My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

And Now We Are Three (July 13, 2010)

Wow... and I thought getting out of bed on the 12th was hard... Somehow, when arranging for a 7:00am wake-up call the night before, 7:00am didn't seem so... well, early. (For those readers who don't know me, I'm one of those people who feel early morning is best seen through closed eyelids.) We had to board the bus at 10:00 to go complete the adoption paperwork -- at two different locations in the city -- so 7:00am was the best compromise between trying to get some sleep and leaving enough time to get an unfamiliar little one ready for breakfast. We figured three hours would be enough time.


First there was the matter of working out who got to use the bathroom in what order while the other "who" kept an eye on the little one. Then we had to prepare a bottle and give Miri a chance to finish it off at her own pace. Then we had to finish dressing and putting together what we needed for the day while taking turns keeping an eye on the little one. Then we had to round up diapers, bibs, extra bottles, etc. (we had a lot of "etcetera") and get it all in A's new baby bag. Then we...  Well, let's just say we left ourselves three hours -- and still somehow walked into the dining room with just 25 minutes in which to inhale breakfast, retrieve everything from the room, and get out front to our bus!

A couple of words about breakfast before getting on with the day's adventures... For those of you who may have passed one of thousands of businesses with a sign out front that read, "Chinese Restaurant" and wondered what the equivalent would be in China, here's your answer: we ate breakfast every morning in the Western Restaurant. Breakfast was a fairly extensive buffet, with all kinds of typical breakfast fare like coffee, tea and OJ; an assortment of breads (see photo below for the bread basket!); cereal; French toast; sausage; scrambled eggs; black eggs; congee; spring rolls; lo mein noodles; pork-filled sticky buns; fried tofu; steamed tofu; tofu soup; spicy tofu with beans; and so on... (Remember, "typical" depends on the local culture when one is traveling!) One dish I learned to avoid was an innocent-looking preparation of green beans; quite tasty at first, but with enough spice to peel paint off the wall at 30 paces.

Our first stop was the same government building where we'd first met Miri the day before. Somehow, the crazy-small elevators, lack of decent air conditioning, and not-quite-gone signs of its former hotelhood felt friendly & familiar; something very special had happened for us there, and it could've been a run-down log cabin in the wilderness and still had a positive sense about it.

We were even in the same room as the previous day, and while we were waiting an adoptive mother/daughter team from Canada who'd shared it with us also returned. Like us, they had their newest family member with them; unlike us, they were adopting a slightly older little girl who was able to jump & run with ease. While we all waited, the little girl began playing on the big plastic slide/tunnel on the far end of the room, and after going down the slide a couple of times complained (in a combination of Chinese, sign language, and general pointing & nodding) that there was a wet spot at the bottom and it had dampened the seat of her clothes. Next thing we knew, she had stripped off everything she was wearing from the waist down & began sliding again, happy as a lark! Her new teenage sister was trying desperately to get her to put her clothing back on (the fact that she was laughing just made it harder), and just as she thought she'd gotten a handle on the situation, the little one laughingly took off down the hall at full speed (still naked from the waist down) and our last contact with her new older sibling was her voice receding down the hall calling, "Mom! I need your help!" to the vast amusement of everyone on the floor.

Several of the same people who had brought the girls to us soon came in, and we learned that the older woman was the head nanny and the gentleman with her was the director of the SWI. (I don't remember if I defined that acronym earlier: "SWI" is a Social Welfare Institute, and it can be an orphanage, a retirement home, a nursing home, or any combination thereof.) The formal gifts were given and we had one last chance to ask any questions we had about the girls. We were given official documents of adoption in red leatherette books (complete with attached official portrait) and a few other important items, and then it was time to head for the next appointment.

There was one interesting moment as everyone prepared to leave... The head nanny wanted to say goodbye to the girls, each of whom was being held by her new mommy -- and each of whom in turn actively recoiled from her when she reached to give them a hug! The poor woman was obviously embarrassed (and maybe a little hurt as well), but everyone was careful to not make a big deal about it. Still, it came up in conversation a few times during the trip, and to this day I can't help but wonder why the little ones were so unhappy about her reaching for them while they were essentially being held by women who were complete strangers...

In any case, we had to get going so it was back on the bus for a mercifully short ride to a Justice Ministry building. We pulled through the gate into the courtyard, which had been set up as a basketball court (we saw a lot of kids & young adults playing basketball in Nanning). We pulled up (through the basketball court!) to the front door and waited while Lisa ran into the building to check on the arrangements. Then we waited some more after she came back out; the waiting room was full, and none of the other areas open to us was air conditioned so it was more comfortable to stay in the bus. (Being in the sun was akin to having someone whacking you nonstop in the face with a towel soaked in near-boiling water... "comfortable" was a relative term.)

