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, May 27, 2011

A Long Day's Journey Home, Part One (July 23, 2010)

Don't get me wrong; waking up at 5:00am for any reason is not something I'm very good at... but knowing what was ahead of us that last morning at the White Swan, I popped WIDE AWAKE as soon as the phone rang with the usual multilingual wake-up call. We had to figure out how to cram the Pipsqueak's usual morning routine, our usual morning routine, and all the last-minute arrangements & repacking into far too few minutes... Oh, yeah, and fit some breakfast in there, too!

Somehow, I don't really know how, we managed to succeed (although breakfast was rushed, to be understated). The day's itinerary was a bus ride to the airport, a three-hour flight to Beijing, a few hours in the airport, and then another flight of about 13-1/2 hours back to the USofA. (Dude, the itinerary says that flight's only 1-1/2 hours long... oh, yeah, time zones... sorry, still sleepy, never mind...) All three families had all the luggage ready for pickup by 6:00am, and I managed to squeeze in two full platefuls of the breakfast buffet before we were completely out of time. (Note to travelers: the chocolate cake on the breakfast buffet is indeed worth the calories!)

I don't remember who in our group first mentioned it, but one thing that had come up in conversation was the idea of mailing a letter to the baby being adopted for them to read in the future; I wanted to do this as soon as I heard about it, but simply did not have time. Luckily, dividing the morning's to-do list between the two of us gave me a few precious minutes alone upstairs while AJ took care of the last hotel checkout details, so I took advantage of the supply of free letterhead & envelopes and quickly scribbled a note for my niece to read when she was older. (Sorry, but you'll have wait to ask Miri what I said; I'm leaving it up to her to decide how private she wants to keep it.) I then did one last sweep of our room and immediately found two of the Pipsqueak's outfits hanging between the hotel bathrobes in the closet; sealed letter firmly in one hand and toddler outfits in the other, I zoomed back downstairs and rejoined the group just in time to leave. (I asked Lucy if she'd mind mailing the letter for me, and she gladly took it & refused my offer to pay the postage; it showed up Stateside just a few days after we did.)

As we threaded our way out the side entrance (parading past the red couch from the previous evening's photo session), I began to feel like a salmon going upstream; there was a solid flow of American families with young Chinese girls coming in through the same door we were trying to get through to leave. I noticed the kiddos were all of grade school age or older, so during the traffic jam I asked one of the parents and learned it was a group on a heritage tour -- they'd all been at the White Swan years earlier to adopt their daughters (no boys in that group), and now that the children were older they were bringing them back to China to retrace the steps of their adoption trips and let the kids see a little of their birth culture firsthand. AJ and I had spoken about the idea and there's probably a heritage trip in the Pipsqueak's future -- but at that moment all we really wanted to do was get to the airport before our flight to Beijing left without us!

We were amused to discover that our trip to the airport would be in the largest, most luxurious, and most spacious bus we'd had since setting foot in-country, but the ride to the airport was a little quieter than most of our other bus rides. We would be saying goodbye to Lucy at the airport, and while we hadn't all grown as close to her as we had to Lisa, we all knew it was likely a final, permanent farewell to someone who'd very quickly become a friend and who had played a major role in making each family's adoption dream become a reality.  Meanwhile, the Pipsqueak decided that this would be a good time for a nap... and soon we were at the airport, and our goodbyes were said, and we were boarding our plane for the flight to Beijing.

After the now-expected late departure, the flight was uneventful (the Pipsqueak took another nap, and by this time I was jealous of her!) and the only odd moments came when the pilot switched from ground power to internal power and the air conditioning dumped all its excess moisture into the cabin in the form of thick, white clouds that obscured the ceiling for a few moments. We watched the landscape beneath us changing from the deep, rich subtropical greens to a slightly browner, more heavily populated appearance, and it wasn't too long before we were descending into Beijing. Of course, once the Pipsqueak finished her nap, she had energy to spare -- so Mommy and Uncle had to take turns distracting her (Cheerios helped!), and convincing her that she really did want to stay in her seat.

Once in Beijing, there was one more major group challenge we had to overcome. As mentioned in an earlier post, Bejing's airport redefines "big" -- and Terminal #2 (for domestic flights) is a looong way from Terminal #3 (for international flights). We discovered we would have to take one more bus ride to get to the international terminal -- this time without any bilingual help, on a bus running on a strict schedule. We hoofed it quickly across the several lanes of traffic between the terminal exit and the appropriate bus stop only to discover there was no way we'd all fit on the next bus. Luckily, another completely empty bus pulled up right next to it, and the menfolk quickly began slinging suitcases aboard. By the time we finished, there were quite a few locals aboard as well -- but all the mommies found seats and we just hung onto the overhead rails while the bus pulled out into traffic.

