Monday, March 10, 2014

Visiting a Buddhist temple and a local street market.

Yesterday morning we visited the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees, a local Buddhist temple. There are nine giant golden Buddhas scattered throughout the temple grounds. We witnessed a prayer session led by the monks, and observed many people lighting incense and praying to the statues. It was all very interesting. Later we went over our Consulate paperwork with our guide, Elvin, in preparation for our appointment at the embassy Tuesday morning. We ate at a local noodle/wonton place and ventured back to the mall/grocery for some sushi to have with our leftovers tonight.

MJ was a bit of a challenge today, as we had several melt-downs while out and about. She might be a beautiful 5 year old little girl, but she is acting more like a toddler when we're out and about. She probably hasn't had the opportunity to learn and develop the social skills needed to handle herself properly when dining out or shopping; she's prone to running away from us when she sees something she wants, and if you tell her no, she will scream and go limp when we try to pull her away from something. The language barrier only compounds the problem as we cannot effectively communicate what we would like her to do. We love her, but it is exhausting! Adopting a 5yo is not for the faint of heart. Hopefully things will get better as we learn to communicate better, and when we get home to some consistency and develop a good routine.


Today we took a long walk through a street market selling all manner of medicinal and culinary herbs and dried and fresh animals and parts; think deer bones, dried seahorses, live scorpions, etc. block after block were filled with huge sacks of ginsing, goji berries, ginger, rose and chrysanthemum flowers, and all manner of exotic items used in TCM: traditional Chinese medicine. It was a pretty impressive display. We then moved into a block of pet birds, kittens, puppies, turtles, and lots and lots of tropical fish. It was a lot of fun walking through this area, and we wish we had room in our luggage to buy more. A bit later, we wandered into a pearl market. We found a shop where we purchased some loose pearls and had a necklace and bracelet made for MJ and Leslie. We also purchased a few Chinese toy drums as gifts for some of Manu's friends (you're welcome in advance!)

After the market we had to come back to the room and wait for a possible telephone call from Elvin, in case MJ failed her TB test and had to go back to the hospital for a chest x-ray. Thankfully that call didn't come, and around 4pm we headed out for a little more shopping. We picked up some sushi, fried chicken, and wienies for dinner tonight. We're eating in the room, as it seems to be better for our bonding with MJ, and there are fewer distractions. We're also getting a bit tired of dining out for every meal.

We had our share of intense moments with MJ again today, but we also had wonderful moments when it's obvious that she's starting to consider herself a part of our family. Last night, for the first time, she crawled into our bed and slept with us. Until now, she has insisted on sleeping on the roll-away, and wouldn't even consider laying down with us. She also seems more interested in trying to make us understand what she's saying, rather than pouting when we don't. She is playing more with Manu, even plotting little ways to scare daddy when he isn't looking! She's a very brave little girl for enduring all of this change, and we're very proud of how far she has come in the one short week we've been together.

Now for a few more pictures!

The Lotus Pagoda

Burning incense sticks.   

Sign on the Lotus Pagoda.

Monk bringing a rice offering to the Buddha. 

Past, present, and future Buddhas.

Monk leading prayer.


More M&M. 

Female Buddha. 

Bags of medicinal items.

Scorpions: Good for what ails you!

A typical shop on the street.

A view of the street.



Another cute photo from the orphanage!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Travel day and medical exams

Yesterday was a travel day. We waited around the hotel until noon when Missy came by and we headed to Mr. Lee, a local noodle place that we have visited once before, for our last meal in Jinan. On the way back we stopped by the river for a few last pictures before heading to the airport. We got through security with about an hour to spare before take-off. The big challenge at this point was keeping up with MJ who wanted to take off running through the terminal as a game, or if she saw something shiny. Once on the plane, it was a challenge to get her to keep her seat belt buckled! Poor Manu got a tummy ache again on this flight, but he was a trooper and made it through 'till the end with no problems. Our new guide Elvin met us after baggage claim and we headed off to the hotel. We're actually travelling with another family from our agency on this portion of the trip. The Anderson's are from the San Francisco area and have adopted a cute 19mo little girl. By the time we got settled into our new room at the Garden Hotel, it was after 10pm. We were exhausted and headed to bed soon thereafter. 

