Sunday, August 26, 2007

A few of the things that make me happy to be home

Mimi & Grandpa – automatic ice makers – salad – even my crappy minivan – HalfPrice Books – Blue Mesa with friends – “What Not to Wear” – brushing teeth without thinking – Dr. Pepper – air conditioning – Frito Chili Pie – knowing where I’m going most of the time – my own bed – a really good cheeseburger – finding clothing my size in stores – fast internet – memories and mementos of China – my office – the ease of language – my new rice cooker – “The Colbert Report” & “The Daily Show”– bacon, egg & cheese biscuits from McD’s – hot water from all my faucets – my oven – Tex-Mex – NPR – Tuesday Morning – Nordstrom’s Rack – Prairie Home Companion – having a couch again! – having more than 3 pairs of shoes to choose from – the dishwasher – Ben & Jerry’s – Purple Cow Diner – cereal with cold milk – Hong Kong Market – IKEA – National Cowgirl Hall of Fame – crème brulee at Michael’s Restaurant – Target – enrolling the kids for ballet again – friends, friends, friends!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Another Expat Family Blogging

Take a look at The Lewis Family Goes to China. They've got a passel of boys and one girl adopted from China.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Buddha and Mao

Having told you Maya’s reaction to the Jesus portrait, I have to tell a portrait story about Zoe, too.

Before we left for China to adopt Maya, we spent time looking through my old pictures from Beijing and China travel books. Zoe was intrigued by the portrait of Mao that hangs above Tiananmen Square – probably because we saw it in practically every guidebook. So by the time we were headed for Tiananmen Square, she was fired up to see the portrait of Mao.

So fired up, in fact, that she kept up a running conversation about it as we walked toward it, and soon the conversation degenerated into a song with lyrics something like, “I wanna see Mao, Mao, Mao-ey, Mao-ey, Mao. . . .” I was beginning to wonder if we’d get arrested for disrespect or heresy or something!

Then as we passed under the Mao portrait into the Forbidden City, Zoe says, “Mao was a nice man, wasn’t he?” I hemmed and hawed and answered, “Well, some people think he was nice and some people think he wasn’t.” Zoe looked at me gimlet-eyed and said adamantly, “Well, I say he’s NICE.” Ooooookay!

There are some nutty conspiracy theorists out there who decry Americans adopting babies from China, because they believe they’ve all been implanted with microchips that the Chinese will use to “activate” this stealth army when the kids reach adulthood. For just a nanosecond there, I had to wonder . . . . [Not really, but can you imagine what one of those whack jobs would have thought if they’d heard 4-year-old Zoe singing Mao’s praises?!!]

China Expat Families Blogging

The Xiamen adventure continues – I’m thrilled to be able to give you a few new blogs to follow expat families in Xiamen.

One of the families is the Fulbright family who will be in our Apartment 301 in the Foreign Scholars Guesthouse. It’ll be so great to see whether their experiences will be the same or different from ours. I feel nostalgic already! They’ll be blogging at “Our Year in Xiamen.”

The second family is blogging at “China Diary.” The dad is already in Xiamen and the rest of the family will be heading there in 2008. They’re planning to home-school their kids.

And then you can check out “G.A.C.E. in China,” a family with two kids who are living and working in Kunming. She is our own commenter, A.M.B.A. in MI.

200th Post?!

According to the Blogger dashboard, my last post was my 200th. When I first started the blog, I was worried that I'd run out of things to write about. Guess it didn't happen!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tooth Fairy, Redux

OK, I need the low-down on the tooth fairy. Zoe keeps asking questions I can't answer! The most basic is "What does she do with all those teeth?" I did the law-professor/mommy Socratic method and asked, "What do YOU think she does with all the teeth?" Zoe, being into collections, decided the tooth fairy kept them in a tooth collection. But, then, "How does she remember whose tooth is whose when they're too small to write the names on?" "Well, how do YOU think she does it?" Zoe thinks maybe she glues them on a big piece of paper and writes the names under the teeth. "But how can the tooth fairy, who is so little, carry the big piece of paper?" Arrrrgggghhhhhh! "How do YOU think she does it?"

So what exactly is the story of the tooth fairy? You have to admit it's kind of a creepy thing -- what next, the toenail fairy?!

Monday, August 20, 2007

"I LOVE Buddha!"

After five months in China, the girls know a bit about Buddha, and are quite used to seeing paintings and etchings and statues of Buddha. When we took Zoe to visit her school -- her Catholic school -- Maya was with us, and as we entered the building there was a painting of Jesus, but kind of in a Russian-icon way. Maya looks at it and says, "Buddha! I LOVE Buddha!" We're bound to be excommunicated any minute now. . . .

New Glasses, New Teeth

I got new glasses today and I'm very excited. My mother says I look cute. I like having them because they change to dark when I'm in the sun and go back to the normal color when I'm inside. I get to wear them inside. They help me see because things don't look fuzzy anymore.

I lost a tooth and at school at St. Andrew's my teacher Ms. P. gave me a tooth cheer. The class sang, "she lost a tooth, she lost a tooth!" Then there is a tooth chart and all around it it says "I lost a tooth," and I got to write my name on it. The tooth fairy gave me 5 dollars! I have another wiggly tooth and two teeth are growing in behind the lost tooth and the wiggly tooth.

