Sunday, August 26, 2007

Mom's recap of our trip to China

The Lord knows the desires of our hearts and providing the opportunity to visit China is only the latest in a long list of desires He has unexpectedly granted. As a child, I thought of China as being as far away from home as you could get, that if you could dig a hole all the way through the earth and come out on the other side, you would be in China. How I longed to see this strange, far away land, so different from all I found familiar.

This trip first began to take shape when Amy, our daughter who lives in Germany, called and told us that she and her husband Juergen were going to adopt again, this time they were applying for a girl in China. They hadn’t yet found the specific child, but a Christian friend in San Diego had had a dream that they would adopt a young Chinese girl who was “catching butterflies”. Over the next few months, they looked at pictures on-line of children from several orphanages, finally falling in love with one special needs child that was 2 years old. Only later, when their 12 year old daughter Nicole looked at the picture and exclaimed, ”look she’s catching butterflies”, did they realize that this girl matched the prophecy their friend had given. She was pictured with a ball covered with butterflies. When they shared this news with us, they also asked if I would like to join them in China. Would I ever! But it would be nearly two years before all the paperwork, home studies, and approvals were complete.

This would be Amy and Juergen’s third adoption. They have two sons, both from Thailand. With two biological daughters, Sarah would make five children, all but one with special needs. All needing a home and parents who love them. Amy and Juergen have more than enough love to go around.

The final approval and travel orders to come to China arrived in early spring. After waiting with my bags packed for several months, I now had less than a week to get a special visa and my ticket. The timing couldn’t have been better though. Had the call come a week later, I wouldn’t have been able to go to China and Amy and Juergen wouldn’t have been able to take their other kids. The Lord is never early and He is never late.

China is a large country. We flew into and out of Shanghai on the central coast. Picked up Sarah, our new granddaughter, in Nanjing, in the west. Visited a couple of villages located between these two cities, and completed the adoption process in Guanzhou in the south of China. I did not see the normal tourist destinations such as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, or Tienamen Square. What I did experience was a part of everyday Chinese life, some inspiring people, and an old way of life transforming itself into a modern one as it struggles to catch up with the west. I also saw just a trace of one of the oldest cultures in the world.

China in the 21st century is a country of growth. Growth in manufacturing, growth in population, growth in construction, growth in so many other ways. In fact, someone in China jokingly said that “the national bird of China is the construction crane”. This certainly fits. Cranes are everywhere, sometimes by the hundreds. Old structures are being torn down and replaced with high-rise apartment houses, trade centers, and factories spewing out pollution. So many factories that in the 17 days in China, I saw the sky only for a few hours following a rain storm. Air and water pollution are everywhere. We were advised not to drink water or eat anything that had not been well cooked. We drank a lot of juice and ate more McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut than I have in years. We also had real Chinese food and the best fresh pineapple I have ever tasted.


Juergen and Nicole met me at Pu Dong Airport in Shanghai. They had gotten there from the hotel via the fastest train in the world, billed out at speeds over 300 miles per hour. Unfortunately, the train had closed down for the night by the time I arrived, so we took a cab. The vacation apartment we stayed at in Shanghai was in a high rise structure. It had three bedrooms and two baths, a large living room and a kitchen There was a balcony that ran the full length of the living room and two of the bedrooms, with a second small balcony off the kitchen. From these, you could see several streets with all their activities and a park where the kids could play.

Amy took the boys to the playground one afternoon. Like any other kids, they ran ahead of her. A security guard stopped them, saying they couldn’t play there. It scared them. Amy had to catch up and tell the guard they were her sons. Seems that only children staying at the hotel are allowed to play on the playground. The guard had thought the boys lived in the surrounding area. How sad. We saw nowhere for local children to play.

Shanghai is the most modern city I have seen. That is because it is virtually brand new. Everywhere you look there are architectural wonders. Seems each building tried to outdo the others by incorporating odd angles, sculptural tops, or unexpected materials. Trees wrapped with rope for protection are being planted along new highways and traffic inside the city is a nightmare. There are cars mixed with bikes and push carts and the pedestrian does NOT have the right-of-way.

