6 – peeling wallpaper, mold, random little holes in the wall, etc. That’s all probably to be expected.

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The biggest issues for us were related to the lack of real usability. There aren’t any dressers in which to unpack at all; the bathroom has just a shower instead of a bathtub (and Madeleine CaiQun had been playing in the bath for about an hour each day while FangFang napped and was loving that); there’s no bathroom counter on which to unpack your bathroom supplies; they didn’t have a pack ‘n’ play available for us when we checked in (and FangFang is NOT on board with co-sleeping). The elevators took forever. One bedroom was window-less, which gave it sort of a claustrophobic feel.

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To us, it seemed kind of like a cheap 2-bedroom apartment you get when you’re a college student. I don’t think it’s a bad place to stay. Under different circumstances, we would probably have stayed. But for this week, for this trip, we decided it was better for us to switch. We looked at the China Hotel and saw that if we went with the cheapest rate (no breakfast included) we could get 2 rooms for not much more than we would have paid for the Pengman for the rest of the week. We felt like we could have made the Pengman work, but it would be something we’d have to make work, not something that was really set up to work for us. If our trip was going as well as possible, we might well have stayed. But it’s not all perfect, and there are a number of other stressors, and I felt like I needed the hotel situation to be something I wasn’t just pushing through. We made a reservation online for rooms at the China Hotel that night and hoped that when we went to check in, we’d be able to get adjoining rooms.

We left everything packed up, only taking out what we really needed, and we headed to bed, knowing we’d have to get up early for us to make sure everything was completely packed up and for me to get out the door to go to the medical exam with FangFang and for Danny to head over to the China Hotel to request adjoining rooms and take the first load of luggage.