Saturday, May 24, 2008

Would Somebody Please Make the Bed Stop Moving

When I was a kid growing up in Northern Virginia, we'd take a day trip once a year to King's Dominion amusement park. I loved how when riding home in the car, my body still felt like it was on one of the roller coasters. I could feel the sensations of the drops and turns.

Apparently 27+ hours of traveling, over half of it bumpy, is just like a day at an amusement park (minus the funnel cake). When we finally got home late last night and got settled into bed (even later last night or actually early this morning) I still felt like I was dipping and dropping at 36,000 feet above Russia. I really didn't enjoy it the first time, so I was equally dismayed at having to relive it when all I really wanted was to be asleep.

Kate was a trooper. Slept most of the Beijing to Chicago leg, and was very huggy and happy when she met my parents at O'Hare. Not very happy or huggy when boarded that last flight home to Raleigh from Chicago. She moaned for the first 45 minutes, bored and mad that we were subjecting her to more air travel. But after a trip to the bathroom and some snacks and my ipod, she perked up. She was glued to the window during our approach into Raleigh, mesmerized by all the lights (I'm assuming it was her first night flight).

We were thrilled to see our three suitcases, safe and sound, and even more thrilled to see our friend Amee who came to pick us up at the airport! When we got home Kate explored rooms and drawers, and found the case of hair accessories from Tammi and did both American Girls' hair.

We're off to find some clothes for her that fit . . .

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

To Market, To Market, To Buy a Fresh Hen . . .

or cooked hen . . .

or hen's feet . . .

or seahorses . . .

or turtles . . .

or snakes . . .

or sugar . . .

or scorpions.

And to top off such an incredible morning of market going, the real highlight of today was our visit to the US Consulate to get Kate's ticket to travel to the States, her US Visa.

The consulate office in Guangzhou was packed with about 40 adopting families, most of whom we've seen around the hotel and island, all ready to take the last important step in this adoption journey.

The director of the consulate office, before ever being employed by the consulate office, adopted 2 daughters from China. Both daughters were from Guangdong province (where we are now), so now they are growing up back in their home province.

After giving us some instructions about our return to the States and going through immigration at the airport, the consulate director had everyone stand. We all took the oath that we would raise these children as our own, never to abandon or abuse. And with that Kate officially became a McKenzie! The minute she walks through immigration at O'Hare Airport she will be a US citizen!

We'll leave here at 6:30am Friday (6:30 pm Thursday in NC) and arrive home in NC on Friday at 9:30pm. A really, really long day of travel. I'm looking forward to being home, but not the incredibly long day-plus of travel it will take to get there. Oh well.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bawling Babies on a Couch

It is a tradition among adoptive families staying at the White Swan to take a picture of all the children wearing traditional silk outfits on the red couches in the second floor lobby of the hotel. It's always been a favorite of mine when following family's adoption journeys, seeing the mayhem and madness of trying to get a group of littles to sit still long enough to get their photos.

I was torn today at our red couch photo shoot between still photos and video. Nothing would have captured the joy better than video footage, but I opted for still photos. It only took a minute or so for the kids to get set into position and the cameras to start flashing. Most of the children did great, but a few wanted nothing more than to be back in their parents arms.

Then we tested the stamina of our cheek muscles (and again the kids willingness to sit still) as we smiled while ten cameras took 3 to 4 pictures each of our whole group.

And now it's time to publish post as we need to head out for our group farewell dinner!

Monday, May 19, 2008

No News Is Good News

We are sitting and waiting for no phone call. No phone call means no questions regarding our paperwork for the US Visa. Our consulate appointment is this morning, right now actually, but we don't have to be there. Our coordinator handles the paperwork for all the families. We stay put from 10-11am. If there are any questions, we will be called. We have 18 more minutes and then we are free. In the meantime we are working on building a "Bricks" (Lego knockoff) airplane.

Stethoscopes and Starbucks

Today Kate had the medical exam necessary for her US Visa application. All went well. We were a little concerned when the doctor requested our coordinator/translator, but he just wanted to be sure that we knew that she had a heart condition. We assured him that we were aware of her medical needs and that she would be receiving care once we returned to the States.