Amazingly, the shortest route between terminals took us completely off airport property, and we traveled through a fairly generic-looking office park before driving through another security gate near the international terminal. Offloading was a bit easier (but equally rushed), and all of a sudden we were trying to figure out where the check-in counters were. We all decided to hang out together as long as we could... and then things sort of fell apart for the two families we were traveling with. They were traveling together (I think to Chicago) on one airline, with a flight that was supposed to leave 3 hours before our flight to Dulles on another airline... but less than 45 minutes before their plane was supposed to leave, Papa B and Papa S were still standing in line, trying to check in. They eventually learned that mechanical problems had forced cancellation of their flight, and the airline was scrambling (in a not terribly well-organized manner) to get people home. Eventually they were booked on another flight leaving many hours later that would have them spending the weekend in a hotel in New Jersey before getting connecting flights to their respective home airports in the U.S. There were some nervous jokes along the lines of, "At least you'll understand the language -- oh, wait, it's New Jersey, maybe you won't!" but we were all shaken by how completely both families' travel plans had fallen apart.

Now thoroughly paranoid, AJ and I excused ourselves and quickly headed to the United counter hours ahead of time -- and not only checked in without a single glitch, we even got the desired upgrade that gave us the extra legroom for the long flight home. We actually felt a little guilty telling the other families how well things were working out for us, but they were genuinely glad for us. Once all the arrangements were finalized, and as I decided that my previous day's wish at the temple probably only applied to the wisher's family, we all headed through security for one last time... nope, two last times... oops, make that three... (Dude, you better not complain about buffing the floor at U.S. airports with your stocking feet after all these security checks!)

Eventually we reached a point we'd all expected but weren't really ready for: AJ, the Pipsqueak and I had to go left, and the other two families had to go right. The three families had been together nearly 24x7 since first arriving in China; each had watched the others meet  their new daughter for the first time; and had shared many personal moments, family differences, dirty diapers, and new adventures. Now we had to separate, not knowing when we'd be able to see each other again. There was a last round of hugs, the first glimmerings of possible reunion times, and after one more look over our shoulders (and one father calling out to general agreement that we were all family for each other now), we went our way and they went theirs. I have to say it actually felt strange for just the three of us to be wheeling through the airport, knowing that we weren't all getting together again for dinner that evening; this was essentially the moment when the Pipsqueak's new life really began...

...and our China trip came to a close.

NEXT: Back over the pole to home.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Red Couch... At Long Last! (July 22, 2010)

After spending about a week in the bank to complete one last currency exchange, AJ & I steered the Pipsqueak's stroller toward Jordon's, a short (but, as usual, hot) walk from the White Swan. We had ordered some painting/calligraphy from him that we needed to pick up, and had decided that one of the suitcases he had for sale was exactly what we needed for the Pipsqueak. (Frankly, she could've fit inside it several times over with room to spare -- that's how much extra clothing, diapers, souvenirs and general stuff we'd collected during the trip!) I also realized that I still didn't have a photo of another favorite statues that we'd been walking past all week, so I quickly rectified the situation.

The calligraphy work turned out very nicely -- and the painted "picture text" of the Pipsqueak's English name may not have been as formally artistic as samples we'd seen at other stores, but there were an originality to the design & personal touches that more than made up the difference. AJ shopped for the de riguer squeaky shoes -- yes, they really are shoes that squeak as kids walk in 'em! -- and we made many a decision about what souvenirs to bring back for friends & family. (Looking back, there were several good purchases I should've made this day but didn't... and nearly a year later I'm still regretting it!)

Back in the main room of the store, I got into a really interesting discussion with Jordon himself about family, title, and privilege. Here in the West, you've got "uncles" and "aunts" and "cousins" and we don't differentiate too strongly beyond degree of relation. In Chinese culture, on the other hand, there is a specific title & role for every. single. relation. in a family.  To paraphrase an email from another male blogger*, when you've got 1.3 billion people, you've got to be pretty specific. (*I make this distinction because so, so many of the adoption blogs online are written by moms, aunts, etc.)  At one point, Jordon's English skills weren't quite up to the task (and I didn't even try using my primitive Mandarin), so he interrupted his son's grade school homework to figure a few things out -- and the kid was good, lemme tell ya! The three of us figured out I might be a da bo (basically, an honorable older close relative) but definitely wasn't the Shu Shu I'd thought I was ever since AJ first announced she was starting the adoption process. (Dude, it's a good thing you decided to not buy that "Shu Shu" tee in that other store down the street!)