The Garden Hotel is a beautiful establishment. Definitely 5-star and the best of our trip thus far. The only drawback is that it is a little too westernized. We've become accustomed to being immersed completely in Chinese culture, and have been the only western family we've seen until now. This hotel is a popular hotel for families adopting children from China, and this morning alone we ran into at least a dozen families just like us at breakfast and in the lobby. It's nice to meet others like us, but it doesn't feel authentic; more of a spectacle really. That, and the breakfast buffet had pancakes! Where was the dim sum? The steamed buns? The noodles? The chop sticks?!?! Interestingly, we tried to give MJ a pancake and she shrieked and quickly removed it from her plate. 

Today was our visit to the local medical center for MJ's visa evaluation. It consisted of a general checkup, and ENT screening, an eye screening, and, since she if over 2yo, a TB test. She handled it all pretty well. She seemed to do well on the eye exam, which is encouraging. We were most worried about the TB screening, as they took her into a room alone, and we had to wait outside. Through Elvin we told her what was coming, and she said she wasn't scared. After it was over she emerged smiling and in good spirits. They actually draw blood for the test here, so she had a band aid on her little arm. The nurses commented on how well she did, and were tickled when she took off her bandage and put it on her doll's arm. After that we were finished, and we headed to our first sightseeing adventure in this city: Yuntai Garden. 

Yuntai Garden is a botanical garden featuring all types of local and tropical flora and fauna. The grounds are beautiful and there are lovely fountains throughout. Manu earned his junior photographer badge by taking some great macro shots of flowers and cacti. This was a nice-enough place, but the most interesting thing wasn't a plant or animal. No, the most interesting thing by far was the cheese - I'm not talking dairy. In addition to all the lovely plants was a good dose of corny theme and  decoration. It reminded me of a bad amusement park. It was so bad that it really distracted from what was otherwise a nice location. After about an hour we headed back to the hotel. After resting for a bit, we headed down to the hotel restaurant for lunch. We then set out for a local mall to buy MJ a new pair of shoes. Buying things in China is a lot different than in a mall in the states. First, there are a LOT more employees; almost one in every isle. They assist you in picking out your items and then give you a ticket that you take to a central cashier for payment. You then bring back your paid receipt to the department to pick up your items. We got her a cute little pair of pink flats and some socks. We then headed downstairs to the grocery department and picked up some noodles, yogurt, and snacks for the room. We're back now and had dinner in the room tonight. Before bed, I thought I'd share a few more insights into Min Jing:

1. She doesn't answer to "Min Jing" Apparently they didn't use her official name on a regular basis. Instead they called her "Jing Jing" as a nickname. She'll answer to that or "Mei Mei" (little sister). 

2. She loves bubble baths. 

3. She likes to look at herself in the mirror and sing and dance. 

4. Did we mention she can be obstinate? She can also be a bit manipulative, and prone to mild tantrums if she doesn't get her way. She's called me a "bad baba." a few times; I guess I must be doing something right. 

5. She loves her dolls and pretend play. 

That's it for tonight. Thanks for following!

Another selfie

Waiting for her exam.

This should really become a thing in the US.

Cheese on display at the gardens. 

You know you want to pick me up, Daddy!

M&M at the Yuntai Gardens.

One of Manu's photos. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Baotu Spring and the Museum

Jinan is known as the "City of Springs" for its 72 "famous springs," of which most converge on Daming Lake. Wednesday we visited Baotu Spring, the most famous of all. The landscaping and architecture are quite beautiful and promote a peaceful and serene experience. That is, until all the tourists converge on it. Missy walked us through the park and explained the significance of the spring and various "memory halls" dedicated to various persons of historical significance, including a famous female poet. There was a pond with two sea lions that the kids really enjoyed, and we spent a LOT of time looking at and feeding the koi. It was a lot of fun, I just wish I understood what all of the signs said; there is just enough English at these touristy sights that you don't get lost, but I'm sure we're missing out on a lot of good information. We left the spring and had a mediocre lunch at a food-court underneath Quancheng Square. We then said goodbye to Missy for the evening and headed back to the room to refresh ourselves a bit. Later we headed to Starbucks for more coffee and a hibiscus tea, before settling in for the night. 

