Monday, November 21, 2016

Baby Steps

We are now in Guangzhou, China. From now on, all the paperwork has to do with Mei-Mei’s visa to the US, and the consulate that handles this is in Guangzhou.

Flying here was, if not a piece of cake, much easier than anticipated. Mei-Mei and ‘Stache wandered through the airport while we were waiting for our plane (We had given ourselves LOTS of extra time to get there because it was another high pollution day and we didn’t want to be stuck in traffic and miss our flight.) and ‘Stache let Mei-Mei pick out a drink. I say “let” but really I should say “encouraged” because Mei-Mei did not seem to immediately grasp that she could choose. Although everything we’ve learned indicates that she was well-taken care of by well-meaning people, choices have probably not been a regular part of her life. However, she seems to have grasped the concept and nearly sweet-talked ‘Stache into buying her a $10 plastic helicopter. Which, given that they do not share a common language, is quite a feat.

Walnut milk makes everything more bearable.
She was very content on the airplane as long as she was on ‘Stache’s lap, which meant that take-off and landing were rocky, but everything in between was fine. Fortunately we had a bag of snacks that her nanny gave us, so we found interesting things to eat for the terrible times when she had to be in her own seat. She deigned to accept mini Oreos from my hand, but otherwise didn’t want me to feed, touch or comfort her, even a little bit.

Every so often, all through the day, she would get teary and reach up for a hug from ‘Stache. But mostly she seemed to be resigned, if not happy.

The next day, Wednesday, was better. After breakfast (juice and yogurt for her, big American breakfast for ‘Stache, part-American, part-Chinese for me), we went to the “Kiddie Land,” which is an outdoor courtyard for kids. It was absolutely the best decision we could have made. Our stoic, clingy little girl blossomed into the happy, exuberant child we had seen in pictures and videos. Mei-Mei ran round and round the playset, darting in out of the plastic doors and flinging Wawa (her doll) down the slides. She would climb onto the swing and let ‘Stache push her once and then jump off, giggling.

All of this, though, was strictly Daddy-oriented. If I got too close or tried to pick up Wawa or hold her hand, she would frown and fling her hand out of mine or demand her Wawa back.

But after she had played on the playset a while, we drifted over to the water feature. ‘Stache and Mei-Mei sat together on the wall and contemplated the water for a moment. Surreptitiously I yanked a handful of leaves off a nearby bush. I demonstrated how one could take a leaf and drop it into the water and offered her a leaf.

She threw the leaf into the water, found the experience to be delightful, and asked me for another leaf.
It was the first time she had willingly interacted with me since we drove away from the notary’s office. Naturally, I gave another leaf, and many after that. After a few minutes, we discovered that there were dry leaves under some nearby monkey grass, allowing us to stop pulling live leaves off the bushes, but ‘Stache and I agreed that even if we were forced to pay a “bush damage” fine, this beautiful little interaction between Mama and Mei-Mei would have been worth it.

Here she is telling me that she wants "Si!" [Four]
At lunch we saw even more of her personality come out. We had gone out searching for lunch and discovered what became out standard lunch place. Should you find yourself in want of lunch while at the Marriot in Guangzhou, turn right out of the front door and turn right at the corner. Continue on this walkway past the 7-11, past the large reddish Indian-esque statues, past the “Cheese Coffee” store, until you come to this sign:

We’d love to tell you the name of it but we've no idea. We just know that you can get 2 large bowls of noodle soup, 1 order of dumplings and 3 bottles of water for 45 RMB (about $6.70) We think it’s awesome and Mei-Mei would appear to agree.

At first she was happy just dipping her chopsticks in the sauce and licking them off ...

And then she started actually drinking from the plate!

This girl LOVES her soy sauce! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Mei-Mei Day

On Monday, we left the hotel at 6 am. Our tour guide, Tom, came to the hotel to hand us off to Minan. Minan took us to a large van and the driver loaded our many bags and we headed off through the dark city. Dark, but very busy. It was supposed to be three and a half hours to Shijiazhuang, which is where we would meet Mei-Mei.
It wasn’t three and a half hours.
The pollution in Hebei Province was so bad that day that the highway was shut down twice due to poor visibility. We saw a few food peddlers take advantage of all the parked cars. This one was selling candied apples.