We celebrated at Starbucks. Kate had her first Vanilla Bean. Our coffee fix splurges will now be costing us a little bit more!

This evening we enjoyed a wonderful dinner cruise along the Pearl River. Guangzhou at night is a beautiful city. All the lights on both the buildings and other boats made for a picturesque trip.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Period Of Mourning

Today at 2:28 China will begin three days of national mourning for the more than 32,000 known victims and the over 4 million families that are homeless from last week's earthquake. There have been numerous aftershocks, including a strong one yesterday that killed one person and injured over 1,000, that have further terrified an already devestated nation.

We've been very fortunate to not have been affected at all by the quake. The museum that we went to yesterday has been donating all of the entrance fees to the quake relief. I wish we knew the language because I'm sure there are ways we could help out while we are here, but other than the museum we haven't noticed quake relief donation opportunities.

Diaper Rats and Hockey Sex

I wish I had been keeping track of all the cute ways we've heard different things pronounced by our Chinese guides. My favs so far are diaper rash and hackey sac. If I can remember some of the others I'll be sure to post.

Today we woke up and pinched ourselves . . . not a dream, we really are here in Guangzhou! Pizza, chicken nuggets and french toast with syrup some of the many many choices at the breakfast buffet. The restaurant overlooks the Pearl River, and while not the most picturesque, it certainly beat the ambiance at the Gloria Grand in Nanchang.

After a lovely breakfast, we loaded up for some sightseeing. We went to the Guangzhou Museum to learn a little about the history of the city. We learned that if you want to say "good" in Cantonese you say "oh". Very good is oh oh. And excellent is . . . oh oh oh. I think perhaps this is one Chinese language I could learn.

Part of the museum complex is a park that works it's way up a hill to a statue of 5 goats (there is a legend about the founding of the area that involves fairies bringing the goats, with corn in their mouths and then the fairies left, leaving the prosperous goats and their corn . . . Guangzhou means goat city)

In the park are several terraced areas where people enjoy ballroom dancing and play a game like hackey sac, although instead of using sacs, they use feathers attached to a stack of small metal discs. We saw this being done in BJ but actually got to give it a try here in Goat City.

After bargaining rather aggressively for our own little feather toys, we loaded up and headed to the Guangzhou Pearl Market, ready to get to some serious bargaining business. The "market" was actually more of a mall. Several stories with loads of stores that seemed identical, we had the opportunity to spend our money on not only pearls, but jade, turquoise, clothing, music and dvds.

We bought a jade pendant for Kate, looked briefly at the pearls, then headed to the dvd store. They had dvds that work in all regions that have Chinese language options (which we learned last night while out shopping thanks to a cool hip Chinese mandarin speaking teenager that was able to get our little stinker to speak mandarin, that Kate does indeed understand Mandarin) which will be great for Kate to retain her maternal language. The store clerks opened up the drawer of Disney dvds and Kate went to town. She picked out Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, a Mickey Mouse movie, Underdog, Alvin and the Chipmunks and a Barbie Movie. Alex got AVP, National Treasures 2 and the Superhero Movie. We were quite thrilled at the 16 yuan (2 bucks) per dvd until we learned at the hotel that we could get them a block away from the hotel for 5 yuan each.

This afternoon after Phil got back from working on paper work for the American consulate visit this week, we suited up and headed to the pool. It was cold, but those resilient kids splashed and floated until their lips turned blue. And then swam some more.

The icing on the cake de jour was pizza and a movie in our room thanks to Papa John's delivery! Life doesn't get any better (or maybe we've just hit our saturation level for Asian food).

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Kate's first (as far as we know) trip to McDonalds on Friday in Nanchang. It had to happen eventually, might as well have been in her home province.

On the bus from the Guangzhou airport to Shamian Island and the White Swan.

Alex and Kate in front of the (famous among adoption families) White Swan waterfall.

Enjoying a movie our first night at the White Swan.

Our Last Port of Call

We made it safe and sound to Guangzhou, more specifically Shamian Island and the White Swan Hotel. We've found the Starbucks, so we're good.

We need to be downstairs soon to go have photos taken for Kate's visa then we're off to a Thai restaurant for dinner. Looking forward to meeting up with the other families that we met in Beijing.