Today we started off a bit slower; we had to wait on Missy to arrive at noon with our notarized documents, so we spent the morning packing up for our travel day tomorrow. We met her in the lobby and then she came to our room to review our documents before we present them at the embassy next week. After we determined everything was in order, we headed out with her to lunch at a new restaurant. The food was decent, but the most remarkable aspect of our meal was that the seats were actually swings hanging from the ceiling. You can probably imagine how that went with 2 five year olds. We came back to the hotel and said goodbye to Missy once again. We rested for a few minutes and then risked our lives to cross the street to visit the Shandong Science and Technology Museum. This was definitely geared toward to younger crowd, with several play areas, but lots of interactive science experiments, too. The kids especially liked a driving simulator, and little miss MJ had a mini-meltdown when we finally pulled her away. It was a lot of fun, and I think M&M had some good bonding time. We're now back in our room after having dinner at the buffet downstairs; I'll tell you about it sometime - food is quite an adventure here. 

Before closing, I'd like to share a bit that we've learned about out daughter in the 4 short days we've had together:

1. She is VERY strong-willed. Her pre-adoption report said that she could sometime be "obstinate". We'll "sometimes" is generous. I'm feel certain that she didn't spend her first 5 years in the orphanage being carried around everywhere, but if we try to make the little princess walk anywhere on her own, she'll sit down, cross her arms, and pout. Today at the museum we left her laying on the floor for a good bit. 

2. She's starting to pick up a few words in English, and even more "gists" of what we're saying. The three of us are also starting to understand her a bit more, too. We're pretty sure she's saying, "stupid Americans" any time we don't comply with her demands. 

3. Have I mentioned that she likes spicy food? Tonight at dinner she was dipping french fries in ketchup and hot sauce. 

4. For the past several days she has been singing the sweetest little song in Mandarin, which of course we could not understand. Today at lunch she was singing it, again. Missy laughed and said that she was singing a song about the Red Army. 

5. She likes Chinese Soap Operas, and will watch them as long as we let her. Probably the result of living in an institution that housed not only children, but also the elderly. 

6. Her hand does not hold her back at all. It's really a non-issue from a practical point-of-view. 

7. She loves her 2 baby dolls. She'll hold them, feed them, sing to them, slather them in hand sanitizer to "bathe" them...

8. She mimics Manu a lot. She also takes his things without asking, which is a little upsetting to Manu at this point, as he is very sensitive to the "rules" and playing nice. There are moments when it seems he really doesn't like having her around, but others when they're giggling together in some universal child language that reassure us that they will work it all out; they just need a little time.

All-in-all things are going well so far. We're just starting to feel each other out, but we're happy. It will be a long process for sure, but it'll be worth it in the end. 

Thanks for following. 

The layout of Baotu Spring.

The bubbling spring.

One of the streams flowing away from the spring.

Our family.

A shelter building.

Lanterns are everywhere in China.

Female guardian lion.

M&M at a play area in the museum.

Understanding the law of gravity. The kids, too. 

Test-driving the latest in pretend vehicles.  

MJ playing in a sand pendulum. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A day at the lake, sort of.

Today was a free day, at least as far as official adoption events go. We met Missy in the lobby at 9:30 for a visit to Daming Lake, one of Jinan's main cultural points of interest. Unfortunately the weather was less than ideal; it was about 40 degrees and drizzly. The lake is surrounded by a walkway which takes about 3 hours to walk the complete circle. There are lots of little bridges and side paths that make it an interesting layout. There are a couple of islands in the middle of the lake that are only accessible by pontoon. The lake has several pavilions, pagodas, and many gardens, creating a very calm and tranquil atmosphere. At least that's how it's supposed to be. We were freezing after a very short time. We decided to take a pontoon cruise around the lake, which was a nice way to see everything and stay warm at the same time. Once off the boat, it was clear that this was going to be too cold for the kids to enjoy, so we headed out after less than an hour. We took some pictures, but like our experience at the Great Wall, they are misty and gray. 

