Archive for September, 2010

All the pics

Monday, September 20th, 2010 by darren

Finally got around to uploading all the pics from the trip. For people who haven’t overdosed on cuteness yet, here you go.

Lap cat.

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Still alive

Sunday, September 19th, 2010 by darren

We’re here, just sort of crippled from colds and jet lag, so apologies for no further updates.

Alexei and I are getting over the last of our colds (and watching the Steelers together today), but Alexei still thinks he’s on China time so he and I have been up most of the night each night so far. Janice is now down with our cold.

More later when we all get some sleep and feel better.

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Alexei is home!

Thursday, September 16th, 2010 by darren

26 hours after we walked out of our hotel in Guangzhou we walked in our front door as a family.

We’re completely exhausted, but many thanks to our wonderful new friends in our travel group, all our CCAI representatives and guides, and all the friends and family who house-sat, cat-sat, and posted words of support and encouragement on our journey.

Now the hard part begins…

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Farewell to China

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 by darren

This should be our last real update from China. Maybe we’ll post a quick hit from the Hong Kong airport on our layover tomorrow, but this will about wrap it up for the mainland.

Today was a quiet day with very little planned, which was a good thing as both Alexei and I still weren’t feeling well and needed the rest before the major travel day tomorrow. Janice did a bit more souvenir shopping and we had a nice early lunch at the good Thai restaurant near the hotel, and for our final real dinner in China we went to the “provincial specialties” restaurant here in the hotel, which has dishes from Beijing, Shanghai, and Sichuan. Alexei wanted nothing to do with the congee we ordered for him, but shared liberally in mom and dad’s tea-smoked duck, crab rice noodles, mushrooms, asparagus, and steamed rice. Our boy knows what he wants.

Tomorrow we have to have our luggage out by 6am and be on the airport bus by 7am to catch our mid-morning flight to Hong Kong. From there we have a few hour layover until we get on the long flight back home. Going to be a very, very, very long day.

Then we get to start settling in at home, remind our poor cats we still exist, fight the Jet Lag monster, repair the ceiling in the downstairs bathroom that got destroyed just before we left, and generally settle into our new family life. Ai-ya.

Not many pictures from our quiet day, so here’s a quick bit of His Cuteness to tide you over until we get home and can upload everything with real Internet bandwidth:

*How* many hours on a plane??!?

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Winding down

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010 by darren

We cleared the final bureaucratic hurdle at the U.S. Consulate today, and the trip is starting to wind down. It’s a bit bittersweet to start saying goodbye to China, our travel group, and the first chapter of our new family’s life together, but it’s time to start thinking about home.

Alexei is still sniffly, and now so is Dad. The smaller of the two is handling it like he’s handled everything else so far and not letting it slow him down at all, though. Just sleeping a bit worse and slightly more fussy when we’re hungry or tired.

Yesterday afternoon after the update we did the traditional pictures on the red couches in the lobby of the hotel:

All the babies on the red couch


Our travel group

Last night we did the dinner cruise on the Pearl River. The weather and the river were beautiful, and Alexei loved watching all the boats, buildings, and bridges with their lights. The food was horrible, easily the worst of the trip so far, but we didn’t really expect much from a tourist dinner boat.

We were up and down a few times in the night, but not as bad as Sunday night.

This morning we went to the Guangzhou Zoo. Alexei wasn’t impressed:

Zoo? Nyet. Nap? Da.

Empty water bottles *are* impressive toys, though

After a quick, and very good, lunch at the other Cantonese restaurant at the hotel with stir-fried clams and wood ear mushrooms and the best sweet and sour pork ribs either of us have ever had, we were off to the Consulate. Lots of waiting later we got Alexei’s entry visa approved.

I misunderstood the process a bit, and the oath we took today was just an affirmation that all the info we provided to the Consulate was correct. He also doesn’t technically become a citizen until we hand his paperwork over to Immigration at LAX on Thursday, so our big moment today was a bit of a fizzle. Still, all the paperwork is now in place and our son’s citizenship is on autopilot, which is still a great feeling.

We’re all a bit tired tonight, so we’re just going to do the buffet at the hotel for dinner and call it a night and hope Alexei can sleep a bit better so Mom and Dad can also sleep a bit better.

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The longer update

Monday, September 13th, 2010 by darren

Janice and Alexei are falling asleep for their afternoon nap, so Dad gets to write the full update today.

Alexei slept much better last night, only waking once for his usual midnight snack, and then again when we screwed up and misinterpreted a bit of fussiness while being completely asleep as needing attention which woke him up and left him in a bad mood for a while. We still have a runny nose, but other than that he’s back to being his usual happy, active self.

