Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

In Guangzhou

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

We made it!

It’s been a LONG time since I boarded an airplane via a stairwell and tarmac, but that’s what we did yesterday. The Air China flight was nice, however. Got us here right about on time.

We’re staying in the Victory Hotel which seems to be pretty nice for us, we have adjoining rooms and for the first time the entire trip Maureen doesn’t have to sleep on on a couch or chair. She appreciates the little things. :)

I came down with a little bit of something yesterday too, that’s why this post is late. But, I’m trying to stage a quick recovery because I was just called by our local guide (Sampson) who told me that the US Consulate wants to move our appointment up to today! That means that we get to have Ellery be official (with the US) one day sooner. The only problem is that Robyn and the kids are all out shopping (as I lay sleeping in the bed). So, we’re going to have a quick lunch, a little nap for grumpy bug and then off to the Consulate!

I’ll post more later, just wanted everyone to know we’re here.

Our Last day in Hangzhou

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

We’re really starting to get a little sad at the prospect of leaving here. Our guide, Sarah has really been amazing and more helpful than we could have ever hoped for. She’s been a dream.

On our last day here we went to the Tea Museum. Tea is a very important product in this portion of China and there is a nice, large museum devoted to its history. We toured that museum (and took lots of pictures) and then went to her friends house again, since it’s right next to the museum, for some more fresh tea. We sat and ate sunflower seeds and enjoyed the day out on their front porch. It was very relaxing and very nice.

We then asked Sarah and our driver, Mr. Liang to join us for lunch at what Sarah said was the nicest restaurant in Hangzhou. It was on the water and at one time (not so long ago) served lunch to former President Nixon. We ordered the shrimp, a river fish, a beggars chicken and some friend rice. There was PLENTY of food and the best part? It was cheaper for all seven of us to eat there than it was for five of us to have the western buffet here in the hotel! The local food was excellent, and prepared (and served!) with care and pride. I took some pictures of the restaurant because it was so beautiful on the inside. Then we walked through a garden we found on the way back to the hotel. I took a lot more pictures in there, since it was just so stunning.

If we’ve learned nothing else in our time here, it’s that Hangzhou is some place we would like to come and visit again. The people are wonderful and the sights are inspiring.

We’re packing now and preparing for the early departure in the morning. Plane leaves at 9:30, so we’re going to be heading out of here at 7:30. I’ll fire up the laptop again once I’m there and let you know about the plane ride to Guangzhou (a short two hour trip).

Wednesday we’ll be four short days from getting back home! Yay! Did I mention that we’re really starting to miss home now?

Bump in the Road

Monday, February 18th, 2008

The next morning we got up and went down to breakfast before we started the next part of the journey. In December, China changed the rules for new parents and now require that you do passport paperwork in your child’s orphanage province. Which meant that we needed to travel to Wenzhou. Which is a pretty well-to-do part of China. It also meant a five hour van ride there, with Ellery.

Off we went.

The five hour drive was not so tough, we stopped a few times and were instantly the sensation of where we were. The locals in these areas didn’t see many Americans, so, we drew crowds and lots of interested stares. We got to see a great many different cities and we went through twenty tunnels! Yes, we counted. Some of them were MILES long. Impressive engineering to say the least.

When we got to Wenzhou we were met by the ladies from Ellery’s orphanage who immediately ran from their car and came over to goo-goo and coo at Ellery. And Ellery was having none of it. She became very upset and cried. Which had been the first time she had done that. So, the ladies got back in their car and we followed them through the insane traffic to get to the passport office. Here is where it gets annoying…

Once in the passport office one of the caregivers, apparently a caregiver who spent a lot of time with Ellery and even took her home occasionally, was in her face talking to her and then grabbed her out of Robyn’s arms. Well, this made Robyn mad, made Ellery mad and made me mad. Ellery was screaming her head off at being with this lady and the situation really started to get tense at this point. In our mind Ellery was confused and not happy about being back in her old “life”, but to this lady Ellery was a constant little companion, so somewhat after the fact, we understood a little better, but we were pretty mad right then and there.

We could hear Ellery crying and howling as she was sitting for her picture, which we will have to remember that moment forever.

Finally that was over with and Robyn explained to Mr. Wu and Professor Liu (our local guide who also taught at the University) that this was just unacceptable and wrong to do to Ellery. Talk about confusing! She is in her Orphanage, then with us, then back with her caregiver? Could you blame her for being upset and confused?

Mr. Wu completely understood and explained the situation to the local orphanage Director. Once Robyn got Ellery back in her arms I would have bit someone in the face if they tried to grab her again. Thankfully, that didn’t happen as I stood between Ellery and the lady whenever she was around. And I realize, now as I type this, that this sounds harsh – but you have to understand, we’re trying to introduce Ellery into our family and giving her glimpses of old life and new life all at once is just too much for a small toddler to have to cope with. I hope you guys understand how we were feeling at this point – VERY protective of our girl.