P.S. Tooth fairy inflation, indeed! I remember getting a quarter. In defense of the tooth fairy, just let me say that despite having almost 3 weeks notice of the impending event, she was caught with nothing smaller in her wallet. And I've been telling Zoe that I think the tooth fairy left so much because it was her FIRST tooth. We'll see what happens when the recession hits before the next tooth goes!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Typhoon Sepat

It looks like Typhoon Sepat is going to hit Xiamen -- first it will hit Taiwan, and may as a consequence be reduced from a Category 5 to a Category 2 by the time it reaches Xiamen. Either way, it will be no picnic. Prayers requested for all those in the path of the storm, and especially for our friends in Xiamen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Zoe, First Grader

Imagine, my baby is a first-grader! And she is pleased as punch about it, mostly because at her school first-graders get to start wearing the jumper. She hated her kindergarten uniform of shorts and shirt. That was a hard adjustment for the little girl who insisted on wearing a dress EVERY DAY from the time she was 3! Is there anything any cuter than a little girl in a plaid jumper?!
Today was the first “official” day of school, but all that was required was that students show up in uniform at 5 p.m. to meet the teacher. Tomorrow is the real first day, and even that is a half day. So is Friday, Monday and Tuesday. It’ll be a week before the school day will resemble the days to come for the rest of the year. I think it’s a good thing the kids had a chance to see their new classrooms and teachers in advance – Zoe was really nervous about all these new things. As we were getting ready at home, I heard Zoe mumbling something and asked her what she’d said. She repeated it, “I said, ‘Just don’t cry.’” We talked about what was scaring her, and mostly it was that no one would remember her. Well, everyone remembered her and made a big fuss over her, so that helped a lot.

Zoe was excited about her homeroom teacher – Zoe was in kindergarten, but she went to first grade for reading, so she spent part of the day with Ms. Pastusek last year. And Ms. Pastusek’s class is the Pandas!

How’s that for a touch of fate?!

Zoe spent a lot of time checking out the other first grade classrooms, too, looking for some of her kindergarten friends. She was delighted to see Lainie, Sydney, Kennedy, Elizabeth, the other Sydney, Deborah, and lots of other little friends. They ALL remembered her, of course!
She sat still for only the nanosecond it took me to take a picture of her at her new desk – that’s another first grade advance, first graders get their own desks.
Zoe has a couple of other transitions coming up, too. She has two “wiggly teeth” with one just about ready to fall out – this will be her first! And, when we got her eyes checked on Monday, it turned out that she needs glasses. It’ll be a week before they come in, though. She looks adorable in them, and is not unhappy at all about the glasses. One of her best friends wears glasses, and Zoe has actually wanted glasses since I got mine a year ago. In fact, if there was some way to throw the eye exam, she would have done it. But with kids they dilate the eyes to relax the muscles so they can’t cheat!

So, a busy month – moving back to the States, losing a tooth, getting glasses, and starting first grade. And my amazing Zoe is handling it all just fine – a few jitters, but all in all just fine!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Prodigal Returns!

Our suitcase came home!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can hardly believe it! I had pretty much given up hope, and was trying to resign myself to the loss by reminding myself of my realization in China with our tiny apartment and our limited belongings that we didn’t need things, and we were being possessed by our possessions at home. It was hard, though, since there were so many things of sentimental value in that one suitcase. And now it’s HERE!

And remember when I wrote that the bag status website seemed pretty silly because “it seems that the only two statuses are ‘we know nothing’ and ‘here’s your bag?’” Well, we got a call at 6:20 this morning from a woman who said she was in our driveway to deliver our bag! (She actually called my dad at 6 a.m., because his number was listed first on the form for some odd reason, because I certainly didn’t list it first.). And she had no idea where the bag has been; she works for a bag delivery service, not the airline.

The bag was in perfect shape, still stuffed to the gills, still with my original name tag, but it didn’t have its original baggage tag, just a slip of paper telling the bag delivery service to bring it to us. So who knows what adventures it’s seen!
It’s keeping it’s secrets for now. And I don’t think anyone looked through it – things were still in the same order in which I packed them. I took things out and spread them on my bed so I could see if it was all there, and it was!
Looks like a booth at a Chinese market in front of any of China’s tourist attractions, doesn’t it?! I’m so thrilled to have it all here – the Zhuang dresses, the dolls from Mother’s Love, the teas, including the special West Mountain tea Mr. Gan from Guiping SWI gave us, the orange and pink sweaters knitted by Maya’s foster mom, the wall hangings she gave each girl, the children’s books in Chinese, the little Mongolian felt boots, the purses from Guiping SWI, the red silk treasure boxes holding the little mini-M & M containers with dirt from the girls’ finding sites, and so much more! All my winter clothes came back, too, including the holy grail of jeans -- that pair that women spend years looking for, that pair that acutally fit perfectly and even made you look good in them!

You can see how excited the girls are by the return of the bag – I got it emptied out before they woke up, and they climbed into the bag in their nightgowns just grinning like crazy. They were also excited that our presents for Grandpa were recovered. We just had to go this morning to give him his gifts -- and to make up for that 6 a.m. wake-up call!
As you can see, Grandpa is a great actor – the presents weren’t really that impressive: a bug zapper flyswatter (we saw these all over China, a thing that looks like a little tennis racket that is like those hanging bug-zappers – you just swing it at the fly and fly-be-gone!) and a tshirt.
(That picture’s for Mimi, who is in Vermont, so you can see Grandpa’s present, too!)
So we’re all ecstatic to have our bag back. Now we just have to find a place for all that stuff!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Our Arrival Photos from August 1

It’s been pretty hectic around here, so Mimi JUST emailed me the pictures of our DFW arrival. As you can see, Zoe was first through the doors to the baggage claim area – Maya and I actually got stuck in the revolving doors! After Maya stepped into the revolving doors, she came to a dead halt, so I had to stop to keep from running her over. The automatic revolving doors did not stop! My rolling carry-on got stuck, and I had to tug mightily to get it through with the help of another traveler who yanked at the door. But we all made it, slightly the worse for wear and completely rumpled. It shows that we’ve been traveling for over 24 hours, doesn’t it?
The girls were excited to see Mimi & Aaron waiting for us, and positively glowed while we waited for our luggage (and waited, and waited, and waited . . . ).