I may have enjoyed the conversation, but AJ was itching to do more shopping and the Pipsqueak had woken up and was getting a tad crochety. We said our farewells to Jordon (it was finally sinking in that we were really, truly leaving in the morning and might never return), did a little more shopping at a couple of other stores, and headed back to the White Swan. AJ took a couple of photos of the back of the hotel -- for us, the most-used entrance -- and then we headed up to our room to prepare for the (in)famous Red Couch Photos.

What's that? Well, if you've adopted from China, you know -- but for the sake of the (hopefully) many readers who haven't... Back when U.S. adoptions of Chinese babies first began to happen, it was a common thing for groups of families to pose all their kids on one of the big red couches scattered around the lobby of White Swan Hotel. Since then, the couches have moved a few times (there really isn't one specific red couch that's used) and several other hotels have grabbed some of the White Swan's business, but it's become such a tradition to have a photo on one of the White Swan's red couches that even families who aren't staying there will often head on over to take that photo!

In any case, all three families felt we'd be remiss if we broke the chain (so to speak), so it was back up to the room to put on a clean shirt and get the Pipsqueak into a brand-new outfit purchased just for this occasion. Miri was a teeny-tiny little thing, so AJ hadn't been able to find any classically styled silk shirts or dresses for her -- so she settled for a bright, clean, brand-new outfit that the Pipsqueak seemed to find very attractive. I mean, c'mon... have you ever seen a more smug expression?!?!  <grin>

Much to our amazement, we made it down to the agreed-upon couch on time. Lucy had all the babies' new Chinese passports, ID papers, and the infamous "brown envelope" of papers that was not to be opened by anyone except a U.S. Immigration Officer upon our return Stateside. There was a flurry of ultra-careful proofreading -- literally checking that all i's were dotted, all t's were crossed, and every. last. word. was in the proper place and properly spelled. A huge sigh of relief was shared by all, and then we began trying to get our three not entirely cooperative models to pose prettily on a nearby couch. I haven't included one of the photos here (there are many -- have you ever tried to get three toddlers to sit still and look in the same direction at the same time?!?) because I don't know how the S. and B. families would feel about my posting photos of their kids, but here's a happy shot of the three members of the L. family getting ready for the long trip home:

There were lots of other photos of various combinations of the different families & their different generations, and then we had a little free time before we were supposed to have Lucy and her husband join us for an American-style dinner at Lucy's. (Our guide and the restaurant's namesake had nothing in common, it was just a fun coincidence.) After a last(!) couple of group photos on the landing between levels of the lobby, AJ and I decided on one last look around the White Swan' and found a few angles & vistas (and a couple of nooks & crannies) that we'd missed before...

Afterwards, with more time left (but not enough to go back to the room and pack!), we just slowly wheeled the Pipsqueak around the shopping area on the lower level. We found an art gallery that wasn't terribly interesting, but some of the items for sale were amazing. In addition to some jade-and-wood wall hangings showing the different types of classical teapots and an amazing hand-carved wooden desk, we enjoyed a lot of the different types of artwork available for purchase... if you had enough money!

Not a painting -- it's all hand-stitched silk thread.

This "painting" is made entirely of real butterfly wings!

Almost 5 feet tall, this porcelain statue costs about $8,000!

Just one small section of an amazingly detailed large "ivory" carving.

There were several different "fruit baskets" made of semi-prcious stones.
We all met up again by the rear entrance, Lucy explaining that her husband would join us later because of work (and what must have been a hellish rush hour commute). We streamed on down the street to Lucy's Bar & Grill one last time and were ushered into a large back room (I think it was Papa S. who'd made reservations... we just didn't want to have to keep waiting, and it was damp enough outside to not want to be on the back patio again).  We were happy to have air conditioning, and it wasn't too long before Lucy's husband joined us. He seemed a little bewildered by the items on the menu -- we insisted that he try Western-style food! -- but we all had a good time and after few photos of the whole group (and the purchase of "Lucy's Guangzhou" baseball caps) headed back to our rooms to pack for the trip home.