We ended up having to leave the passport office and then go to a local police office (this was the first time this orphanage and Mr. Wu had done this new procedure). The local police office had to approve some things, then the passport office would be free to complete the paperwork. Thankfully the local police office was EXTREMELY helpful and nice. Everyone there oooooh’d and aaah’d over Ellery.

Once all the paper work was done we retired to our hotel room. We had ditched the idea of two rooms and asked for a suite instead. We all like the idea of being together, it just works out better.

We played and ordered room service for the rest of the night.

And I should mention that this hotel was only a three star hotel (I say that like it’s a bad thing, it isn’t), but that when we called to ask the front desk for a room service menu in English, the manager offered to come up to our room and read the menu to us while we ordered! Amazing service. Just amazing, and just like all the other hotels – they fully understand the concept of service here. I should note that the manager didn’t have to do that, she found us a menu and then sent a very willing and nice bellman to take our order. We got steak over noodles that was to DIE FOR! It was some of the best food I’ve had here in China.

The next day was a trip to the passport office to finalize everything and then we were back in the van for Hangzhou. Unfortunately this time there was traffic… a LOT of it. So, the five hour trip, became a seven and a half hour trip. Ellery? Not so much as a peep in the van. She ate, played, slept, etc etc the whole time. Talk about a trooper!

Also, before we left Wenzhou we asked if the driver could take us to the place where Ellery was left. She was found abandoned at the entrance to a fairly nice subdivision. Seems her Mother had hoped that some wealthy family would find her and adopt her as their own. I don’t know about the wealthy part, but I hope we would fit the bill. I would very much like for her Mom to know that Robyn and I will see to it that Ellery gets every chance that life has to offer.

At long last, we finally got back to Hangzhou, and checked back into our hotel (and requesting a suite) and all was right with the world once again. I’m almost caught up now as well. This occurred a few days ago, so not many more stories to go!

Also, I’m adding captions to the pictures in Picassa. And the pictures (unlike the blog at this point) are current. The West Lake area is stunning in its beauty, just stunning. But, I’ll tell you all about that soon.

More stories…

Friday, February 15th, 2008

Tea Ceremony

On our second (and last) day in Beijing we were taken to a place that sells Tea, but also does “Tea Ceremonies” where they describe and let you taste several different kinds of teas. The whole process was very interesting and the establishment was very beautiful, they took a lot of pride in their work and it really was a nice experience. Black Tea is a favorite of mine but this place was more about the Oolong variety, which is by far the most common here in China.  We didn’t buy anything at this place, despite the fact that the girl who was helping us was a little insistent. We took some neat pictures of the “flowering tea” as well, which is a very large “ball” that when dropped in steaming water turns into a beautiful flower and also makes a nice tea for the first 7-8 brewings, then you leave water in there to admire this plant.

Enamel Art Factory

Mostly they made vases and large bowls, but there were also paintings and other things to hang on the wall. The procedure for the tour was just like the rest, we toured the factory – were invited to sit down and eat and then we walked out via the showroom and then off of the premises. The way they made the vases and things were amazing. Bending small pieces of bronze or copper into shapes and then covering the surface of the pottery with these shapes and then adding the coloring to them and then baking them for a long, LONG time. The vases were amazing, and as good little US consumers we bought a few things here that we just couldn’t resist.

Beijing Acrobats

We ended up our last day in Beijing with the Beijing Acrobats who put on an amazingly ornate and dazzling show of skill and pride. The theater was packed full of people (for snacks the concession stands sold bags of microwave popcorn and people were all walking around with popped bags). We met up with a few people from our group once again at this performance, we all ended up on the same row. The only bad thing about this performance was that it was at 6:30 at night and we were still adjusting to the time change. We were all nodding our heads by the end of the show and it wasn’t due to the fact that it was boring, we just couldn’t focus on the spectacle in front of us.  It would have been nice to spread these events out a little more, but we were troopers and just smiled and went on with it. Both nights in Beijing we collapsed into our beds (which you have to be careful about, because the Chinese don’t sleep on cushy American-style beds, they prefer ROCK HARD surfaces). I think I could literally stand on the edge of the bed and the side not show any signs that I was standing there. The beds are literally that hard.

Last Day in Beijing

So we had eaten and slept our way through the town and now was the last day. We were to go see all of the following amazing sites on this last day: Tiananmen Square,  The Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.  Yes, it was going to be a busy day followed up with a trip to the train station where we’d catch our overnight train to Hangzhou.

