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!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Present Day: Crazed but (Slowly) Catching Up...

Just a quick note to apologize for the gap between actual postings -- someone turned the "insane" dial at work up to 11 a couple of weeks back and broke the knob off, and it's all been coming home to roost (so to speak).

Incidentally, the Pipsqueak's back to her old self (now it's Grandma & Uncle B who are having tummy trouble)... the whole family had dinner together tonight and she was her usual fun, teasing, laughing self. One new thing she's learned is that you can ask for a hug -- and she'll usually give you one in response! (This of course, doesn't thrill me in the least; I only asked for 7 or 8 -- but I got one every time!) She's also getting better at hide-and-seek, at saying "thank you," and at noticing when the cat has left the room. She also gets waaay excited at "The Wheels on the Bus" but actually grabs for the TV remote when "The Muffin Man" song comes on (I kinda agree with her).

Anyway, the weather's also been weird... the latest was the combined sleet & freezing rain we had just a couple of days after the temps reached 70! The flowers had already begun blooming, so while you're waiting for me to finish my entry about our visit to the Reed Flute Cave near Guilin, here's a quick shot of how the combination of simultaneous spring & winter looked:

Okay, back to blogging properly... Zai jian!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Present Day - What, Me Worry?

Hoo, boy.  I guess it's time for a dangerous confession: I finally have a true understanding what for years I thought was a type of insanity on the part of my mother when it came to the safety & well-being of her brood. (I don't think there's any way I can communicate how downright scary that statement is!)

As I mentioned previously, the Pipsqueak's not been feeling too well, and it got to the point where AJ made an appointment with the pediatrician (as opposed to just discussing things over the phone). Last night, while we were talking on the phone, Mom told me that some of the Pipsqueak's behaviors were actually scaring her grandparents because they seemed so out of character... She actually wrote a list for AJ to discuss with the doctor. Now, you've got to understand that Mom isn't one of those "glass half empty" or "glass half full" people -- she's a member of the tiny minority who takes a close look, blanches, and screams, "IS THAT A CRACK IN THE GLASS?!?!?"...so of course by the time she was done giving me the details I was feeling a little panicky myself.

Fast-forward to this afternoon. While heading to work, my bluetooth headset wouldn't stop going beep so as soon I had a chance, I checked the phone -- and found an undated voicemail from Mom telling me to please call Dad's cell phone ASAP. (Mom also has her own cell phone but she often can't hear it when it's buried in her handbag, so we invariably have to use Dad's anyway, go figure... )

I figure I'm almost at work, I'll call from there... but first I'll check in with AJ to hear what the doc said about the Pipsqueak. I walk into the place, hang up my jacket, head down the hall... and my sister's office is closed & locked; she hasn't come in at all today.

I do a quick 2+2 in my head and immediately come to a horrible conclusion.

There's no answer at my folks' house so I call Dad's cell phone and (as usual) Mom answers. After a somewhat confused exchange over who left a message for me when, we realize it's just good ol' Verizon delivering VMs days (sometimes weeks!) after they're left -- that message was so old, neither of my folks could remember when they'd left it. Mom also enlightened me to the fact that my sister was so frazzled by yesterday's insanity at work (a long, sad story not for this forum) that she told me about the Pipsqueak's appointment but neglected to mention she was taking the day off to stay with the little one.

Mom & I kept apologizing to each other and had a bit of a laugh before hanging up... but now I'm worried about all those years of her craziness suddenly not seeming crazy anymore...!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Present Day -- The Pipsqueak's Getting Better...

Well, the diapers are still nuclear-powered, but things are looking up. Of course, the pediatrician said to give her PediaLyte, so she immediately deemed each and every flavor unacceptable. So whaddayado...? In this case, Grandma called the Jiu Jiu and asked him to swing by the local supermarket and pick up a couple of things.

Of course, that "couple of things" was a much longer list after a couple of in-store cell phone calls. (Bluetooth headsets aren't just for the car, folks -- even if you do look like you're talking to yourself.*) Since we couldn't quite figure out what the Pipsqueak would deem acceptable, I picked up varying sizes of containers of pear juice, apple juice, five flavors of Gatorade (carefully chosen not only according to flavor, but in obviously different colors in case Miri rejected any), and a container of 100% pure coconut water (the label claimed it had more electrolytes than energy drinks).