Well, that is, after stopping at "A Home of Love" one last time for some more shopping!  AJ & I managed to find a last couple of gift items for family members, and Vicky had a chance to say goodbye to the Pipsqueak one last time.  AJ got into an interesting conversation with a single adoptive mom from the UK, and they exchanged email addresses... and then we really were out of time, and had to get back to our room and start packing. I don't know what was more amazing: how much stuff we had, or how well we managed to do getting it all distributed among three big suitcases, two carry-ons, a big diaper bag, and AJ's bag/purse.  As usual, I was the last one up, making sure our travel blog was complete. I'll close out this post here with the (slightly edited) closing words of my last blog post from China:

"And now it's passing 11:30pm, and I have to shut down so I can pack the laptop and catch a few Z's before our 5:00am wake-up call... I can barely believe we've been in China for two weeks, that I'm able to cradle my cute little niece in my arms & rock her to sleep as if she's been a member of the family for all 13 months of her life, or that we're about to return to the USA to begin the next phase of all our lives. Although neither of us will miss living out of a suitcase, I'm going to miss being able to spend so much time with [Pipsqueak] and [AJ]. My niece is an amazing little girl who's already grown by leaps & bounds in the very shot time we've had her, and my sister is (as I already knew) a close friend & confidante, a good fellow traveler and (as we all knew she would be) a wonderful mother.
        I won't be posting anything new here for a couple of days (I'll probably sleep through most of the coming weekend!) , but I do plan on posting a wrap-up journal entry (or three) next week.
        So, for one last time from China... goodnight to you all, and we're looking forward to introducing [Pipsqueak] to everyone in person really soon!
        Zai jian!"

NEXT: Our Longest Day Ever.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

In Which Our Hero Attempts to Exchange Some Currency (July 22, 2010)

Almost as soon as we got upstairs to our room, AJ & I decided we'd better get in a last round of souvenir shopping -- plus it was time to pick up that extra suitcase we needed to carry 'em all back home! (Two important notes to those traveling like we did: First, buy the kiddo his/her own seat for the flight home because you'll all be lots more comfortable with the added bonus of having the full complement of baggage allowance for an additional person. Second, when you're nearing the return home, don't be stingy with buying souvenirs for yourself or to give away to friends back home; you'll regret every single, "Nope, I think I'd better hang onto the money instead" comment once you're back home.)

Anyway, there's a Bank of China branch right next door to the White Swan (almost directly across from the 7-11) and we were a little short on cash, so I headed over to change some more Dollars into Yuan while AJ got the Pipsqueak ready for a shopping trip. I walked in and noticed they operated on a "wait until your number is called" system (luckily the scrolling message boards alternated between Chinese & English), and then noticed an ATM-style machine on one side that was apparently where the numbers came from And then noticed that there wasn't a single recognizable character, indicator, icon, or pointer anywhere on its screen, just totally unintelligible (to me) Chinese characters with arrows pointing to various buttons. (Dude, you really shoulda spent more time with those Rosetta Stone CDs...!)  I must've stood there for 5 minutes staring at the screen, desperately willing it to translate itself into something obvious, when the young guard realized what was going on, came over and asked, "Change?" (possibly the only word of English he knew) and when I smiled and vigorously shook my head yes, pushed the appropriate button for me and gave me my little number ticket with a smile.

After many a "xie xie" (hey, the guy was armed, y'know) I picked a seat in the waiting area and plunked myself down. After a few minutes, my sister & niece appeared but the Pipsqueak didn't want to sit still so AJ took her back outside in the stroller while I waited. And then AJ wheeled her back & forth in front of the bank while I waited. And then AJ wheeled her down to the end of the block & back a couple of times while I waited... and then AJ wheeled her into a nearby store & shopped for a while... Just about the time I was actually beginning to doze off, my number came up and I zipped over to the appropriate window. The very polite young woman knew enough English to coach me through the appropriate paperwork and then began to examine my money.

Every single bill.

In detail.

Twice.  (No, I am NOT exagerrating.)