And when we finally made it home, they excitedly explored their bedroom to make sure all was as they left it. It’s been lots of fun watching them find all their old things waiting for them. Maya is saying, “You used to sit here to feed me my bottle, ‘member?” Oh, yes, I remember – I put her back on the bottle when I adopted her at 18 months, for bonding and nutrition purposes, and then I thought I’d never get her off it again! I’m having fun finding our old things, too, since so many come with good memories!
Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

One Week Home

It’s hard to believe we’ve been home one week already. I admit I still feel unsettled, since we left in the middle of winter and are back in the middle of summer (really the middle of summer – everyone who has been telling me how mild the summer has been here now blames us for bringing the real heat back with us; it looks like we’ll have our first 100-degree day this week). I’m weeding out the girls’ clothes and shoes that no longer fit, and unearthing summer clothes that do fit, so it is a bit of a muddle.

The girls have started sleeping through the night (finally!) after a few rough days. One day they fell asleep about 3 p.m. for a nap, it took me FOREVER to wake them up for dinner, they went back to sleep at 8 p.m., and woke up at 2 a.m. and WOULD NOT GO BACK TO SLEEP! The biggest problem is that I hadn’t yet been to sleep when they woke up! They spent the next night with Mimi & Grandpa so I could catch up on sleep, and I ended up sleeping from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

We’re trying to stay busy during the day so the girls won’t be tempted to go to sleep. Right before dinner is the hardest time – they seem to want to go to sleep around 6 p.m. and I have to pull out all the stops to keep them up. At least it’s been pretty easy to stay busy since school will be starting up soon. We’ve had shopping to do (new lunchboxes, new uniform shoes for Zoe), and doctor’s appointments for Zoe and for me (Zoe is healthy as the proverbial horse and I have calcification of the Achilles tendon, which sends me to a specialist later this week), and playdates with friends, and visiting Maya’s school to start re-familiarizing her with it before she begins week after next.

Zoe has been worried that her school friends won’t remember her, so it was a good thing that we saw one of her friends at church on Sunday; of course Kennedy recognized her immediately. So that worry has ended. And Zoe’s ego doesn’t seem too impaired by the worry. We were meeting some friends at the children’s museum after church, a playdate not arranged with us in mind, but to see other friends visiting from out of town. But Zoe asks me during church, “Do you think my friends are going to church or do you think they’re making cards for me?!” I had to tell her that the playdate wasn’t really about her, so no one would have cards for her!

They still haven’t found our suitcase, and have turned us over to the Claims Department, so it doesn’t seem too hopeful now. I took my mom to the airport this morning – she’s going to Vermont to visit my sister – and then hit all the baggage claim places at the three terminals American Airlines flies into at DFW. No luck. So the next step is to fill out the claim form, which includes a detailed list of all contents of the suitcase. I’m not looking forward to that – it will be one heck of a long list!

We once saw a TV show in China with an odd magician/clown who did tricks like blowing his face off, and then making it reappear. He’d then shout, “BACK to normal!” The girls loved it, and took up “Back to normal” as their catch-phrase for a while. Well, we’re not quite there yet, but I think soon we’ll be able to say quite truthfully, “BACK to normal!”

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

More Photos from Xiada Kindergarten

I got an email today from the mom of one of Maya's friends, Yifan. She sent me these cool pictures from swim time at Xiada kindergarten. Both girls loved the fact that their kindergarten had an actual swimming pool.

I'm particularly excited that it seems that we will be able to maintain contact with some of our friends in China! I hope we'll hear from some others, too. Yifan's mom is an English teacher in primary school (she teaches 10-year-0lds) and she was pleased with the English-language materials I gave out for the kids' parents to keep up their English lessons over the summer. She said the websites I also gave them were useful as well. If anyone knows of websites that might be good for ESL for 10-year-olds, let me know. She'd be thrilled to have more resources.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Hands of Hope

Several years ago there was a fund-raising drive to raise money for an Orphan Relief Fund in China; the organization Angel Covers sold tiles to be placed on a wall in China. I bought two, one for Zoe and one for Maya. We hadn't even adopted Maya yet, didn't even have her referral.

Some friends of ours visited the wall last month, and found one of our tiles! They were nice enough to take a picture for us. Isn't it cool?! There's a virtual wall at the Angel Covers website, but it's so nice to see the real thing!

Lost Luggage

Our lost bag is still lost, and I’m starting to despair of it ever being found. American Airlines assures me it will be located, but that’s little comfort to me since it seems they don’t know ANYTHING about where it is. I’m learning a lot about how poor the baggage handling system is. It seems that it should be an automated computerized system. After all, that strap put on the bag has a bar code, right? It must get scanned at various points in the system, like a FedEx package, right? Nope! It’s mere illusion. As one AA clerk told me, “The baggage tag is for the benefit of the airport, not the airline.” In other words, it merely IDs the bag.

