Wednesday, August 31, 2005
The Great Wall and Other Fun
I managed to sleep until 4:30 a.m. this morning so that is a great improvement over yesterdays wake time of 3:30 a.m. After touring the Great Wall yesterday Reidar and I crashed at the hotel for about 5 hours while mommy went shopping (again) at the Silk Alley. We are still screwed up pretty good as far as sleeping goes. Reidar and I ate dinner at 10pm last night, stayed up a while, and then went back to sleep. He has been a real trooper on this trip but he was tired after yesterday's trip to the wall and finally crashed out. He has been a GREAT traveller and several people in the group have remarked as such. We are really proud of him.
The wall was amazing. We drove an hour out of Beijing to the Ba Da Ling pass and took a fun gondola ride up to the wall which Tiana really enjoyed since she loves heights so much! Everyone was very tired after climbing the steep steps since the weather was very hot and muggy. It was the experience of a lifetime and the views as well as the sense of history are overwhelming. Reidar enjoyed pretending to fire out of the parapets with a pantomimed bow as if he was defending the realm. Of course Tiana shopped some more and we got a few T-shirts and a great picture book about the wall. She is addicted to bargaining with the merchants and will have many stories about her victories upon our return. She also acted as mediator at Silk Alley, helping other couples to bargain for goods.
After the wall we toured a cloissone factory. This is a type of enamelware where the artisans solder copper compartments to a copper body of a vase or figure of an animal, etc. and then it is filled with several layers of enamel and fired in an oven, then polished to produce amazingly beautiful pieces. The works can take days or months to produce by hand. Of course Tiana bought more goods in the factory store afterwards. The Chinese economy is doing well this week thanks to our group.
We are all excited as we get our girl tomorrow. We can hardly wait. This morning we will jump back on the bus and go to see the Forbidden City, Tiannamen Square and then take a rickshaw tour. We'll let you know how it goes. The city is amazing and we are enjoying seeing the people, culture, and buildings here. We've seen quite an assortment of motorbikes and bicycles, ancient remains of the gates which once served to seperate the city, and the moat which still surrounds Beijing. We are taking lots of pictures and trying to soak it all in before we are preoccupied with our new family member. I'll try to post tomorrow with the latest.
Last Day in Beijing
Our last day in Beijing was packed with activity. We ate this morning at the hotel buffet where we get a free breakfast. They have mostly western style food and some Chinese dishes such as fried rice, porridge, and congee rice porridge with fish or egg). We usually fill up at breakfast since we have yet to find the time to stop for an actual lunch. We usually eat granola bars, slim Jims, and ice cream bars which are for sale all over the city. And let me mention that with the heat and humidity here, we go through liters and liters of bottled water every day.
Tiananmen Square was huge. There are thousands of people milling about the square on their way to see Chairman Mao’s tomb or the Forbidden City. We purchased some Beijing 2008 Olympic hats, a copy of Mao’s Quotations (the little red book) in both English and Chinese, and a great watch that features a waving Mao (with actual arm waving motion!) I think Tiana bought some postcards as well. The Forbidden City was interesting, but the self guided audio tour was long and most of our group plowed through the city quickly and we waited in the courtyard for our bus. It was very hot and after two hard days of touring we were all pretty beat. Reidar was a major celebrity as tour groups of young women kept asking us if they could take a picture of him. They are fascinated with little blonde kids for some reason. After the third or fourth photo op, Reid informed us that it was creeping him out a little bit so we said we would not honor any more photo requests. What can I say? The kid has his limits, even with fame.
Then we went on a rickshaw tour of the Houtung section of the city. This is one of the few areas of the city where the traditional homes have been preserved (some 200-400 years old) rather than building skyscrapers and apartment buildings over top of them. We rode down the narrow streets with our guide and saw businesses and homes that were still very much the same as they would have been a hundred years ago. The last stop on the tour was at the home of “Mr. Cricket”, a homeowner who graciously invited all 20 or so families into his modest home and served us loose leaf Jasmine tea and local delicacies which his son the chef had prepared. We were able to ask him any questions we wanted about living in this part of the city, and he showed us his entire collection of gear for training “fighting crickets”. This is a thousand year old practice in China and Mr. Cricket takes it very seriously. He says that you can invest more in one of the fighting crickets than you would in a racehorse. There is apparently a lot of money to be made in gambling on these fighting matches on the black market.