We'd been coached well in advance of our trip to take only "like new" bills -- or at least the best quality we could -- and had been carefully choosing to change only the crispest, least wrinkled, cleanest bills throughout the trip... But even taking into account all the other times I'd exchanged Dollars for Yuan (Beijing Airport,  the Henan Plaza, the Guangxi Wharton, the Guilin Royal Bravo), this was absolutely the most detailed, most complete, most microscopic examination of U.S. currency I'd seen outside a TV movie about counterfeiters. (On the plus side, it gave me plenty of time to appreciate the little old lady at the window next to me yelling alternately at the teller and then at some poor soul on the other end of her cell phone, something about missing paperwork as far as I could tell...) Eventually, the teller handed back a $100 bill I could've sworn was perfect, and pointed out a teeny tiny little tear (maybe 1/16" long) on one edge. I apologized and passed her a different bill, which was carefully examined -- notice I didn't say "quickly" -- until finally the teller put all the U.S. cash into an automatic counting machine and had me sign for a smallish wad of Yuan.

I thanked the teller, crammed everything into my wallet, and zipped it into one of my pockets. (Travel tip: cargo pants with large-ish zippered pockets may not be the epitome of style, but they provide peace of mind when carrying money & IDs!) I scared the (still PO'd) little old lady next to me by smiling & nodding at her, smiled at the guard & gave him one last "xie xie," smiled & nodded at the guy who'd been sitting & waiting next to me, and made good my escape. I managed to find AJ & the Pipsqueak in the store next door, and we set off to Jordon's for squeaky shoes and a new suitcase. (We'd been pricing suitcases almost since arriving in Guangzhou, and he had the best deal.)

NEXT: The red couch at long last!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Babes (Present Day)

We had an interesting "oops" at dinner tonight... AJ and the Pipsqueak were at our folks' and I headed over (late, as usual!) to lend a hand with some things & help eat all that good Mom Cooking.  My niece was her usual hyperactive self at dinner, spending time on her mommy's lap, then her uncle's lap (I've gotten quite good at eating one-handed!), then running around on her own... wash, rinse, repeat.

Somewhere in all that activity, while on her mommy's lap, the Pipsqueak knocked over a (thankfully almost empty) glass of water. AJ's immediate reaction while diving for the napkins was, "Oh, sh*t!"

Two seconds later, Little Miss Tape Recorder looks at the glass laying on its side and says, "Shuut!" (Not quite "shoot," not quite "shut"). I couldn't help myself, I burst into laughter and had to leave the room while my sister desperately tried to figure out how to un-say something that just slipped out. A few minutes go by, we don't hear it again and all the adults breathe a sigh of relief.

Then the Pipsqueak tries squeezing behind Grandpas' chair and knocks her head on the side.


. . .

We've spoken about having to be careful with our vocabulary, now we know it's absolutely necessary... Yes, indeedy...!  <8-P

(If you're wondering, she didn't say it again at all, hopefully all the vocabulary lessons we threw at her in the next few minutes sort of washed it out of her memory files... but I know the Pipsqueak, the damage is probably done. <g>)

I'll resume the "historical" postings shortly, stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Rainy Park and An Important Lesson (July 22, 2010)

After leaving the temple, we headed for the "old" downtown area and Yuexiu Park, site of the goat statue that had become one of Guangzhou's identifying landmarks. Our driver wanted to take the bus into the park to save us a walk with the kiddos, but the police were unhappy with the idea so (despite being passed by a couple of taxis and a minibus with official plates) we were dropped off & started a longish trek through the park.

Yuexiu is pretty, with lots of trees and nicely landscaped paths... but the sky was getting darker, and the clouds were getting heavier, and I began wondering what would happen if we didn't get back indoors before the clouds opened up... but realized I was already so damp from sweat that I probably wouldn't be  able to tell the difference.

The closer we got to the statue, the steeper the slope and the more steps there were to deal with. I'm not sure how Papa S fared on his own, because there were a lot of times when AJ and I simply each took one end of the stroller and carried the Pipsqueak up the stairs. Finally reaching the top, I discovered the statue was a lot bigger than I'd expected; it was so tall that (as Lucy explained) the original had acted as a lightning rod atop the hill and the sculptor had had to remake the big goat's head... and then the authorities installed real lightning rods on tall poles all around the plaza to avoid a repeat incident. I took a leisurely stroll around the statue -- in the heat & humidity, the climb had been exhausting -- and noted how every goat had its own pose and personality. It was an interesting (and funny!) counterpoint to the carefully posed but somehow sterile human figures we'd seen in Tienamen Square to commemorate the Communist revolution.

