Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Friday 11-23-12

We stopped at a pharmacy on the way to the orphanage because John had a canker sore and I was totally constipated - rice at every meal will do that! The pharmacy was empty but five different pharmacists surrounded us to help. Denise was great with translating my jokes about the little problem I was having and the pharmacists were all in hysterics as we left. For me it was a victory to make the Chinese people laugh. I tried to make the gal at the currency exchange desk laugh. She told me she could only exchange clean, new bills and gave me back half of my American cash. I told her that in return I also wanted clean, new bills. She did not find this humorous at all, even though I kept saying, "I'm kidding, it's just a little joke..."
So, the orphanage - the main reason for making this journey - was a very emotional day. The ophanage is very different now than it was when Jemma was there. There were about 100-200 healthy babies available for adoption each year from about 2000 to 2006. Now, there are none, except for a few special needs children who for the most part, will probably never get adopted due to the severity of their illness. There are foster families on the grounds who live in apartments there and each family takes care of four special-needs children. The children get medical care and go to school on the premises. The facility is also a home for senior citizens and special-needs adults.
When we arrived we were brought into a room off of a main office. This was like a dining room, with a big wooden table and chairs all around. We were somewhat squished into the space, and didn't know what to expect. Regan was there, an American student of Professor Vivian Ling's, because she and I had corresponded beforehand. Regan is studying at the University of Nanjing and she took a bus from there and met us at the orphanage. (Vivian Ling is the translator to Mayor Ni Wencai's book about the adopted children from the Gayou SWI - we are featured in that book.) We had also arranged for Ni Wencai to meet us at the orphanage, though we were told that he was recently appointed the head of the Communist party in Gaoyou and might be too busy to meet us. We had also inquired about a particular nanny who was in two of the photos that we have of Jemma when she was in the orphanage. We were originally told via email that she had retired from the orphanage but that she would try to visit. When we arrived they told us it was not likely that she would come as she had another job to be at. The director and three staff members, along with Denise, John, Jemma, Susan, Rebecca, Regan and I all sat around and discussed the children. They had Rebecca's and Jemma's files already out for us and told us we were welcome to get copies of anything we wanted. There was a photo of Jemma that we hadn't seen before, at least not in color. It was somewhat disturbing to look at as her face was very swollen and red. They said the photo was from the day they found her and that she was very sick. There was a lot going on - it was a bit chaotic, and Jemma started to get very withdrawn and emotional. Suddenly, she crawled under the table and said she just wanted to be alone. Around that time, Ni Wencai arrived and it was a big deal. I was very happy to finally meet him. He brought the girls each a copy of his book and he signed them for us, which was very nice. We tried to take pictures with Jemma, but she was still sulking at this point. I asked Denise to tell him that she is usually a very happy and lively kid.
We were then taken on a tour and visited the children. Thankfully, one of the staff members seen here, carried Jemma around, which instantly changed her mood - the kid still likes to be carried! First we went into the in

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thursday 11-22-12

Thanksgiving was a travel day for the group and the day we split off from everyone to go to Gaoyou where Jemma's orphanage is. Susan and her daughter Rebecca joined us and the rest of the group headed down to Zhanjiang Zhanjiang. We had a long day - a two-hour flight to Nanjing with an hour delay, and then a three-hour drive in the van to Gaoyou. We were met by Denise, our new guide, who I liked right away. She had a good sense of humor, and a very warm energy about her.
It was cold and dark and raining so it was a tedious ride, not to mention our driver honked his horn every few seconds. We went straight to dinner at a local restaurant, which was lovely but a far cry from turkey and stuffing! Once again we had our own dining room with people peeking in on us every so often. The food was very authentic - chicken heads and feet in the chicken dish, and lots of tiny fish bones in the locally-caught fish - but it was all delicious. The women who cooked and served us wanted to be in photos with us. We stayed at the Run Yang Hotel, supposedly the best hotel in town, but it was shockingly bad. I took to calling it the Run Down Hotel. Just shows you how little tourism there is in Gaqoyou, China. I asked if we could move to a non-smoking room and was informed to just open the window... I'm not kidding.
That night we went shopping at the Tesco for gifts for the orphanage - milk powder and baby clothes. We had very little information to go on other than there were five babies there between the ages of one and two. It was fun to zoom around the Tesco and the girls liked the ramped moving sidewalks to get to the other floors. Shopping at a local super store is always fun, and I especially appreciated staying out of our hotel as long as possible. Despite the rock-hard beds, the non-stop horn honking and the musty, moldy smell, we managed to get our longest sleep and best night's sleep in the Run Down Hotel. The breakfast buffet was only Chinese food - none of the American choices to be had and no coffee!!! And Denise made me eat a boiled duck egg - Jemma thought that was hysterical and thankfully, it tasted pretty good. The only plus about this hotel was that the rooms were huge! So huge that Jemma and Rebecca promptly created a gymnastics routine together and rehearsed it for a few hours.