He also had Koi fish and an assortment of exotic birds, all the marks of a successful homeowner. The compound of 8 family dwellings was once the Governor of the Sichuan Province’s home when he stayed in Beijing on official business. Reidar’s favorite part of the home tour (besides the crickets) was the Minor Bird who could say Nin Hao! (Hello) and ask for a beer (peegeot). Of course we were followed all over Houtung by merchants aggressively selling their wares of silk purses, books, postcards, kites, and other paraphernalia. We shooed them off with cries of “Bu Cheong” and “Bu Yao” (don’t want). One homeowner chastised a woman for making noise during the lunch period (about 3 hours in the afternoon when people return home from work for lunch). A scuffle arose and we made a hasty getaway back to our rickshaws which then returned us to our nice air-conditioned bus.
One word about our bus driver--and all bus drivers in Beijing. There is a symbiotic relationship between pedestrians, buses, taxis, and bicyclists in Beijing. If you want to merge into traffic, just do it. If you want to change lanes, go ahead. If you need to turn left, go for it. All of this seems similar to American driving except for one aspect; no one cares if someone else is in the way. Somehow, nobody seems to get hit by the vehicles and the vehicles don’t hit each other despite the fact that there are a million people during rush hour all playing chicken with each other. It’s really amazing to watch once you get over the shock of seeing your driver narrowly missing everything that has the misfortune of finding itself in front of him.
So we made it back to the hotel and went across the street to Chinese McDonalds. We were able to order off of picture menus like the clueless American’s we are and the meal was very satisfying. They also have a KFC and a Pizza Hut here which seem to do very booming business. Score a couple of points for the U.S.A. on the fast food front. The sad fact is that I have been in China for four days and I still haven’t had a Chinese meal. Maybe we can sneak away to a good restaurant in Wuhan.
After dinner we were all bussed over to a theatre where we caught a Chinese acrobatic show. It was really amazing and very entertaining but the other two thirds of my family fell asleep along with several other members of our group because of the hectic pace we have been keeping. I think everyone is anxious to get to the Province and get our girls. We are all off to bed early tonight.
We leave on Thursday morning at 9am for the airport and will arrive in Wuhan in the Hubei Province at 1:30 p.m. We will have our Ariana by 3 p.m. Then the adventure really begins. We’ve got a lot of tired, jet-lagged, emotional people who are about to finally get their daughters after waiting for a year. I’ll give you the big scoop on how it goes hopefully tomorrow. I hope to have a better time posting to the blog from Wuhan since here in Beijing they seem to be blocking us from seeing the blog somehow. I can post but I can’t see what I just posted. Its kind of like flying blind so let me know if the blog looks freaky for some reason.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
We Made It!
Well, its 2am in the morning on Tuesday here and 2pm on Monday there. We are still messed up on the times zones, so after sleeping about 5 hours I got up and decided to let the outside world know that we made it here okay.
Saturday was hectic getting the house all closed up and the van packed for the trip. On top of that I had the great idea to let Tiana give me a haircut with the new clippers we bought. She usually does a great job but we hadn't used these clippers before and they had an angle guard to cut around the ears we thought we would test out. Well, if you've got an angle guard for your set of clippers go ahead and throw them away becuase they cut 4 lines in my head like pre-Surreal Life Vanilla Ice. I screamed, Tiana screamed, and she made an emergency hair appointment with her "stylist" Theresa. She was able to give me the "high and tight" military cut which eliminated the rapper hairstyle in due course.
The rest of Saturday went without event. We spend the night at Mom and Dad's house in Honor so we would be closer to the airport when we awoke at 6 a.m. the next morning. Only thing is, we were so excited we woke up about 3:30 a.m. instead. Reidar slept like a champ, though. So we gathered our stuff and drove to the airport. On our way past the mall a flock of ducks flew in front of the van and one of them bounced off of my front fender, falling lifelessly to the roadside. I wonder if the dead duck has some kind of meaningful Chinese mythological signifigance?
