More stories…

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!

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).

New addition to the family

February 13th, 2008

It’s official. MUCH has happened since I last wrote in here, but the important news, the best news – we have a new daughter. She is amazing, she is beautiful and sweet. And I’m pretty much out of words to describe her.

She left from her orphanage at 5am this morning to meet us, so she was tired when we met her. But, she rebounded from the tiredness to introduce herself to us rather quickly. She sorted us out for a few minutes and then the woman from the orphanage put her in Robyn’s arms. She wasn’t sure what to make of us at first, but she seemed to quickly settle in. We even got a smile or two out of her. Then she was off to sleep. There are pictures in the Flickr collection of her asleep in my arms as Robyn was doing paper work.

I’m sure we’re in the "honeymoon" period but she has been amazing so far. She’s only been a little grumpy here and there and has been pretty content to sit and play with us. Everyone has been enjoying the time with her.

I know I keep promising more words to describe the things going on here, but it’s really been tough with this +14 jet lag. We were all asleep in the room after we played earlier today. And now it’s 9pm and all I can do is think of sleep. It was supposed to be a nice restful day, but all we did was spend time with Ellery – who seemed to be happy for all of the attention. She really took to it and ate it up like a true giant ham. :)

And one final word about pictures – the Internet connection here is ridiculously slow. So, pictures will make it up as they come up. I’m putting the priority on pictures of Ellery and the other scenic stuff will come along in time.

Tomorrow we’re off at 8am for a trip to the Orphanage (5 hour drive) and then we stay the night and we’re back here the next day (after another 5 hour drive). Hopefully tomorrow I will get a better chance to put the experiences we’ve had into words. Don’t lose faith in me – we just are still struggling with all kinds of craziness and the lack of sleep.

About to leave for Hangzhou

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!

Pictures are up

February 11th, 2008

The Longest Flight in the World

February 11th, 2008

Okay, Robyn made me promise that I would not be all negative about the flight. Okay, so this is going to be a short entry.

The first flight (Maureens VERY first flight on an airplane and Connor first flight that he can remember) was EXCELLENT. We were in an Embraer made jet that sat roughly 50 people. It was 2×2 and was piloted by this guy who knew exactly what he was doing. It was smooth as glass. Very professional, and a GREAT plane ride.

The flight from Detroit to Tokyo was ummm, nice (remembering my promises). It’s not that it was rough, it’s just that riding in coach is tough for someone who is 6′, 2" and not exactly slim. Three is precious little room in those seats and near the end it was a little tough. Everyone else managed to sleep but me, since I was uncomfortable to the point of annoyance. They feed us like crazy, there was a food or snack service about every three hours. And the other crazy thing was that as we were flying we never experienced "night time" there was no darkness. We flew in daylight until Tokyo where we experienced our first sunset. On the plane we watched Gameplan with the Rock and several other movies, including a new entry into my "Worst Films Ever" with some wonky Duston Hoffman film about him running a toy factory.

The flight from Tokyo to China was nice, completely full as well. It was on an Airbus A330. Which was new and had individual video screens in the seats and stuff. All-in-all Northwest did pretty right by us, we enjoyed all the flight crews, especially Mr. Mike from Chicago on the flight to Tokyo. He was sneaking Maureen and another girl snacks from the first class section. You know, the really NICE stuff like figs and fruits in nice cups. My advice at this point would be to not sit in the middle, I thought it was the best idea at first since we’d have our own row, but I think it might be better to sit on the side, actually. I’m going to try and switch us up for that on the ride home. We’ll see how that goes.

You’ll have to forgive me…

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…

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.

First, an introduction.

February 6th, 2008

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the reason why we are going to China in the first place. So, let me explain. Sometime around October of 2005 the wife and I decided that we weren’t done with having kids (and I mean younger, nicer kids) in our lives. We have older (brattier, grumpier, thankless-er, i.e. typical) kids now, but we wanted one more chance to make a nice one. (I’m kidding of course. Well, kind of.)

Anyway, we started looking into places where we could adopt. We talked about Russia, we talked about South America, Korea, Vietnam and a great many other places. Then we looked into China. China has/had an excellent reputation with regard to the structure and completeness of their system and we were immediately drawn to the fact that there were nearly one million children waiting to be adopted. Also, females are particularly plentiful since China is still desperately clinging to their gender stereotypes about boys being superior. The fact that the wife and I wanted another girl (more than a boy) pretty much sealed the deal.

So, we knew what we wanted to do – the next step was finding an agency. We went to the biggest one in town and were sort of disappointed with the result. About the same time there was a person on a message board that I haunt (ArsTechnica) who was writing about his experience with a Russian adoption. I asked him about his agency and he whole-heartedly recommended them to me. The agency was the Gladney Center.

Over two years later we’re ready to travel to China at the end of this week and go get our little girl. Along the way we also decided to adopt”special needs”. In China, just about any physical deformity or condition is considered “special needs” so we ran down this laundry list of “special needs” that we thouht we could handle and sent the form back. We actually didn’t select Albinism but our agency sent us a picture of this little girl and it was love for us at first site. Seriously, we were head over heals. Here is the first picture of her that we ever saw:

(If you can’t see the picture above, it’s because I host all of my pictures at Flickr and your company may be draconian in their Internet policies – since everyone knows that Flickr is somehow considered a “bad” site).

Anyway, now you know why we are going. How could we not go? How could we not want to allow this little adorable person into our lives and do everything that we possibly can to give her a good life and an opportunity to succeed? We couldn’t. So, we’re off!


February 3rd, 2008

We’re going to be detailing all of our adventures here. Watch for this site to change daily once we are in China (Feb 9). We will also be linking pictures as well. Oh, and this will be written from the Dad’s point of view, since I don’t think my wife will be able to actually think about anything before or after we’re united with our beautiful daughter. :)