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!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Settling In at the White Swan (July 18, 2010)

We all made our way up to the 25th floor and split up to our respective rooms; AJ and I were a couple of doors farther down the hall, just one suite (the equivalent of 2 rooms) from the end of the building. I'd read a number of accounts where people had complained the White Swan rooms were small, but we opened the door to a room that was compact but had enough space to keep us all comfortable.

We started settling in and took a moment to appreciate the view from our large window. We could see a real cross-section of the city's history: the 18th century Europe style buildings of Shamian Island nearby, then across the river a European-style facade to several blocks of old, small buildings, alleyways and narrow streets, with modern high-rise buildings in various stages of completion to either side and beyond. Looking down, we were struck by how many "green" roofs there were, some with just grass planted & others with what looked like full-scale gardens.

We were interrupted by a knock on the door, and a smiling young woman wheeled in a large folding crib. She unfolded it just inside the door and began to wheel it to the spot AJ indicated... and I saw the Pipsqueak shut down. She was focused on the crib, and the closer it got the wider her eyes opened and the more tightly she folded herself up into a little bundle in the middle of the bed. She'd been happily sleeping in hotel cribs for the entire trip, but for some reason this particular crib seemed to absolutely terrify her. We never figured out if it was because it was so large, or because the sides were so high & the mattress so close to the floor, or because it reminded her of something negative at the SWI -- but she wailed & panicked any time we tried to put her in it, and every night from then on she slept in bed with Mommy and never used the crib at all. (On one of our last days there, I managed to get her to play with some of the colored sliding beads built into one side -- but only when I sat on the bed & held her in my lap.)

We calmed the Pipsqueak in time for another knock -- the pizza was being delivered! We all gathered in one of the other families' rooms for a pizza party. Since both families were on their second adoption trips, and we all decided it would be interesting to take a walk around the neighborhood to see how things had changed. (They had already been surprised by the results of a major renovation inside the White Swan.) It turned out that in the intervening 6 years, with the U.S. Consulate moving to another part of the city, Guangzhou modernizing & cleaning up (especially for the upcoming Pan-Asian Games), and the rate of Chinese international adoptions dropping off, there had been quite a few stores that had closed.

Despite the changes, some familiar landmark stores remained; on one small side street we found Jordon's, whose proprietor came out to greet us and insisted he remembered our traveling companions. He insisted we come in so he could make a "welcome back" gift for everyone -- each child's name in Chinese calligraphy, no charge, done as we watched. AJ and I told him we appreciated the offer but that we were new adopters, and his response was that he'd simply make ours as "welcome" gifts instead. (We would spend quite a bit of time in Jordon's during our stay in Guangzhou, as I'll mention in future posts.)

As we continued our walk, I was struck by three things (four, if you count the heat): the overwhelming feeling of being in a European setting, and the number of statues we kept encountering were the overwhelming first impressions. Every block on every side street seemed to have at least one sample, most depicting scenes from the days when Shamian Island was a privately-owned English trading enclave -- which accounted for the European feel (maintained by careful restoration most buildings to their original forms). In no particular order, here are a few examples of my favorite street statuary:

For me, this was one of the most interesting statues; it presents in a nutshell a history of Chinese culture and the position of women in that culture. (Notice how their stature changes along with their dress?)
The other thing we all noticed was an amazingly high number of bridal photoshoots going on around us. Almost any scenic spot -- and there are many in that neighborhood -- had at least one bride & groom (universally dressed in Western wedding fashions!) with a photographer. It took us a while, but we finally figured out that a couple of the shoots may have been for actual weddings but the vast majority were modeling sessions. (There wasn't a day that we didn't see at least 2 or 3 such photoshoots in the area.)

We all enjoyed the sights (varying from European-style mansions to beautifully landscaped pedestrian streets to occasionally-baffling English on local billboards), and were positively thrilled to find a 7-11 just across the street from the White Swan's rear entrance... Cold drinks had been extremely hard to find, but this little piece of pseudo-Americana had a large cooler with all kinds of sodas & juices. We were also happy to see a few packages of Pampers and other baby supplies on one shelf -- emergency supplies we luckily never needed, but were glad to have nearby. The momentary sense of "almost home" was interrupted when we started perusing the shelves for snacks and found some products & flavors we knew we'd never see back home.