When I got to my folks' house (AJ had to go to work today), the Pipsqueak seemed glad to see me, but was obviously not her usual rambunctious self. I offered to pick her up, and then she wouldn't let me put her back down. Luckily, back in China I figured out how to do things one-handed while hanging onto the little one. It wasn't long before I was sitting at the table with my niece in my lap, trying to convince her (with some success!) to sip some of the juice while sipping my own coffee over her head -- and then trying to convince her she did want juice but did not want coffee! (I finally broke down & gave her a taste by dipping my finger in the coffee and then putting it up to her mouth, and was "rewarded" by getting bitten!)

I managed to convince her to have some juice and (after rejecting the pale purple flavor) some orange Gatorade. Then I got the "Eh! Eh!" and with one arm pointing to the couch, then the "Down!" to the couch, then the "Eh! Eh! Mine?" pointing at the TV. After a quick discussion among the adults, I got up & picked up the TV remote -- at which point Miri perked right up and even laughed & clapped. She cooed a bit more when she recognized the logo of the nursery rhyme show from the "on demand" channels, and then she surprised me by snuggling down against me to watch.

I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed the next 40-odd minutes (during which we worked through most of the available nursery rhyme sing-alongs); this was the first time since we were in China that I got to spend so much time snuggling with the Pipsqueak, singing along and clapping, stamping & nodding along with her while she was tucked into the crook of my arm. I'm hoping she feels better real soon -- but I'm also hoping I get to spend some time with her like this again before she gets old enough to think it's an uncool thing only for little kids.

Oh, and that asterisk when I mentioned people thinking I was talking to myself? I actually do talk to myself fairly often; my philosophy is that it's perfectly normal for a person to talk to himself -- just make sure you don't lose any arguments!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Present Day - The Pipsqueak's Not Feeling Well

We've been to two Chinese New Year events in the past two weeks (both on Saturdays), and we all had a great time at both.

Last week we joined group of friends, all of whom are fellow adopting families (some still waiting!) in a local restaurant. The mom who organized the event kept everyone up to date via email, including a note where she mentioned the lion dance is loud, and boisterous, and the "lion" and Dancing Buddha would be jumping around in very close proximity to the kiddos -- so we might want to look at a couple of Youtube videos to prepare them for the ruckus.

Well, AJ is busy (as in "ridiculously") these days becasue work is crazy, and didn't get the chance... so the grandfolks and I were a little nervous. Two words: No Need. The pipsqueak had a grand old time, meeting one couple's new son from China, bumping up & down, doing the headbanger thang in time to the drumming, wanting to follow the lion through the restaurant, the whole schmeer. I tell ya, the kid's a pro! The lion paid us several visits, and had to work hard to eat the lettuce hanging from the ceiling, but the Pipsqueak was just having waaay too much fun to be scared by some silly loud noises...! Even the big dragon that visited before the lion was just one more fun thing to play with, and once the lion came in she was happy to feed it with a red envelope on her own.

This week we attended the local FCC chapter's CNY event, and while it was bit less personal, it was still a good time for us all. Unfortunately, the Pipsqueak just hadn't been herself for about 36 hours -- her mommy was actually a little worried.  There were a few extra-unpleasant diapers, an intermittent aversion to things she'd normally enjoy, and running out of steam more frequently than usual. She had a good time with the food (I didn't think you could wear rice, but she proved me wrong), enjoyed the craft tables, had fun with some of the other kiddos, kept Cousin E as busy as the rest of us, and stretched out a brownie for almost 45 minutes... But she also ran out of steam quickly, was a little clingy, and just generally not herself. She rallied a bit at Cheeburger afterwards, and had fun making Cousin E chase her in the supermarket (as the rest of us discussed the best choice of PediaLyte flavors), but was still not really herself as we all headed home to our respective homes.

Well, she's still not herself, the diapers are still quite a bit nastier than usual, and yours truly is feeling a bit helpless. The pediatrician is now in the loop, and Grandma & Grandpa are spending most of the day with her (daycare's off the calendar for a day or two just to be sure)... but for some reason, with all the keyboards & remote controls in my house, I can't find the button that makes her feel better.

Anybody know which one it is?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

...With Some Stops on the Way! (July 16, 2010)

The Li River tour had been a peaceful, nature-loving quiet time with the added attraction of the Pipsqueak really opening up for the first time.  Our short time in Yangshuo at the end of the cruise had been noisy (as in very), hot (as in very very), and really kinda cool -- and perhaps more than just a tad nerve-wracking, with a touch of "adoption-only" experience to season it at the very end.

Now we just had to get back to our hotel in Guilin in one piece.

