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August 16, 2012

Time Travel

In case you pop by this blog every now and then, and are currently rubbing your eyes wondering where all the new posts came from, I’ll explain. Over the last two weeks, my wife and I have been in China, adopting our first child. Of course, I wanted to share all this with family and close friends, but at the same time didn’t want to advertise too loudly where we were at any given moment — or more specifically, where we weren’t, which is to say, home. So I hid it all behind a secret invisible magic wall.

But now that we are home, I figured I’d open it back up for general viewing. Feel free to follow along with our adventures.

I’d write more but my body still thinks it’s five in the morning. I’ll have more coherent thoughts soon…ish.


Doing Tomorrow’s Playing, Today!

Welp, in spite of the fact that the three of us have gotten a collective seven hours of sleep in the last 22, the girl seems to have decided that playtime in China should be playtime in America. At least it’s the future there.

I have no idea what I’m saying.

Whilst I try to keep her entertained and me caffeinated, please enjoy this photo, taken mere seconds after Eleanor officially became a U.S. citizen.

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And here’s one more, of Her Highness the Most Royal Princess Rufflebutt, after having surveyed her new domain and having found it adequate.

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August 15, 2012

Home!

We left our hotel twenty-four and a half hours ago. We’ve just landed in Cleveland.

We are fried.

Eleanor has been amazing but she’s starting to lose it now. We’ll update more once we get our brains back together, but I just wanted to say we made it and we’re well and we’re grateful for all your support.

Love, -joe and Kim and Eleanor

August 14, 2012

We’re on a Plane! Again!

And it’s supposed to be on time! This is shocking to me and probably now that I say this we will be massively delayed. But maybe not! Regardless, something like 15 hours from now we should be back in the US, though not yet home. We did get the seats we reserved this time, which should make this flight much more pleasant than the one here.

But then, on the other hand, we are now traveling with Baroness Squirmy Von Squirmington (of the Easthampton Von Squirmingtons) so who knows?

Will try to update from Newark if there’s time!


Heading Home

At last!

No time or access for long updates today. Leaving at 5:30 fir the three-hour drive to Hong Kong, then to Newark, then HOME.

Will try to update when we get home, if brain still works. That is, after all, more than 24 hours from now.

Love to all,
-joe & Kim

August 13, 2012

Reflections Before Our Final Day in China

We are about ready to crash (yes, it’s not yet nine o’clock, shut up), diving into sleep for our second-to-last night here. Today was a very full day: up at six to leave for Eleanor’s visa appointment at 7:30, back for lunch — instant noodles from the 7-Eleven, surprisingly tasty — shopping, walking, more shopping, Thai food for dinner, Eleanor time in the room, and a long and contentious bedtime.

The most memorable part of the day for me was the electronics mall. Our guide, myself, and a couple other guys headed out to see if we could score some cheap geek stuff. And oh, did we ever. The electronics mall nearby is five floors of tiny stalls shoehorned together, selling anything having to do with anything that uses a battery or has a screen. In two hours we saw about seventy-five percent of one floor — and according to our guide this was one of the smaller such malls in town. My compatriots bought iPhone cases ($1.20ish), “Sony” earbuds (about $4), Bluetooth keyboards (about $12) and a zoom lens for an iPad (maybe $15).

Me, I got a nice webcam, a retro phone handset for my iPhone, and two retractable travel cables with iPhone, Kindle, and mini-USB connectors. Total cost: 85 Yuan — about thirteen dollars.

Afterward, my ladies and I went out for more souvenirs and stumbled on a shop we hadn’t seen yet, one with more authentic stuff than most of the tchotchke stands on the island. Kim was very excited to find a handmade crocheted doll for Eleanor (have you ever tried to find an Asian doll in Cleveland?) and we got some other fun stuff for L’s room and such.

(I have to say, though, my favorite souvenir is one we found yesterday: a shelf lamp in the shape of a beautiful book, with a woodcut on the front that the light shines softly through. It opens and closes like a book to give off more or less light. It’s very cool. It’s also a beautiful red color — the color of good fortune in China — and features lovely, subtle, stylized rabbits in the woodcut, which is appropriate for Eleanor since she was born in the year of the Rabbit.)

And speaking of Eleanor: she’s recently learned that she can walk if we’re holding her hands. This is very exciting for her. Very. Exciting. In fact, it’s so exciting that it’s pretty much the only thing she wants to do now. Food, play, bottles — who needs them? She’s got two feet and knows how to use them.

Fortunately the hallways in the hotel are long enough to wear her out pretty quickly. Unfortunately, her height is such that they wear our backs out pretty quickly too. We walk together when we can, each of us holding a hand, but she seems to prefer just one driver.