We did learn today that one of the families was in the earthquake region. They were woken up from their nap by the shaking of the building and ran down 11 floors carrying their son in his stroller to evacuate the hotel. We spoke to them briefly before heading up to our room for Kate's nap time, but I imagine we'll hear more tonight at dinner.

It's really good to be here, one step closer to bringing our girl home!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Feral Kate

I think since she doesn't understand either the English that she hears with us or the Mandarin she's hearing everywhere else, she's developing her own little language of clicks, clucks, squeeks, growls and laughter. She's such a tiny, wiry thing (some of the 5T clothes I brought for her are too big) bouncing around with her little noises, she's like a little wild beastie. Our feral Kate.

She has started parroting us more and more. Especially when the lights are out before nap and bedtimes. She's said happy nappy, good night, and Alex babbles, among other things. She also knows and asks for water.

Tomorrow we leave Nanchang and head to Guangzhou, the Oz of our trip. Apparently all the comforts of home await us. I'd be happy with an Internet connection that allows us to post photos. And a latte would be nice, too!

Hopefully the airplane ride, Kate's first, will be fun for her. It's a short flight, just an hour, so a good intro for her. I'm not sure how much fun it's going to be to have to restrain our Kate for the 13 hour BJ to Chicago flight, but it's not like we have a choice. Perhaps she'll sleep.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

There Goes The Torch

When we arrived on Sunday our guide Mary told us that the Olympic torch relay would be coming through town on Friday. Better still, they would be passing right in front of our hotel!

Monday was the first practice run. The military and police were out in full force, the road was closed down and they ran the full Nanchang route. Thanks to the practice we planned on an 8:35am pass-by of our hotel.

Thursday was the second practice run. No military, but the police were here. Again roads closed and this time locals were en mass at the barricade next to the entrance to our hotel, dressed in the pro-Olympic tshirts, waving flags and chanting. So authentic was this practice that we thought that perhaps the earthquake had disrupted the route and they were going to be in town a day earlier. Nope. Just another practice.

Last night saw our hotel lobby filled with

OK Sorry to break the story flow, but this chick is SO my daughter! As I've been sitting here typing, she's been using her new markers, drawing lovely pictures. Then she grabs her new barbie-ish doll in one hand and a marker in the other . . . visions of a very sad Mrs. Beasley doll flashed in my head! Fortunately she just looked at me and laughed and then put down the inky weapon, leaving the doll unscathed. Whew. For now.

Anyway, apparently our hotel is where all of the torch officials and runners are staying, so the lobby was filled with new guests and loads of official luggage with torch tags on them. Everywhere we walked yesterday people were adorning their cars, homes, businesses, themselves with Olympic and China flags. Even the ramshackle high rise (never completed) building next to our hotel was given a banner proclaiming it as the soon to be finished (2008-don't see it happening) Crown Residence. I'm expecting that the banner will be down tomorrow. So much pride! So much excitement, especially for this city, everyone here is so proud to be Chinese.

This morning everyone was just buzzing in the hotel. Although we have a unobstructed view from our room, we really wanted to carve out a spot on the street to watch the torch pass. The hotel dining room has a tv screen on one wall, so we watched the torch ceremony begin at Ba Yi Square at 8am while eating breakfast. We watched as the first runner left the stage and began his small portion of today's relay. Big smiles and waving happily to the crowd, each runner had their minute of Olympic glory working their way through the streets of Nanchang.

We headed outside at about 8:20 and found a great spot outside our hotel. The way the police had blocked off the street, only hotel guests could take advantage of the raised parking/entrance area of the hotel.

At about 8:40 various caravan vehicles sped by, followed by military trucks, police cars and a couple of ambulances. Then several official torch relay vans went by, filled with runners, one of them holding a torch out the window. OK! Any minute now we should see the runner!! Then the police start folding up the barricades. They pack up, get into formation and start to leave. Everyone looks confused (not just us Westerners). Apparently the relay was taking too much time and was behind schedule. The torch we saw hanging out of the bus window was THE torch. The torch had already passed.

