for your amusement – some memories from a year ago

Today marks one year from the beginning of my trip to China to bring FangFang home. I feel all the feels as I remember that trip.

You can read about our first day of touring in Hong Kong here if you’d like, but there were also some cute, funny stories from that day that have been part of my reminiscing but that didn’t make it into that sight-seeing post. Adoption trips are intense, and while those first few days in country are always colored by the knowledge of that upcoming intensity, they are also fun. I treasured that time exploring a new city with just Madeleine CaiQun and my brother and sister-in-law.

As part of our Big Bus Tour, we were given cheap headphones, which could plug into a jack for each seat, and, upon making a language selection, you could listen to historical and contextual information about the island. Madeleine CaiQun was intrigued by this, and she asked me which language we should choose. When I responded, “English,” she said, “Oh, because we speak English?” I answered in the affirmative, and she responded with, “Oh. Well, what language do Uncle Danny and Sharon speak?!” She did not find it at all self-explanatory that they would also speak English 😉

Our language discussion then continued later that evening during dinner.

The restaurant we visited provided for ordering dim sum style – there was a card listing out the options, and we’d put a dot next to the selections we wanted to order. We discussed what we wanted to order, and Daniel filled out the card, after which the waitress came to get it. As she was walking away, Madeleine CaiQun asked, in all earnestness, “Mom, do we understand English, but she understands dots?”

It may have been the sleep deprivation, but we all laughed hysterically for quite a while. I hope it’s at least slightly entertaining to you 🙂 Happy Friday!

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.

Hong Kong Day One

We arrived in Hong Kong yesterday (Friday) at 6:00 am after about a 15 hour flight from Newark. We were all tired, but we knew our best bet for adjusting to the time change – and seeing as much of Hong Kong as possible – was to get moving for the day. There are two main reasons adoption agencies recommend getting to Asia a few days before your Family Day – first, it gives you a bit of leeway if your flights get delayed; and second, it gives you a couple days to begin to adjust to the time change before the emotionally intense experience of having your child placed in your arms. Beyond that, though, it also gives you a bit of time to experience a different area of the world, an area near your child’s birthplace.

We opted to spend these first few days in Hong Kong, and I’ve been excited about this part of the trip – it’s sort of like a little mini-vacation! However, with all the actual adoption preparations, I didn’t actually get much of any time to research what to do in Hong Kong, so many thanks to my friend Marisa and my brother Daniel for handling the researching and planning of our itinerary for these couple days!

We took a taxi to our hotel and dropped off our luggage and changed clothes. Then we walked over to the harbor and bought tickets for the green line of the Hong Kong Big Bus Tour. Essentially, this allowed us to take a ferry across the harbor and then ride a double-decker bus all around the island of Hong Kong, getting off at various stops and enjoying the attractions, and then hopping back on the next bus, eventually coming full circle back to the ferry.

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Our first stop was at the Peak Tram, a very steep tram ride up to the top of Victoria Peak. From the top we could enjoy beautiful views of the city of Hong Kong.

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We then took the bus around more of the city and got off at Stanley. We found a restaurant at the plaza at which to have lunch, and then we wandered around the area, taking in the scenery and looking at some of the shops at the marketplace.

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After we got back on the bus, we headed to Aberdeen, traditionally a fishing village, where we took a Sampan ride and saw much of the area. It was quite a juxtaposition of the old and the new, seeing some more traditional houseboats and fishing boats but also a number of more modern boats.

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After that excursion, we got back on the bus, headed back to the ferry, and then walked back to our hotel, where our room was ready, and we were able to check in. We then walked a few blocks to a local dumpling restaurant that was well-reviewed online (it was good!) and then came back to our hotel to watch the nightly light show. We paid a little bit extra for a room with a view overlooking the harbor, and I think it has been worth it 🙂

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And at that point, having been awake for hours and hours, we were all beat! I tucked Madeleine CaiQun into bed, and she fell asleep within minutes. Danny and Sharon were next, and I was asleep myself after a quick shower. It was a fun adventure of a day. We laughed thinking about how we’d taken a plane, a taxi, a ferry, a double-decker bus, a tram, and another boat ride all in one day! The tour bus was a good way to explore a number of areas in Hong Kong all at once, and we enjoyed our first day in Asia! I was relieved to hear from Matt that he and my mom and the kiddos at home were all doing well, too, so all in all, it was a successful first day!