The baggage handling system is completely manual, I’m told. Someone looks at the tag to figure out where it should go. And no record is kept unless a person manually enters it into the computer system. So the bag might still be at LAX. It might be sitting at DFW. It could be in Cancun or Nome, Alaska, or JFK, and the only way anyone would know is if they eyeballed it and realized it was in the wrong place. Having done that, they might just put it on a plane without ever entering it into the system. So it might be back at LAX after its trip to Cancun, or sent on the DFW. And then the same problem – it sits in the pile of misdirected or “lost” luggage until someone gets around to dealing with it.

And I’m told by the clerks that there’s a backlog of 2,000 “lost” bags at LAX and 1,000 “lost” bags at DFW, just sitting there waiting for someone to enter them into the system and finally match them up with an owner who can then be contacted.

All of which makes it pretty strange that they give you a locator number and a website to check “bag status.” It seems that the only two statuses are “we know nothing” and “here’s your bag.”

I’m no longer hopeful that we’ll get the bag back. And of course it’s the bag with all of the gifts the girls got from foster family and orphanages. It even has the little bottles with dirt, rocks and flowers we picked up at their finding sites. It has the wonderful Zhuang dresses – yours, too, Wendy – and books of Chinese art prints I planned to donate to next year’s Love Without Boundaries art auction. It has my favorite mandarin-style jacket and the only pair of jeans I own that actually fit right. It has all the girls’ books for learning Chinese – it’s actually pretty hard to find books with English AND Pinyin AND Chinese characters, even in China. It has 3 pairs of china dolls wearing costumes of the various ethnic minority groups in China. It has the gift we bought to bring back to Grandpa. It has the cute little felt boots from Mongolia that I wanted to add to my collection of Chinese children’s shoes.

We’re not losing any one thing with high economic value, but the sentimental value of the things in that suitcase is enormous. Sigh.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Tips for Using Blogger in China

Having spent 5 months struggling with the Great Firewall of China to use Blogger ( for our “Xiamen Adventure” blog, I’ve devised a number of tricks to circumvent the block. I thought I’d share them for the edification of others who want to blog from China using Blogger and still be able to view their blog – because that has been the problem, viewing the blog. I can always get to to post to the blog, I just can’t go to to see it. And that means that I can’t access comments to read them or respond to them by writing a comment.

So here’s my advice:

1. Use the following proxy servers to get to your blog:

This allows you to see the blog, but you can’t always click on comments from here. And at times, this route is also blocked (I’m not revealing any secrets, BTW. China knows full well about this, it just can’t do anything permanently about blocking it!). I can’t explain the technology bit that makes this work, I can just tell you it usually does. There was about a one-month period when these were also blocked, but that meant 4 months out of 5 I could reach the blog.

2. Before coming to China, use the function in Blogger to have the comments emailed to you as they are posted to the blog. At least this way you can read what people are saying. You still can’t respond in the comments, though.

3. Register for Sitemeter; there are other ways to track visitors to your blog, but I know how this one works and it allows you to backdoor into comments when all else fails. It’s easy to get Sitemeter installed on your website; just go to and follow the directions. You’ll have to paste some HTML code that Sitemeter gives you into your layout & template thingie on Blogger.

4. One of the things you can see in the Sitemeter report is “Out Clicks” – the pages people go to when they leave your blog at Going to comments is an “out click.” When you see that someone has outclicked to comments, you can click on the given link, and voila! you’ll be at comments.

5. If pkblogs or inblog is blocked, and you’re dying to see your blog, you can get a view of it through the Layout & Template section. Just go there and click on “Preview” as if you’ve made a change to the template. A popup will appear with your blog; maximize and it is just like you’re at It works because you’ve signed into the blog, and China doesn’t care if you see your own blog, it just doesn’t want others to be able to see it! If you want someone in China to be able to see it at a time when pkblogs is blocked, you could always give them your Blogger login information. And of course this trick won’t let you see other blogs.

That’s it, all I know about how to make blogging from China using Blogger a bit easier – hope it helps. If you’ve found other tricks, please share (because if you’re in China and reading this, you’ve obviously got it all figured out!).

Our Trip Home

Thanks for the “welcome back,” friends! We are happy to be back, and jetlag hasn’t hit us too terribly. The girls woke up at 3 a.m. today, asked for a snack at 4 a.m., but went back to sleep (in my bed!) around 5, and slept until 7:30. They are spending the night at Mimi’s and Grandpa’s house tonight, and I’m hoping they’ll sleep through the night since they didn’t take a nap this afternoon.

I’m struggling to stay awake right now at 7:00 p.m. I’m afraid if I go to sleep now, I’ll be up before dawn. So I figured I’d fill y’all in on our trip. As I mentioned before, it went very smoothly.

After I posted last from Guangzhou, we checked out of our room at the White Swan, and then spent a couple of hours playing in the Swan Room. When we first got there it was empty, but soon two families came in with their new babies. One of the moms pulled out her camera and said to her baby, “Maya, look at me!” I told her my daughter was Maya too, and then the other mom said, “So’s mine!” So we actually had three Mayas in the same room! Then another family came in – no, they didn’t have a Maya with them. They left their 11-year-old named Maya at home in the States!

We took the White Swan’s shuttle bus to the airport; I had no idea they had such a thing since our adoption agency always arranged our trips to the airport in Guangzhou. It cost 30 yuan for me, and the girls rode free. I thought I’d mention it for future reference. We left the White Swan right on the dot of 6 p.m.

The girls actually slept on the way to the airport. I guess all that shopping and playing wore them out. They managed to get a 30-minute nap since the trip to the airport is about 40 minutes. I was worried about how long the trip would take since Guangzhou rush hour traffic is notorious, but we had no problems.

