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!

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.

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