As our bus made its way along the road, the scenery remained different from what I remembered anywhere back home, in Chile, or in Europe. The karst hills were a little less dense here, but sill dominated the landscape; filling most of the area from the road back into the hills were small hamlets surrounded by fields, the majority of which were rice paddies. Effie & Lisa had earlier asked if we would like to see how rice was grown, and tired as we all were there was still enough interest for them to have the driver pull over to the side of the road when we came to a more easily accessible rice farm.  The mommies elected to stay on the bus with the little ones while the rest of us tumbled out the door to trespa- ...er, visit the nearest paddy.

The set of rice paddies that made up the field extended for acres, with a surprisingly small concrete irrigation canal splitting it down the middle. I was surprised at how closely the rice resembled large heads of wheat or similar grain, and at how little water there was in the paddies themselves. Somehow it didn't look at all the way I'd imagined it would -- but this was a large community farm on relatively flat land, not a small set of paddies carved out of a hillside as in some of the more touristy postcard photos. I didn't try any, but several of the group popped a couple of grains directly from the plants into their mouths and said they were a little crunchy with a slightly nutty taste; it seems the "rice" flavor doesn't really come out 'til the grains have been husked & washed. I tried for a few photos of the artistique variety, and then it was back on the bus.

Oh, a note about the 4th photo (the one looking back down the road, with the rear of our bus just visible on the right side)... You'll notice that the distance between the edge of the road and the edge of a three-foot drop into the irrigation canal is only about 3-4 feet, max. For many miles, this was how the road was made: tarmac ending suddenly in grass (often without any trees or other obstructions), with a sheer drop anywhere from a couple of feet to just a few inches beyond. Apparently, the Chinese authorities don't believe in wasting guardrails or curbstones on flat highways! (Dude, on this road you really need to follow the straight and narrow!)

We continued along the road, passing through small towns every few miles. These all looked pretty much the same; a few houses, then many small shops one right after the other, often with dozens of motorbikes and strange half-motorcycle/half-pickup vehicles parked out in front... a few more houses, and then a few miles of farms & rice paddies before the next town. We'd also periodically get a reminder of the rural nature of the area as we'd pass older men or young children herding cows, ducks, or the occasional water buffalo along the side of the road.

We also saw plenty of reminders of why none of us could be paid enough to drive in China. We were on a relatively flat, straight road, with two well-marked lanes of ample width and -- when space allowed -- shoulders along the side (just watch out for those drainage ditches!) Somehow, it just wasn't enough; we all quickly lost count of the "omigoshes" and "holycows" and just plain gasps as we saw one dangerous maneuver after another, usually involving disparate vehicles of all possible shapes and sizes. For example, here's a quick photo I took of a typical calm moment on the road:

I draw your attention to the large white tour bus cutting off the blue tricycle truck -- which is itself crowding the smaller 3-wheel vehicle that had just pelted the motorcycle with dust and dirt -- as it veers back into its lane after swinging out onto the wrong side of the road into the path of an equally large bus (just barely visible on the left) in an attempt to get past the slower traffic only to be stymied by a large truck (just barely visible between the bus & blue carrier) that had itself just veered into oncoming traffic to avoid flattening another small vehicle... Yep, just another typical drive on a Chinese road... la de da, who's worried, not <yikes!> me... 

Don't ask me how, but everyone avoided hitting everyone else, and we made it all the way back to Guilin in (relative) safety. Not to the hotel, though; first we made a stop at an art gallery for a demonstration of the traditional style of ink painting. We had the usual set of curious looks (and smiles for the kiddos) as we entered through a group of local folks, and made our way upstairs to where we seemed to be almost the only non-employees in the building. In one of a series of rooms with a wide variety of paintings hanging on the walls (everything ranging from classic style paintings on bamboo scrolls to almost photorealistic nude women, to the embarrassed amusement of the older girls), there were several rows of chairs set up facing a small table & easel. We took our seats and one of the gallery docents told us a little about the classic style of painting and the long-established rules that governed how certain things were supposed to be depicted. (For example, distance is as much a function of shading as of perspective; the farther an object was supposed to be from the viewer, the more diluted the ink to keep its image lighter & less tinted than closer objects.)

