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Archive for "Eleanor"

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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August 9, 2012

She Sings

Yesterday morning L was kind of fussy, so I put on some music and bopped her around.
This is when I discovered that she sings along to songs she likes. And she especially seems to like heavy guitars and driving beats. \m/

Anyway, I wish I’d thought to try what you see in this video earlier, but by the time I’d thought of it she was already wearing herself out. Still, if you turn up your sound you can hear her — and though you’ll have to take my word for it, I assure you that she really is trying to sing. She only has vocalized like this when music she likes is playing loud enough for her to hear.

Today we head for Guangzhou, our last stop in China, where we’ll rejoin our group, have Eleanor’s medical tests, visit the US embassy for her papers, and do some more sightseeing. I sure hope all the other families are doing as well as we are. Otherwise they’re likely to hate us with a white-hot fury.

On the other hand, L had a hard time last night, so maybe the joke will be on us.

Seriously, why don’t these things come with instruction manuals?


On Our Last Full Day in Chongqing

I’ve been monopolizing the blog, so here’s a post from Kim:

Ni hao!

There are not enough words to describe how full of love I am right now.

I am so in love with our baby. She is now reaching out to us both. She is quick to smile, quick to laugh, and falls asleep easily. She loves to eat almost everything, but especially baby mum-mums. Our box is running low and we are going to need to find an alternate soon! She had her first Popsicle today at the zoo and enjoyed it after getting used to the cold. She is just too precious for words, especially when she sings. Her little voice melts my heart.

I am in love with my husband. Joe is an amazing dad. He is so kind and gentle with Eleanor. He sings and rocks her like he’s been doing it forever. I especially love the look on his face when Eleanor reaches out to him…it is magical.

I am in love with the Chinese people. They are kind and have an amazing sense of humor. They are quick to smile and everyone seems to have a joke to tell. People are definitely curious about us, and frequently talk to us to practice their English. It is very clear that the Chinese people love babies. We can’t take Eleanor anywhere without people talking to her and fawning over her.

I love Chinese cities. Both Beijing and Chongqing are huge, and both cities have expanded greatly in the last 10-15 years. It can be hard to find buildings older than this. The people are polite and, aside from bars on all the windows, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of crime. The cities are not as clean as someplace like Chicago, but there are constantly sanitation workers out picking up garbage and such. The ground is filthy due to people spitting…a lot…even inside. Plus many of the little kids wear split-crotch pants and can be seen peeing and pooping right out in public. There is no “5 second” rule in China. If it hits the ground, don’t eat it. The stores are fascinating and the skyline massive. These are cities that go on forever. This is an energetic and active place.

I love our guides both in Beijing and Chongqing. I feel safe and comfortable with them. We have seen some amazing sites since we have been here, thanks to the people guiding us around. Today at the zoo, our guide Michael even carried our hot little bundle of joy since Joe and I were clearly melting from the heat. These gentlemen have navigated the Chinese adoption system for us so that we can focus on Eleanor. I will forever be grateful.

I love Chinese super markets. They sell everything. The packaging is awesome. They are huge. They are crowded and noisy. Unfortunately, they don’t have baby mum-mums. I also wish I had the opportunity to try out the produce. We’re not supposed to eat the produce unless it’s cooked and we have no way to cook it.

I love Chinese shirts with English sayings. My favorite so far as been “Puma racer! Run fast!” with a picture of a bike on it. They’re awesome.

I love bandanas. They are good for catching excess juice and formula. They wash easily and dry quickly.

The list could go on forever, but you get my point. Life. Is. Good.

The list of things I don’t love is pretty short: wicked heat, baby constipation, being sick during the most awesome trip ever, and the lack of Facebook.

Another thing I love is the sound of my baby waking up…which is what she’s doing right now! I’m off to be a mommy.

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August 8, 2012

Video!

I just remembered that our guide took video of the adoption ceremony yesterday with my camera. It seems to be too big to upload here directly, but you can see it here.

I also took a couple short videos of the immediate area. This one is the front of the hotel at night, lest you doubt me when I say Chongqing is like Vegas. That building with the waterfall effect? That’s a bank. The Chinese Agricultural Bank, in fact.

Finally, here’s one for the Ventrescas and anyone else who is aghast at the idea that they don’t have car seats here: Chongqing traffic. This is not a particularly strong example, but pay special notice to the merging procedure. Is there room in the next lane for the front of your car? Then put it there, brother!

