Sunday, September 25, 2016

So Long Summer...

As fall is now upon us, I realized I never closed out summer. Typically American's think of Labor Day Weekend as being the last weekend of summer. However, teachers have an entirely different viewpoint. That being Labor Day is one last day to work before school begins the next day. So let me back up to our last weekend of summer.

I've mentioned my niece Hayden before, as she has been battling cancer since last summer. If you haven't' seen it yet, she keeps a blog of her journey titled The Merkel Miracle that is very inspiring. Check it out if you haven't already. Anyhow, we spent our last weekend of summer at her wedding! It was such a joyous occasion. The girls were so excited to be in it. And both of the boys were able to come, so it was a great, yet quick family reunion.

Before...


During...
Please excuse the bright sunshine, but it was beautiful.
And after...



Selfi-station
The morning we were leaving for home, we went out for breakfast with most of the family to celebrate Kellen's birthday. Can't believe he turned 25 already!
So the birthday boy was still sleeping; it was 7 am afterall!
We also gave Joshua his birthday present 10 days early. Last year he had shown me some artwork he really liked at a local arts & crafts show. When I saw the artist again this year, I decided to get him a piece for his birthday. It's definitely a different taste;  post-apocalyptic scenes of famous Seattle landmarks. Got him one of the Space Needle going down and had it framed...



Backing up, the girls and I drove down ahead of the rest of the family, who had school and work commitments. We were able to spend a few days with my family. While there the girls and I met their cousin Teagan for the first time. She was a premie but doing quite well now.
 We also got to hang out with my Grandpa. Always a delight.
We stopped at the beautiful Salt Creek Falls on our way down to the wedding. Such a beautiful place to stretch our legs.


Came across another summer photo I thought I would throw in here. Jaelyn and Kaia were to take nine weeks or so of tennis camp, two times a week. Well if you remember, Kaia broke her foot the first week school was out, so tennis was not going to happen. Jaelyn was nervous about going by herself, but was pleasantly surprised a friend from her old soccer team was in the same class. Jaelyn missed nearly half the classes due to our trip to China, but came home in time for the last two, with the last one being the final tournament. Jaelyn did great for missing so much, and even ended up in the championship against her friend.
By the end of summer the entire family was able to make it out to the court a few times. Finally felt good for me to get out and do something physical. Jaelyn taught me how to serve one-handed, and my shoulder even felt good enough for me to start doing some low tosses. Looking forward to more family tennis next summer...





Thursday, August 18, 2016

Final Leg...

Getting out of Changchun turned out to be quite the experience. As I mentioned before, flying domestically, our guides can come all the way to security with us. We got to the airport 90 minutes before our short flight to Beijing. Thank goodness we did, because we needed every moment of it.  After waiting in quite a long line, we approached the check-in, only to be told we were not in the system. Our guide Kathy had us move to the side, then she quickly got on the phone, assuming to her employer.  After hanging up, she told us they were contacting the Beijing office, so it would be just a couple minutes. In the next "couple minutes," she made multiple phone calls, cut in front of other flyers to check back in with the ticket agent, and walked away to talk with someone at the information booth multiple times. Was definitely thinking to myself, "someone messed up." We were actually staying calm, as we had a "gut feeling" it would all work out.

Patiently waiting at the airport with our guide. Don't we look calm?
Finally, she had us gather our things and follow her around the corner to another ticket agent. When it was finally our turn up front, once again we were turned away and asked to wait to the side. Looking at our watches, we knew our plane was now to be boarding.  Suddenly the ticket agent was speaking in a more than usual rushed tone and waved us over. Our names had appeared in the system! We checked in and hurried to security where we came to a screeching halt! "Sorry, you can't bring the scooter through here." No, not again (as we watched another stroller go on through). Our guide pleaded for us, and explained we were in a rush, but to no avail.  Once again we rushed and paid to get it wrapped, but this time instead of to oversize luggage, we had to return to the ticket agent to send through (China x-rays your luggage while you're standing there, in case they need you to open it). We ran back to security, said goodbye to Kathy, and thankfully made it through without a hitch. We saw our gate, and fortunately they were still loading. We hopped in line and caught our breath. As we boarded the plane, look what we discovered...