We needed an indoor activity to pass some time, so we headed for the Parc66 mall, just off Quancheng Square near our hotel. This is a high-end mall more suited for window-shopping than actual purchasing - think Versace. The 5th floor is dedicated to children's cloths and toys, so we headed up there to let the kids look around. They quickly spotted a toy store and soon we were leaving with a new baby doll and some Legos. They ran around a bit at a little play area and then we headed out for lunch. As we emerged from the mall the rain had stopped and the sun was shining, but at that point it was too late to go back to the lake. 

We returned to the wonton restaurant that we attempted to dine at yesterday. It was still busy, but we managed to find the last available table. It was a good thing we had Missy, as there was no English and no pictures on the menu, and no one was speaking English except us. We shared 4 varieties of wontons that were floating in a nice soupy broth (think wonton soup, but much, much larger and better than most places we've visited in the states.) On the side, vinegar and fried chili paste are served as condiments. We dished out a little vinegar in a bowl to the kids, and the adults had both. Well MJ quickly started reaching for the chili paste. We handed the bowl to her and she took a big bite of pure chili paste, licked her lips and added more to her wontons. I asked Missy how the paste was made, and it is crushed red peppers that are fried in oil and seasoned with various spices. She kept eating it like that all meal; she really, really enjoys spicy food! 

After the meal we headed back to the hotel room to let the kids play with their new toys. We decided that it would be a good time to do a little laundry in our room. We washed socks, underclothes, and a few other items in the tub. It quickly became a game, and  M&M has a lot of fun playing in the soapy water and wringing out the clothes. 

After hanging our unmentionables all around the room to dry, we headed back to Starbucks to get our afternoon coffee fix, then we strolled down the old city moat, which is fed by the Black Tiger Spring. We took a few pictures and headed back to the room. We decided to eat in tonight, and we prepared some noodles with our hot-pot (all hotel rooms have them here.) This gave us more alone time to bond with MJ. I think it's going well so far; she doesn't scream trying to get away when we take her places! She and Manu have been feeling each other out since her arrival, and today they seemed to get along well. There have been lots of laughs and giggles, and even a pillow fight! There's still a little ways to go before everyone is completely comfortable with everyone, but we're getting there. MJ also seems to be understanding a few English words and phrases already, like "no," "get down from there," "don't put that in your mouth," so that is helping bridge the communication gap a bit :-)

MJ ready for the lake.
A pontoon on the lake. 

Missy and Min Jing.

In front of a Tiger display at the mall.

Doing the laundry. Child labor, or character building?

Standing over the old city moat. 

Our Hotel, as seen from Quancheng Square.

Min Jing looking over Manu's shoulder. 

Snuggling up to...their gadgets.

Monday, March 3, 2014

One door opens as another closes.

Today was a happy day. It was also hectic and heart-wrenching. Today was the day we would finalize Min Jing's adoption. We had to get up early, as we needed to meet Missy in the lobby at 8:30 to head to the Civil Affairs office - one of three different offices, in three different parts of town - we would visit today. We were up at 6am and headed down to breakfast at 7. We ate in the room last night, so this was our first meal out as a family of 4. Min Jing ate well, preferring mostly Chinese fare as expected, but she did really enjoy a fried egg, too. We learned that she will take off running if she sees something she wants, and we had to chase her down several times this morning, and throughout the day. We went back to the room to get our things, and then we were off.

The first stop was the Civil Affairs office where we finalized Min Jing's adoption. we signed some papers, paid some money, and marked some documents with fingerprints. The ladies from the orphanage were there to present their documents, and Min Jing was happy to see them again. Before we left we were presented with her official adoption document, as well as other important papers we'll need in Guangzhou next week to process her visa. These were the documents we have been working toward for almost 6 months now. We were told by the nice lady working there, who had been at Min Jing's orphanage just last week, that they had our family picture hanging on the wall there, and Min Jing would make a point of telling everyone she saw that we were her mama, baba, and gege. More proof that they had done a great job of prepping her for our arrival. 