When we simply can’t handle the walk, we sit across from each other on the floor and let her plunge headlong from one to the other. She would do this for hours if we let her.

Meanwhile, we find ourself thinking a lot about going home. This has been a wonderful trip, full of happiness and laughter and adventures. We will look back fondly and look forward to returning. But, you know, it’s time to go home. We have one day of relaxation, then one very long day of travel. We’re sad to leave, but home can’t come soon enough.

With this in mind, we assembled the following list of things we plan to never take for granted again:

  • Air conditioning
  • Humidity below ninety-eight percent
  • Ice in drinks
  • Being in similar time zones to family and friends
  • Walking or driving without fearing for one’s life
  • Diners
  • Couches with cushions
  • Being understood
  • Non-negotiable pricing
  • Drinkable water
  • The ability to eat raw produce
  • Uncensored internet
  • Blue sky
  • Sleep
  • Coffee
  • Closets and dressers
  • Sturdy cribs
  • Recognizable food products
  • Real bacon
  • Appliances, especially dishwashers
  • Western pharmacies
  • Our cats
  • Open space
  • Home cooked meals
  • The predictability of everything around us

At the same time, we already know there are many things we’ll miss a lot. Such as:

  • Almost everything about Chongqing
  • Never having to clean our room
  • Not even momentarily thinking about work
  • Ridiculously cheap electronics
  • Walking everywhere
  • Bao for breakfast
  • The surprised giggles when we say “thank you” in Mandarin
  • The gorgeous Asian architecture
  • The supermarkets
  • Creative transportation by the locals
  • Awesome t-shirts
  • The beautiful faces of the children
  • Red and gold lanterns
  • The newness of everything around us

In the balance, I think home wins. But we’ll be back.

And now, some random photos from the last day or two:

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Eleanor Update

This is Kim again!

Today, we have have Eleanor for one week…our weekaversary?

This morning we went to our embassy appointment. All the paperwork has been submitted for Eleanor’s visa. Picking up the visa is the final step before we go home. That should happen tomorrow at 1530. We head back home Wednesday morning!

We both have mixed emotions about returning home. This has been an amazing trip. It’s one we’ll never forget. As I said in my last blog post, China is amazing. We’ve seen things that I never dreamt of seeing, but we’ve also slept in strange beds and eaten unusual food for the last two weeks. I am craving fresh veggies and the smell of my own sheets. I am also craving fabric softener and clothing out of a dryer (they don’t use either here). I will be happy to select my clothes out of a closet rather than a suit case.

Joe and I are already planning a trip back to China. In my version, we head back in a couple of years to adopt another baby. In Joe’s version, we come back in 16 years or so for Eleanor’s heritage trip. Either way, we are coming back.

Eleanor is doing great! She eats like a champ and is pretty happy overall. She seems to only get crabby right before sleep times and meal times. She’s babbling more now that she’s getting used to us and she happily shrieks fairly frequently. I am looking forward to getting home and getting her used to some sort of schedule. This has been hard on her, but she is showing that she is an adventurous and curious little girl.

As we say many times every day, we are so lucky.

August 11, 2012

Warning: Cuteness at Maximum Capacity. Overload Imminent.

Today our daughter discovered she can roll over. Also, that she’s ticklish.

I took video.

We assume no responsibility for any effects that this magnitude of cuteness may have on you, your mental status, the local wildlife, or your fertility.

You have been warned.


Looking Up

Well, that’s better. After heading out for Eleanor’s official medical exam (she is a healthy human), we arrived back to our hotel to discover our missing bag had been returned. Let me tell you, in a tropical environment, a pair of clean underwear is a very, very special thing.

Furthermore, I took a look at our hot water dispenser and discovered a crimp in the supply line. It now seems to be working, or at least mostly working.

The bedding is still damp, even after we asked for new linens last night, but our guide says that’s just the environment, so we can deal. And the food is a dramatic step down from either of our two previous hotels, but it is nourishing and plentiful.

As for the exam, it was reasonably quick and painless. L handled the poking and prodding wonderfully, and only cried when the doctor busted out the tongue depressor, which thankfully was the final test. I think it helped that MaMa is a nurse and knew what to do to keep her still so that insertions into ears and other orifices could be as quick as possible. It also helped that she didn’t need a TB test — so no needles.

I’m pleased that the doctors who examined her seemed to be observing sterile procedure, unlike the doc we saw walking the halls in shorts, sandals, a lab coat, and nothing else.

Guangzhou is funny. This is where the US Embassy is, which means that all US couples adopting from China need to pass through here. As a result: so many white people! It’s become a bit jarring to hear native English speakers after a 10 days of Mandarin or broken English. I feel like we’ll suffer culture shock once we get home. I know blue sky is going to seem magical.