There was a large piece of blank rice paper hanging on the easel, and she introduced a young-looking man who picked up a brush from the table, dipped it in water and then the classic hollowed-out stone holding black ink, and began to move it over the paper. It was amazing to see; he made a short sideways stroke, then moved the brush smoothly down the paper with a little jerk at the end to leave a long grey stripe with slightly wider dark lines at either end. He repeated the motion a couple of times, and all of a sudden I had to blurt out, "That's bamboo!" and in seconds the abstract lines that seemed to just appear under the brush resolved into several stalks of the plant, with different strokes making leaves, stems, and other plants in the background. In just a few minutes, the artist had almost magically turned the blank paper into a black-and-white study of bamboo stalks, which he finished off with the classic "chop" in red ink. I've watched artists work in a variety of media, but I'd never seen such abstract motions create such concrete shapes so quickly. The artist didn't speak English, but the docent told us the craft had been passed from grandfather to father to son -- and it "only" took him 26 years of training to reach his current level of skill!

We had some free time to wander the gallery, during which AJ & I had to deal with a suddenly crochety, noisy, fussy Pipsqueak. We rolled her back & forth in the stroller; no change. We tried carrying her; no dice. We tried talking to her; no help. We tried singing to her... all to no avail. Finally, it occurred to us that she was trying to tell the dumb grownups caring for her that they had forgotten her afternoon bottle and she was hungry! The problem was quickly solved (her afternoon nap would have to wait a little longer), and while the girls painted their own pictures and had their own soapstone chops made the grownups wandered peacefully through the gallery. I bought a few small ink paintings of the Li River area done in classic style, and then it was time to leave. Just as I turned to head for the exit, Lisa came out of the next room with the docent asking if anyone wanted the painting we'd just seen made -- the price was super-low, so now that I'm home I'm happily looking for just the right frame for a very unique souvenir of this part of the trip.

We got back to the hotel hot, tired and sweaty but happy with the day so far. There was still some time before dinner so we set up a Skype session with our folks back home, and the Pipsqueak again showed she was beginning to open up by actually interacting with them on the screen -- not only following the motion in the picture but actually reacting to their voices and movements. It was obvious that the quiet little bundle of baby we'd met just a couple of days earlier was coming out of her shell and had a personality all her own -- but the best was yet to come.

First, as we got ready to go downstairs to the dining room, Miri reached out to be picked up as AJ bent down over her, and sort of nestled into her shoulder on the way down. Then, at dinner, she put on a show for one and all. At first she just busied herself with an empty water bottle, banging it on the table & crushing it into different shapes, then taking a moment to think about it before starting all over again. Then she began to quietly babble to herself, which soon changed into something that was almost singing, making faces at her mommy & uncle and laughing at the rest of the group around the table.

Once our dinner arrived, Miri again showed she "was excited to the food" by inhaling as much congee as we could get into her, then reaching for -- and sampling! -- most of what was on her mommy's plate, stopping only to exchange the occasional silly face with my (absolutely thrilled) sister. Anytime someone at the table would pay attention to her, she'd respond with smiles and giggles and more babbling, stopping only for more food.

There was a short break from making food disappear, during which we had to scramble to take away the chopsticks... AJ's drinking glass... the silverware... my drinking glass... more chopsticks... the soup bowl... the napkin... AJ's plate... the teapot.. (You get the idea... how does a kid with such short arms reach so doggone far?!?!) Then it was time for more food, and after a particularly hilarious set of funny faces made by mommy, the Pipsqueak actually stood up in the high chair and babbled a speech at everyone!

Once the shock had worn off -- AJ & I had gotten into the habit of seating Miri between us, and I think we both grabbed her simultaneously when she stood up -- the Pipsqueak decided that high chairs were for wimps and insisted on sitting in her mommy's lap (probably because it brought her closer to the food). Although she eventually stopped eating after totaling two bowls of congee and a bunch of other food all by herself, my niece kept burbling and babbling and singing, occasionally even laughing as if she'd just told herself a particularly good joke. We just went along for the ride, amazed at how expressive & verbal our little changeling had suddenly become... and loving every minute of it. We knew there was still a (potentially) bumpy road ahead, but our concerns over bonding & adjustment issues seemed to be fading away as we watched...

Eventually, even the Pipsqueak's batteries began to run a little low, and everyone made their way back upstairs to the rooms for the night. It had been a long (hot), eventful day, and now it was time to rest up for the next day's adventures.  We got a quieter, low-key version of dinner's show as AJ got the Pipsqueak ready for bed, and she quickly dropped off to sleep after being put in the crib between our beds. I did a quick blog update as AJ fell asleep, and then -- unforgiving as my mattress was -- quickly dozed off myself.