Of course, after a climb like that, we also had to take A Typical Tourist Photo... doesn't everybody? :-)

There was also a funny aspect to our arrival at the hilltop. After the climb, we were all sweaty and thirsty, so Papa S headed over to the nearest souvenir stand to see if they had water. After chuckling a little at the signs on the awning (and remembering I'd seen worse English back home), I got a real laugh out of the water bottles he brought back: the band name was "Grand Canyon," complete with the Stars & Stripes on the label!

Our visit with the city's mascots over, we headed back downhill... and it wasn't long before we were getting rained on for the first time in the trip. Luckily, the rain was light, and we came across a large clearing with concrete gazebo-type shelters along one side just a short distance farther up the path. We took refuge there along with several dozen locals of assorted sizes, shapes and ages, and waited for the cloud that was dripping on us to pass.

We got a few of the usual strange glances, but were used to it by now; pretty much everyone was smiling, and minded their own business after nodding hello and/or cooing over the kiddos. After a few minutes we were distracted by a tall young man who was showing off with what can best be described as a cross between a Hacky Sack and a large badminton shuttlecock (with real feathers); he was kicking it up into the air, moving it from foot to foot without ever dropping it, sometimes kicking it higher and "catching" it on his head or between his shoulder blades and balancing it there. One thing led to another, and shortly Papa S and Yours Truly were showing the locals just how uncoordinated Westerners can be with their feet.  (We weren't really that bad; there was just no way to match the obvious practice the guy had!)  After we had amused the watching crowd for a while, the weather began clearing and we prepared to move on. We had Lucy speak with our new friend for us, and a few minutes later were both proud owners of (obviously homemade) feather toys like the one we'd been kicking around.

We continued on our way through the park to one of the museums on the grounds.  We sort of admired it from afar because the only way to get to the entrance was lots and lots and lots of stairs, and Lucy wasn't sure the climb was worth the entry fee. I took a couple of photos...

...and the rain came back, this time for real. We found a relatively dry spot under a friendly tree where we had a good view of a stadium that was being prepared for the upcoming Pan-Asian Games, with a vista that included parts of the new downtown area. (Guangzhou has sort of sprawled out along the river, with "downtown" slowly moving from the older areas to the newer.) We had the two strollers next to each other, and it was fun to watch the Pipsqueak and Baby S interacting -- it was only later, reviewing photos from the SWI, that we realized they already knew each other. Unfortunately, both kiddos took an interest in the same toy, and AJ had to intercede to prevent a full-blown boxing match from breaking out.

Just as she got Miri laughing, the light, refreshing rain turned into a heavier, annoying rainstorm. We moved a short distance down the road and sheltered under some larger, older trees, where we had much better shelter but were slowly being pushed back closer & closer to the tree trunk as the wetness crept in. We watched several Chinese families doing the same thing, each in turn giving up and trotting or running down the road to shelter. Lucy called our driver on her cell phone, and I don't know what he had to do to get past those guards at the gate but just a few minutes later our trusty minibus came rumbling down the road & picked us up, only slightly wetter than was absolutely necessary.

We headed into the new downtown area for lunch at a restaurant that was locally famous for some of its specialty dishes, and enjoyed a lunch that included "dessert" both before and after the main courses. Lucy invited our driver to eat with us, and even though he didn't speak English he seemed to enjoy the company & interacting with the little ones. We noted that he & Lucy had different desserts from the rest of us, and she explained that she'd ordered something for us that most Westerners would like a lot more than what they'd had -- and I'm not sure what it was, but when couldn't decide what the black stuff in their bowls even resembled, I was quite content to stick with what I had in mine. The food was beautifully presented and tasted good; the view of downtown was excellent; and despite being tired, damp and concerned about the next day's multiple airline flights, we all had a good lunch... even the Pipsqueak. :-)

It was while we were on the bus heading back to the hotel that I experienced one of the strangest moments of the trip.  Traffic was its usual horrendous self, so even when the traffic lights were green the bus would sometimes barely be moving at all. It was during one of these slow times, when traffic & the lights combined to keep us within a few feet of one corner for several minutes. I noticed one of the buildings housed a modeling agency (I could tell because all the signs were in English as well as Chinese).  There were people coming & going, mostly younger women in tight jeans & high heels, when all of a sudden a young couple came out the door and stopped to talk on the sidewalk. As I watched them, I had a sense of their being different, somehow; I had no idea what made me think that, all I know is they simply looked... weird. They were joined by a young man who looked equally strange and out of place; I'm lucky they didn't look in the direction of the bus, because by this point I was staring at them, trying to figure out why they looked so strange.