We got to our hotel at 1 pm, and Minan took us around the corner to KFC for lunch. KFC is very popular here! My sister ordered a hot corn drink with her meal. It tasted exactly like creamed corn, only liquid. Finally, a little before 2, we piled back in the van and went to the Social Welfare office.
And there on the curb was Mei-Mei! Naturally we couldn’t tumble out of the van fast enough. She was a little stand-offish at first, but warmed up with some snacks (which she distributed to everyone in the room). We took the official family picture for the adoption papers, and Mei-Mei had to stamp her handprint, and ‘Stache and I signed our names about a dozen times.

While we traded off holding Mei-Mei and signing papers, Mei-Mei was exploring ‘Stache’s phone. Specifically, the “selfie” mode.

She took 333 pictures and 10 videos. Really, the only reason those numbers are not much higher is that after a while, she got interested in scribbling on the pictures. She has excellent fine motor control (perhaps it’s from growing up using chopsticks!) and held ‘Stache’s stylus with precision.
Most unusually, we went straight from the Social Welfare office to the notary to finalize our paperwork. Usually there is about 24 hours between these appointments. It was while we were waiting outside the notary’s office that the realization that we were not just kind visitors with snacks began to dawn on Mei-Mei. Tears welled up occasionally, but her nanny was usually able to cajole her back to equilibrium.
At 5:20, we got our paperwork back and it was done! She was ours. Still a Chinese citizen, but our Chinese citizen.
When the orphanage director and her nanny left, the tears started in earnest. She cried the whole evening. She cried for “Gua Ye,” her nanny, over and over. She would only accept comfort from ‘Stache, probably because she views me as usurping her Gua Ye’s place.  
It. Was. Awful.
Everything that is twisting and crushing and sad.
She fell asleep around 9 and we all went to bed, holding tightly to these truths.
It is a GOOD thing she is mourning. It means that she loved her nanny very much, and it is much easier to teach a child to love her new parents too than it is to teach a child how to love someone in the first place. 
It will not always be like this. Tonight was hard and she really doesn’t want anything to do with Mama at all, but it will not always be hard and she will not feel that way forever. 
Tomorrow is a new day. Please God, let it be a new day.

Friday, November 11, 2016

First Day in China
Our first day in China began at 4:30. ‘Stache’s phone rang and we bounced awake; if not bright-eyed and bushy tailed, at least very alert and after a brief attempt to go back to sleep, we got up and made coffee. Around six we went down for breakfast, which was a fascinating array of Western, semi-Western and Eastern options.
breakfast 1
The conclusions:
Jiaozi with custard filling: delicious.
Fried bread: like a completely unsweet donut.
Eggs steeped in tea and soy sauce: very delicate flavor. I might not have noticed if I’d been blindfolded.
Chicken congee: warm and comforting but bland. I found out later that you are supposed to add things to it for flavor.
Plain congee with pickles: SO GOOD! I really like Chinese pickles.
Out of the hotel restaurant window was a beautiful courtyard pool. We wondered how much the “poolside” hotel rooms would cost. It was so tranquil.
breakfast 2
We left at 8 with Tom, our guide. He took us to the Forbidden City. Everything was huge and beautiful.
city 3
city 4
city 6
city 7
city 8
When it was built (600 years ago) the emperor believed that if his palace, symbolically the center of China, was balanced in the elements, then the whole country would be balanced. There were huge urns that were once filled with water for this purpose, and huge braziers to burn incense every day.
city 10
After the Forbidden City, we went on a Hutong Tour. Hutong means “alley.” Around the Forbidden City there is a preserved area of Old Beijing. (Old in this case meaning about 100 years. When your day begins with 600-year old marble statues, you have to specify.) Our bus drove us to the entrance and then we got in rickshaws!
I had been garnering stares all day because I was wearing only a shirt with the sleeves pushed up, not a hat and coat. Chinese people believe in bundling up. I called the weather “brisk,” not cold, and had been fine all day. But in the rickshaw, I was glad of our padded blanket. The wind chill was so cold!
One of the rickshaw drivers got in a fight with a passing motorist, who cut in front of him and then (we gathered) was completely unrepentant and in fact “gave him attitude.” The driver stopped and he and the motorcyclist and the nearby rickshaw drivers exchanged some heated words. It was very exciting but I have no pictures of the incident.
The rickshaws took us a little farther and then we got off and walked through a maze of tiny streets.
We had lunch at a family’s house! It was so delicious. We started with fried sweet potato chips and candied lychees and some kind of fried thing that we never identified. They kept bringing out more food: first pork and green beans, then broccoli, then pork sausage balls, then garlic shoots and bacon, then chicken, all with rice, and then tiny oranges to finish the meal. Fortunately our plates were small so we knew to take little portions! This is a very traditional Chinese way of eating: lots of options and you take a little of each one. Lunch was so delicious and afterwards we found out why: the man who lived there and who cooked our meal was the 4th president of China’s chef!
While walking, we passed a public exercise area. It was fun to figure out how everything was used. Some of the machines were for exercise, and some
of them were for massage. Such a brilliant idea! Everything was sturdy and simple and seemed like it would last forever.
Hutong 11
Hutong 12
Hutong 13
Then we went and visited another family’s home. This was a fully preserved courtyard home, which is very rare in Beijing. 100 years ago, homes were built in the courtyard style, with 4 sections around a middle courtyard. Each section typically had 2 sections, so it was also called an octagon style. Originally one multi-generational family would own and live in the whole thing. Today, each section is owned (or more likely, rented) by a different family, and there are buildings built in the courtyard as well.
This family, though, owns the whole thing. The south side is raised higher than the other sections, and it would have been for the parents and the grandparents because it was always warm from the sun. The north section, which would have always been cold, was for the servants or storage. Sons lived on the east side and daughters on the west. Today, the owners live in the north section and one of the rooms is a studio for their nephew, who is an artist, and some of the rooms are used as a bed and breakfast. They grow gourds in their courtyard.
[More pictures coming]
Next we went to a teahouse.
We watched a tea demonstration and sampled several different kinds of tea. The tall cup is for smelling and the bowl is for drinking. The woman poured our first tea into the tall cup, then placed the bowl upside down on the cup. Then we were instructed to carefully turn both of them over at the same time, and lift the tall cup and smell. We could also rub the hot, empty tall cup on our faces or hands to warm them, which was very welcome after being outside all afternoon! And then we sipped the tea, taking 3 sips to empty the cup.
[hold on for tea picture]
The ”right” way to hold a cup is as follows. Thumb and forefinger on either side of the cup, middle finger under the cup. Women hold the next 2
fingers out, which is “phoenix style.” And men hold these fingers in against the palm, which is “dragon style.
We bought ginseng oolong and puer and fruit tea. This entitled us to a free “tea boy.” This is a little gadget that tells you if your water is hot enough. If you pour cold water over him nothing happens. If you pour hot water over him he pees in a rather spectacular arc. I thought it was hilarious and that the boys would love to use him at tea time. ‘Stache is worried that the little tea boy will inspire imitative behavior.
The last event of the day was an acrobatic show. Words fail. It was spectacular, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I took videos, so hopefully when I get home we can figure out a way to put them on the blog. Right now, with Youtube and Gmail being blocked, it’s not very doable.
I’m off to go find some dinner. Tomorrow we go see the Great Wall of China!