Today we took a brief tour through some of Chongqing’s old areas. Now we’re off for a little walk with the girl and then some dinner. She’s getting more comfortable every moment, and we finally figured out why she was having trouble with the bottle: apparently at the orphanage they serve their bottles much hotter than you’d think. This is no problem since hotel rooms in China all come with electric kettles. It’s a relief to finally have her eating the way they told us she did. To be clear, we weren’t concerned about her eating enough food; she is whatever the opposite of a picky eater is. But she just wasn’t interested in the bottle, which they told us she was. So it was a small concern, now alleviated.

Okay then, we’re off. More soon.

Love to you all,
-joe and Kim

August 7, 2012

Oh, Hello

It’s been a challenge finding time to post updates since yesterday. Turns out parenting is sort of a time-consuming activity. And once again I’m barely staying awake in spite of the fact that it’s only 8:30 at night. I blame it on the girl, who is very energetic. Also on the massive cold I seem to be getting.

Anyway, here’s as much update as I can muster. Yesterday afternoon we headed across town to the adoption agency, where we would meet the caretakers from the orphanage. And oh, also, our daughter.

The way our guide explained it, I was under the impression that we’d start in the waiting area, move into an office, and then they would bring Eleanor to us. However, as we were sitting, I noticed a woman walk in with a small girl. A very cute, small girl. Our cute, small girl!

The next few moments are kind of a haze. But I do remember this: Eleanor did so very not want to leave her caretaker. As soon as we picked her up she pretty much lost her s…tuff. Of course, that kind of sucked…but it was also a very good sign. It tells us that a.) she’s able to attach to adults, which not all orphans do; and b.) they’re taking good enough care of her that she really preferred the company of her nanny.

So for the next half hour or so, while we processed some paperwork, she would basically freak every time she saw or heard her nanny. However, once we left, she started to quiet down. And then Kim had the very mom-psychic idea to shove a Cheerio in her face. From then she was ours.

She zoned out on the ride back to the hotel, then was clearly overwhelmed (though not crying much) when we got here. For a couple hours she wouldn’t let us do anything but feed her. I mean, we could pick her up and hold her, but she was just clearly not at all interested and would start fussing immediately, and pushing away. And man, she is both strong and limber. She pushes away hard.

But then, like a light switch, all of a sudden she was digging our company. She was actually reaching up to be held, and clinging tightly when she was. She almost fell asleep doing this:

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And then she crashed at her normal bedtime (8-8:30). In the morning she woke early (5:00ish) and fussed, but completely accepted our comfort. And pretty much all day today she’s just gotten more and more comfortable with us. We even went out into the mall next door to pick up some things. She was a champ.

(This is probably getting incredibly boring for those of you who aren’t parents. But hey, this is my blog. I can be That Guy here if I wanna. Deal.)

This afternoon we also went back to the adoption center to sign the last papers. They had a little ceremony for us transferring guardianship of Eleanor. It was kind of cute. They gave us a gift of beautiful chopsticks, which we’ll probably hold to give to L for a significant birthday or event. And they took an official family photo for the file. I think we’ll get a copy.

Afterward is when we went to the mall. I feel like I’m forgetting something. Oh, we took her to breakfast this morning, which she dug a lot. And dinner tonight, which she did not. I think she slept shorter last night than she’s used to, so she was crashing out on us at dinner. We kept it relatively low-key for the other diners but left a disaster for the cleaning staff. Sorry, folks. (What I did learn at dinner: my daughter seriously digs tiramisu.)

But wow, is everyone here so friendly. This morning, they just comped our breakfast because the staff was so enamored of Eleanor. At dinner, one of the hostesses held her for a bit and just fawned over her. And this was after we’d already destroyed our table.

It’s not just the baby, though that certainly helps. Everywhere we’re going, people want to try out their English on us. I keep trying to explain to people that a.) their English is great, and b.) we really should be speaking their language. But that’s a hard concept to communicate simply. I wish we’d taken some basic classes before coming. My handful of phrases don’t help much with the (few) folks who speak no English whatsoever.

For lunch today I pantomimed a chicken.

That’s as good a note to end on as any, I guess. But I’ll leave you with what you’ve probably been coming here for anyway: more pictures!

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August 6, 2012

This is Pretty Much All That Needs to be Said at the Moment

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More when brain resumes functioning.