Yep, we had first class seats!  What a blessing. The girls were giddy, as was I, as we had never experienced this before. Jaelyn had her first class slippers on in no time, and we had our beverages before we even took off. Hope I don't sound too ungrateful when I thought "Too bad this was our shortest of the 7 flights we had this trip."

Funny side note I meant to share in the last post. On one of our car rides, Kathy mentioned the driver had some questions for us. One of those was "Why did we adopt children with special needs?" That's a detailed answer to give a guide who struggles with comprehending us, to then interpret, but Mike and I gave it our best shot. We told her that God placed China on our heart, so we responded. We also, yet again, explained how we don't see our children's outside differences, nor place limitations on appearances. What's on the inside is what we want to cultivate, and that is limitless in everyone.  To us, through adoption, everyone gains.  I am not sure how she interpreted this to the driver, but I think we got our point across. I then noticed her typing something into the translation app on her phone. I cannot recall the word she came up with, but it was the name to one of the Buddhas, meaning virtuous Buddha.  She told me that's who I was. Mike laughed pretty hard at that one! 

Now back to Beijing. We met up with our new guide and driver, whose only job was to get us to our hotel, then back to the airport in less than 24 hours.  We were told the drive would take about 40 minutes. Wrong. Our driver cut that time in half by driving on the shoulder of a major freeway the entire time, surpassing all traffic! This, despite the sign stating to leave 3 meters for emergency vehicles. Oh my.

Our last hurrah for the trip was in meeting up with my good friend Ying. I have known him for nearly 10 years now, as we have been on eight or so trips together, working in orphanages. He lives half the year in Shanghai, half in the US. He is a very generous man who was actually returning from a Visiting Orphans trip to Siping, so our timing to meet up in Beijing was impeccable. We enjoyed one last meal with Chinese eggplant together.

Early the next morning we were off to the airport. This time our driver stayed between the lines the entire drive! We learned our lesson and had kept Kaia's scooter wrapped, and sent it through baggage from the start. Our tickets this year were the cheapest I had ever paid in any of my previous 12 trips to China. Part of the reason was the low cost of fuel now, but part was due to our return flight being multiple carriers. With the first leg being a quick flight to Shanghai on a Chinese flight that is connected with Delta, we thought it would be no worry. Let's just say they only had two ticket agents working in Shanghai, causing a long back up.  We ran, as best as we could with Kaia, once we finally had tickets in hand. When we got to security, there was actually a man holding a "Delta" sign, which allowed us to surpass the long line. Seems we weren't the only ones running late.

Fortunately the flight home was uneventful. Wish I could say the same about our drive. Kellen picked us up from the airport for our nearly 2 hour ride home, only for us to find ourselves sitting on the side of I-5 in Seattle, just a few miles away.  We found that car rentals won't pick you up on the side of an interstate, and tow trucks only carry two passengers.  Quite an adventure, but we finally made it home after hopping over the guardrail, down a hill of blackberry bushes, and through a gap in a fence, to be picked up at a physical address by Enterprise Car Rental!  Mike and Kellen returned the next day to pick up our van (our insurance would only tow within 12 miles) and bring her home.  Thankfully it was just the alternator, and not the transmission like we thought. We were planning on trading her in this Fall anyhow, so got an early jump on it.

Goodbye Vanna...
Hello Pearl...

And as difficult as it was for some of us to leave, we were all happy to be home and in our own beds. We know this was not a "Goodbye" to China, but a "See you later."




Monday, August 15, 2016

Jaelyn in Jilin...

Wish I could say our flight north went off without a hitch once again, but this time I cannot. You see, we've been traveling with Kaia's knee scooter, and as many rules/regulations in China are interpreted differently from place to place, evidently the familiarity of what her knee scooter actually is and how it is handled, changes too.  This time, as we were getting our boarding passes, we were told she could not bring it through security and on the plane. We were told we had to go to oversize luggage and pay to have it wrapped in cardboard, then smothered in giant saran wrap. Thankfully this wasn't an international flight, so we still had our guide to interpret for us. Funny thing is, as we were speed walking (didn't plan extra time for this excursion), we see a family with a HUGE stroller, one seat in front for toddler, one rear facing for car seat, going through security with no problem. What?  Good thing this is towards the end of our trip and Kaia could get along well on her boot alone. I don't believe there's such a thing as Chinese with Disabilities Act. Nonetheless, 84 yuan and two boxes of Costco saran wrap later (about 13 bucks), we made it to our gate on time.