NEXT: The beautiful Reed Flute Cave and nuclear-powered diapers...!

Monday, February 14, 2011

...And Yangshuo Back to Guilin (July 16, 2010)

The closer we got to the end of our cruise at Yangshuo, the more the landscape returned to its otherworldly state -- and the more signs of civilization(?) we saw along the riverbanks. At one point, we passed a building under construction that was designed to look like traditional Chinese architecture but sheathed all in white (with bamboo scaffolding & individual workers placing the roof tiles by hand, of course!)... The building wasn't tall, but it sprawled out along so much of the riverbank that it actually took us a couple of minutes to glide past it. It was becoming obvious that Yangshuo (and its surrounding area) is yet another boom town...

The traffic on the river began to resemble what we'd seen on land; there was still an amazing landscape to be seen, but it seemed to recede into the distance as the long line of tour boats compressed and the captains began to navigate through an increasing number of other tour boats and smaller vessels. Although we'd passed the occasional riverside town during the cruise, most of what we'd seen was either rural or completely undeveloped -- now there were buildings and wharves in view almost all the time. Most of the passengers returned to the cabin, and there was a definite feeling of journey's end in the air.

There were now boats moored along the riverbank on both sides (sometimes 3-4 deep), and buildings & people on shore everywhere we looked. We passed one wharf that seemed strangely deserted, and then began to catch glimpses of the town itself. Yangshuo seemed to have spread itself out along the riverbank while tucking itself into the nooks & crannies between karst hills, and almost everywhere we looked we saw people... People walking, people sitting, people shopping, people watching us watch them... (A sign of things to come, only we didn't know it yet.) It was interesting to see the mixed architecture in the town, with many buildings made to look much older than they really were; there was one particular pagoda that poked out through the trees that I thought was a wonderful example of historical preservation until I zoomed in with the camera and noticed the plate-glass windows and signs of air conditioning! (Oh, well, people gotta live here, too!) Still, I appreciated the way the town seemed to be part of the landscape instead of apart from it; there was lots of natural stone, almost no motor vehicles in sight at all (aside from the boats on the water), and a thick layer of huge trees everywhere. Despite all the new building, this was a town with a personality all its own.

The river traffic was now snarled almost as badly as what we'd seen in Beijing; tour boats, barges, water taxis, canoes, rafts, powerboats, police boats... you name it, it was on the river and yet somehow they all avoided each other and we kept moving. We began gathering our things together when I noticed -- for the first time in over four hours! -- a gently diplomatic warning posted overhead in typical Chinese fashion; good advice warmly given. <smile>

Looking out the river-side windows as we began to dock, I noticed a couple of small rafts with more cormorants on them and wondered how anyone could possibly do any fishing in the immediate area (most cormorant fishing is done in the quiet time at dusk or early in the night, when torches would attract fish; the river was busy and we were still hours away from sunset). I got my answer when I turned to the shore-side windows; a few meters apart on the wharf were older men in traditional fishermen's garb, carrying the cormorants in traditional fashion, charging tourists the traditional 2 Yuan each for photos. I didn't want to interfere with the gentlemen earning a living, but I did sneak a shot from the boat when they weren't looking...

We disembarked and joined the mass of humanity moving into the town from the wharf area. Away from the open river, down between 2- and 3-story buildings, there was no cooling breeze; the heat & humidity were astonishing, leaving my shirt soaked through with sweat in just a few minutes. We moved through the crowd, stopping once in a while to close up ranks, marveling at the sights & sounds of the town around us (Okay, so that's what they mean by a "bustling" marketplace...) After a short walk we turned onto the famous West Market Street and began a long uphill trek through the town.

As we moved along -- dodging vendors selling fake Rolex watches and "hand carved" statuettes that looked exactly like the hand carved statuettes every other vendor was hawking -- I caught occasional glimpses of the scene behind the scene with each small alleyway or side street we passed. (When I say "street" I'm actually referring to pedestrian areas; the largest vehicles in sight were bikes and motorcycles.) The side streets were even narrower, and a lot less crowded... and every one of them seemed to have at least one hostel or inn somewhere in view. Since returning home, I've read that Yangshuo is the main jumping-off point for hikers, backpackers, and cyclists from all over the world who want to see southern China -- after seeing all the places to stay, it's not hard to believe those reports.