Friday, November 4, 2016

We're Leaving for China on Wednesday



Wednesday. Wednesday. Wednesday!

We have been traveling/trudging/crawling down this path for so long. We used to have a card on the fridge saying "July 2010." My heart was bursting to adopt way before 'Stache and I even met the "length of marriage requirements." July 2010 was the earliest I figured we could start applying and meet the requirement by the time we were matched with a child, so having the card on the fridge was my little reminder. An encouragement that even though it seemed a long way off, that day was coming.

Well, God had different plans. He took us along a different road, to a life filled with two wonderful, rambunctious boys. But He planted that desire for adoption. He kept it alive through long years of waiting, piles of paperwork and fine print and now, in 5 days, we are getting on a plane and heading east. In 10 days, we'll meet our daughter for the first time.

Once upon a time, or rather on November 15th, 2015, after the boys went to bed, I was thinking about how discouraging the adoption process was. We had just been turned down for a referral the day before. We had been solidly turned down 3 times, and there had been several other referrals I had been hopeful about but they hadn't panned out. I told 'Stache that night, "If this is what the Hong Kong process is like, I don't know if I can do it." What other options did we have, though?

Then the thought struck: I had just turned 30. One of the China program's inflexible rules was that both parents must be at least 30. We hadn't met the requirements for the China program when we started the process, so I hadn't even considered it before now. But now I considered it, and on a whim, went and paged through the Waiting Child list for China.

Cute kids ... more cute kids ... Oh. It's you. 

Now I had been paging through these lists for months, trying to find the Hong Kongolese kids among the Chinese kids, and there had been lots of kids who caught my eye, tugged my heart, made me wonder how they'd fit in our life. But Mei-Mei wasn't like that at all. It was like I recognized her. My eyes were cruising along and then stumbled spectacularly because in a long list of maybes and definitely-nots and I-could-picture-hims and what-ifs, there she was. My daughter.

And on November 14th, 2016, I'm going to meet her.