Our companion and guide in our days around Beijing was a man named Leo. Of course, Leo wasn’t his real name, just the Westernized name he adopted to make it easy for us, I suppose. Leo was very good about telling us how things were going to happen as well as explaining the history of all of the sites we visited.  He explained the rich history of Tiananmen Square as well as the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao. I took some pictures of the Square, but I think they’d be hard pressed to really show the scale and the amazing beauty. Plus the cold managed to sap a basically new pair of batteries I had installed in my camera, so I didn’t go super camera-crazy inside of the Temple of Heaven.  (as soon as the Internet connection permits I’m going to post more pictures and put details on the ones already there)

Tiananmen Square led us to an underpass that carried us to the entrance to the Forbidden City. Again, I can’t really find the words to properly convey how amazingly large and monumental this place truly was. The ornamental detail present in the buildings was something I’ve seen very rarely. Plus they were renovating alot of the buildings for the Beijing Olympics which will bring a VERY large flood of foreigners to the city. They are getting prepared, we saw signs of that everywhere – from the airports to the signs. China is very proud to have the Olympic games be held in one of their shining jewels of a city.

And lastly the Temple of Heaven was a place where the Emporer would come to pray. It was also amazing, and sadly Robyn and I both noted how the compressed schedule really made it difficult at times to fully grasp what we were laying our eyes on. One magnificent structure after another, just as quickly as we could walk there. It really got us to the point where we were sort-of taking these beautiful buildings for granted. At one point Robyn noted that she had read the follow line in many a blog about the trip over here: “We saw another temple”. Again, it’s not that they weren’t beautiful we just didn’t have the amount of time we needed to fully admire and appreciate these places. Sad, really.

After the Temple of Heaven we had dinner and were whisked away to the Biejing train station, which was full of people traveling home after the holiday. You see, the week-long celebration of the New Year was soon to be ending and people were going back to their jobs after spending the celebration time at home with their families. So, the train station? Busy! After waiting nearly 30 minutes in traffic (within viewing distance of the train station) our guide hopped out and arranged a private little tram car to take us directly to our train. No fooling around with the train station for these Big-noses! We went through a private security check-in and we taken directly to the door of our train car. It was worth the $12 or so it cost us to do that. We bid Leo a farewell and settled into the train car.

The train was something that I immediately pushed for once I read about it. It sounded like too much of an adventure to miss. We’d save one overnight stay and one plane fare (for 4 people!) by traveling overnight via rail. The train we were on was considered to be one of the nicest out of Beijing. Carrying the “Z” designation. Mostly this train was full of business travelers (and a few other big noses) and was very well maintained.  We had four bunks in the “soft sleeper” class, which meant that we had our own compartment. It swelled up just enough to contain all of us and our enormous piles of luggage. We slept comfortably through the night and awoke (mostly) refreshed the next day. I wouldn’t say it was the most comfortable, but the cots were slightly better than the hotel in Beijing. Also, the other bullet trains speeding by were a little unsettling. You’d be sleeping quietly when you’d hear this giant woosh and then the room would light up from the other train going by in a blink. I should also mention that almost all train announcements were made in multiple languages, including English.

Once we arrived in Hangzhou we exited the train (without a way to transport all of our luggage – aside from lugging it ourselves) and discovered we had to haul all of that stuff up two flights of stairs. And then down two flights. And then? Down two more flights into a sea of people all arriving on their trains. And when I say a sea of people, I mean that word in the truest sense of the word. I’m not describing the Carribean here, or Tampa Bay.  I’m talking about the Atlantic, undulating and covered with masses of people carrying their luggage and bags of rice from home to the work.

And there we were. In the middle of all that.

I told Robyn that it felt like a scene straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. Literally ten thousand people or so, in the same hallway with us, all pushing to the security checkpoint before the exit. Crazy doesn’t even begin to describe it.  We pushed our way toward the gate with the masses around us and somehow, amazingly, ended up outside. Greeted by Sarah, who was holding our names and smiling. She was a welcome sight – that was for sure. We were taken to our private van which was roomy, warm and solitary. Which we loved!

Sarah then informed us that we wouldn’t have very long at the hotel, maybe 5 minutes, before we’d need to go and be united with our daughter. We thought we’d have three hours or so, and that we could all have showers (no showers on the train – silly Big Nose!). So, we said to hell with it (pardon my french) none of that mattered, we’d just go and get the thing that brought us here to begin with, our daughter. We learned that Ellery had traveled from her Provence that morning at 5am. So, we didn’t want her to wait any longer.

More in my next post about the first time we saw our daughter…

Now I have time to write!

