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!

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