This time our destination was Changchun City, the capital of the Jilin province. We were greeted by our guide Kathy, who immediately took Jaelyn under her wing. As we maneuvered through the airport, Kathy placed her arm around Jaelyn, making sure she did not lose her on our quest to find our vehicle. No worries though, as this is a much smaller airport than what we have been use to. Changchun is a small Chinese city of around 9 million, so has a different feel compared to the three previous cities we visited. We noticed on our drive to our hotel that this city has also changed quite a bit since we were last here. The city is currently under a lot of construction (what city in China isn't?), as they are putting in a subway.  On our hour long drive to our hotel, as we watched out the windows, Kathy was busy making arrangements for Jaelyn to meet her foster family the following day. There had been some confusion with which family we are to meet with, as two sisters have both had foster children from this orphanage, so it was difficult getting the right person on the phone.  Plus, the orphanage has moved an hour away from where it used to be, to where it is now. However, the files are kept at the old orphanage, which is now mainly used for office space and storage. We needed to decide which orphanage we wanted to visit. Since the foster family lives near the older facility, and we would really like to read her files, we chose to visit the older one in the morning, despite not children being there. I could already sense Jaelyn's anxiety. You see, she likes to know everything in advance, and often starts the day off with "Tell me what's going on today, Mom.," which means give me an hour by hour outline. A simple prayer with her was the best I had to offer.

Once checked in to the hotel, we were on our own for the remainder of the afternoon and evening. We realized we were not far from our hotel from the first trip, so we ventured out to explore. We found that it was now an empty building, but many of the shops we frequented were still there. However, the street vendors are gone, replaced by a giant, expensive shopping mall. Prada, Gucci, etc., huge named retailers filled this mall. All that's missing were the shoppers. Strange feeling as every store front had 1-2 workers standing in the entrance, as this foreign family of four strolled through the empty mall.
Another nearby mall, but this one busy, where we chose to get out of the rain and eat dinner, then have a blizzard for dessert. Minion statues are all over the mall; in fact, all over China!
Once again, we felt as if we are the only western foreigners that were in our hotel. Breakfast was served on the 26th floor, where there is a 360° view of the city, much like the Space Needle. Not sure if the breakfast selection is really poor, despite being a lot of choices, or I am just done with Chinese breakfast! However, someone enjoyed it. Who knew this girl loved shell fish so much? We live on an island, yet I've never seen her eat like she did this breakfast.
Breakfast with a view.
We left early and headed off for the orphanage, which was a good distance away. Where we weren't allowed to visit the orphanage back in 2006, our guide then did take us there, where we hoped we weren't seen as we snapped photos from afar. However, despite our second trip, we did not recognize the area we were driving to. We recalled a much more rural area with buildings far and few between. We were driving on some muddy roads, and definitely no high rises, but there were businesses and people all along the way. Our driver had to ask for directions a couple times, but as soon as we came around the bend, Mike declared "This is it!"

Very similar to Kaia's experience, we were greeted by a woman who looked very familiar. Turns out it was one of the two ladies who accompanied Jaelyn when we adopted her. She and Mike completed the adoption paperwork together, and she had told us back then that she had named Jaelyn.
On the right, Jaelyn is presenting the dress she made, along with others from school.

Just a short distance behind her, approaching a little hesitantly, were two ladies. Right away I recognized the younger one from a previous photo we had, and assumed the other was her mother. I was correct about this, but turns out our understanding of Jaelyn's foster care situation had been incorrect.  We had heard no mention of a foster dad, so we had assumed that Jaelyn lived with the foster mother (which we thought was the matriarchal mother), along with her adult daughter, and two foster brothers, each with cerebral palsy. This played into some of the confusion with our guide the previous day. In actuality, Jaelyn had been living with her foster parents since she was nine months old, but the grandmother also lived with them, as did their biological son (now 17), and a foster boy and girl, the two with CP. 

