Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Staying Close to Home

Or at least, close to our home away from home! The girls were so tired yesterday afternoon, I figured we needed a slower pace today. So we pretty much stayed in and around the Poly Hotel today. We got a later start -- not that we slept later, we just had cookies in the room before going down for breakfast! After breakfast, we walked through the garden/park that is behind the hotel. I'm not sure whether it really belongs to the hotel, or to the apartment buildings behind the hotel, but the girls really enjoyed it. There are little paths through trees, with paving stones that look like tree stumps, as well as a table and chairs made of faux tree stumps. The girls had a ball escaping from imaginary lions and chasing real butterflies.

We also walked up and down the street in front of the hotel. There are several restaurants and shops, including one stall where we bought mandarin oranges still on their branch. One of the shops had cages of live chickens, and Zoe figured it out pretty quickly -- "They're for eating, right?" Right.

The other Fulbrighters are arriving now, because our orientation session starts tomorrow. We ran into one Fulbrighter while we were in the park, and another family on the street as we walked. When we returned to the hotel, we met another family who have a 9-year-old daughter who was adopted from China. Zoe was happy to meet some kids to play with. While I'm in meetings, Zoe and Maya will be in the adjoining meeting room with the other kids and babysitters. We'll see how that goes . . . .

We had a big Chinese lunch in the hotel, and it was quite fun trying to order what we wanted. Between pictures in the menu, and my "Essential Guide to Mandarin Chinese," the waitstaff put together a meal of fried noodles, fried rice, crispy-skin chicken, and spinach. The girls insisted on using thier chopsticks, though they don't quite have the hang of it yet! The girls simply LOVED the chicken, though near the end they were asking for just the crispy skin, no chicken!

After lunch we walked in the park again. There's a small playground, and the girls liked the self-propelled merry-go-round. We then went to a small store across the street for a treat -- we bought ice cream!

We all napped this afternoon before our first official Fulbright function -- a welcome-to-China dinner in the hotel restaurant. Zoe ate chicken and fruit, and Maya ate corn and more corn and more corn! We had very nice Cantonese fare, much more subtly flavored than most Chinese cuisine. The group of Fulbrighters seem very nice, and include quite a few children.

Off to bed, more tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

White Swan Redux

We visited Shamian Island again today. We're still trying to get over jetlag, but it seems to be getting worse instead of better! The girls woke up this morning around 2 a.m. and did not go back to sleep, though they were content to veg in bed with me. Our room has two beds -- each slightly larger than a twin bed but smaller than a double bed. So the three of us in one bed is a squeeze! We ate breakfast at the hotel, and then the girls watched a DVD on my computer while I tried to sort out our internet situation. We now have in-room internet, so hopefully I can post more regularly.

We took a taxi to the White Swan again, though slightly later in the day. These taxi rides seem less death-defying than those I've had in China in the past. Could I be getting used to the utter chaos that is Chinese driving? Or is traffic better because a lot of Chinese leave the city to go home to small villages for Chinese New Year? We'll have to see how traffic is in Xiamen.

We again walked the pedestrian boulevards and played in the park. The girls really love cavorting with all the child-sized statues on Shamian Island. The photos above show Zoe and Maya at a playground that has both child and adult equipment -- there's a slide and a see-saw, but everything else is for grown-ups to exercise. You can see Zoe on a ski machine. As I've said before, the Chinese take their exercising seriously! There were a number of boys -- probably aged 8-10 -- who endlessly practiced their one word of English, "Hello!" I'd say "Hello," and "Ni hao," and my awful Chinese pronunciation would send them off in gales of laughter. I took a picture of one, and he was tickled to see himself on the digital display. All his friends came to see, but they refused to be photographed. When Maya saw his picture on the computer this evening, she named him "the Hello boy!"

We ate lunch at the popular expat watering hole, Lucy's, and saw the same expat man we saw there in 2005! He struck up a conversation, and was very excited to hear that Zoe and Maya went to Chinese School in Texas. He gave me the name and contact information of a friend of his in Xiamen who he said would make an excellent tour guide. Maybe we'll contact her!