It must have been a good omen because we made it to Chicago just fine. While spending our layover in the terminal, I was able to watch 5 workmen wang away at the front wheel of our aircraft which had some type of malfunctin with one of its doors. It delayed the boarding of our 747, but we still took off about 12:30 CST. The flight was long but not as agonizing as we had expected. Our seats were close to the bathroom and Reidar was on his best behaviour for the entire trip. He played Gameboy and worked on activity books. He even slept for two 2-hour shifts. They fed us and gave us free booze, all of which we took complete advantage of. They also showed four or five movies which helped to pass the time. The size of the plane allowed us to walk about and chat with the other families on the trip who were also going to Beijing to start the adoption process with us. Tiana slept a bit but I only got in about 20 minutes of sleep despite the fact that I had plied my system with a couple of Bloody Mary's, two beers and a Xanax.
When we got to China 13 and a half hours later, we deplaned into the clean and architecturally elegant Beijing Inernational Airport. All of the families in our group except one found their luggage. One couple had the misfortune of what appeared to be an accidental switch up. Someone else grabbed one of their checked bags. Thank God I attached a pink bandana to each of our roll around bags to make them a little more identifiable among the sea of black luggage. We found our fabulous guide Joy who herded us all to a bus and we made the 20 minute or so drive to the Beijing International Hotel. At the hotel, we checked in and exchanged our money (8 Yuan to the dollar) and the porters brought our luggage to our door. One other family's luggage got lost in this process. Hopefully tomorrow we'll find out taht they got it back. The whole process seems pretty organized but I guess there is always something that happens during a trip like this.
The rooms are nice but when we first got there we couldn't get the lights to turn on. You have to insert your room key card into a slot which which keeps the power to your room on so you can use your lights and other appliances. We cleaned ourselves up and walked the 30 minutes or so down Long P Street to the Silk Alley shopping center. This is where the adventure began. We went with our new friends Jesse and Lisa from Indianapolis and for the four of us (plus Reidar) to walk down the long rows of designer bags, shoes, electronics, and clothing was difficult for two reasons. One: the ladies were determined to spend money. Two: the salespeople are so aggressive its like running the gauntlet in Midieval times. The constantaly cojole you, some grab you, and they won't take no for an answer. Inside of five minutes Tiana had two designer purses. The great thing is that whatever price they give you, you cut it in half and negotiate from there. The negotiations usually end up with the merchant being a little bid angry that you took advantage of them--thats how you know you got a good deal. We bought games for Reidar's game boy, some shirts, a complete silk Kung-Fu outfit emblazoned with a dragon for Reidar, and some silk clothes for the girls.
After shopping we were hungry but the only place we were brave enough to eat was the Pizza Hut down the street from the Hotel. We'll eat some authentic Chinese food at places approved by our guides. No need to get too adventurous right now.
We have to get up at 6 a.m. to climb the Great Wall tomorrow. We will also tour a Cloissone factory but I don't know what the hell that is so I'll fill you in tomorrow. They will give us some more free time in the afternoon so I think we'll go back to silk alley so we can buy some more cheapo stuff. They make it all right here you know! Then on Wednesday we'll go to the Forbiden City and take a rickshaw tour. We've already seen some interesting characters so this has all been quite an adventure so far.
Saturday, August 27, 2005
We will be leaving our house today and we fly out tomorrow morning. Today is our 11 year wedding anniversary! We are almost all packed up and the house is almost clean... Our itinerary is as follows:
Aug 28, Depart Traverse City for Chicago 9am, Depart Chicago at noon
Aug 29, Arive in Beijing via United 851 @ 2:30 pm. Staying at the Beijing International Hotel pictured above.
Aug 30, Visit Great Wall & Cloisonne Factory
Aug 31, Visit Tiananman Square, the Forbidden City, and Hutong Tour complete with rickshaw. Acrobatic show in the evening. Whew! we're going to be tired!
Sept 1, Flight to Wuhan. Stay at the Best Western (Mayflower) hotel. We get our babies in the afternoon - Gotcha Day!
Sept 2, Adoption registration & notarization.
Sept 3, Free Day
Sept 4, Free Day - We hope to visit Xiaogan City, Where Ari's orphanage is located and where we believe she is from.
Sept 5, Visit Yellow Cane Pagoda (tourist attraction in Wuhan)
Sept 6, Receive all the documents.
Sept 7, Flight to Guangzhou, Stay at the White Swan Hotel. Visa pictures for Ari in the afternoon.
Sept 8, Medical exam for Ari and visa appointment.
Sept 9, Take adoption oath at 4 pm (4 am est time); pick up visa at 4:30 pm.
Sept 10, Flight to Hong Kong, then to Chicago, then arrive in Traverse City at 8pm