Once at the airport it took us almost 2 hours to make it from door to gate. We spent 35 minutes in line at the China Southern counter; one of the really good reasons to go business or premium economy (what they call Pearl Class) is that you get to go to a special short line. Not us this time, though. Oh, well. We didn’t have to pay overweight charges for our luggage, but that was only because the clerk took pity on us. She said we were 2 kilos overweight on one bag, and suggested we take some things out or shift them around from bag to bag, but I said I’d rather pay overweight charges than have to mess with all of that (I was afraid if I unzipped any of the bags all the stuff would explode out and I’d never get it back in!). She just shrugged, and let it go. She said that I might have to pay in Los Angeles, but no one asked for money there, either. Hey, maybe that’s why I haven’t gotten one of the bags – they’re holding it hostage for the overweight charges! (I don’t really think they are since it wasn’t the heavy bag that’s gone missing).

After we got rid of the big bags, it was much easier to maneuver in the airport. We had to go through the quarantine line (about 3 minutes, and no one checked our temps or anything); the emigration line (showing passports and Departure Card), which took 30 minutes; and then the security line (30 minutes). At security, they asked to look in Zoe’s rolling bag. The guy took everything out of it and retrieved her blunt-nosed scissors with 2-inch blades. I had asked Zoe to give me her scissors when we were in Xiamen, and she turned over 2 pairs. I didn’t know she had that third pair, and neither did she! Of course they confiscated the scissors, and Zoe had a complete melt-down. Everything seems overwhelming when you’re tired, and Zoe just couldn’t get over the trauma of losing her scissors; she cried for 30 minutes. During that time, we were walking to our gate and stopping at the restroom since Maya was doing the potty dance during most of the time we were in the security line. Maya managed to close the stall door on her finger, so she started to cry, too. We walked to our gate with both girls sobbing and everyone we passed staring and making little clucking sounds. Sigh. That walk of shame took about 15 minutes, and we arrived at the gate minutes before they started boarding the flight. Perfect timing!

We settled in for our long flight; within an hour we’d been served dinner and within 2 hours the girls were asleep. They slept for almost 8 hours, waking up shortly before breakfast was served (they understand the important thing – food!). Within two hours, we’d landed at LAX. So that flight turned out to be very easy, much easier than our flight to China where the girls slept for less than 4 of the 15 hours there (the flight to China is 3 hours longer than the flight from China because of tail winds or something).

At LAX we had more lines – immigration, waiting to pick up bags, customs, rechecking the bags. All in all, that was only a little over an hour. We then had to change terminals for our domestic flight, but we only had to walk to the one next door! Of course, that led to more lines. We had to get boarding passes and then go through security. Another hike – interrupted by a late dinner at Chili’s – took us to our first gate at LAX. Then we were changed to another gate. Then we were changed to another gate. Then we left late. Sheesh!

The girls slept for almost the entire flight to DFW. I conked out, too, even before the plane took off. The last I remembered was taxiing, but I have no recollection of take off. I woke up two hours later!

Mimi and cousin Aaron were waiting for us at DFW, and the girls were so excited to see them. We were delayed getting out of the airport since we had to fill out the lost baggage stuff, but we were in our own home by 8 a.m. We didn’t stay long, though, since the girls wanted to see Grandpa and we didn’t have much in the house for breakfast. The girls spent most of the day with Mimi & Grandpa while I came home to do some unpacking.

It’s really great to be back, but it feels a little strange, too. I registered Zoe for school today and as I was writing her tuition check I realized I hadn’t written a check in five months! It took me two tries to get it right. I spent $100 on groceries today, which was about half my monthly expenses in China, and I’ll have to go back to the grocery store within a week. Driving again feels very strange, and the frustrations of trying to find a parking place have replaced those of sweating and walking in the heat. Not that I’m complaining. But I think it’s not just jetlag I’ll have to contend with, it’s also culture shock!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Back in the USSR

Well, one of our bags may be in the USSR (Beatles song reference!), but the rest of us are safe and sound back in the U.S.A. We had a great journey back, the only bobbles the lost bag (getting 2 out of 3 ain't bad, I suppose) and three gate-changes and a late departure from LAX. The trip was really smoother than I could have expected, and the girls slept 8 out of the 12 hours on the Guangzhou to LAX flight.

I'll write more later; we're pretty wiped out right now! Hopefully we'll be over jetlag soon.

Monday, July 30, 2007

More from the White Swan

We’re about an hour away from late check-out, and three hours away from saying goodbye to the White Swan, and six hours away from saying goodbye to China. It’s hard to believe that we started our Xiamen Adventure just 157 days ago and it is about to end. The White Swan and Shamian Island are a pleasant end-note, so calm compared to most of the rest of China. We’ve had a lovely 19th story room with a fantastic view of the Pearl River and the Guangzhou skyline.
Our last day has been a lazy one. We stayed up late last night and slept late this morning. It was almost 10 a.m. before we even left the room, and we only made it as far as the Swan Room. The girls played and I sat on the red couch and read. A little before lunch time we sallied forth for some shopping, and then headed to Cow and Bridge, a wonderful Thai restaurant. The girls especially liked their special lemonades, complete with flowers.

We came back to the hotel after lunch, and have been resting in our room. I’m about to repack our one open suitcase – should be a challenge with the extra shopping we’ve done! We really haven’t bought much, but we don’t have much room to spare in our luggage.