Moving along West Market Street was an experience; there are small shops, restaurants, bars, and scores of businesses aimed at the tourist trade, all in a soup of blazing heat and the sound of many hundreds of people all talking at the same time. I was uncomfortable and loud -- and interesting and exotic and attention-grabbing all at once. We passed one silk shop with a sample stretching frame out front, but it was too small to actually be producing any of the cloth it was selling. We also passed some distinctly non-Chinese businesses whose proprietors seemed to know who their main clientele would be -- many business names, and even more signs, were in English, and a few places even made a point of advertising that it was quiet inside... a welcome break from the heat and noise in the street! We were a little short on time so we couldn't stop long in any one place, but were kept busy absorbing the sights & sounds of the marketplace around us (along with the occasional touch of whimsy).

As we worked out way up the street, every now & then there was a reminder of the incredible landscape the town had nestled into; looking up toward the end of the street, or up over shorter buildings, we could see the steep hillsides marking the edges of the town. The crowds were thinning out a little but the street was still crowded, and the heat seemed to be getting worse... we were beginning to wonder if we'd be able to make it all the way to our bus waiting at the edge of town.

I was distracted from my own concerns with one of those "hey, waitaminit" moments... The steet opened up into a small square, where the oddly-named "Cafe del Moon" advertised cold beer, roast chicken... and wood-fired pizza. I decided that if Marco Polo could take spaghetti from China to Italy, then it was only proper that someone had taken pizza from Italy to China. (Now, if someone could only explain why there wasn't a word of Italian on any of the signs...!)

As we continued up the street, Miri didn't show many signs of discomfort; it was as if she'd always spent her days in hot, crowded shopping streets... there was just an occasional moment of crochety behavior but mostly she just watched the passing scene, absorbing the sights & sounds as if it was just another day at the SWI. We were constantly distracted by the sights & sounds around us -- steep hillsides, shopkeepers in traditional costume, vendors hawking their wares, tables & cases filled with a bewildering array of goods... and she just watched it all calmly from her stroller, probably wondering what all the fuss was about. After the crazy bus ride and all the hours on the boat, I was increasingly impressed by my nieces' capabilities as a traveler... the Pipsqueak was a pro!

After passing another alleyway filled with small inns & boardinghouses, we came to another small square near the end of the street. We still had a long walk to the bus, but the heat was catching up to us fast. There were a couple of small trams in front of one store -- the kind of "mini trains" you might find ferrying people to & from their cars at a large amusement part -- and Lisa went to haggle with one of the drivers. Just as she got to him, another small group walked up and essentially hijacked it out from under her. Lisa shook off the surprise and went to find the other's tram's driver and arranged for hi to take us out onto the road and to the bus (thus avoiding another half-mile or more of hot, tired uphill walk). We gladly plopped down on the benches in the tram to wait for the driver to finish his lunch & take us for a ride.

As I sat looking at the closest business, wondering why they'd chosen such a weird-looking character as a mascot (and thinking I'd be a little afraid to eat there) when I had an experience unique to the adoption of a child from China. Out of the crowd came a tall Caucasian man accompanied by two little Chinese girls. He glanced in our direction, did a double-take, and came walking over quickly. Just as our driver started the tram's motor, he pointed to Miri with a big smile and asked, "How old?" I replied "Thirteen months" but the tram began moving before I could say anything else. Just as we pulled away, the man pointed to the smaller of the two girls and said something I didn't quite catch (I think he was saying she had just joined the family) and then yelled out, "Congratulations!" and waved goodbye with a big smile. I've often wondered since then who he was and how things have worked out for his family. (If you're part of that family, please let me know!)

The ride to our bus was itself a bit of an adventure; the tram was open-sided, with open benches a little lower than many of the nearby cars on the road. In short, it was perfectly designed to give its occupants a thoroughly intimate relationship with the surrounding traffic. As we all took turns holding our breath or nervously laughing at near-misses, I kept thinking I should try to take a picture but was too worried about falling off to let go of the handholds. At one point, a huge tour bus came swinging past, missing us by only a couple of feet (the "Long King" badge on its grill will remain clear in my memory for years to come). AJ kind of yelped and leaned as far back from the side with Miri as she could. Her breathless comment to me as we finally climbed onto our own bus a few minutes later was, "I wanted to tell him I didn't have my daughter long enough to get run over yet!"

We got all our things stowed away, the air conditioning kicked in, and our driver pulled away. A couple of minutes' worth of traffic, and we were on our way back toward Guilin and our hotel... but we still had one more stop to make that day.

NEXT: Paper and ink become a whole greater than the sum of its parts, and the Pipsqueak sings for her supper.