I know how disappointed I felt that we didn't get a chance to cheer for the runner. Watch them run past. But I'm sure my disappointment doesn't begin to match all the locals that had been crowding up against the barricade since at least 7am when we woke up and first looked out the window. So much pride and excitement and preparation.And such a let down.


We were told that today we would be visiting the countryside and a small village. So we hop in the van all excited about getting out of this city and seeing some of the lovely areas that we saw from the plane when we arrived on Sunday.

We leave the hotel, drive along the river a few miles, the cross over on a small bridge that is under construction. We drive through some narrow, dingy streets, not 5 miles from our hotel and then stop. "Everyone out" says our guide. We are nowhere near the countyside, we are in more of a slum neighborhood, although it is all relative because the city of Nanchang is very poor. Jiangxi province is one of the poorest in China and it's capital city, while very opulent by Jiangxi standards, is well below many of the other cities in China.

We walk along the dirt path past one roomed brick and concrete homes. Homes where the human residents share space with the chickens, pigs and rats (yep, saw all three types of beasties). The people who live in this "village" farm plots given to them by the Chinese government, then sell the produce in the city.

Kate was terrified. She shut down completely and clung to Phil as her carried her around while our guide described the sights that we were seeing. With her not speaking or understanding Mandarin there was no way to reassure her, no way to explain that we had left our lovely hotel to view the "sights" of this village and would then return. And this was the first outing that we've had with her where we loaded up her her book bag to bring snacks and activities since we thought we were going on a trip out to the countryside; one that might take several hours and she might want things to occupy her time in the van. She probably thought we had loaded up her bag to haul her off to her next dumping spot. I was just glad that I had tissue with me.

As we approached the van, Phil set her down and she hauled him to it. They were the first two back on. We're now back in the hotel room and she is a happy camper! Smiling and playing hide and seek with big brother. And she got him at his own game . . . lurking in the closet while he was in the bathroom! He came out, realized she wasn't in the room and just as he was getting out the words "where's Kate", she pounced!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Personality Shining Through

This morning our group traipsed across the street to the Tengwang Pavilion. We've been admiring it from both the window at the end of our hall and the windows in restaurant where we've dined (the one with the catfish cabaret). It has been rebuilt 29 time since first erected during Tang times, in 659, with the most recent rebuild in 1989. Tengwang Pavilion was always a place where learned men gathered to write articles and hold banquets, therefore the display in the new pavilion gives prominence to culture in Jiangxi province.

The pavilion is also a place for tourists to spend their yuan. Alex bought a bracelet with a beetle encased in epoxy and Kate found a necklace with her zodiac bunny.

Kate is definitely feeling comfortable with us! We've moved beyond shy and reserved. She is very active, curious and determined. When we are in the hotel room (home) she is always smiling, bouncy and feels secure. She seems to understand quite a bit of what we are saying to her (or perhaps our impeccable charades skills are doing the trick) and has been very good about following directions. She does mind us, so far, but if she gets any more comfortable with us . . .

Once we leave the safety of "home" she becomes much more reserved and pensive. I'd love to know what is going through her mind. She does not appear to understand Mandarin. She doesn't understand our guide (so much for having our guide translate for us) or the myriad locals that try to talk to her when we are out and about. I'm sure they all think that we adopted her when she was an infant and have raised her as an English speaking child and now we are back on a homeland visit. She seems to get very nervous (furrowed brow) when we are in loud, crowded places.

She loves riding in cars/taxis/vans! Hopefully she won't be disappointed when we get back to the States with how tame riding in vehicles is there. It is amazing how crazy the traffic is here in Nanchang (way worse than BJ which was heart-poundingly scary). There are all manner of vehicles and peds vying for the right of way. Lane markers are merely suggestions. I consider myself a fairly brave individual, but I really do not want to go walking around town alone. The bigger the group, the better chance of getting across the street. I had hoped that our crowd drawing appearance would cause traffic to come to a halt (kind of like when you see the Bison on the side of the road at Yellowstone), but apparently you don't need to be looking where you are going while driving here. Each day passed unscathed is a blessing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Human Hamster . . .

or How Alex Single Handedly Jump Started a Local Man's Business.

Nanchang is not a tourist destination. You won't find many people who speak English outside of our hotel, and even the hotel staff's English has it's problems. So if you are a lazy soul like me and don't take the time to learn the language, you'll find yourself experiencing unplanned adventures.