Leaving Shanghai for Nanjing was an experience in itself. Remember, there were seven of us at this point. Four children, one of them autistic, and only three adults to keep them corralled. We also had 12 pieces of luggage. We paid 3 porters to help get us to the right train and load the luggage into the overhead racks. The train was crowded. Amy had to use the bathroom. She came back and advised us all to hold it if we possibly could. It seems the squat toilet on a moving train doesn’t do a good job of containing anything.

The train went though the less modern parts of Shanghai and out into the countryside. Houses were separated by small vegetable plots and ponds used to grow fish as the main source of protein. There were literally hundreds of cranes building still more factory communities. These are essentially new cities consisting of one or more factories surrounded by high rise apartment buildings used to house workers. Piles of debris were everywhere. People not so fortunate as to have jobs in the factories were living in the midst of the trash.


Upon our arrival in Nanjing on Friday, we thought we were hiring a group of porters to carry our luggage to a cab. Turns out each individual (5) expected to be paid the amount agreed on, not to share that amount. Oh well. We did get to our hotel with both the right number of bags and people. The Mandarin Garden Hotel is rated five star and most of it is exactly that. However, there is an older section of the hotel that is more like three star. That is the section we were actually in. You see, they was a conference being held there for the top communications executives in China and all the five star rooms were booked. We had clean bedrooms and western style bathrooms. Bottled water was delivered daily and the hotel was located near some cultural sights and a shopping area. In fact, my room overlooked a portion of an adjacent roof topped with carved Buddhist emblems. I got a real good look at them. One had a carving of a rabbit.

We had two days to see near by sights and do a little shopping before we actually got Sarah. We also got a little rest as we were all still fighting jet lag. There was a KFC and Haagen-Dazs just outside the hotel and a McDonald’s within easy walking. We sampled all of these. Food is relatively cheap in China. As an example, an egg McMuffin that cost around $2.50 in the U.S. was the equivalent of about 30 cents in China.

On Monday morning (still Easter Sunday in the US) we were loaded into a van arranged for by the adoption agency. Our guide took us to the local government offices that handles foreign adoptions. Not long after, Sarah arrived with one of the orphanage administration staff. She is four years old, but about the size of a western two year old. Dressed in a green denim suit, she looked so frail and insecure. I can not imagine how terrifying it must have been to be given to a group of strangers that do not speak your language and who are taller than anyone you have ever known. Philip, Thomas, and Nicole were so good with her. They had brought bubbles and Sarah was fascinated by them. She was still apprehensive, but the guide was so good with her.Sarah soon started to bond with Philip and with Juergen.

Sarah was indifferent to Jessica, Nicole, Thomas, and me, but she didn’t want anything to do with Amy. Turns out that about six months earlier, she had wanted a mama so bad that the orphanage had given her her personal nanny. Big mistake. Sarah really loved this woman and she didn’t want another mama. Amy didn’t handle this rejection well. It was she who had pushed for this adoption, she who had prayed so long and hard for Sarah, and she who already loved this child so very much. Of course Amy’s obvious insecurity in this situation only perpetuated it. Sarah would not let Amy hold her hand, take her to the bathroom, change her cloths, or anything. This was serious because Juergen and the other kids would be returning to Germany in a few days leaving Sarah, Amy and I on our own to complete the adoption process in Guanzhou.

Germany has no adoption agreement with China so Sarah was adopted through an American agency. Since Juergen is not American, Amy was the one who had to complete the adoption process. There was no choice. What’s more, the other kids could only take off for Easter vacation. They were legally required to be back in school in a few days. Juergen had to take them home, no choice. Thank God I was there to help. While Sarah hadn’t really bonded with me either, she preferred me to Amy. Realizing the situation, the guide actually wrote out a note in Chinese stating that “this child is not being kidnapped. She has recently been adopted and has not yet bonded with her new mother”. We would be glad we had that note in days to come.