Wednesday 11-21-12

It's panda day - the whole reason we flew all the way to Chengu! The breakfast buffet at this hotel was sumptuous, particularly with regard to the Chinese selections. The American fare was not as plentiful but they had jujube and pineapple yogurt drinks, which were a welcome item for most of the group. Driving to the panda reserve took about forty minutes and Shi Shi got us very excited on the way over. The first stop in the panda reserve was to see the black swans and the koi fish. The swans were gorgeous but the fish were freaky with their gaping mouths all reaching up at us for food. And we came to see pandas, not feed grubby fish!
Pandamonium hit us hard as soon as we rounded the bend and saw the kindergarten pandas. They were so close you could almost touch them and they were beyond adorable as they rolled on their backs and munched on bamboo. Pandas spend ten hours a day eating, twelve hours sleeping and another two to play and loll around. "Spoiled pandas!" as Susie kept saying.
The babies were unbelievably cute, but only viewable in the nursery through a glass wall. Still, incredible. We learned some interesting facts about baby pandas, for example, did you know that they cannot poop when they are born and that the mother has to suck it out of them? We watched a panda caretaker not doing that exactly, but brushing the nethers of the panda to help it along - we have a video if anyone is interested, and I assure you it is not nearly as intimidating as a child birth video.
The big deal is to hold a baby panda and while it's very expensive it's also money that goes back into the reserve, so how could we resist? Jemma followed the rules to a tee and did not hug the panda or touch her ears as pandas have very sensitive ears. Juan Juan, which actually sounds like Jwin Jwin, was a year old and probably two hundred pounds. Everyone was suited up with disposable scrubs and gloves but some of the girls on our trip poked holes in their gloves so they could feel the fur. But not rule-abiding Jemma! Then we had probably one of the worst lunches on the trip. It was dicey from the start when we walked in and nobody was there except for a few men smoking cigarettes. Later we had some free time so we explored some of the local shopping in Chengdu at a nearby outdoor mall. Some of the shops tried to lure us in with giant pandas and crazy characters. We realized we would have been better advertising for a store if the three of us just stood in front. We have been stared at and on display this entire trip. Most of the time it's rather sweet - we've even had some people thank us for adopting Jemma. But sometimes the stares are a little too lingering and creepy. That night we went to the Sichuan opera which is a variety show of music, shadow puppets, theatre, and most importantly, the magical mask changing show. Jemma conked out almost immediately but we enjoyed the show very much. The performers were really talented and pretty funny. The mask changing truly was magical although we all figured out how they did it on the bus ride back, which delighted Shi Shi.