Whatever the situation was, it was obvious from the moment they approached Jaelyn, she had been loved! From the time we met until the time we parted, it was precious to watch the interactions take place. Jaelyn's cheeks were patted, hair caressed (her adorable curls were noticed), shoulders squeezed; they just couldn't get enough of her, particularly her grandmother (we've been told her name is Pearl). And they weren't the only ones smiling.  Jaelyn didn't seem to mind one bit that they were doting on her. In almost every photo we snapped, Jaelyn was grinning from ear to ear.
Jaelyn sharing a photo album of her growing up that we brought, plus a personal note from her. They brought with them the album we sent them through a friend in 2007.







We were able to ask more specific questions about Jaelyn, and had to chuckle when they said she liked music, would be the first to wake up, and was even tempered, yet could be a little naughty. We told them that these were all true of her today! It was such a special time to witness. I was teary eyed multiple times as I just sat back and watched the interactions.  Words were not needed to express the emotions being exchanged. We thanked them for pouring confidence and love into her early life; they said no, it was only 1.5 years of her life and said we were the ones to thank.  Even Jaelyn's foster father had tears in his eyes as we spoke.  Was tough to say goodbye, but so happy Jaelyn had this opportunity.

We stayed a bit longer to look through Jaelyn's files. We learned a couple more things about Jaelyn's first days, then headed back to our hotel to spend the rest of the day relaxing and absorbing the morning.

One thing that helped Jaelyn change gears was the fact that there was an unofficial pet shop on the street out front of our hotel. For the next two days she visited the area countless times to take on the role of "dog whisperer."  Dogs as pets have become quite popular in China, as the middle class has grown. Sadly, this impromptu store promotes over breeding and crowded care.  And strangely none were barking, nor had access to water. Most Chinese live in apartments, without a lot of areas for dogs to run.  Veterinarians are unheard of, and I doubt these dogs have had any shots. Nonetheless, they were adorable...




Really, a pet chipmunk?
 Our last full day we were completely on our own in Changchun. We grabbed a taxi and headed to South Lake Park, something we had done when we were here with the boys ten years ago. It's a well manicured park that is popular with the locals. Swimming, fishing, boating, and carnival rides are some of the activities going on here.  It's a huge park, so we definitley got our exercise in.
The girls were imitating lots of Chinese people posing in the area.
The girls got the chance to try out their new umbrellas, to shade them from the sun like the locals do.

Mike with his high fashion model pose.



I look like I have a pineapple top

I have no words...

Yep, wedding photos here too.
Swimming anyone? Look closely. I had to snap this shot because it is such an unusual site in China. Europe, yes, China, no. Jaelyn was laughing so hard as I snapped it without being noticed.

Like in Kaia's province, we returned to a restaurant we have fond memories of. Added some more walking to our day, but the Dumpling King was worth it!

Walked to another mall, but then we wisely decided to catch a taxi back to our hotel.  For our last evening there, we discovered that the street vendors we had looked for had moved to a new area. They were a bit more organized with their eateries now, with more vendors, and even seating down this alley.  One of my favorite photos from our previous trip had been of Mike and Jaelyn sharing dinner. They reenacted the photo for me, in an updated version. We weren't sure if it was beef or lamb (or ???), but right after I snapped this photo Jaelyn's eyes got huge, as we hadn't realized that these were covered in something extremely spicy. Mike loved it though!

This post is way longer than I originally planned, so I'm going to save the story of our plane ride back to Beijing (yep, another airport story),  our short time there, and returning to the States for another post. For those of you reading this to the end, kudos to you!










Friday, August 12, 2016

Flying South...