We’ll check out at 4, and spend a few hours in the playroom, grab a quick dinner at the White Swan deli, and catch the 6 p.m. shuttle to the airport. Our flight leaves at 9 p.m., and in the words of the old travelogue newsreels, we’ll say goodbye to China, land of contrast and adventure!

Next you hear from us, we’ll be back in the U.S.A.!

We're at the White Swan

We made it to Guangzhou! The first leg of our homeward journey is complete.

I woke up at the crack of dawn this morning; actually, I'm not sure I slept at all! My mind was full of all the final details of getting moved out. The girls got up around 7, but were too excited to eat much breakfast. We ended up heading downstairs at 8:45 for our 12:10 p.m. flight! I wanted to give us plenty of time to convince the porters-who-do-not-port to carry down our luggage. I also expected to have to go get a taxi at South Gate to come to the guesthouse to get our luggage. Instead, the head housekeeper ran to get the taxi. We managed to stuff our huge suitcases into one cab by putting the smaller bags in the rear window and one of the large bags on the back seat. The girls were then squished into a corner of the backseat with their backpacks, and I rode in the front seat with mine. It was actually easier than I thought it would be!

This time at the airport I managed NOT to trip over the curb -- it probably helped that Zoe kept reminding me to be careful! When we checked in our bags, we were overweight, which surprised me not. I have no idea if we were overweight when we flew from Guangzhou to Xiamen back in February since we flew with 5 Xiada professors who had attended the Fulbright orientation and the airline averages the weight among many travelers traveling together. We were 23 kilos overweight this time, which cost us a whopping 230 yuan ($30). It cost me almost $100 when I was 6 pounds overweight on the American flight from DFW to LAX. I'm not looking forward to checking in for that leg of the trip -- I doubt that our luggage will get any lighter while we're here!

We were so early for the flight that the girls had time to play in the ball pit at Xiamen Airport again. They had a blast, and I got to sit and recover from a busy morning. Whew!

The girls can easily manage their rolling carry-ons and backpacks in the airport. And they can easily manage them when going from the airport to the airplane on a jetway. But riding a bus and going up a metal staircase -- not so much! Zoe handled it like a trouper, and I ended up putting Maya's backpack in my roller and carrying her roller together with mine. A kindly traveler ended up helping Zoe with her luggage on the stairs -- the same man who bullied two women to scoot over in their seats on the bus so Zoe and Maya could sit down!

Our plane sat on the runway for an hour waiting for permission to take off -- I'm not sure what the problem was. But of course the pilot wouldn't turn the airconditioning on. People were complaining left and right (even without understanding Chinese I knew what they were complaining about!). The flight attendants started passing around glasses of water with actual ICE CUBES in them! I've never seen such a thing in China! Usually they're foisting glasses of boiling water or tea at you, insisting that drinking hot drinks make you feel cooler. Hah!

I keep forgetting how big the new Guangzhou Airport is -- we walked a mile to get our luggage! We had no trouble retreiving our bags and getting a cab to the White Swan, though the security guys in charge of the taxi stand kept saying the bags wouldn't fit and it would cost 300 yuan for a taxi to take that many bags. I kept pointing to the sign near the stand that says clearly in English that a cabbie can't refuse a fare and can't negotiate for an off-meter price. Sure enough, all the bags fit in one cab and the meter put it at just under 100 yuan to the White Swan. We checked in just in time to see a group of adoptive parents with their newly-adopted Chinese babies all gussied up for their "red couch photo!" (For the uninitiated, it's a tradition in Chinese adoption to have a photo taken of all the babies on a certain red couch at the White Swan). Zoe kept asking why they were all dressed up, and Maya kept cooing, "They're so cuuuuuute!"

We did a little shopping this afternoon, and then hit the Swan Room, the play room in the White Swan for the benefit of all the adoptive families staying there. We played there in February when we were in Guangzhou for orientation, and the girls were panting to play there again (that's where Maya is in the picture above). We then went to Lucy's, a nearby restaurant beloved of adoptive families, for dinner. The girls had a bath and I'm about to do the same -- the White Swan bathtubs are soooo deep and I remember taking a bath in them at each adoption trip and finally feeling clean after a week's worth of the world's quickest showers (new mothers know what I'm talking about!).

We've arranged for late checkout since our flight doesn't leave until late. So tomorrow we'll enjoy the parks and statues on Shamian Island, do a little shopping, play a lot in the Swan Room, and then head for the airport for the next-to-last leg of the trip home.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Last Days in Xiamen

We’ve been busy, busy, busy since returning from Xi’an. I’m really glad we went, but it has made the last few days of getting ready to leave completely crazy. We’ve had to pack up all the things we’re leaving behind (the stuff that was here when we got here, plus everything we bought to make our stay more comfortable but are too big to take home) AND the things we’re taking with us. And we’ve been saying goodbye to friends.

Friday evening Chen Xing (Maya’s classmate) and her family came over to bring us some gifts, and to take away some of the things we didn’t want to take home – some clothes Zoe has outgrown, some toys, all of the English-language workbooks we brought and didn’t use (!). They were also nice enough to take foodstuffs – bottles of soy sauce, oyster sauce, garlic juice, sesame oil – that we couldn’t take home. I hate waste, so I’m glad they said they could use it.

Before we left for Xi’an I got a call from one of the parents in Zoe’s class. She said all the parents wanted to thank me for the English lessons and for putting together the English teaching materials to send home with the kids for the summer. They wanted to take us out to dinner Saturday night. I said that would be lovely.