While still in Nanjing, we had opportunity to visit the orphanage where Sarah had lived. It is clean with lots of helpers and many toys. The children are very well taken care of. There was a playground area, but I saw no children playing. I don’t know if it was just the wrong time of day or if they actually don’t often use this equipment. Many of the orphans are Special Needs Children. This means they have something wrong with them. It may be that they are deaf, blind, have a cleft pallet, or some other physical deformity. I observed one child with large worts all over his body and another with odd pigmentation. Both of these children have since been adopted. Sarah too, is a special needs child.

Upon leaving the orphanage, we rode the new subway system to the heart of the financial district. This area could have well been New York or London. It is very modern with wide streets crossed only by going under them. Neon signs spelled out the names of banks, trade centers, and well known retailers such as Ikea and Kodak.

We had a chance to see both cultural and modern sights in and around Nanjing. The guide took us to the zoo where saw a white tiger, a panda, and many other animals. I also saw my first trench toilet. It is similar to an out house, but water is used to flush out the trench.
We also visited the main city gate and the lakeside park just beyond.

Dinner with the guide was at a real Chinese restaurant. The meal was fantastic. It had a little bit of everything served family style. We sat around a traditional round table and ate fish, duck, chicken, pork, and beef. There were lots of well cooked vegetables and of course rice.

On another day, he took us to an agricultural island in the Yangtze River. On the way, we passed a new sports center that was easily the equivalent of the Super Dome. The only difference being that this center is rarely used. There are only exhibition games played there for infrequent visiting dignitaries. The auto ferry to the island is well used. It took only about 10 or 15 minutes to cross the river. The water of the Yangtze is brown with pollution. I would not want to drink from or wash my food with it. There are areas on this island that are being spruced up for the benefit of tourists and areas that display a hard form of rural life. I saw women washing dishes in a ditch filled with stagnant water that I knew would be alive with mosquitoes in a few short weeks. Before heading back across the auto ferry, we also visited a living museum and saw how rural life once was. I have visited this type of museum in England, Germany, Austria, and the US. They are very informative. Unfortunately, Amy fell backward over a wheelbarrow when taking a picture of the boys and severely sprained both wrists. She was hurting so badly that the guide took her to the hospital for x-rays when we got back to town. Thank God nothing was broken, but this made it even more difficult for her to handle Sarah.

On several occasions, we walked around the area closest to our hotel on our own. There were busy streets lined with large old trees and streets where no vehicular traffic was allowed. One day Amy, Jessica and I wandered into a strictly Chinese neighborhood. There was a bird and fish market that fascinated Jess. We were turned away from entering one area and not allowed to take pictures. Looking through the gate, I saw a scene right out of the middle ages, so dark, shabby, and oppressive looking. The man who had turned us away actually followed at a distance to make sure we left. In another area happened on a park where an old man was practicing Tai Chi, saw musicians playing traditional instruments, and a group of people dancing next to a section of the city wall. We had found the real China.

Juergen, all the kids except Jess, and I enjoyed a river tour and we rode in rickshaws back to the hotel. This is the year of the golden pig in China and displays were set up all along the river banks. We started out at the Temple of Confucius, drifted to one area of the wall and then back across the temple grounds, under a series of bridges with red hanging lanterns to another section of the city wall that still has block house structures on top of it. This was a peaceful and very beautiful way to spend an afternoon.

On Friday morning, April 13, we loaded all our bags and the now 8 of us (plus the driver) into a hired van for the return trip to Shanghai. We were glad we had taken the train to Nanjing, but were not going to hassle with it again. It took about three hours to get from our hotel in Nanjing to our hotel in Shanghai and actually cost no more by van than it would have for all of us to travel by train. It was a whole lot more convenient. Stopping at a rest stop, I had my first personal, but not last experience with a squat toilet. The Chinese must all be in really good shape to manage these things.