We haven't been too adventurous with food so far -- when I ask the girls if they want Western or Chinese, they've been picking Western. Pretty funny, since they'd definitely pick Chinese if we were at home! I guess they need their comfort foods right now. They are definitely missing friends and family -- when Zoe threw a coin in the fountain at the White Swan, her wish was that Mimi would come visit in May and that Elizabeth wouldn't miss her too much.

After lunch, we went back to the Swan Room. This time there were 3 sets of adoptive parents there, including one with a little girl named Maya! The girls had fun playing with the babies, but really enjoyed the almost-two-year-old who followed them around and grinned at their antics.

Zoe fell asleep on the way back in the taxi, and then both girls fell asleep when we got back to the room -- even though I told them they didn't need to take a nap (I was hoping to avoid the midnight awakening!). I had a heck of a time waking them up to eat dinner, and they went back to sleep before 8 p.m. Sigh. Looks like we'll have another topsy-turvy jet-lagged night! On the plus side, I seem to have adjusted just fine! It's around 10 p.m., and I'm just now thinking of beddy-bye.

BTW, I've changed the settings on the comment section -- you can leave a comment without having to register now. We'd love to hear from you!

Shamian Island

Our first fully-awake day in China took us to Shamian Island, an area of Guangzhou on the Pearl River. Guangzhou is unusual for Chinese cities, in that it has almost always had contact with the West. Guangzhou -- once known as Canton -- was open for trade even when the rest of China was closed to foreigners.

And Shamian Island was the Western enclave in Guangzhou. China gave Shamian Island to the British and French after being defeated in the First Opium War in 1841. In that British/French enclave, there were mansions and tennis courts and yacht clubs, as well as import/export businesses galore. When the Communists took over in 1949, much of the grandeur faded, but in the 1980s the Chinese put a lot of effort into restoring much of Shamian Island. The original British/French buildings remain, so the entire effect of Shamian Island is Western.

For us, Shamian Island makes for an easy transition into China. I visited Guangzhou in 1991 and stayed at the White Swan Hotel. In 2001, I returned to the White Swan after adopting Zoe, to get her visa from the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou. In 2005, I returned to the White Swan after adopting Maya, to get HER visa from the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou. So, I guess it's natural that we drifted to those familiar stomping grounds for our first outing on our own in China.

We took a taxi to the White Swan -- about a 20 minute drive from the Poly Hotel, where we are staying. We reacquainted ourselves with the waterfall in the lobby and the koi in the fish pond. The hotel is decked out for Chinese New Year, as is most of China right now. Lots of red scrolls, lucky red envelopes hanging in trees, red lanterns, mandarin orange trees indoors and out, and of course, pigs, pigs, pigs! This is, after all, the Year of the Pig!

We wandered through the park alongside the Pearl River, and watched people as they exercised. Morning exercise is very important in China, and different groups congregate in the parks for this ritual. We watched a small group of women doing fairly traditional (for us!) calesthenics, a woman doing martial arts with a sword, a group of younger adults playing badmitten without a net, and -- Zoe's and Maya's favorite -- a group ballroom-dancing! Zoe and Maya actually danced along!

We also watched two groups of women playing mah jongh, and a group of retirees in an enthusiastic sing-a-long!

We garnered quite a bit of attention through all of this. We are as conspicuous a family in China as we are in the States! Even without me there, though, I think Zoe and Maya would be the object of much attention. It is really obvious that they're more American than Chinese -- for one thing, I don't have them bundled up in umpteen layers of clothes! And their clothes, as basic as they are, mark them as un-Chinese -- I don't think I saw any Chinese children in jeans. Long hair is also fairly unusual for girls their age. And then, of course, is the language.

Zoe is getting very brave about speaking Chinese -- she'll say "ni hao," (hello). And when someone speaks to her in Chinese, she's say, "Wo shi Meiguo ren," (I am an American) as her all-purpose excuse for not understanding what they say. People have smiled and ahhhed in apparent understanding. She talked to one grandmother, and identified Maya as mei-mei (little sister), herself as jei-jei (big sister), and me as ma-ma (umm, mama!). I'm really proud that she's trying!

The park has a small assortment of kiddie rides, probably circa 1950s! The girls were excited to ride the ancient train, pirate ship, and airplanes. All I could think of was lawsuits! But they emerged unscathed!