Friday, February 15th, 2008

The current status is this: We’re awake on Saturday morning and we’re all nice and rested after what could only be described as harrowing days of travel. Not being negative, just wow. Anyways, more about that later. I’m going to try and start at the beginning and catch up with where things stand today. Robyn has Ellery on her chest and they’re both taking a small siesta. Luckily for you that means I have time to describe all of the recent events that have been going on, so without further adieu:

The Wall

Aside from the train, this was the one thing that I was looking forward to more than anything else (obviously, I mean aside from getting our little “cute butt”). I have read and seen SO much about the Great Wall that it was just awe inspiring for me to be there. It was just stunning. To be walking on those steps, to be making that climb, Wow. The one thing that brought me back to reality was the brutal cold – and the crowds. In some sections you were shoulder to shoulder with people going down while you were going up. Plenty of people in China, yep.

The construction was pretty impressive too. The day we went the winds were literally howling through the tops of the wall and through the buildings. It felt more like scaling Everest than climbing the Great Wall at times. And when I say howling, that’s no exaggeration. We had bundled up pretty well (you can see in the pictures), and it was still cold, cold, cold. I don’t want to seem like I am complaining, getting to hike up the wall was great. Surprisingly, it was physically demanding. The steps are uneven, which is something that never occurred to me. I don’t know why I expected them to be perfectly even, but they weren’t even sorta like that. And the railing was VERY short, many times I had to lean over to use it. Again, in the overall scheme of things I didn’t care – I was just happy to be there. Out of breath a lot, sweating a lot, but happy to be there!

We were there for two hours, but it felt more like ten minutes. We were bundled up, and you would have laughed to see all the business men in dress shoes and suit coats walking up right beside us. And women in heels. That boggled my mind!

Jade Factory

One thing we learned really quickly is that most businesses (the jade factory included) don’t have HVAC. The show room and the dining area of the restaurant that was attached to the facility DID have HVAC, but the factory where the people worked? Did not. And the public areas of every civil building we’ve been in so far, also did not have HVAC. So, when it was 1-2 C, that meant it was only a little warmer inside.
The Jade Factory started with a brief tour of the facility that explained the many different types of Jade and the ways to spot real Jade from fake Jade. It was a very well practiced and nice introduction, but we immediately felt that we were just kind of along for the “commercial ride” as we were shown the workers who were busily making these beautifully ornate pieces and then led to the showroom. It wasn’t over the top, and we certainly weren’t required to buy anything, it just felt a little contrived to me. And this was only the first taste of it, there was much more to come. I also want to be clear that we weren’t blindsided by this, we came to China knowing we wanted to buy things, oh yes, a great many things. :)

The Hutong

Hutong is a traditional Japanese living area where one family would spend their lives all in relatively close proximity. The particular Hutong that we visited was a quadrangle of living space, kitchen, eating area and rooms. We were taken to this Hutong via Rickshaw. Which probably really stunk for our driver guy, but he didn’t complain – he moved us right along. I should also point out that the Hutong was not only a popular destination for Westerners (Big Noses as we’re called), but it was also a very big destination for Chinese. Seems that many come to see how those just a generation or two before them managed to live.

Our Hutong visit was finished up with a tea ceremony handled by the gentlemen who had bought this particular Hutong for his family to live in sometime around 1946. He was extremely nice and his Oolong tea was VERY good. He was very open and answered every question we had. He seemed genuinely honored to have us visit his home and even shared a story of how last year a young couple who had just graduated from Harvard had come to be married in his home. The experience with him mirrored many other experiences we’ve had so far, people are very kind and open.

I’m going to go ahead and post this segment now, and then I’ll put the rest of the activities in a follow up post (in just a few minutes).

About to leave for Hangzhou

Monday, February 11th, 2008

We’re going to see Tiananmen Square today as well as the Forbidden City. And about 7:30 tonight we’re going to be taking our train (overnight) to go and pick up our little bundle of joy. I wanted to post again to thank everyone for the comments and tell you guys that we’re all happy and healthy and ready to go get our girl. It’s really been anexperience and I promise to comment the photos soon, there are just so many to go through and I have ZERO time. I’ll have lots more time later on this trip. So, all of you be good and we’ll update the next time when we have a cutey!

You’ll have to forgive me…

Monday, February 11th, 2008

We were sooooo tired after the flights that we just came in to the hotel, and went to sleep. Then yesterday we went to a large Jade factory, went to the Wall, went to a Hutong, went to a tea ceremony went to an enamel art factory, went to see the Beijing acrobats and by the time we were done with that, we were ready to sleep. So, we did.

But, I’m up early this morning – sending pictures first and then I’ll update. Sorry – this will get better but the 10 hour time change is kind of tough at first. Especially when you combine it with climbing up the Wall.

More to come soon!

And we’re off…

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

In about 8 hours from right now we’ll be taking off for Detroit and then heading to Tokyo and then Beijing. We’re all ready to go and tired from getting packed, the house cleaned and all the other four thousand six hundred and twenty seven things that popped up at the last minute for us to do. We’ll catch you guys up on where we are and what we’re doing as soon as we get on the ground and sleep off a little of that jet lag.