Tuesday 11-20-12

After another big Chinese breakfast - our last one at the Lido hotel - our charter bus took us to a traditional Hutong neighborhood where we all got into Rickshaws and were told to remember the number on it - 340 - but for us it was more about our driver who wore a UCLA hat. John, a UCLA alum, and Jemma a current China buddy at UCLA, were thrilled with the coincidence. At first we felt a little guilty having this man pedal us around but he was only too happy to do so, and he was impressively steady considering the fast speed. As touristy as this is, it was still a thrill and a great way to see the neighborhood. Hutongs are old communities made up of many quadrants and few survive in Beijing today, as the government tore down many of them to make way for much-needed high-rise apartment buildings. Hutongs didn't have electricity or running water but now the remaining ones do. They are mostly inhabited by older people as the younger generation prefers to live in the modern apartments. The Hutong we visited is set up for tourists, meaning they were paid to keep it looking authentic. This one had some paint rollers lying around and some general housewares here and there. The man of this Hutong made his living selling traditional Chinese paper cut-outs so it was no surprise when we were led into a room filled with paper cut outs for sale. Kickback anyone?
Our lunch was made by another woman in a different Hutong quadrant and it was a delicious and authentic meal - Jonathan Gold would have loved it. And they even made special gluten-free dishes for me and Kevin, the other gluten-free freak on the trip. From there we went to the airport to board our flight for our quick visit to Chengdu - home of the pandas. Susie was our local guide in Chengdu and was quick to fill us with an everything you ever wanted to know about Chengdu and more on the bus ride to the hotel. She was especially happy to share that the women of the Sichuan province were spicy! Susie or Shi Shi if you preferred, cracked jokes, taught us some Chinese and quickly lived up to her spicy moniker. Our hotel, the Tian fu Sunshine hotel, was in another off the beaten path hood, but it was a nice, European style hotel though the rooms were small. When we arrived we were clearly not as important as some other group who was also arriving and at breakfast the next morning we saw throngs of men in bright red jumpsuits getting special food at their very long Dias. Turned out they were petroleum executives on a retreat and we are still not exactly sure what the bright red jumpsuits signified although Adam seemed to think a combo of standout and bonding.

Monday 11-19-12

We began this morning with a visit to the CCCWA - Chinese Children's Center for Welfare and Adoption - located near the center of Beijing. This is a very important government office for all adopting families as this is the place where all children who are up for adoption are matched with a family. BLAS - Bridges Love Adoption Service - the organization responsible for planning our tour- is also housed in this building. We were shown the office, famously known to all adopting families as "The Matching Room" and it was surprisingly small and seriously understaffed. Four employees including the director, whom we asked if we could have a word with. He was gracious and stood in front of our group and took our questions which were translated by Vivian. Everyone wanted to know how they matched the children - was it random? was it looks or height or weight or temperament? What was the secret formula? The director was straight forward with his response no matter how many ways the same question was phrased: They read our files, noted what we were looking for, noted our income and family arrangement, physical appearance (yes, it's true!) and then matched up with a baby who seemed to have a personality that would fit. I remember the director of Jemma's orphanage kept stressing to us that they thought Jemma was very introspective and artistic - that she might be a poet one day. We noted we were artistic and creative on our application - could that be why? Jemma's birthday is the same as my sister's and maybe that had a hand, particularly since my sister is named on the official documents as a guardian should anything happen to us. And many people comment how Jemma and I look alike. So there you have it - a match made in heaven and it really is! When we adopted in 2005 they were churning out adoptions - literally hundreds per month - and we only waited nine months from the time our paperwork was logged in China. Now folks are waiting six and seven years at a minimum and the paperwork in the CCCWA office is nothing compared to what it used to be.
Next, we were led into a big conference room and the children had a cultural lesson conducted by a member of BLAS. They learned about brush strokes and making Chinese characters which was very engaging for all of us. They were also given beautiful presents - a book with removable stencils and a puzzle of the map of China. Next we went to watch a traditional tea ceremony and had the opportunity to taste five different teas. And then of course to buy those teas at about thirty bucks a box! You couldn't get us to pay that for all the tea in China. Next was lunch and it was a relief to see some Chinese people eating at the restaurant. The food was delicious and we even had some traditional roast duck which was a real treat. I should mention that Adam helped to arrange for the roast duck - it was not originally on our menu.
Tian an Men square was next and much to my surprise, or rather ignorance, there was no mention of the atrocities that happened there in 1989. Only legends of the soldiers or known heroes who fought for China, and statues resurrected to honor them. And of course chairman Mao's tomb on display but we did not have time to view the body. No matter as we had a very large freshly painted giant portrait right outside the Forbidden City. The recent appointment of the new leader of the Nation Party was the reason for the fresh coat of paint on Mao, and we also think the reason our blog was inaccessible!
The Forbidden City was next - an overwhelming place - one could get lost there. And in fact one did! We lost John when the group went to the john. By the way this particular toilet was a four-star toilet and we were all grateful we weren't subjected to the two-star one. Squat toilets are still everywhere but tank toilets are offered as well, but regardless there is always a NYC-subway-in-the-summer smell. Did I mention that we have been taking photos of Jemma cartwheeling everywhere?
The gardens in the Forbidden City were beautiful - though we basically ran through them looking for John! But here are some photos he took while he was waiting for us to come out.
At night Adam and I took the subway and went to the Silk market. Having lived in NY for ten years I was well-prepared for the sardine style transportation. Nonetheless, it was a insanely packed and Adam is pretty sure the old Chinese ladies go home and sharpen their elbows at night so they can poke you more easily! The silk market is known for selling high-end knock-offs or knock-offs of high-end stuff depending on your perspective. All I know is that it is overstimulating and a feast for the eyes. It was a rush to bargain with the enticing, hungry sellers. Even though we didn't buy much I felt like my savings had made me somewhat richer that evening. Dinner at the hotel afterward was anticlimactic, and for the second night in a row I had wished our hotel was located in downtown Beijing and not on the outskirts. I had a short list of must-eat restaurants which would have to be experienced on another trip to Beijing. Although I've heard that restaurants come and go very quickly in this city.

