Sunday, August 26, 2007
Friday, August 24, 2007
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
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?!!]
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.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
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 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
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
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!
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.
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
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!
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!
Friday, August 10, 2007
Thursday, August 9, 2007
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
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.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
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
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 http://www.sitemeter.com 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 blogspot.com. 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 blogspot.com. 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 blogspot.com 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!).
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
I'll write more later; we're pretty wiped out right now! Hopefully we'll be over jetlag soon.
Monday, July 30, 2007
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.!
Sunday, July 29, 2007
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.
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 . . . .
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.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
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 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).
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.
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.
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.”