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, 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...

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