Along the way, we went through several toll booths. It actually reminded me of the east coast of America, where you can’t go very far on a freeway without digging in the ashtray for change. These freeways are relatively new to China, but some 4500 KM now connect most of the major cities in the industrialized areas. Along the way, we saw row after row of makeshift greenhouses and plots filled with nursery trees. We jokingly called them trees for Shanghai. New trees are being planted all over Shanghai in preparation for an influx of visitors to China in 2008 for the Olympic Games. Even though the “games” are being held in Bejing, Shanghai is a major point of entry and so must look it’s best.

Shanghai II:

During the short time back in Shanghai, we visited the “Bunt”, a new and modern waterfront walkway, took a river cruise, and experienced the Shanghai Circus. The Chinese are well known for their acrobatic skills. We were not disappointed. The circus also included feats of magic, strength, and graceful high flying. My only disappointment was that we couldn’t take pictures.

On Monday Juergen and Amy took Jessica and Sarah to the Germany Consulate to apply for a temporary visa for their youngest daughter. Meanwhile I escorted the other kids on a grand tour of some of China’s older attractions in Suzhou, and Zhouzhuang, a traditional water town built along the ancient Grand Canal. The only other tourists with our group were 5 American medical students and a young Chinese man. This was what I had hoped to see. China as it used to be a hundred years ago.

In Suzhou, we wandered through park-like settings at two historical gardens with names like “The Humble Administrator’s Garden” and “The Lion Forest Garden”. Flowering trees and shrubs were in full spring splendor. We watched part of a play performed in ancient Chinese costume, and absorbed the tour guides explanation of what we were looking at. The kids got to climb on rocks and observe the processes of making silk, start to finish. They even took part in stretching silk for use in comforters. Then we walked and floated through Zhouzhuang, a village that uses canals for transportation, like Venice only on a much smaller scale. It was great walking over and floating under moon bridges and visiting the seller’s stalls in this old village. I got some great pictures.

But bright and early Tuesday morning, Juergen put Amy, Sarah and I in a cab. We were headed for Guanzhou to complete the American adoption process. Sarah really lost it. She kept crying for her Papa. At the airport Sarah ran all around looking and calling “Papa, Papa”. We were stopped by cleaning ladies, ticket agents, other passengers, and security guards. That note the guide gave us in Nanjing quickly became the most valuable item we had. Finally a lady who spoke English talked to Sarah and got her to calm down. She walked to the plane holding my hand. That all ended when we landed. The same lady stopped by to ask how it went and Sarah would not let her go. This stranger ended up carrying my precious grandchild off the plane all the way to the baggage claim where we were met by another adoption agency guide. But this one did not speak such good English and did not fully understand the problem.


The week we were there, Guanzhou was hosting the largest international trade show in the world. Hotel rooms were hard to find and prices were greatly inflated. Amy had booked a room for three at a Chinese establishment in a section of the city known as the Leather District. The V-8 hotel was clean, with a restaurant and some shops on the third floor. We ended up with a room on the sixth floor overlooking a busy railway yard. Guanzhou is in southern China and already quite warm in April. There was an air conditioning unit in the room, but the room was still warm even when it was running.

We tried getting some food in the restaurant but gave up that idea very quickly. You see, Sarah took to the staff and didn't want to go with us. It was a couple days before she really bonded with me and she still wanted nothing to do with Amy.

That afternoon we managed a cab (with difficulty) and made our way to the White Swan Hotel in the European Sector of the city, an island. This is a five star hotel where many families stay during their adoption process. It is convenient to shops and services, such as passport photos and travel physicals required for completion of adoptions. The White Swan has a special play room in the basement where children can begin to adjust to their new life. Several families were there with their newly adopted children. Sarah refused to interact and when one of the fathers picked up his new child and left, she freaked out. It was like her Papa was leaving again. Getting a cab back to our hotel was just as hard. It seems taxis in Guanzhou are restricted as to what areas of town they can serve, and it took the doorman awhile to find one that could go to the Leather District. Returning to our room that evening, and indeed every time we returned, we found our key would not work. Amy had to go back down to the lobby and have it reactivated. What a pain.