Sunday 11-18-12

Today we ventured to the Great Wall, to the Badaling section, or as we nicknamed it, the Bada Bing section (for you Sopranos fans.) But before actually getting to the wall we had to stop at a jade "museum" first. This was one of those government / touristy places where everyone gets a kickback if you buy something. Of course it wasn't much of a museum even though we had a "tour" of them carving jade stone and describing the various typres of jade. And then we were led into a gigantic store the with prohibitively expensive jade. Of course all the children wanted to buy stuff and Jemma was no exception. Luckily we left our wallets intact and a tearless Jemma (phew!) Driving through the mountains up to the Great Wall was beautiful and the air finally looked clear and clean. Even though it was a gorgeous sunny day in Beijing the air hung heavy with smog and particulates. As Vivian our guide informed us, we were lucky to be traveling in winter because the air in Beijing in the summer is filled with black dust that you can see. Oy vey. There was snow on the ground which gave the mountains even more depth and beauty. We drove past several sections of the Great Wall before getting to the Badaling section, so our excitement was growing. Vivian told me that some Chinese people like to spend the day at the Great Wall just to get their exercise. You could see why as it is a challenging climb and an awesome view. Hard to imagine those who were enslaved to build it and oftentimes died while doing so - their bodies buried deep in the wall. The children seemed to especially enjoy the challenge of the climb and Jemma managed to do many cartwheels on the way as well. One thing I've noticed in China is that the spitting seems to be more in check. Folks were spitting over the wall and I even saw a few people run to garbage pails to spit in them. On the way back from the wall we were taken to lunch at a commercial place where you eat lunch on the second floor and then go to the Cloissine "museum" and shop afterwards. Not a single Chinese person was eating lunch at the restaurant or shopping for Cloisinne. Is there no end to our forced government shopping?

Saturday 11-17-12

We arrived in Beijing exactly as scheduled after a very long but rather unremarkable flight (l never like when doctors use the word unremarkable especially when talking about your kid) but it seems fitting here. We were auspiciously seated a row in front of the other family going to the Gaoyou orphanage, mother Susan and 12 yr old daughter Rebecca. Thank goodness we all opted for Economy Plus at the last minute when we got that taunting email luring us to upgrade before checking in. Jemma sat with Rebecca the whole flight and the two bonded instantly and have been joined at the hip since. Maybe it's that they were both at the Gaoyou orphanage, maybe it's the big sister little sister relationship, maybe it's the iPhone apps or probably a bit of all of the above. We all started sniffing as we got off the plane because heard about the distinct smell of Beijing, but all we could smell was airport with a touch of Chinese food. It is a humongous airport and pretty cool looking - they did a lot of building for the Olympics and if you remember that opening ceremony and the bird's nest stadium you can imagine how cool the airport design is. We were met by the BLAS guides and brought together with a few of the other families on this trip. We have people from Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey, Idaho, Tennessee, Utah, Los Angeles and Denmark - we all have different dialects, religions and lifestyles but we all have one thing in common - adopted Chinese daughters (and one son.) As soon as we exited the airport a generous waft of pollution embraced us - and that is the distinct smell. China still uses 70% coal and there are no smog emissions on the insane amount of cars on the road (not to mention the insane drivers!) The Lido Hotel was once the cat's pajamas so we are told, but it's clear they've done little to uphold that reputation. Despite the wear and tear it has some terrific amenities. A fabulous pool - someone likened it to a mini version of the Getty Villa - a real bowling alley (we didn't play), beautiful shops, lots of restaurants of every nationality - Indian, Thai, American, and even an authentic Irish Pub. Oh, and let's not forget a Starbucks, although who needs it when the breakfast buffet has such excellent espresso coffee. One of the cool things about traveling in China is that all the hotels include a huge international buffet breakfast. I remember from the time we adopted Jemma that these breakfasts are not only some of the best meals you get but also some of the most relaxing. They last about two hours and its a time for people socialize and just fuel up for the day ahead. The Lido is no exception and although they have made to order omelets and Belgian waffles, it makes me very happy to start my day with vegetables and rice.