Little did I know that it was going to be a HUGE party, with all 3 teachers and about 12 families in attendance! (The picture above is from the end of the evening and we’d lost some folks by then; the grownups are the three teachers). I think, though, that we were just an excuse for a party. Or maybe it was a little guanxi. Guanxi translates literally as “relationships,” but in China it’s often about doing favors and returning favors. The Chinese business world is built on guanxi, providing gifts and favors for business associates, government officials, those you hope to do business with. You’ll often hear Chinese people use the English expression, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” to explain guanxi. It’s not quite bribery, but it sometimes looks mighty close! I detected a little sense that the parents felt they owed me payback. But who cares? It was fun, and the girls had a great time!

We were picked up by one of the families and taken to a hotel with a huge buffet restaurant. The girls ate practically everything in sight, though they refused to eat a Xiamen specialty – seaworms in gelatin. Because our hostess insisted, believe it or not I ate it! Thank goodness it’s eaten with wasabi and soy sauce, so I couldn’t taste a thing beyond hot, hot, hot. And I didn't actually chew, so the gelatin just kind of slithered down my throat! Remember that old childhood retort, “Eat worms and die!”? Well, now I can say I ate worms and lived to tell about it.
Zoe much preferred the ice cream (can you blame her?).

Maya didn’t care what she ate, she just liked playing and being the pet of all the older kids and grownups.
I admit I had more fun hanging out with the kids than with the grownups – they are easier to talk to when you don’t speak the same language!
I think I’ve mentioned (brag, brag, brag!) that Zoe won a speech contest at Chinese School in Fort Worth for reciting a poem. Well, I’ve been trying to get her to say it to ANYONE here in China and she has adamantly refused. FINALLY, to my amazement, she agreed to say it to her teachers!
The teachers were amazed – they pulled over one of the English-speaking moms to translate their praise. They said she barely spoke a word at school, and they had no idea she knew any Chinese. They also said her pronouciation was excellent, that she got the tones right and everything. (But remember the rest of the story about the speech contest? I asked Zoe what the poem meant and she said, “I don’t know, it was in Chinese!” I’m still not sure she has a clue what she said!) Zoe was pretty proud of herself, and I sure was, too.

Today we went to my office to pack up everything there – not too much since I’m leaving all the books. Walking back to the apartment we stopped at the store to buy “special snacks” for the long plane ride. Mostly we wanted to cash in all of the coins the girls have been collecting in their piggy banks. I was amazed at how much they had – 52 yuan, mostly in 1-jiao coins (10 jiao = 1 yuan)! You can buy a lot of snacks with that!

As we walked home, the girls had a great time saying goodbye to everything – “goodbye, school; goodbye, basketball court; goodbye butterfly leaves; goodbye, beach. . .” you get the idea. Before long, though, the litany of goodbyes degenerated into “goodbye, stinky trash can; goodbye, beggars; goodbye, crazy drivers; goodbye rude people (that would be folks who cut in line, stare at us, pick their noses, etc.!).” Obviously they have their own list of “what I won’t miss about China!”) And just like my list, it’s a way to make themselves feel better about leaving.

Because we have had a wonderful time here. When you ask the girls whether they are happy to be going home, they’ll definitely say yes. But when you ask them if they’d like to come back to China, they say yes, too. And I admit I’m in full agreement – it will be wonderful to get home, and we’ll definitely be back!

Tomorrow morning at 9:00 we head to the airport with our nine pieces of luggage (3 suitcases, 3 carry-ons, 3 backpacks), first stop Guangzhou. We’ll spend the night at the White Swan Hotel, and then take the China Southern night flight, leaving 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31. We arrive at LAX around 7 p.m. the same day (the international date line is in our favor on the trip home), but don’t leave there until a little after midnight, making it Wednesday, August 1. We’ll arrive at DFW at 5:15 a.m. (poor Cousin Aaron, who has to come pick us up!). Yippee! We’re almost home now . . . .

Xi'an Part IV: The Noodle Maker

Hi, this is Zoe. This is my first blog post. It's been fun living in China, because there are fun things to see all the time, like statues and frogs and dragonflies and the fish at Nanputuo. I loved watching the noodle maker at the restaurant we went to for lunch after seeing the terracotta warriors (which were cool!). My mom let me take pictures, and I picked out the ones I wanted to post to the blog, and helped my mom edit them, and then I told her what to type.

To make the noodles, first the noodle maker cut the dough and put flour on the counter and the noodles. He rolled the dough on the counter to get the flour, then he put oil and water on it. He kneaded it for about 5 minutes and then started to stretch it. He swung it up in the air and banged it down on the counter with a loud boom, and he did that over and over again.
Then he stretched it until it became really long.

The dough got really long and thin, and got thinner and thinner as he kept stretching it. And then it just broke apart into noodles – he didn’t cut it or anything! He flopped it up in the air to separate the noodles, and rolled the long noodles on his fingers.
He put the noodles in a big pot to cook – that’s why the pictures look so steamy. It’s also steamy because soup was cooking, too.
While the noodles cooked, the noodle maker put soup in little bowls.
By then, the noodles were cooked. He stirred the noodles and fished them out with a big net on a stick.
Finally, he put the noodles in the soup bowls.
People were standing in line to get the noodles. I ate some of the noodles, too, and I thought they were good. They were a little spicy, but I still liked them.

