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!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Shopping and Swimming and Sweating Oh My! (July 20, 2010)

Since we'd all managed to avoid spending any money on pets (which we couldn't travel with) or traditional herbal medicines (ditto), we all pretty much decided it was time to do some shopping in the stores on the island. I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but there's actually an entire ecosystem there based on (primarily American) families adopting Chinese children. (The U.S. Consulate used to be on Shamian Island, so that's where everybody stayed for at least a few days before returning home.)  Although a goodly number of them had vanished since the last time the S and B families had been there, all we had to do to find any of the remaining stores was walk... Usually there'd be a cool breeze coming out from an air conditioned shop with all its doors open, or there'd be a small bunch of women of various ages sitting by a doorway smiling at us and calling out "Hello!" (and sometimes "Hello! Best prices here! Hello!").

It's also fun to check out the list of names of some stores: A Home Of Love; Beatrice Grocery; Emma's; Jennifer's; Jordon's; Lucy's; Peter's Place; The Deli Shop; Sherry's; Susan's.  Then there are the names of the shopkeepers and their families: Amy; Daisy; Emma; Jerry; Jordon; Linna; Peter; Sherry; Susan; Vicky (who you'll meet a few paragraphs farther down)... The lists go on, but I think you can probably see what I'm aiming for. (Dude, are there any Chinese businesses here?) Don't get me wrong; there are many other businesses with thoroughly Chinese names, and a number of the shops & shopkeepers have names obviously chosen to help keep travelers feeling comfortable when they're a long, long way from home... but I still thought it was worth a chuckle or two while we were there. (Note: I've included the names of some stores that we didn't see, and a couple that might not even be there anymore; if you've adopted from China you'll probably remember these and several others.)

In any case, we all decided it was time to spend some money... So off we went, wandering in & out of several stores in short order. Sometimes I browsed along with AJ, and sometimes I just hung around outside the smaller shops while she perused the shelves. The attached photo should give you an idea of just some of the services offered by many of the small shops -- and this one's actually one of the smallest!  The three families split up after a while, and we headed back to Jordon's to inquire about more calligraphy work and check the prices on suitcases. (The Pipsqueak had her own seat for the flight home, which meant she was entitled to a full adult share of baggage -- and we intended to take advantage of that!)

Jordon turned out to be a very patient man; one of the American families in the store with us had a couple of kids who just couldn't keep still or keep their hands off the merchandise, but even when one of them bounced a ball across one room and knocked a whole bunch of stuff off the shelves he calmed the parents and told them not to worry, and quietly went about his business after cleaning up behind the departing kids. We wanted some calligraphy work done, and he refused to charge us for some of it and quoted an excellent price on the rest, which he promised would be ready for pickup on the 22nd -- our last full day in China. (It was a little shocking to suddenly realize we had to plan around our departure date... had we really been in China that long already?)  We also picked up a couple of additional bottles (Miri had never learned to hold her own bottle, so we got one with easy-grip handles to help her pick up the skilll) and a few tchotchkes, and two new bibs: one that AJ had picked out, and one that her daughter had grabbed off the shelf and adamantly refused to let go of! We headed back to the White Swan, along the way stopping to grab a photo of the statue at the entrance to Shamian Park -- no caption needed, it'll show you just how much a feature of the local scene Western adoptive families have been:

It was still ridiculously hot and even more ridiculously humid, so after all the walking around we decided to join the other families at the pool again. The Pipsqueak didn't seem too sure about her costume change, but once we got into the water she enjoyed watching me blow bubbles and even helped me splash Mommy a little bit. (Something the two of us inexplicably thought was much funnier than AJ did...)  Interestingly, as we were preparing to head back in to change for dinner, we all felt the first real "negative vibes" we'd gotten from anyone during the trip... from a Western tourist sitting nearby, glaring at the girls for no apparent reason aside from several empty beer cans on the table in front of him. We just ignored the guy and paraded back inside, talking about the irony of the situation.

We all changed and headed down the block to continue the ongoing effort to eat our way through the entire American section of the Lucy's menu. (Note to travelers: the burgers are so-so, but the iced tea -- which comes with liquified honey for sweetening instead of sugar -- and the "American style fried chicken -- more like fat chicken fingers than fried chix -- are something I'm missing now that I'm back home... and I'm still looking for the local Guangzhou-brewed beer that was so good!) The weather was still holding, so we (again) sat out back on the patio and enjoyed the passing scene. The one "off" note was the nearby public restrooms; after hearing what others saw & smelled in there, I decided the White Swan was close enough. Luckily, the view (and scent) by our table was good, so it felt good to kick back with a belly full of familiar food.