We then went back to the White Swan, and snuck into the Swan Room. The Swan Room was outfitted by Mattel for adoptive parents and kids as a play room. You're only supposed to get in if you're staying at the White Swan, but a guard let us in -- a caucasian woman and two Chinese children is the perfect calling card at the White Swan! The kids enjoyed the play room, even though it is more geared for babies (the usual age of adoptees from China), and even though it was completely empty except for us. The White Swan is not swarming with adoptive families as it usually is, because of Chinese New Year. The U.S. Consulate closes for Chinese New Year, so no visas issued means no adoption trips this time of year.

We ate lunch at the White Swan buffet, a mixture of Chinese and Western dishes. The girls had fried rice and italian pasta, and fruit, fruit, fruit! Between them, they ate 4 mandarin oranges and about 20 grapes the size of plums.

We taxied back to our hotel around 2:30, and napped through dinner. We ended up having ramen noodles in our room -- another blast from the past! We did that several times on the adoption trips, when we were too exhausted to venture far with the baby!

And thus ends our first fully-awake day in China!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

We made it to China!

Not too much lugguge, huh? Actually, it is completely outrageous until you remember that we're going for 5 months! Still, it is quite a haul! We ended up paying $96 overweight charge, but I considered it well worth it not to have to worry too much about what we were bringing.

After a long flight we made it to china! We're using the hotel business center and the keyboard is ancient so ignore any typos!

We had flawless flights, with no delays and no lost luggage, and our ride met us in Guangzhou right on schedule. The girls did great, though they only slept 6 of the 15 hours on the flight from LAX to Guangzhou. They mostly managed to entertain themselves the rest of the time with drawing and Polly Pockets.

Our contact took us for a yummy dim sum breakfast before taking us to the Poly Hotel. The hotel is fine, if not fancy. We haven't done much, since we're still pretty jet-lagged. We slept all day -- and pretty much all night, too! It is now 8:30 on Monday morning, and we've had a western breakfast of scrambled eggs and ham (spam!). The girls didn't like Chinese milk, which is sweetened. But they ate every scrap of everything else! They are now dancing to Chinese music in the business center while I try to type! They really have taken to all things Chinese -- we were watching the tv in our room -- chinese programming of course -- when our channel-flipping came upon an English-speaking disney commercial. Zoe immediately changed channels, saying that she wanted to listen to chinese so she could learn it!

We're going to take a taxi later today to Shamian Island, an area of Guangzhou, which is where we stayed for Zoe's and Maya's adoptions. We will re-visit the White Swan Hotel, famous in China-adoption circles, and try to crash the Swan Room (a play room in the hotel outfitted by Mattel for the benefit of adoptive families).

We'll try to post more later!

Saturday, February 3, 2007


Well, we're entering a brave new world -- China and blogging! I've created this blog so that friends and family -- and anyone else sufficiently bored -- can keep up with our adventures in China.I'm Malinda, single mom to Zoe, age 6, and Maya, age 3. Both girls are originally from Guangxi Province, China. Zoe was adopted over 5 years ago, and Maya was adopted in March 2005. Now we are returning for a five-month stint in Xiamen, Fujian Province. I've been awarded a Fulbright grant, and will be teaching at Xiamen University's law school.We leave for China in February 2007. Keep an eye on this spot for further updates.

It's Almost Time!

Twenty days before our Xiamen Adventure starts! Zoe is busily counting down the days. Maya is still basically clueless, though every time someone mentions China, she'll say, "I was BORN in China!"

It's starting to feel very real now. We received our tickets in the mail yesterday. We leave DFW Airport at 7:05 p.m. on February 23, and after a 3-hour layover we take the overnight flight from LAX to Guangzhou. We took this same overnight flight when we went to get Maya in March 2005. This time, though, we're going on the cheap, not flying "premium economy" (business class on China Southern), but coach. I'm really hoping that the flight won't be too full since most of the Chinese New Year travelers should already be in China.

We'll spend our first week in China in Guangzhou for orientation. That'll give us a chance to get over our jet lag before going to Xiamen. Someone from the university will arrange for our flight, and accompany us to Xiamen.