It was really fun to watch the noodle maker and to take pictures so I’ll always remember how noodles are made!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Xi'an Part III: Terracotta Warriors

Sometimes when you’ve been anticipating something for a long time, the reality just doesn’t measure up. NOT SO with the terracotta warriors of Xi’an! They are truly fantastic, actually worthy of the designation “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

We started by seeing a short movie-in-the-round (you stand in the center while the movie shows all around you on a 360-degree screen – very cool!) about the construction of Emperor Qin’s mausoleum and the pits for the terracotta warriors. It seemed that the emperor, reigning around 250 B.C., bankrupted his people with high taxes to pay for it all, and conscripted over 720,000 people to work for him rather than in their own fields with resultant famine and poverty. And what he wasn’t doing to destroy the populace of southern China he was doing in northern China by ordering the construction of the Great Wall. Still, he was a heroic figure in some ways, having joined all the kingdoms of China by defeating all the various warlords warring among themselves. And he managed to keep the kingdom together and repel the Mongolian hordes. But his son was not able to continue the Qin dynasty, being defeated by an uprising of the oppressed peasants. They opened the pits, burned everything in sight, stole the weapons the warriors were carrying, and destroyed many of the statues. Burning the underground structures housing the warriors caused further damage to the statues – they were crushed under the weight of the dirt and wooden beams above them.

The making of the statues must have been quite an undertaking. And I didn’t realize this until now – each statue is inscribed with the name of the craftsman who made it! They’ve identified over 80 different craftsmen. Each statue’s body was made using molds. There were various body types – standing archers, kneeling archers, cavalry soldiers complete with horses (the cavalry soldiers are not seated on the horses because the kilns were not big enough, so they stand beside their horses), infantry soldiers, even high-ranking officers. There were also wooden chariots, now rotted away, manned by more terracotta warriors and pulled by terracotta horses. The detail in the soldiers’ uniforms is incredible, down to the stitching on the soles of the kneeling archers’ shoes and the studs holding together the plates of armor. And it seems that the figures were originally painted quite elaborately, but all traces of color disappear almost as soon as the warriors are unearthed because of oxidation. In fact, the archeologists have decided not to unearth any more warriors until they figure out how to preserve the color. How extraordinary this army must have looked when painted!

The heads were molded, but the faces were not made from molds; each was hand-done and the variety in facial features, hairstyles, head dresses, facial hair and facial expressions is astonishing. The different ethnic minorities in Qin’s empire are represented in those different facial features and hairstyles/head dresses.

The highlight of the museum is the unromantically named “Pit One,” the largest of the pits of excavated soldiers. It is truly enormous, but only represents a fraction of what is believed to be still buried. The warriors were deployed four across in trenches, as you see them here. The earthen walls between them do not contain more soldiers – these were the walls that held up the roof and tons of dirt over the army’s head (the walls were taller then, of course).

What a bizarre and extraordinary undertaking to replicate Emperor Qin’s army so that his soul could continue to rule the kingdom he believed would exist underground after his death. And it wasn’t just the army he recreated in terracotta – they’ve also unearthed pits with statues of acrobats and civil officials. And then there are the birds and animals and stables of horses that were buried alive to populate Qin’s underground kingdom (it seems he liked to hunt, so he made sure to have animals available so he could enjoy this pastime after death). The birds, animals and horses all had terracotta attendants with them. And don’t forget the concubines – the new emperor ordered that those who had no children were to be entombed with the dead Emperor Qin. Also buried alive were thousands of officials and workmen who knew the location of Qin’s tomb, so that they could not reveal that secret.

One of the newest discoveries was bronze chariots and horses, much smaller than the terracotta variety – after all, bronze is more costly than local clay! They are also incredibly detailed, and after the archeologists put together the chariots, they were actually able to move just like the wooden originals would have.
Still, the most amazing things for me were the warriors, rows and rows of them in battle formation, each frozen in time.

Oddly poignant – after all, these are clay figures, not real men – were the broken warriors, some probably beyond repair, others waiting for their turn to be put back together again like so many humpty-dumpties.

At the end of Pit One is what I think of as the “medical ward,” where archeologists are trying to put the warriors back together like jigsaw puzzles. Almost none of the statues were found intact.
Speaking of finding the warriors, most of you probably know that they were rediscovered in 1974 by local farmers digging wells for water. We got to meet one of those farmers – Mr. Yang – who was rewarded for his discovery with the payment of 40 yuan (which he had to share with his collective!). He is now 84 years old, and is no longer an illiterate farmer – he can now sign his name, which is important in his new job. He works in the museum gift shop, selling the official catalog of the terracotta warriors. And he signs each one. Our guide told us that he was a crotchety old fellow who didn’t enjoy his new job much, and that he refused to have his picture taken. Sure enough, when we went to buy the book, there was a sign next to his desk saying “No Photos!” I thought it was pretty funny – there was a couple trying to take his picture by having the woman stand casually with him in the background while the man took a picture. No flies on Mr. Yang, he saw what they were up to and moved his palm fan in front of his face so they couldn’t get a clear shot! Still, he looked us in the eye when he signed the book and smiled at Zoe. So maybe he’s not so crotchety after all!

In between touring the museum, we ate lunch at the museum restaurant. It was OK, but nothing to write home about. Zoe was mesmerized, though, by the noodle-maker, and spent most of the lunch at his counter watching him make the noodles by hand. She took about a million pictures of him at work – I told her she’ll have to write the blog post about that herself. So look for Xi’an Part IV: The Noodle-Maker, coming soon to your local theatre!

The girls were pretty worn out by all the walking – the museum is quite spread out over 5 or so buildings. So as we waited for the rest of our group to gather to leave the museum, they rested in their “houses.”
We spent about 4 hours at the museum, and I don’t think we saw a fraction of what was there. Now I have a new goal – GOING BACK to Xi’an to see more of the terracotta warriors!