After about 20 minutes, we filed into the lobby for a few sweaty moments before entering the "air conditioned" waiting room. The A/C was a refrigerator-sized portable unit in one corner, and if you weren't directly in its airstream then you might not be aware it was there... but this was the last step in the provincial paperwork so we all just gamely sweated it out. After a few minutes we struck up conversations with the other families waiting with us; a Finnish couple (whose English was excellent) and an American family from Texas who we'd bumped into a couple of times at our hotel. I thought it was interesting that when the Finns spoke to each other, it sounded very different from Mandarin but just as alien; a real reminder that we were all strangers in a strange land.

Each family was called down the hall to the Magistrate's office in turn, until finally it was our turn -- and then I had to stay in the waiting room because I wasn't going to be an actual parent. I understood the logic, but have to admit I wasn't exactly thrilled (Hey, I'm part of the same family! What's the problem?) While I waited, A sat in the Magistrate's office, where the SWI reps (same ones, they got there before us) handed over their paperwork and then A had to answer a few questions about herself and promise to provide for the baby's needs & guarantee she would get an education once she was living Stateside... and then suddenly there was a new official stamp on the official adoption document, and as far as the government of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region was concerned, Miri was one of the family!

Happy at achieving the next milestone in the adoption process, we all returned to the hotel for lunch. There was nothing scheduled for the next few hours, so the other families took the girls to the pool while A and I just chilled in our room. We originally thought we'd join them, but we weren't there long before Miri conked out on her mommy's lap (followed shortly by mommy herself). I woke A just long enough to suggest she stretch out, and they were both sleeping again in just minutes... but even asleep, I noticed my sister wouldn't let go of her new daughter.

The scene was peaceful, loving, quiet, and peaceful... and then the Pipsqueak woke up. Omigawd, you would've thought the room was populated by a flock of banshees... being chased by howler monkeys... carrying megaphones. I know I wasn't a straight-A student in physics, but howtheheck could such a little person make such a big noise...?!?!? We talked to her. We stroked her. We tried to distract her. We tried to feed her. We checked her diaper.

And the crying just would. not. stop. Luckily, we stumbled on the solution: pick her up and hold her while standing or walking around. Do not stand still too long, do not move as if you're putting her down, do not attempt to sit down while holding her, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. We spent the rest of the afternoon taking turns carrying Miri around the room, passing her back & forth as our arms (backs, legs, knees, feet) gave out. There was one interesting discovery in the middle of all the noise: when Uncle B went to wipe a bit of drool away from Miri's mouth, she kind of slurped on a finger for a moment... and then the Pipsqueak bit me! We hadn't realized it until that moment, but our newest family member was teething. Finally, as both mommy and uncle were losing hope, the Pipsqueak fell asleep...

...Just in time for us to have to get back on the bus for a shopping trip and dinner. (This was the beginning of a trend of the little one falling asleep just moments before we either left for somewhere or arrived somewhere.) She wasn't exactly thrilled with us, but we had to wake her to get downstairs & back on the bus. It turned out that none of us were terribly thrilled, either; it was the wildest ride we'd had yet. The hotel was in a less congested area just outside the main downtown section of Nanning, where there was enough room to build wide roads with separate lanes dedicated to bikes & motorcycles... and even with that, the bus had trouble getting out into traffic. Now we were headed into the city proper to go shopping at Wal-Mart.

What's that? Yes, I did indeed say "Wal-Mart". We had flown halfway around the planet to a communist country to go shopping at Wal-Mart. At one time or another during our stay we either shopped in or walked past (in alphabetical order) 7-11, McDonald's, Papa John's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Subway ...and Wal-Mart. Go figure! Anyway, to get back to the story...

Once we got into downtown proper, traffic went from bad to absolutely insane. Our driver seemed to be pushing the bus into the narrowest openings between moving vehicles that were themselves trying to do the same thing at the same time. It all came to a head when a taxi decided to make an illegal U-turn and stopped in front of us. I was just 2 seats back from the driver and saw the back of the taxi getting a whole lot closer a whole lot faster than I liked (even comparing it to the other maneuvers I'd almost closed my eyes for). I was about to yell something when our driver finally realized it wasn't moving and stomped on the brake pedal. Well, the bus stopped -- but there were no seat belts for us or cargo nets for all the stuff we had with us. By the time all the internal motion stopped, Papa S had migrated violently from his forward-facing seat on the bench against the rear wall of the bus to a backwards-facing position on the floor just ahead of my seat, bouncing off Lisa at the halfway point hard enough to knock her off her seat. She wound up with a bruise, he had a surprisingly small cut on his leg, and several baby bags were 6-10 feet farther forward than they'd been moments earlier, but (except for having a couple of years scared off each of our lives) everybody was OK.