Then it hit me.

Omigawd, they look like ME!

The three models(?) I was staring at were Caucasians, and they stood out like a sore thumb from the passing crowd. I expected to see people of European descent at the White Swan and the U.S. Consulate, but I had become so accustomed to the adults in our little group being the only non-Asian faces anywhere we went that undexpectedly seeing unfamiliar non-Asian faces was jarring. I simply hadn't realized how accustomed I had become to the relative homogeneity of the crowds everywhere we went... or how much AJ, our companion families and I stood out as being From Somewhere Else.

Just then, our driver spotted an opening in traffic and we quickly pulled away from the spot; we'd been there just long enough for me to learn a valuable lesson.

I'd miss China, but it wouldn't be the same way I missed Chile, or Belgium, or any of the other places I'd traveled or lived. My memories were all good, and my sister was (finally) adding a wonderful little girl to the family... but we really didn't belong here.

Dude, I think it's time to go home...

It wasn't too much later that we reached the White Swan, and as we got off the bus at the main entrance (It's the last time you're getting off after a tour!) I took a look upriver at the rain squalls passing over the "new" downtown of Guangzhou we'd just come from. I don't know if I'll ever see that particular vista again -- maybe in a decade or so, if we take the Pipsqueak on a heritage tour -- but somehow the grayness suited my mood at that moment.  I didn't know it at the time, but when I was adjusting the photos to post here and tweaked the color saturation of that photo, I found a rainbow in the clouds that I'd completely missed seeing when I took the photo; I like to think it was Guangzhou telling me things really were working out as they were supposed to.

NEXT: Squeaky shoes and red couches...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Present Day: My Sister's First Mother's Day

This past Sunday was a real first for our family: Mom is finally a Grandma, and my sister is a Mommy. I, of course, had to be at work (this was one of those holidays where nobody, but nobody, was willing to swap MOD duty) but the rest of the regional mishpocha got together for a Mother's Day brunch. Later, when I finally pried loose from work, the four five of us had a semi-quiet dinner of takeout Chinese and just enjoyed some quality time together.

Everybody seemed impressed with the DVD "card" I'd made for AJ (we played it on the TV, and the Pipsqueak kept pointing at the screen with a big smile yelling, "MOMMY!")... Unfortunately Mom's new digital card is still in the works, the first draft having gone to that big bit bucket in the sky when iDVD blew up at one too many "oopses" on my part. Fortunately, Mom is happy to wait a couple of extra days. <whew>  Since the previous week at work even more awful than usual -- my earliest return home after work all week was approx. 1:45am -- I'm going to have to play apologetic catch-up with the other mommies in my immediate family. (If youse guys are reading this, your cards ARE coming...!)

The Pipsqueak was, as usual, somewhat exhausting but tons of fun to be around. When I got to my folks' house, she came running to the door to greet me, waved hello and yelled "HI!" and then went running back into the family room to hid behind Mommy. A couple of minutes later, she came running back up to me, pointed proudly to her brand-new bright pink footwear, and proudly said,  "Shoes!" so I'd be sure to notice them.  (She's a girly girl -- loves clothing & shoes, especially when complimented on how pretty she looks.) We all played with her, and I had a wonderful time attempting to eat one-handed while hanging onto her as she happily picked all the peas out of the various dishes on my plate.  We exchanged cards (and spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get a DVD to play on the folks' TV), talked about this & that, shared some happiness at a cousin's announcement that her son will soon add "big brother" to his title, discussed the possibility of attending another cousin's wedding in the Southwest, and generally just caught up on a crazy weekend. Eventually everybody's batteries ran down so AJ & the Pipsqueak headed back home and so did I.

It may not sound like much, but after all those years of waiting, uncertainty, waiting, wishing, waiting, hoping, renewals, and waiting... AJ was celebrating Mother's Day as a mommy. It was wonderful. :-)

Oh, two funny things from the evening... As Dad & I left the Chinese restaurant after picking up dinner, I overheard one of the father & son pair exiting behind us say, "That was pretty good -- I'd like to eat here on Thanksgiving and Passover, too!"  The second was what I found in my fortune cookie: "You will be showered by good luch."  If any of my readers could tell me what "luch" is, it'd be appreciated...  <:-)

In any case, I hope all mommies out there had a great day, and wish all the expectant & waiting mommies fast & happy new arrivals!