Case in point. There is a huge ferris wheel on the other side of the river from our hotel that we wanted to go to. We thought we'd take advantage of our free day to get a cab over there, take a picnic lunch and let the kids run amuk. We asked at the front desk what the park was called and how to get there. They gave us a card to show the taxi driver to get us there. Great! We leave the hotel going the complete opposite direction from the river and the wheel. Not good. We end up in the center of the city, at Ba Yi park which is a communist memorial. Very popular tourist site. If you are a Chinese tourist. Oh well. We had our picnic in the concrete park. Had an older lady park her little wooden stool two feet from us and just sit and stare. Again, payback for the photos taken at the geriatric playground in BJ. We went to the 3 story WalMart across the street from the park (reminds me of an earlier posting about juxtipositions) and let Kate pick out a few books and a toy. Looked at the interesting "food" items. Then grabbed a cab back "home".

Nanchang is also a great place to eat on a budget. We've had the most amazing dinners with more food than we could ever hope to finish for $20 including a couple of local beers, a pitcher of watermelon juice and endless cups of green tea. Fabulously spicy and often of unknown ingredients, and last night accompanied by a show! Several catfish managed to escape and flopped right past our table.

Breakfast at the hotel is also an adventure. Partly because of all the incredible choices (again some unknowns) and partly upon the realization that in being focused on getting Kate through the buffet finding things she wants, Alex has managed to carbo load his plate with donuts and french pastries, with a slice or two of watermelon. Some of the things that I've had for breakfast while in China are fried noodle, rice, sauteed bean curd, Dim Sum (dumpling), a very spicy celery dish, croissant and coffee. Our last hotel had an omelet station while this hotel has the fried noodle station.

Last night after yet another fabulous meal, our group loaded up in a van to go check out the Nanchang Fountain Show (it's in the park with the Ferris Wheel; the park we didn't get to earlier today). Similar to the show in front of the Bellagio in Vegas, but far more elaborate and stretching for a mile along the river. It was choreographed to music with changing lights and lasers, and right in the center of the mile stretch (where we were standing) an old faithful style geyser that shot up about 80 feet.

The whole riverfront park area had a carnival feel to it (this happens nightly) with vendors selling T-shirts, snacks and various small attractions. One such attraction that we noticed while watching the fountain show was an inflatable pool about 25 feet in diameter, about 2 feet deep, that had 3 clear inflated rubber balls that were about 6 feet in diameter. Floating human hamster balls. We kept watching to see if anyone got in, but no one ever did. After the fountain show we headed over to the pool because we all wanted to get a closer look and Alex said he wanted to give it a try.

Twenty yuan later, less than $3, Alex was inside the rubber ball and being put into the pool. I may have mentioned that this is not a tourist destination, so while we may have drawn some stares and gotten attention in Beijing, we are a downright freak show here in Nanchang. So put a yellow-haired westerner in a big plastic bubble and you've got a show way more entertaining than that silly fountain show. Within seconds I couldn't get through the crowd that was surrounding the pool. Alex flipped and flopped, tried to walk, succeeding for a few seconds, then on his back. And a huge smile never left his face. Soon others were lined up with their 20 yuan in hand. When we left with an elated Alex all three bubbles were in use and looking at the line, they'd be busy for a while!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Beach Balls and Earthquakes

Apparently there was a devastating earthquake here yesterday. Although we are closer to the epicenter than Beijing is, we didn't feel a thing. We're all safe and sound, and looks like the other folks in our travel group who are in different provinces are also fine (and were equally oblivious).

No shrinking violet, our Kate is feeling quite comfortable with us. Her favorite activity is bouncing the beach ball off of Dad's head and then quickly ducking down behind the bed and laughing. She also enjoys chasing big brother down the hallway of the hotel to and from the elevator. And this morning she and I looked through one of her new books, pointing to the different objects and saying the names (me in English, Kate in Chinese). She also went through the alphabet with me, repeating most of the letters.

Fabulous Day!

We are officially a family of four in the eyes of the Chinese government. We spent the morning running around the city getting all the necessary forms filled out and pics taken to make her part of our family.