Lisa had a few choice words with the driver (with some conversations, you don't need to understand the language to understand what's being said) and after first aid was applied where needed we proceeded on our way at a slightly more sedate pace. Since real estate is at an extreme premium in Chinese cities, the Wal-Mart was inside a multi-story building with parking in an underground garage. I again wanted to say something as the driver blithely zipped into the garage and I couldn't help but duck as we passed through the door. Whoa, that ceiling can't be as close as it looks, can it?

No, it wasn't that close -- it was closer. The farther into the garage we went (and the driver had already slowed to a near-crawl), the closer the ceiling got -- until we reached a bottleneck where there was no room to turn around and the A/C unit on the roof of the bus protruded about 9 inches above a pipe hung across the right of way. Eventually we left our driver to negotiate his way backwards through traffic and around the two curves he'd come around to get back out into the street on his own as we all walked the rest of the way through the garage to the entrance.

Shopping was a bit of an adventure... definitely a Wal-Mart and yet definitely different. We couldn't help but notice that we were attracting curious glances (the only non-Asian faces in the place), and there was some pretty odd-looking merchandise on some shelves, but it somehow still felt & looked like a Wal-Mart. After momentarily splitting up so our wounded could buy more first aid supplies while the rest of us searched for the baby department, we all met up at the stroller display and eventually all bought copies of the same stroller. We then picked up some clothing & diapers for the little ones (and later discovered A had seriously overestimated the correct size of the latter), looked around a bit, and headed for the door. The checkout area was a chaotic tight squeeze, and we discovered that in China one must bring one's own bags to Wal-Mart -- luckily we all had day packs or space in the baby bags.

We stepped out into a mini shopping mall on the 1st floor of the building, and from there passed through a curtain of heavy plastic strips out into a street that had been converted into a pedestrian mall. Halfway down the block was another one of those outdoor TVs, this one sitting on 20' columns and measuring at least 35' across. We passed under the screen to the street, and lo & behold there was our bus, waiting remarkably unscathed to take us to dinner.

Dinner was at a smaller restaurant, where we were ushered past the regular dinner crowd (all locals) into a private room in the back. It was hot & muggy but there was another of those refrigerator-style A/C units in the corner that the hostess helpfully turned on for us... and then she turned on the TV in the corner before leaving! Different dishes were brought in one after the other, and we all ate our fill. Miri was back to her usual self by this point, so I'll quote our original travel blog to describe dinner: "It was fun to watch A try to eat while 1) feeding Miri, 2) keeping Miri from grabbing everything in a 2-foot radius, 3) trying not to end up wearing what she was trying to have Miri eat, and 4) trying to keep Miri from sticking non-edibles into her mouth. Somehow she managed (yes, I did help!) and eventually we made it back to our hotel with only minor wounds to show for the day."

On the way back to the hotel, one of our big mysteries was solved: we would be leaving for Guilin the next morning, and would get there via bus... a ride that would last a bit longer than five hours. We had to have our suitcases downstairs in the lobby by 10:00am so we could get to our hotel in Guilin in time to check in, settle down, and have dinner. We all exchanged some nervous looks, thinking back to just that afternoon's short ride into town... and remembering that all three little ones seemed to equate boarding the bus with a negative experience. (My suspicion is that it's related to the SWI they came from being almost 4-1/2 hours' bus ride from where we had met them in Nanning.)

We pushed to get everything packed -- the "extra space" we'd gained by giving away the official gifts & some other items was more than made up for by the new outfits of baby clothes & packages of diapers. Somehow, using the portable scale to balance the load, we managed to cram everything into our suitcases & carry-on bags. The Pipsqueak had mellowed back out again (all the flinging of food at the restaurant had tuckered her out) and once all the packing was done, she and her mommy shared a little quiet bonding time together. They were both soon asleep, but before going to bed I took a couple of minutes to record all the neon on the downtown buildings (much of it animated).

I lay in bed for a few minutes before falling asleep, thinking back over the incredible events of the past 48 hours. There was a touch of the old familiar melancholy from our Foreign Service days based in the knowledge that I was unlikely to ever again be in a place where something very special had happened in my life, and a little regret that we hadn't had a chance to see more of the city and the surrounding area. Still, there was the occasional mini-snore from my new niece in the crib in the far corner of the room (right where A could reach it from her bed in an instant) reminding me our real reason for being there, and the sheer wonder of her presence quickly pushed the melancholy away. I don't remember my dreams that night, but I do remember smiling as I fell asleep.

NEXT: The Bus Ride From Hell!

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