Who turned up the humidity down south? Other than having the flight attendants strap Kaia's scooter in a first class seat, our travel to Guangzhou went off without a hitch. Being we have been here twice before, with one of those times being for 10 days straight, we feel quite comfortable here. However, things feel quite different than they have previously. We definitely notice less Westerners traveling here. And we're not just talking about less for adoption. Our guide told us we have an "old" (he was probably around 60) guide because young people don't want to be a tour guide in Guangzhou. There's not much money in it, because people aren't coming there to see the sites, as it has mainly become a place for migrants to find jobs. Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi'an have all done a good job drawing foreigners, so the Guanzhou government is not putting money in to compete. Felt a little sorry for him...

One place we really noticed the lack of foreigners was on Shamian Island. In the early 2000's, this island with a strong European feel, was hopping with shops and hotels that catered to the adoption population. We did not stay there either trip, but we did shop there.  Well this time we stayed there, and in our time we only saw one other western family. Our hotel, which is still one of two well known ones on the island, was musty and not seemingly busy.  However, we still enjoyed walking around the island. We were happy to see that it was bustling with Chinese people, and is still a very beautiful and meticulous place to visit.  There were only a couple shops that still had a touristy feel, and oh yeah, Starbucks moved in.  It was a beautiful store front though, that fit right in with the theme of the island.


Catholic Church on island

Found a turtle. You can gauge humidity by this little girls' hair!
Adoptive families know of the White Swan and the red couches. We visited the beautiful lobby, but no more red couches.

Love the Banyan trees on the island.
Saw more than one wedding photo shoot on the island.
But I'm jumping ahead, as we made a detour before we even arrived at the island. Turns out that Guangdong Province is the only one that keeps the orphanage paperwork archived. Our guide had petitioned the paperwork before we came, so it was ready when we arrived at the government building. It felt sort of like being in a library. We had to show our passports, were led into a big quiet room, and sat at a large table looking through Kaia's files. Our guide translated as we paged through the file. We weren't allowed to take photos, but were given paper and pencil to write notes. Most of the papers we already had copies of, along with translations of most. However, we were happy to learn more about a few things, such as her birth measurements, and a police report of when she was found.  I will not share all the details, as they are Kaia's story to share, but we were all pleased to find out more about our beautiful daughter's beginnings. More on this in a bit.
Family photo in the lobby to the government archive building.
We said goodbye to the hotel the next morning, as we were heading to the next city over, Foshan, where we would be spending one night. The two cities are literally next to one another, but due to traffic, and the orphanage being on the far side of the city (Nanhai District), the tour guide thought we would want to stay a night in Foshan and experience the local history. Glad he suggested it.  New fact learned that Joshua would be excited about: Foshan is known as the modern home of Kung Fu, and the origin of Ip Man (Josh loves the Ip Man Kung Fu movies), who taught Bruce Lee.

We arrived at the orphanage, which had more buildings in the neighborhood than I remember from 12 years ago. We were greeted by a familiar looking face. I flipped through the photo album I brought, I stopped on the photo of the sweet young lady who brought Kaia to us. When I showed it to her (Min), she nodded that yes, this was her.  She also informed us that she was the one who named Kaia. Not sure whether or not this was intentional, but it was special for us to meet her again.
Kaia has changed a lot; Min, not so much!
She took us on a tour of the facilities, but we weren't allowed to interact with the children. They said some had been "sick." We did get to go into a room of children in a school room to say hi. Was nice to see children with disabilities included in the classroom.
Where Kaia slept her first 8.5 months.
We met the new director who took over a year or so ago. She was very welcoming to us, and mothering to Kaia. She put her arm around Kaia, and seemed genuinely impressed when Kaia shared a video of her tumbling at the school talent show. Kaia was able to present some pillow case dresses that students made at the Martin Luther King Day of Service our school held.
Kaia and the director.

Look at the proud smile on Kaia's face.