Eventually the heat & humidity got to us all and we beat a retreat to the White Swan. Both families remembered a nice swimming pool with a large waterfall & plenty of room for sitting beneath shade trees, so we agreed to meet there. AJ and I had been told to bring swimsuits for ourselves & swim diapers for the baby (and, of course, a stylish swimsuit to keep the Pipsqueak lookin' good in the water), so it wasn't long before we were padding through the hotel in bathrobes (I'd forgotten my flip-flops so I wore the hotel-provided plush slippers), trying to remember where the back door was. We eventually found the pool and happily splashed around for over an hour. I hadn't been swimming for a long time, so the first time I tried an underwater flip I nearly put my lights out on the bottom of the pool -- but that was the closest any of us came to a real problem.

The Pipsqueak didn't seem too sure about the water at first, but soon seemed to decide it was OK... as long as Mommy held her. Any time Uncle Brian tried playing with her, all would be well until we moved more than a couple of feet from AJ -- and then I'd have a double handful of nearly-panicked toddler to deal with. However, once we both learned the rules, we had a good time together. I even managed to teach my niece some fun water games, including "blow noisy bubbles" and "splash Mommy with water!" (For some reason, uncle & niece enjoyed the latter a lot more than Mommy...)

Eventually we ran out of new things to coo at all the other cute little kids with their new families (and began to take on the appearance of large, pale prunes) so we all decided to dry off, take a quick break, and go out to dinner as a group. Maybe the pizza triggered something, maybe the sudden crowd of other Western families triggered something, or maybe we'd just gotten tired of using chopsticks, but we all decided it would be nice to have an American-style dinner... and we knew just the place.

It's neither the best nor the most charming of restaurants on the Island, but the well-known Lucy's is a short walk from the White Swan and sports a menu with several pages of "homestyle" (for us) food. My cheeseburger & fries were a welcome change from what I'd been eating to date, but the beef was a little different from what I was used to, and later that night we were all a little gurgly -- but the food was good, the beer was cold, and it felt really good to just sit and rest and catch up on each other's observations & thoughts. [NOTE: The beer I had that night, and every other time we ate at Lucy's, was a local brew whose name I've forgotten. If any of my readers can help me figure out its name, I'd be obliged...]

After dinner, we took another short walk through the riverside park behind the restaurant. We watched some of the tour boats plying their trade on the river (most unique was a large powerboat rigged out to look like a classic Chinese junk), watched a tall building across the river whose entire facade had been rigged with neon to act like a giant video screen with different lighting effects (more on this in future posts as well), and wandered past more statuary in another restaurant's back garden where classic red lanterns glowed in the shadows beneath the trees. It was hot, it was muggy, it didn't feel like home... and yet it felt somehow like we'd reached a specific destination we'd been traveling toward for years.

We were scheduled to meet in the lobby at the relatively luxurious time of 8:30 the next morning for a short walk to a nearby clinic for the kiddos' required medical checks, but the long day (and heavier-than-usual meal) was beginning to make itself felt. We all agreed it would be a good idea to make an early night of it, so we headed back up the block to the White Swan and retired to our rooms. After one more abortive attempt to have the Pipsqueak sleep in the crib, AJ settled down for the night while I posted in our travel blog. By this time I was familiar with Chinese beds, but when I got into bed I discovered a new meaning for the term "rock hard" -- I literally could not dent the surface of the mattress! I finally found a relatively comfortable position on one side (which I'd later regret) and soon dozed off to the sound my my niece's quiet little snores.

NEXT: This kid's got LUNGS! 

1 comment:

  1. This entry and the pictures are bringing back such memories, you have no idea. We picked up "Sweet Pea" 3 years ago today and looking through your post makes it feel like yesterday!