And now, a few more pictures. Here’s a view from the third floor courtyard in our hotel:

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Here’s the reverse view. See the tiny sliver of a corner of the arch right above the column? That’s our room. The only window in our room, in fact.

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And here is our baobei (“precious,” or more accurately, “The Preciousss”) after her medical exam.

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Incidentally, speaking of medical issues, we’re astonished by how quickly Eleanor has healed from the heat rash and random scrapes she had from the orphanage. Do all kids heal crazy fast? Because we’re pretty sure she’s Wolverine.

August 10, 2012

Safe in Guangzhou

Well, we made it to the final city of our whirlwind tour of China. And so far it’s been…adventurous.

The day started well enough; Eleanor had a rough night last night but woke in a fairly good mood. We hung around the hotel and had Happy Family Ball time (look it up) (wait, probably better not to) until our guide arrived with Eleanor’s passport, to take us to the airport at 2:00.

At least, that was the plan.

Turns out, this morning someone carried out a huge bank heist in Chingqing, and much of the city was blocked off or drastically congested due to police searches. As a result, our guide wasn’t able to get to the adoption center to pick up the passport. Not a big deal, since they can just courier it over, and we had another form of ID for her that was acceptable for domestic travel. But it added just a little additional stress to the already stressful prospect of taking our new child on her first air trip.

The good news is that she handled it like a champ, flirting with everyone in view and not fussing at all during takeoff and landing. (We theorized that her cleft palate allows her sinuses to equalize pressure instantly. Unexpected bonus!) She had a couple very minor and brief meltdowns, but aside from incessant squirming managed the flight very well, even when the 1.5-hour flight turned into a 2-hour flight due to a delay on the tarmac.

Still, it was of course a relief to finally exit the plane for our final stop before heading home. We were thrilled to see our bag come out early on the carousel, knowing we could get back to the hotel in time to get her to a reasonable bedtime.

Trouble is, that was “bag,” singular. And we checked two. And once everyone else on our flight had left and our second bag hadn’t appeared it became clear something wasn’t quite right. a very nice baggage host approached us and asked if there was a problem. We gave him the number of the absent bag, and he peeked behind the curtain to see if it just hadn’t made it onto the conveyor. That gave us a momentary hope, which was soon dashed when he informed us we’d have to go to the baggage office and fill out a form.

Have you ever lost a bag? Have you ever lost a bag in a city where you speak only the barest minimum of the language, and the locals speak only slightly better English?

It’s a blast.

After about half an hour of very careful negotiation, we submitted our form, crossed our fingers, and headed out to find our ride. A very nice gentleman who didn’t speak a lick of English was holding a sign for us, escorted us to a large, rickety, manual transmission Vanagon-like transport, and squeaked us across the city to our hotel.

The Victory Hotel is one of a handful of hotels on Shamian island, a delightful little French Colonial area where the US Embassy used to be located. The island — as best as we could see in the dark — seems lovely, draped with hanging moss, ornate metalwork, and a French vibe. We had high hopes for the hotel.

Let me back up a moment. I haven’t said much about the hotel we were staying at in Chongqing. It was a Le Méridien, a high-end Starwood property, based in a bustling shopping district. It was stylish, well-appointed, and supremely comfortable. Honestly, it was one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed at, and I’ve done a lot of traveling for business. Everyone seemed to know our names and how long we were staying. Everyone offered to fetch things for us, even when we weren’t with Eleanor. When we pressed the button for the elevator, a light lit up to show us which door to wait at. It’s was that kind of place.

The Victory? The lobby smells like a wet dishrag. There is apparently a new building and an old building; I sincerely hope we’re in the old building; otherwise I fear for the health of anyone staying there. We got in late enough that we just wanted to order room service. Kim’s tuna croissant looked like dog food — used dog food. The beef brisket in my noodles was unexpectedly…crunchy. Our bed is ominously damp.

I wish I were exaggerating. The best part: it’s about five dollars cheaper a night than the Le Méridien.

There are upsides to this location, fortunately: for one, there are faucets for purified (oh god I hope) drinking water, which means we no longer have to brush our teeth with bottled water, which has been a bit of an annoyance. There’s also a fascinating contraption called a Rabbit which dispenses hot and cold purified water, eliminating the need for the electric kettle. [UPDATE: When it's working. Which it isn't. Which we just discovered when L woke up in desperate need of a bottle. Awesome!]  And the room is a suite, which should make rooming with The Small Human a little easier. And, um. Free Internet?

Hey, at least it’s only for five days.

In all seriousness, we’re here and we’re healthy and we have little to complain about. I’m sure everything will seem better, and drier, in the morning. Meanwhile, we made it here with the only really important piece of baggage we have, now.

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