When we adopted Kaia, we were told that the paperwork said her finding place was an Industrial Garden (factory). A couple years later we hired someone to take photos of her finding place. We were told that the interpretation was a flower shop that didn't exist anymore, so our money was returned. So through the help of our guide Daniel, and Min, we found that both interpretations were correct. So following a few minutes of the two chatting and looking at Google maps on her phone, we were on our merry way. After a drive across the city, we came upon a more industrial area, surrounded by lots of apartments. I think we stopped 3 or 4 times asking questions of locals, to which the response was always pointing in the same direction. Suddenly we came upon a large plant nursery. It was a little strange; seemed like a nursery selling plants, as most of them were in pots, yet there were no signs or prices anywhere. I'm still a little unsure of what the purpose of the land is. Perhaps they sell not to the public, but to businesses? We got out of the car when I saw a lone older lady walking out of the nursery. I asked Daniel to inquire who owned this land. She responded that her relatives own it, and that she has worked there for 20 years. Does she remember anyone ever finding a baby? She gladly made a call to her family to ask. Hoping the answer would be yes, I have to admit I was disappointed when she said no. Still, grateful for the timing of her being there at the exact moment we were, as she was on her way out, and no one else was around.  We spent a few minutes walking around the grounds. What a serene place in the midst of what is most likely surrounded by apartments full of migrant workers, coming from distant provinces to find work.
Phoning her relatives, the owners of the nursery

Walking the grounds.
My sweet girl.

Forgot the selfie stick!
Distant apartment buildings enveloping the nursery.
After thinking we would never find it, we were completely pleased that we were able to find the nursery. We finished our time with Min at a lovely restaurant next door to the orphanage. There we had one of our favorite meals of the entire trip. I so wish we had taken a photo of a delicious pastry we had. It was a roll, intricately detailed as a walnut. Inside was a walnut, swimming in a sea of a sweet creme. If I hadn't have been eating with strangers, I would've just eaten that dish!

Over the meal, Daniel interpreted as we asked questions back and forth with Min, and the photographer who accompanied us to the meal.  One sweet observation she made was that when we adopted in 2004 and 2006, the majority of adoptions were of "healthy" babies, yet she noticed we had chosen special needs adoptions. She was surprised by this, but letting us know that she thought highly of us. At that point, Daniel told us that the worker at the archives office made the same comment about us.  We explained that this was something God put on our hearts, and that we all have something unique about us, and that it is what is on the inside that is most important. We also told them that we receive from the girls as much as we give; it's a win-win. This is a major reason why I keep returning to China. Some major cultural shifts need to take place, and I believe they are, even if slowly.

That day was a lot to absorb. We spent the evening strolling around the area near our hotel, and called it an early night. And although I didn't think I would find one, we actually happened upon a Starbucks that had a Foshan mug for my collection! We also found these micro Mc'D's. We passed several along the way, and they just sell ice cream from these walk-up windows. Jaelyn just had to try a McFlurry in a box!

The next morning we headed out early to two local historical sites, Liangs' Garden and the Foshan Ancestral Temple. Both were lovely, but admittedly we tried to hang out in the shaded areas!

Liang's Garden
Liang's Garden
Jack fruit tree
Liang's Garden
She's literally fishing out the money that had been thrown in to the turtles the previous day. Not sure exactly what the snake and turtle represent, but the Chinese are very superstitious. Note the real turtles to the left.
Remember when I said Foshan was the modern capital of Kung Fu? When at the temple, we got to watch young men and women perform from a local school.
These poor boys in these costumes; it was so humid! They actually jumped around on the green polls in the background too. Quite impressive balance. Many people placed money inside the lions mouth, guessing again, for luck or prosperity.
We headed back to our original hotel in Guangzhou, where we then ventured out on the Subway. Our goal was to eat at the Banana Leaf, a fun, interactive Thai restaurant we had eaten at on both of our previous trips here. The food was great, the atmosphere fun. If only the girls weren't so tired! They seated us on the most comfortable couch like seats, and Kaia immediately curled up like a kitten, ready to take a long snooze. Jaelyn and Mike were part of the entertainment as they danced and sang to "I Want to Hold Your Hand."  Kaia would have nothing of it. We all enjoyed eating the peanut roti. It was as tasty as I remembered. It's like a fried peanut butter sandwich, only on a thin pancake/tortilla like bread. Yum!

We rode the Subway back, followed by our almost nightly ice cream bar (wish I took a photo of it; so tasty, and only 3-5 yuan each), then back to our joining rooms, as we say goodbye to southern China in the morning, and head far north.