This morning was our appointment at the U.S. Consulate to deliver all our paperwork. Everything was in order and no drama ensued, so tomorrow we get to take the Oath of Allegiance on Alexei’s behalf and make him a U.S. citizen. Mom and dad mist up a bit every time we think about that; tomorrow will be yet another very, very proud and happy day for our new family.

After finding out everything was in order at the Consulate we took a short trip over to a huge wholesale gem and jewelry market. Picture a medium-sized U.S. mall’s footprint, except with 6 floors of nothing but small gem and jewelry wholesalers:

Six floors of Albra Porn

Pearls here are about 1/3 the price of even the best merchants in Hawaii:

Yes, they're all real

So Janice now has a new black pearl necklace and matching earrings 🙂

We wandered through a bunch of other shops, both in the wholesale mart and the surrounding shopping district for a while looking for cufflinks for me (no joy — the recent trend to revive French cuffs in in West hasn’t made it over here) and generally gawking like tourists. Alexei drew a crowd everywhere we went and made friends with many shop girls and random passersby this morning. He really is a social butterfly and absolutely loves being out on the street among people and cars and trucks and lights.

When all three of our stomachs started to say “lunch time” in unison we grabbed a cab back to the hotel. Taxis here are very clean, safe, and super cheap. A ride of up to a few miles costs about $1.50.

Alexei got his bottle in the lounge in the hotel lobby while watching boats go by on the Pearl River, then we all headed across the street to a local fancy Cantonese restaurant that specializes in Guangdong delicacies. Before telling you how wonderful it was, I’ll say I’ve never seen so many varieties of insect on a fine dining menu before…

We weren’t that adventurous, though, and ordered Jasmine tea, deep-fried pork with vegetables and a lightly-fried whole fish of a type that even Google can’t help me identify. I’m not normally a big tea guy, but after experiencing Chinese tea service I could learn to be. The food was uniformly excellent, and for the first time on our trip I saw stuff prepared with a level of subtle technique that rivals Western fine dining. (Absolutely nothing against all the other great food we’ve had so far, but it’s the difference between good ingredients prepared simply and traditionally and another level up where you really start to see the chef’s handiwork.)

It also seems like there’s an effort from some of the serious chefs in China to finally introduce wine to their dining culture. The fancier places we’ve gone have been heavily promoting their wine lists, which usually consist of low-end Australian and South American labels. Judging by the ridiculous prices, especially compared to the food, tea, and the local beers, I’m guessing there’s still a rather huge import tariff on wines, but hopefully that will change as wine becomes more popular.

In about an hour we have our picture-taking session on the famous red couch at the White Swan with our whole travel group, so expect more cuteness later. Tonight we’re going to test our luck and take Alexei on a dinner cruise up the Pearl River with a few other families from our travel group.

This year’s Asian Games are here in Guangzhou, and the city is going all-out preparing to host them. They’re putting huge money and effort into cleaning up the river and decorating the riverside area in particular, so it’s supposed to be a beautiful sight as the sun sets and the lights come on.

Again, thanks all for the wonderful comments and advice. Every time there’s a twinge of homesickness, alienation, or we’re just feeling a bit overwhelmed, we pull up the comments here and are grateful for each and every one.

P.S. No, Janice didn’t fall yesterday while carrying Alexei, she was just concerned about it given the wet and slippery pavement and steps we were negotiating all day.

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Steelers win!

Sunday, September 12th, 2010 by darren

Go Black & Gold!

A much better night last night. Thanks all for the info and support regarding teething and vaccinations. I think you all hit the nail on the head, and our boy is much happier this morning, albeit with a still-runny nose.

More, bigger update later. Breakfast now.

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I’m Awake, I’m Asleep, I’m Awake

Sunday, September 12th, 2010 by janice

We had the first genuine Bad Night with our boy last night. He did very well after waking up from the afternoon nap and even sat pretty well in a high chair at the really wonderful Thai place we went for dinner with the group. The good: Alexei likes krupuk! Mom is so proud. The bad: we don’t like rice noodles and when we have to wait too long for solid food we don’t want any!

So we’re not sure if he was reacting to the shots, had not eaten enough or just too much new stuff all coming down too quickly, but last night he was up every two hours crying and wanting held and/or fed. He also appears to have a tiny bit of a cold. It was a multiple bottle and baby Tylenol sort of night…

This morning we were all dragging tail, but decided that it was well worth it to get up and go to the lovely Buddhist temple in downtown Guangzhou. The place is called 6 Banyan Temple and has been in continuous use for 1500 years. Alexei was way grooving on all the guardian and Buddha statues. We had a baby blessing done, which Alexei also grooved on. He was smiling and laughing through the whole ceremony. Hmmm…. do Mom and Dad have a budding Buddhist on our hands?