Nov. 2, 2012 - Two Weeks Till China!

Jemma, her dad and I will fly to China on November 16, 2012 for a quick, ten-day tour of Beijing, Chengdu, Gaoyou and Shanghai. We are traveling with the Zhanjiang homeland group, and I believe there are ten families traveling - two going to the Gaoyou orphanage and the other eight to the Zhanjiang orphanage. Here's the plan - we travel from Los Angeles to Beijing via San Francisco - 15.5 hours. We are currently loading up the iPad with as many apps as possible because I doubt even Jemma can play Dragonvales for that long. We spend the first six days with the group beginning with four days in Beijing. Everything has been arranged for us through BLAS, a travel agency in China who arranges homeland return trips. What's nice about going with this organization is that they cut through a lot of the red tape such as facilitate the orphanage visits and get you access to the matching room where the babies photos and files are matched with the adopting parents. I don't think this happens very much anymore as there are so few adoptions coming out of China now and most of them are for special-needs children. After Beijing we fly to Chengdu to the famous Panda Reserve, where the children can hold a baby panda for a small fortune. We will pay that small fortune (supposedly around $250) because we hear it is incredible, even if you have to wait on-line for an hour and only hold the baby panda for a few minutes. Next, we split from the group and visit Jemma's hometown Gaoyou (city of about 800,000 3 hours northeast of Nanjing - www.aboutgaoyou.com) and will meet Vice Mayor Ni of Gaoyou, who featured our family in his book about the Gaoyou orphanage. We will also meet the Director and workers at the Gaoyou Social Welfare Institute and we are hopeful that we will meet the nanny who took care of Jemma during her time at the orphanage. She is retired now, but Mayor Ni has written to us that she is in the town and will be invited to join us. We will be spending our Thanksgiving in Gaoyou and our dinner is already arranged - I'm pretty sure they will not make turkey for us, though we can pretend the dumplings are turkey-shaped... I plan to find a Thanksgiving meal in Shanghai, which should be doable. We drive back to Nanjing and ride the bullet train into Shanghai, which takes less than two hours. Originally, I had hoped to spend some time with a long-lost friend in Shanghai - we reconnected on Facebook last year - but she is flying back to NY just a few days before we arrive. But, there are tons of things to do in Shanghai and we only have two days, so I expect we will be very busy. We fly back to Los Angeles from Shanghai and thankfully, the flight back is only 11 hours - phew! I hope our access to this blog will not be blocked during our trip; but if so we will fill in the missing information after we return. I'm not a big Facebook poster, but I will definitely share my photos on FB, though I believe there is a firewall against FB in China.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

LA Times story

Our photo was featured in a follow-up article about child trafficking in China. We were interviewed along with many other families who have adopted from China. Here is the link to the story:


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Halloween 2009

For Halloween this year, Jemma's costume was conceptual (again). She was, "You Can Count On Me", inspired by her recent obsession with numbers. We glued numbers all over her, painted them on her face and created a sash that said, "Count On Me". The crown was the highlight, boldly displaying a gold number eight. Needless to say, she was a big hit with the crowds. The weekend before we had a great time carving pumpkins with her friends Grace Li Qi and Anna.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thing 1 & Thing 2

Jemma and her friend, Dasha, celebrated Halloween a little early by putting on last year's costume. You gotta love these sweet girls, even if they do turn into Thing 1 & Thing 2 sometimes!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Who Needs Disney World?

When you have a treadmill? At the beginning of the summer we had dinner with a few families at our friend's house and after dessert, our hopped-up children found a new and amazing way to use the treadmill. We adults were so amused that we had to capture it on video.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Friends, friends, friends!

Jemma loves her friends and has no shortage of them. Here she is with Zoela, Maddie and Dasha - they are all just the best!