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, March 2, 2011

Pearls, Elephant Trunks, and Another EDC (July 17, 2010)

Heading back into town, the Pipsqueak happily occupied herself by closely examining the contents of mommy's purse, stopping occasionally to make sure her fingers were wiggling properly. Mommy was content just to hold her & watch, while her uncle was amused by the way she used her feet to hold the purse while using her hands to dig through its contents. AJ is the lone southpaw in the immediate family, but now it looked like I had a new quadridextrous relative!

The next stop in our day's outing was the South China Pearl Factory, a large facility that specialized in (what else?) pearl jewelry of many different kinds. There was more activity than there had been at the jade factory or silk factory, but the formula was familiar: a short guided tour of exhibit rooms describing the history of the trade and the many different types of pearls & pearl oysters ending in a large, well-stocked showroom where the finished products were sold. I learned a few interesting things but there seemed to be less "tour" and more "showroom" than before. Even as more groups of tourists entered -- many were from North America, but there was a European contingent as well -- we were very gently, quietly & diplomatically kept engaged on one side of the room despite there being many display cases & shelves on the other side. I took a moment to wander over, then beat a hasty retreat; aside from a few artificially-dyed bangles in one case, most of the merchandise on that side of the showroom had price tags with a lot of digits on them. I needed no encouragement to keep any further browsing outside that high-roller territory!

We picked up just a few things -- a nice birthday gift for Mom, something to put away for Miri in the future, an interesting bracelet for AJ -- but it was nice to sort of just sit and people-watch and listen to the different languages for a while. All the saleswomen spoke at least passable English, and several of them seemed to be honestly looking for excuses to coo at the Pipsqueak and play with her for a moment. I think it was here we experienced for the first time what was to become a frequent exchange: "Oh, cute, how old?" "Thirteen months." "Oh, she not that old, she so small!" The last was invariably followed by the speaker making silly faces and cooing at the Pipsqueak, who always seemed a little bewildered by all the attention. (Hey, so I'm little, what's the big deal?)

I had another "only in China" moment just before getting back on the bus. Some of the staff were proud to let us know there was a Western-style bathroom available to visitors, and it suddenly seemed like a good idea to check it out before hitting the road. I walked in and found good ol' American Standard toilets in each stall... with all the toilet seats carefully stacked in one corner of the room!

We rolled back into town, crossing over yet another one of the bridges... Did I mention that the bridges in Guilin are each designed to have their own personality, complete with mini versions of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Arc de Triomphe, and other famous international landmarks? We got another quick mini-quiz about Guilin's lakes (there are four, but I have to admit my memory's broken down to the point where I'll have to look up their names online... Sorry, Effie!) and again began to hold our collective breath as the driver made his way through an odd combination of motorcycles, cars, pedestrians, pedicabs, cars and delivery vans all moving with the usual Chinese abandon.  We almost missed the sight of a centuries-old pagoda poking up through the trees, awaiting restoration as the city around it continued to modernize & build up.

Although it hadn't been on our original agenda, we made a quick stop at the famous Elephant Trunk Hill. The first surprise was that it wasn't the riverside natural stone arch near our hotel we'd all seen -- that was another (smaller and less famous) arch named for a famous general of ancient Imperial China!  The second surprise was that it was so bloody hot when we got off the bus; moving from one air-conditioned environment to another, we'd missed the fact that the temperature had been steadily rising since we'd left the hotel.  Standing on the waterside plaza facing the archway, Lisa & Effie explained that during the monsoon season most of what we were looking at -- including the patio, the ticket office, and the nearby restaurant! -- would be under water; when the Pearl River would recede, everything would be cleaned up & repaired for tourist season. Taking turns holding the Pipsqueak so that neither she nor we would overheat, AJ and I took some photos while Effie explained that things had been a lot dryer than usual this year. The entire arch was clear of the water and people were walking under it, but the water would normally have been almost halfway up the arch so that it (with the heavily forested hill next to it) would look a lot more like an elephant drinking from the river.

I noticed another young woman in historic tribal dress and thought maybe it was a repeat of the modeling session we'd seen at Seven Star Park, but it turned out to be a Chinese tourist taking advantage of the rent-a-costume franchise nearby. Apparently one of the favored souvenirs for Chinese visitors is a photo of themselves in traditional Zhuang costume with Elephant Trunk Hill as a backdrop. (The young woman seemed a lot less excited about it than her mother... then again, it may have simply been that she was slowly melting in the sun like I thought I was!)

We got back on the bus (Aaah... air conditioning!) and headed off to lunch. The Pipsqueak was again playing happily with us, having a grand old time exchanging goofy faces with her mommy and bumping noses with her uncle. As always, her tongue was sticking out at all odd angles, but it didn't worry us anymore -- I'd even swear the Pipsqueak gave me the razzberry on purpose one time! We were just having a lot of fun, all three of us together... it was a short ride, but a great family-building interlude. (Unfortunately for us, the Pipsqueak still hadn't learned the difference between "pat" and "WHACK!" so we also quickly learned that she thought "OW!" was one of the funniest sounds in the world... still does, in fact!)

We soon arrived at a rather posh restaurant, where Effie & Lisa ordered an assortment of dishes representative of local cuisine. It was all really good -- but much of it (despite the spices being toned down) seemed to be made with the idea that chili oil and hot peppers are better in larger quantities. The restaurant itself was interesting; there was a raised walkway running down the middle of the room, and we were told that when not being converted into a disco for the new wealthier middle class, the establishment was often used to host fashion shows. The staff was obviously used to wealthier, more powerful patrons accustomed to having their way; one large table on the other side of the room seemed to have 2 waiters for each guest, and no one batted an eye at the two little boys playing soccer in the middle of the room, using an empty water bottle as a ball.

They did seem to be less well-prepared for customers with infants, though; despite being less than half-full, they ran out of normal "baby chairs" before we could get the Pipsqueak into one, so we had to figure out how to keep her safe in a high chair that had neither tray, nor straps, nor rails. Lisa (as usual) came to our rescue; using two of the linen napkins, she tied Miri safely into the chair! (Somewhere in the back of my mind was a voice going, Aaar... We'll lash ye to the mast we will, matey!)

We all enjoyed lunch and had a few good chuckles at all the Eagles and Carpenters music playing on the PA system. The kiddos all seemed to be adjusting a bit more to their new families, and the Pipsqueak went so far as to take a quick nap. But then -- the bill was paid, the table was cleared, and we were all getting up to leave when AJ noticed the Pipsqueak had become... well, fragrant. I don't mean as in, "Do you smell something?" fragrant... I mean as in, "Hoo-eey, what crawled in there and died?!?" fragrant. While I stood nervously thinking, omigod they're gonna throw us outta here, AJ quickly began the day's 2nd EDC and in no time flat we all regretted it. I kid you not, it was like my niece had created the world's first nuclear-powered diaper; AJ, Lisa, and Effie actually had to take turns during the diaper change so that they could reach Minimum Safe Distance to inhale a breath of clean air before diving back into the job!

The biohazard alert finally over (and another borrowed diaper firmly in place -- I shudder to think of what it would've been like if the Pipsqueak had been in another too-large diaper that leaked), we headed back to the hotel.

NEXT: Monsoons, heart-stopping falls, and the Jiu Jiu gets "anointed"...!

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