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.

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