Oh, did I mention it was raining? So as I was navigating wet and slippery streets and walkways, I realized I need Uncle Bill’s help to figure out the best ways to fall when I have him in arms. I suspect years of martial arts and other sports’ training has my instincts geared all wrong for when carrying another human being who cannot protect himself in the event of a fall.

After the temple we went to the Old Chen House, which is about 120 years old. It used to be a private house but also a school for men seeking to take the Imperial exams to get into government work, which was the only real way to advance in Chinese culture in the Imperial times. By this time Alexei had decided it was nap time and so had Mom. I was sleep walking through the place. Still, it was worth coming to see and I don’t think the pics do it justice. They were doing some exhibitions of local art work in the various rooms. One moment definitely made the whole morning worthwhile: We had wandered in to look at the paper-cutting exhibition (works of art cut out from one sold piece of paper kind of like we used to do snowflakes as a kid but obviously much, much more intricate.) This particular exhibit was done by one master, and the artist himself was there talking about his work. A young art student has stopped by to show the master his work for a critique. When we came in, we could tell from the tone of voice and the intensity of his speech that the Master was obviously trying to impart something important to the young man. An English speaker, a guide for one of the other adoption groups I think, was kind enough to answer when I asked about what he was saying. He was telling the younger man that he (the would-be artist) needed not just to draw but to search for the spirit of his work. And that this could take many years. He explained that he had done one piece of work (hanging on the wall) over and over again for 3 years(!) before he finally found the piece’s spirit and was able to bring the finished piece into the world.

After that we went over to the Provincial Art Craft Center to look at more local work, this time stuff for sale. Our guide Grace explained to us that jade is the most highly prized precious stone in China and that traditionally all Chinese people get three pieces of jade given to them during their lifetime: one when they are born, one when they marry, and one from their grown child or children. So we decided we needed to get Alexei his first piece of jade. Traditionally one buys a pendant for the baby, so we go him the boys’ version of that on the ubiquitous red thread.

By this time, Mom, Dad and Alexei were all ready for lunch and a nap. Well, Alexei was more ready for the nap, but we managed to get through lunch. Then some jumping on the bed and bashing toys around time before crashing out (Alexei that is.) Mom and Dad lay down for a nap, too, though I had to get up 1/2 and hour later to go do paperwork for the consulate appointment tomorrow.

So we are now free till tomorrow morning. Alexei just woke up from his nap and is having Cheerios and soda crackers on the bed with Dad.

A few milestones from our boy: He responds to his English name now. He knows who Mom and Dad are and can call for us (mamamamam and dadada right now respectively.) He can feed himself Cheerios (this was a bit of a challenge the first couple of days but now we own those silly breakfast O’s!) He can roll over from his front to his back by himself. He can open the Cheerios container by himself and get the binky off of the strap (he’s going to be a safe cracker I think! Uncle Bill and Auntie Lynn, you cannot teach him to pick locks till he’s 18!) He can use a stackie cup or water bottle as a megaphone. (BTW: he has some lungs on him when he wants to get loud.) We have the concept of mirrors down – he recognizes himself, Mom and Dad in them. There is a mirror at the computer desk that is visible from the bed and he smiles really big at Mom when she smiles at him in it. Oh, and we think he is getting two more teeth. So, yeah, it’s been an eventful week for our boy. Hard to believe they just placed him in our arms one week ago!

So I’m going to post some pics and go spent time with my menfolk.

Blessings,

Janice

What Alexei thought of the medical clinic yesterday

Monk at the 6 Banyan Temple

One of the shrines at the temple

Old Chen House

Part of the roof

One of our less cute moments

30 seconds later

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Hello from Guangzhou

Saturday, September 11th, 2010 by darren

Yesterday turned out to be a very long day. Our flight out of Nanchang was delayed, and we didn’t get in to Guangzhou airport until around 9:30pm. By the time we got to our hotel room it was after 10:30.

Alexei did great on his first plane ride even after having to chill out in the terminal for nearly 3 hours. He fell asleep halfway through and didn’t even wake up for landing or de-planing, and only started to stir while waiting for our luggage. He then fell asleep again on the bus into town and didn’t wake up until 2 minutes after we got him into the crib in the hotel room (of course). He then decided it was play time and bounced off the walls until after midnight while mom and dad desperately tried to grab a bite to eat while half-awake from a long day ourselves.

Fortunately he went back to sleep after a bite to eat at 6am and slept until nearly 8, so we all got a bit of sleep.

The White Swan is a very nice hotel. It’s an older building, but very East-meets-West-trading-post-era luxury. The breakfast buffet is huge, good, and the dining room is right on top of the Pearl river. Shamian Island (where the hotel is located) is also very nice and the whole area is set up well for Americans in general, and adoptive parents in particular. Baby supplies, restaurants with menus in English, convenience stores, laundry, and all the basic necessities are within a couple blocks. We also have a working thermostat in our room, a cool (if not completely cold) refrigerator, and hot water, all of which are nice changes from Nanchang.