One thing about the weather -- it was nice but it was still HOT. I spent most daylight hours feeling like a popsicle that had been dropped on a hot NYC sidewalk in mid-July, and sunset didn't seem to make much of a difference; think of an oven being set down from "broil" to "bake" and you've got the idea. We took a few family photos before leaving the patio, and it was only when I uploaded them onto my laptop that I realized what we had come to look like. I've included one of the better ones; you can see how tired we'd become,, and those dark spots on my shirt (AJ had 'em too, they just didn't show on her double-layered top) are fresh sweat marks.  Like I said, it was HOT.

The siren call of souvenirs grabbed us on the way back to the hotel, so we stopped into the store that's practically next door to the White Swan  (I think it's called "A Home of Love") for a little late evening shopping. The Pipsqueak gathered her usual collection of coos and smiles, and then one of the young women who runs the store asked if she could hold her. AJ hesitated for a moment, but everything seemed OK and the extra pair of hands would allow here to check out some dresses she wanted to take home for when Miri was older... And that's how the lovely Vicky became part of our family album. She was the only stranger who held my niece during the entire trip (I don't count our companion families or guides as "strangers" because we were with them practically 24x7 and we all swapped kids back & forth as needed), and for about 10 minutes she and the Pipsqueak had a mutual admiration society going.  I took a bunch of photos -- I've included the two I like best -- and Vicky had me promise to email them to her.

Reassuringly, after having fun with Vicky for a tad over 10 minutes, my niece showed signs of really wanting to go back to my sister -- which made us both feel pretty good, since that's a sign of attachment some families have to work very hard to achieve. (Please don't get me wrong: it's not that we think we did a much better job of it than others did. It all comes down to how well & how quickly the personality, background & experiences of the child being adopted allow him.her to bond with the adoptive mother & family, and we managed to roll a really good number in that gamble.)

Our shopping urges satisfied and all the younger members of the group showing signs of low battery power, we returned to the White Swan for the evening. The Pipsqueak seemed to recharge quickly (Dude, you gotta get whatever brand of batteries your niece has installed!) and was in a good mood, so we had a nice long Skype session with our folks. I had to keep moving the laptop away from the Pipsqueak and/or move her hands away from the trackpad & keyboard, but she really interacted with Grandma & Grandpa this time -- reacting to hand motions, making faces, reacting to their voices, and apparently studying their faces the way I often saw her studying ours. Our folks, of course, ate it up; they'd suffered through the paperchasing as much as AJ had, and even though we were still a couple of days away from returning home they finally had a chance to play with their granddaughter. I'm still not sure who had more fun with that call, but we were all in a great mood when we finally said goodnight.

The Pipsqueak was finally beginning to show signs of being tired, so AJ decided to take the chance to grab a quick shower before bed. She got the little one situated in the middle of the bed, and while I literally kept one eye on her there nonstop (I had no intention of allowing her to teleport off a bed again!) headed into the bathroom to clean up & get a little refreshed.

At least that was the plan.

Less than five minutes after I heard the shower come on, the Pipsqueak woke up. She fussed for a couple of moments like she did every moment, then took a good look around the room. She focused on me for a moment, looked around again, noticed Mommy was missing, and began to cry. Strike that; she began to WAIL. I remember saying something to her about them hearing her clearly on the street 25 stories below us as I tried to distract her, tried to comfort her, tried to pick her up, tried to do something that would calm her down... all to no avail. She was so loud that AJ heard her through the closed bathroom door while she was in the shower, and I think my sister broke a couple of world speed records getting out of the shower and drying herself just enough to be able to pick up what might have by then might have been identified by passers-by as the world's least happy child. (Remember my "World's Loudest Medical Exam" post? This kid's got LUNGS...)

Happily, Miri began calming down almost as soon as AJ picked her up, and a few minutes of cuddling (and a fresh bottle) brought her back to a relatively happy & sleepy mood. We almost messed up by trying to put her in the crib (definitely a no go), but quickly gave in to preserve the peace and soon mother & daughter were quietly snoring next to each other in the big bed. We're still not sure what brought on the noise & drama, but ever since then I've wondered if it had something to do with being held by yet another new person then shortly afterwards having the most familiar face suddenly disappear; it was easy to forget that we not only were literally yanking the carpet out from under these kids every few days, but we had also taken them away from anyone that they could recognize. I was just glad that she had apparently decided her new mommy was her go-to person in this strange, confusing new world.

I took a few last swigs from the day's last bottle of Coke Zero (the Pipsqueak screamed so loudly, it made my throat hurt!), finished an entry in our travel blog, emailed the evening's photos to Vicky, and climbed carefully into bed while thinking about attachment issues and how lucky we'd been so far with the Pipsqueak's bonding with AJ. The next day was going to be a busy one -- we had one last official hurdle to clear before the adoption was really, truly, completely "for real" -- so I let my niece's quiet little snores lull me to sleep.

NEXT: An amazing museum, an emotional appointment, and some incredible lighting effects.

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