Then the first night in the V-8 Hote,l water (clean water) from a leaking toilet line flooded our bathroom. Since the hotel was full we could not change rooms and it was the next day before they could get anyone in to fix it.

We again managed a cab after about 30 minutes on a busy street corner. While waiting, an old Chinese lady came up to us and asked in broken English if we loved Sarah. We assured her that was the case and she told Sarah how very lucky she was. At McDonald’s we opted for pancakes and juice with a flex-straw. Sarah loved them. She had pancakes several mornings after that and she wouldn’t drink anything without her flex-straw. Getting a cab back to the hotel proved just as hard. The doorman at a nearby hotel would not help us because we were not guests at that hotel. At least the toilet had been fixed and the room cleaned when we returned from breakfast.

We had one day to just explore and we did. This day we could not manage a cab for anything. So we walked, and walked, and walked. Amy got a cup from Starbucks. We passed the Chinese Cultural Museum and a large park but could not find an open entry. We ate sweet, fresh pineapple on a stick and it was late when we finally made our way back to the hotel.

On another day the guide took us to the German Consulate to request a temporary visa for Sarah so she would not have to come to the US right away. They were sympathetic, but even with a letter of recommendation from the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, they said no. We also went to the American Consulate. Paid all the required fees for completing the adoption and then had lunch at Ikea. I swear it took half an hour to find our way through several floors of that store to the cafeteria and again to find our way out. What a maze. They won’t let you out of there until you have looked at literally everything they have to offer.

On still another day we went back to the European District for Sarah’s passport photo and her travel physical. It was on this day that we met up with another American couple who had picked up their new son in Bejing only to find he was suffering from water pressure on his brain. They had been granted an expedited consulate appointment so they could get their new son back to the US for surgery. We had lunch with this family and they let Amy use their computer to send Juergen an e-mail message.

What a blessing. The hotel where we were staying did not furnish us with an internet connection. In fact, we couldn’t even call out. No one understood what we were asking. In fact, only one person on staff spoke any English and not very well. We had been completely out of touch with our families for several days and knew they would be worried. The hotel staff would not even put calls from the guide or Juergen through to our room. On one occasion they called up to ask if I wanted to talk to my husband (actually Juergen). I said yes and the phone went dead. They did not understand “yes” as a positive expression. After that, Juergen did manage to get through on a couple occasions and he relayed messages to Richard.

It was at the doctor’s that Sarah became interested in Amy’s digital camera. OK, this could be a way of breaking through that hard shell. Amy let her take some pictures and we got more than one smile from her as she looked at the images. While on the island, we also did a little shopping and were able to get a cab to a silk market and again back to the hotel. Seems the Leather District is the hardest place in town to get a taxi.

On our last day in Guanzhou we polished off the last of our pre-packed goodies for breakfast, packed our bags and waited in the hotel lobby for 2 ½ hours for our guide. Check out was at noon and they would not allow any extensions. Sarah was good though. She actually played peek-a-boo with Amy and generally entertained herself by walking the colored lines on the lobby floor.

Our guide picked us and our luggage up in a van about 2:30. We had an appointment at the American Consulate. Amy asked her if she would tell Sarah that I would be leaving and that Sarah would go with Amy on a plane to my house. Well to make a long story short, the guide told Sarah she needed to love her new mommy. She lost it right there and then. She had started to loosen up, but now she was again apprehensive. She screamed and struggled and wouldn’t come anywhere near Amy. I had to drag her out of the building to the van. We stopped at a modern shopping mall to buy a stroller. Amy thought it might be easier to handle luggage and Sarah if she was on wheels. Sarah wouldn’t ride in it, but she did hold onto it.