We Made It to Hong Kong! Plus Some Plane Ride Reflections

We made it to Hong Kong! Our flight landed on time around 6:00 a.m. local time this morning (Friday), and we had a full day of adjusting to local time and sightseeing thereafter.

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It was awesome – but I have been awake since something like 3:00 this morning and got only about 5 hours of (frequently interrupted, not very good) sleep, and that was after a week or so of limited sleep as the preparations for our travel intensified. It’s now a little after 9:00 pm Hong Kong time, and I am exhausted. Everyone else is already asleep. Tomorrow I’ll try to write more about our travels and day one in Hong Kong, but for tonight, I’m going to try to get some sleep! However, I will leave you with these reflections that I wrote on our flight –

I’m writing this post from somewhere over northern Asia, about 10 hours into our flight from Newark to Hong Kong. Anyone who has asked me recently how they could pray for us in our travels knows that I’ve been nervous about the flights – I’ve flown many times before, and I know the probabilities of anything going wrong are extremely small, but still, I’ve been nervous. I’m feeling calmer now that we have one flight down and are over halfway through our second.

I’ve been trying to remind myself of the truths that I know – looking at Psalm 103 and its truths about who God is, remembering that God tells us in Psalm 46 that He is our refuge and strength, and reciting Deuteronomy 31:6 – one of the first verses I ever memorized – to myself – “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” A good friend also texted me while Madeleine CaiQun and I were having dinner in the St. Louis airport and told me that she’d been meditating on Psalm 40 and David recounting how God had delivered him in the past, so he could trust Him to do it again.

I really appreciated that and spent some time reading and praying through Psalm 40 on our first flight. It was particularly poignant to me, because on Tuesday night, less than 24 hours before we were to leave to begin our journey to China, I connected with a woman who played a huge part in FangFang’s story, a woman and a part I hadn’t known existed. There is another adoption agency working in China that has a partnership relationship with FangFang’s orphanage. As such, they send medical teams there to evaluate the children’s needs and gather more information about them for prospective adoptive families, and they provide assistance in caring for the children and in preparing their files so that they are eligible for international adoption. This agency sent a team to FangFang’s orphanage in January, and this woman was part of that team. While she was there, she saw FangFang, and she talked with the orphanage about it perhaps being a good idea to transfer her to the foster home at which she has been residing for the last 9 months. The transformation in FangFang’s development and in her demeanor since moving from the orphanage to the foster home is nothing short of amazing, and this woman was part of bringing that about. And what’s more, all of this was happening just as we were seeing a blog post advocating for FangFang and praying about pursuing adopting her and praying that, regardless, she would have a family and that she would receive the best care possible for her while she remained in China. It was around that very same time that God was putting into motion all that would need to happen for FangFang to move to what I believe is the best foster home in the country for caring for children with osteogenesis imperfecta and, we believe, calling us to be her family.

I don’t believe any of this is accidental. I think God was answering our prayers 11 months ago, and I interpret the timing of this connection I made the other night as a reassurance from God that He is at work in FangFang’s story. He hears and has been answering prayers for her for months now. That doesn’t mean He’s a genie and that her life will be perfect and anything I request on her (or my) behalf is going to happen. How could it? In that case, she would never have endured the staggering loss of her first family. But it does mean that He is involved in her story, and because I can see the fingerprints of His faithfulness in her past, I can trust that He is going to continue to be faithful in His care for her in the future. My hope is that that means safe travels around and home from China! But regardless, I am honored to be a part of His work in this precious child’s life.