We had all sorts of smiles this morning as we got ready for breakfast. The plan was to meet our coordinator in the lobby to take care of some paperwork that we had to abandon yesterday afternoon.

As she and I walked into the lobby and saw Mary, our coordinator, Kate's grip on my hand increased to almost painful. She stayed glued to me, sitting on my lap while I signed all the forms. As we went around to the different offices she would walk in by our side (while holding our hands) and then would eagerly lead the way as we left, holding a hand and dragging us out. And she was so excited when we got back to the hotel at lunch time.

She's been all smiles and giggles, quite the change from yesterday afternoon. And we couldn't be happier!

Our computer situation here in Nanchang is not as relaxed as it was in Beijing. I can't post photos and I can't read comments. But we'll keep trying!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Heartbreak and Hope

We arrived in Nanchang yesterday afternoon and were told that the "babies" would be brought to the hotel to meet us. We had a little over an hour to sit and stew and wonder.

At four o'clock we went up to a meeting room in the hotel to meet Min (who, I'd like to announce, is in fact a Kate!). She is so tiny and looked so out of sorts. She was very brave for the first fifteen-twenty minutes, parroting back bah bah and mah mah as directed by the orpanange officials. But then I notice a tear and within seconds she was crying unconsolably.

We took her to our room where she cried herself to sleep in our arms. While she was sleeping, I took a look at the care package we had sent. The scrapbook hadn't been looked at and the white Teddy Bear we'd sent looked just and clean as when it was purchased. We think she had no idea until that morning about what was going on. And when the orpanage officials told her she was going to meet her Mom and Dad, was she expecting to see her bio parents?

She slept for over an hour and upon waking and realizing that it wasn't just a bad dream, started crying again. This time though, instead of hanging limply in our arms, she clung to my tightly to my neck and calmed down within a few minutes.

She sat with me watching Phil and Alex color, and then watching them play with playdough. She didn't want to participate, but was very interested in what they were doing.

After our room service dinner, we all put on our pjs (she had no hesitation in changing out of her clothes and putting on the pjs we brought for her) and climbed into the king sized bed and watched some of a video. We saw smiles as she watched the crazy chipmunks capers. After the video, we were the ones getting the smiles! Loads of them.

Now it's Monday morning and we are all awake (no tears, I was a little concerned that we'd start startled) and all smiles! She's been playing dominoes and I think Alex is going to try to get her started on chess. We'll let you know how that goes.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Two Blonds and Other Popular Tourist Attractions in Beijing

We started our day at Tiananmen Square with the main attraction apparently being Alex and myself. The other other folks in our group were amazed at all the Chinese people circling us and trying to take our pictures.

We left the Square and crossed the road to visit the never ending Forbidden City. It felt like we were opening up those wooden Russian nesting dolls, only in reverse, with each door we'd pass through revealing a slightly larger and grander version of the previous courtyard and buildings.

For lunch we had the traditional Peking Duck, although the head and feet had already been removed so it wasn't as traditional as I was hoping for.

Later, after a brief detour past the Bird's Nest and Water Cube, we found ourselves working off all that lovely lunch climbing along the Great Wall. The section that we traveled was incredibly steep and the centuries old steps varied in rise height from brick to brick. We had fabulous views of the mountains all around us and Beijing in the distance.

Tomorrow is the day. We'll be leaving our hotel at 8 am, our last few steps along our path to Min!

Friday, May 9, 2008


Yesterday while visiting the Hutong loo, I was thinking "how unfortunate that these dividers are not a little higher", whereas the local woman in there with us was perhaps thinking "how fortunate that I have this indoor facility with running water to use whenever I need it".

While stopped at a rather long traffic light at a busy intersection we noticed a group of about 20 or so men digging in the dirt (a la Holes) with what looked like garden variety shovels. One of the men in our group commented that in the States we'd have a big old backhoe loader making quick work of that job. But that one tractor would be replacing all those individuals. Maybe those men didn't see their digging efforts as outdated, but instead felt happy to have that job.

Saw a shiny new Mercedes sedan, stuck in the slow moving rush hour traffic, being passed by rusty bicycles.