Long Road Home:

At the airport we found an out of the way place to wait for our flight. We didn’t want a repeat of our last ordeal at a Chinese airport. A young Chinese-Canadian woman sat down next to us and said that she had been witness to the previous airport incident in Shanghai. She marveled at how Sarah seemed to have changed. OK, we tried it again. This lady better understood the problem so she told Sarah what she could expect in Shanghai. Poor Sarah. She just went quiet. It was as if her heart had been pulled out of her chest. She literally clung to me, but did not throw a fit again. All was well during the fight back to Shanghai and she did ride in her stroller for me once there.

After waiting in line for over an hour, we got a cab to take us from the domestic airport to the international airport. It was after 1:00 a.m. before we finally arrived. The driver didn’t understand that we wanted to go to the hotel at the airport, to him it just didn’t make sense. He could take us to the airport or the hotel, not both. Traffic in Shanghai was terrible. All the crowd from the Guanzhou Trade Fair were heading home and it took three hours to get across town. But we did get there.

I put Sarah down to sleep, took a bath and made sure all my stuff was ready to go. Then I slept for about 3 hours before I had to leave. Sarah was still sleeping, so Amy and I said our good-byes in the hall. I grabbed a bite to eat in the hotel restaurant before catching the shuttle. Thus began the longest day of my life.

At check in, I was told that the plane would be a couple hours late and that I would miss my scheduled connection in Tokyo. However, there was another flight to LA that would get me home that same day. This turned out to be way off. The flight to Tokyo didn’t actually leave Shanghai unto late in the day. There were no seats left on other flights, again the trade fair. During the wait we were told one thing and then another until no one believed what we were told. Several people really lost it. I had no way to call home and knew my family would be worried. A kind traveler lent me his cell phone for a quick call just long enough to alert Richard of my delay. The airline finally told us we would be put up at a hotel in Tokyo for the night and they would try to find flights out for us the next day.

OK, another piece of misinformation. Arriving in Tokyo we were escorted to an area set up to sort us out according to our original destinations. Mine was Seattle, so I was put on a red eye flight to Honalulu with a connection to Seattle. I was fortunate that this plane was not so crowded. I found three unoccupied seats in a row, stretched out and managed another night of three hours sleep. Honalulu was sunny and warm, very warm. I had dressed for Seattle. Since we had to go through customs with our luggage (yes it made it) I pulled out a cotton shirt. I had a 10 hour layover here. The airlines put us up at a hotel that smelled of insecticide, but wouldn’t allow us to call out. I found a pay phone and let them at home know what had happened. I then took a shower and left the hotel. As exhausted as I was, I couldn’t take the smell, and how often do you get a free trip to Hawaii anyway?

The city bus runs from in front of the hotel to Pearl Harbor and then back the other way to Waikiki Beach. I took the tour of the Arizona Memorial and then rode the bus through the town, got off for a photo of Diamond Head and then returned to the hotel for dinner. By then it was time to head for the airport again and another red eye to the mainland. This time I about froze. I was so tired by the time I got home that our Dianna said I staggered off the plane. It had taken 42 ½ hours instead of the mere 17 hours expected. Not until then did I learn of Amy’s ordeal with her flight to Germany.

Seems Sarah had thrown a fit when she discovered I was gone. It took Amy several hours to calm her down. Then they went to the airport. This was a total repeat of the trip to Guanzhou, except that she didn’t calm down once on the plane. There were several Chinese grandmother types that took it upon themselves to mother her. Amy kept saying NO. But still they would talk to Sarah in Chinese and offer her goodies. Even the stewardess asked if Sarah could sit next to one of these women. It got even worse when they landed in Germany and those same women walked away.

Amy took her screaming child to the airport immigration office and begged them to give Sarah a temporary visa. This time it worked. She was finally allowed to go home. Amy would not have to bring Sarah to the U.S. to obtain her certificate of American citizenship until September.

It was better for me as well. I slept for the next several days before packing my bags and heading for Florida. Misty was graduating from her training as a respiratory therapist. I had been in China for my youngest granddaughter. I wasn’t going to miss the special celebration for my oldest granddaughter. She had worked so hard for this and I was one proud grandma.