Late this morning we had to go to the clinic to get Alexei his medical exam for U.S. Immigration. What a nightmare. There were several agency travel groups arriving all at the same time, and the clinic clearly wasn’t prepared to handle that kind of volume. Long waits and massive confusion. He also ended up needing six different vaccinations due to not getting the correct boosters or something at the SWI (trying to get anyone to explain this to us clearly was not fun, and we were pissed).

Alexei was an absolute stud and came through it all with great fortitude. He let the clinicians who gave him his shots hear all about it, but given the run-around mom and dad were getting we figure that was only fair. After we left the clinic it was like it never happened and he went right back to being his usual energetic and happy self. We just hope he doesn’t react to any of the vaccines or anything and continues to have a good week.

After we got back to the hotel and had a bit of a giggling and bouncing on the bed time we all went down to the nice Cantonese restaurant at the hotel for Dim Sum lunch. After picking a random selection from the six page tea list, we had 8 different dishes, 6 or so of which we’d never seen before. The phrase “it’s a pork donut!” was involved at one point (yes, it was actually a sweet dough pastry filled with BBQ pork; much better than I know it probably sounds). The food was very good in general, and several of the dishes were great.

Again, Alexei handled a fancy restaurant very well, and made friends with all the staff and I think about half the patrons. Now it’s nap time, which will hopefully carry him through to a more normal bed time than last night.

Mom and Alexei dancing during morning music time


Guangzhou from our hotel window


This was waiting for us as a gift from the hotel. Why, yes, 95% of kids adopted here are indeed girls, but...


Mom isn't allowed to wear hats. All your hats are belong to Alexei.

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Last Day in Nanchang

Thursday, September 9th, 2010 by janice

Today we will say goodbye to Nanchang and Sissi and Karen and go on to Guangzhou. I feel a little sad and a little excited because we are leaving our lovely guides (and Alexei’s best bud) but are one step closer to bringing our boy home!

Last night we had one more dinner with the whole group at the wonderful restaurant near our hotel. Alexei danced in the dining room with his best gal Sissi and then Sissi’s 10 year old daughter and her friends showed up. Alexei could not stop staring at them. Especially Sissi’s daughter. Ah, he loves the older girls!

I think we have finally hit on the right ritual to get Alexei to go to sleep at night. First, a nice warm bath where we get to splash about and use up some of the excess energy. Then diaper change and PJs on. Then a few minutes of sitting up time with Mommy and Daddy before lying down with a bottle. We turn down the lights and close the curtains and remove all the toys and other fun things to mess with. A little soft music and pretty soon (OK like 20 minutes) sleeping baby! Yey!

The formula at 1am or so, however, is still necessary. Warm water was insufficient to keep our boy after the mid-night wakeup… Live and learn.

This morning was very nice – Alexei slept til almost 7am! Yes, he and Mommy are conspiring to make sure Daddy must sleep with the curtains closed! After a quick breakfast with Steve, Cathy and their daughter Lily, another of Alexei’s girls, we rushed out to the buses for a trip to a lovely local park.

We go to try out a stroller today. Alexei did very well actually though he needed Mom holding his had for the first few minutes. After that he was just grooving on the sights and sounds of the place. During the day the park mostly has older people and very, very young people in it. The older retired folks who aren’t watching their grandchildren can be found doing some sort of activity in the park – Tai Chi is a fave as is practicing calligraphy with water and large mop-like brushes. We wondered around a lot, getting stared at by the local folks and talked to even when we didn’t understand them. It was a nice walk but thankfully only an hour as the heat and humidity have made up for yesterday’s relative mildness.

After that we got back on the bus for a trip to a porcelain selling area. Wandered about their mostly trying to keep little hands of the loveliest china you ever did see. Bought some chop sticks to bring home for our boy someday.

Lunch was brief as Alexei was definitely missing his morning nap. Thank goodness he went down like a boxer with a glass jaw using the new “remove all stimulus” method. 3 minutes! A record!

Now Darren is upstairs with our guides getting some information about this afternoon’s travel and receiving our boy’s Chinese passport!

You may not hear from us till tomorrow now as the flight gets in late and then we have to check in etc. I really hope our boy flies well!

Now some pics to keep you ravening Cuteness Hounds at bay.

Blessings,

Janice

One of our boy's favorite poses

Lake at the Park

I wish I were so flexible at my age!

Calligraphy in the Park

Ah, young love! (Alexei and Jaymie)

Ah, young love... wait! (Alexei and Lily)

Two proud Mamas (Janice and Kathy, Alexei and Lily)

I see a red door....

No pictures, please!

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