The Starbucks in the 5 storey modern shopping mall down the road from our hotel seemed perfectly normal, almost expected. Yet this one just a few blocks from the ancient Hutong and Drum Tower made me feel a bit sad.

Most Hutong Homes Have No Bathrooms or . . .

. . . Getting to Know Our New Travel Buddies.

Our first full day in Beijing and we are officially exhausted! We managed to stay up until 9:30 last night and I managed to sleep until Phil woke me at 6:30 this morning, but poor Alex was up at 4:00 and didn't go back to sleep until this evening at the Chinese Acrobat Theater!

We started our day at the Temple of Heaven park. Built in the 1400's as a place to give thanks for the good harvest and originally only accessable to the Emperor, now is a major tourist attraction and city park. The park is used daily by the seniors in Beijing as a health club and social center. Huge open areas are littered with what looks like kid's playground equipment, but is in fact apparatus for the adults to keep fit. And the place was packed!! It was amazing watching the various fitness routines taking place. In other areas of the park we found seniors playing cards, dominoes, various musical instruments and singing old familiar songs from their youth. Much healthier than sitting around watching Jeopardy.

We then went to one of the many Hutong neighborhoods that can be found in Beijing. The Hutong are narrow alleyways that date back to when Genghis Khan destroyed BJ and the Chinese had to rebuild the city. Today there is a combination of one-storey ramshackle dwellings and historic courtyard homes. Our group cruised around the area in a 5 rickshaw caravan through the maze of homes to our lunch destination.
We dined in a two room home, the double mattress propped up against the wall to make room for the table. The food was amazing. The homeowner kept bringing plate after plate of various veggie dishes, peanuts, rice, pickled cucumber, dim sum and, the group fav, the sauteed garlic sprouts. The family dog hung out at our feet for a while until his owner got wise to him and kicked him out (we think he knew that perhaps our chopstick skills could yield him a snack).

While on our Hutong tour it was explained to us that most of these homes have no bathrooms and therefore the families rely on the many public restrooms dotting the neighborhood.

We visited the Drum Tower, that originally marked the center of the old Mongol capital and was used to both mark the hours of the day and announce the closing of the city wall gates. One of the best parts of the Tower visit was the dizzyingly steep stairs we had to climb to get into the tower.

After the Drum Tower as we were returning through the Hutong, a few of us decided to use one of the public toilets. Ten turkish toilets (sometimes known as squatty potties) awaited us with little 3 foot high by 4 foot long partitions separating each one. No doors. No privacy. Quite the moment that we were able to share on this first day!

We ended our day at the theater watching incredibly strong and incredibly bendy acrobats. Before the show began we started chatting with some Americans sitting in front of us (not with our group) that had their teenage son with them and are also adopting. They also get their daughter on Mother's Day and have their consulate appointment on the same day as ours. And the husband works for Caterpillar. Small world.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

We're Here!!

We left DC around noon on Wednesday and arrived here in Beijing around noon Thursday. The flight was great; well as great as a 13 hour flight can be and we've managed to stay awake all afternoon.

We decided to forgo the cab ride to the Olympic venue area. One high speed flight a day is our limit. Instead we wandered around the pedestrian area that's a few blocks from our hotel. We're in a very trendy part of town. Everything is glitzy and new. Loads of Olympic souvenirs to be had. I love the Beijing mascots, the Friendlies! Oddly, my two guys don't see the charm in the cute, colorful cartoon pandas. If only Min were here with me . . .

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Today is the Day!!

We leave town this evening, the final leg of our nearly 3 year journey to Min! Our flight to Beijing leaves tomorrow and we will be in BJ around noon on Thursday.

Our hotel is across the street from the Forbidden City, so when we get to the hotel and get checked in we're planning on heading out to explore! We've got to do what we can to try to stay awake until Thursday night and hope we sleep through the night. Wishful thinking, I know. Most likely we'll get checked in and go straight to bed!
We are also hoping to go check out the new Olympic stadium in BJ, the one dubbed the Bird's Nest.

Another cool structure that has been built for the Olympics is the aquatic center, The Water Cube. Hopefully we can grab a cab and head over there Thursday evening!

Looking forward to posting from the road! See you in Beijing!