We then left and headed out into heavy traffic for the local police station to process her Chinese passport. Were were quickly directed to a small, crowded hallway that led to a room where Min Jing would get her passport photo taken. We got that accomplished and were hastily rushed upstairs to another waiting room. Missy went off to get things started and then came back and rushed us to an officer. More signatures were made and fees paid and we were off to the Notary office across town. There we met up once again with the orphanage staff. We signed all the forms and paid the last official fee of this adoption. We were now officially Min Jing's parents! We took a group photo with these wonderful ladies and then we headed downstairs to say our goodbyes. A lot of tears were shed in these last few minutes together. Min Jing told the director that she didn't want them to go. She told Min Jing that everything would be alright, and that she should come back and see them when she grows up. She was then overcome with emotion and had to step aside to compose herself. The second lady, who we believe was Min Jing's primary caretaker was also visibly upset. They had raised her from about 19 days old until today, and they were saying goodbye for the last time. For us, this brought into sharp focus exactly what Min Jing would be leaving behind. No child deserves to live in an institution, but she was loved there, of that we are certain. We will forever be indebted to the people there for showing her love, and taking such wonderful care of her. They watched us drive away until we were out of sight. 

On the drive back to the hotel, Min Jing was quiet. Missy would ask her if she was hungry, sleepy, or wanted anything at all, and she just shook her head slowly, with tears welling up in her eyes. She stayed like that all the way back. As excited as she seems to have been at our arrival, I think maybe she just figured out what having a mama, baba, and gege really means - leaving everyone else behind. As our door opens, the door to her past closes. We held her, rubbed her back and tried our best to console her, but it is her right to mourn, and we will let her.  

When we got back to the hotel it was time to find something to eat. We first tried to go to a wonton restaurant that Missy recommended, but we got there and the place was packed. We instead headed to KFC. You read that right, KFC. There seems to be one on every corner, and according to Missy, they are more popular than McDonalds in China. But this isn't you father's KFC. You would hardly recognize the menu. They did have chicken poppers, which the kids enjoyed, but I ordered pork curry and vegetables over rice, and Leslie had red bean turnovers. I think I'll try asking for that when we're back in Lexington! Normally we don't eat much fast food, especially when travelling, but it was close, everyone was starving, and we kind of wanted to check out the difference. It was fun, and as she was eating, Min Jing started to perk up a bit. 

We came back to the Hotel for a little break. Leslie tried to get Min Jing to take a nap, unsuccessfully, while Manu and I played a round of Pokemon cards. After a bit we headed out to Quancheng Square, just across the street. It was much less crowded today as it was on Saturday when we first passed by. We stopped first at a large metalic lotus fountain with dancing water jets that perform to music at regular intervals. the kids loved watching the sprayers move back and forth in an artistic fashion. We also admired dozens of beautiful, elaborate kites that were being flown throughout the square. This is a serious pastime in China, and kites are everywhere. We walked up a large, blue statue in the center of the square that is the symbol for the city of Jinan. We walked around a little more, and chased down Min Jing when she would take of running after something. 

On the way back, we let them look at a toy/kite stand that was near the entrance to the square. As they were looking, a middle-aged woman comes up to Min Jing and asks her if she knows us. Min Jing identified us as mama, baba, and gege, and the woman looked at us with a bit of wonder, shrugged her shoulders and walked away. I feel certain she was looking out for Min Jing's well being; there is a strong sense of community and family here, and we were obvious strangers to these parts hanging around a little Chinese girl. I'm not upset that the woman would question our relationship with her, but it does serve as a reminder of how much we stand out everywhere we go. It has been that way for us for years now, but it's different when you are in the minority, and it is but a small taste for us of what life must be like for immigrants everywhere and probably for our kids, too. 

We ended the day by ordering room service and eating in. Everyone is in bed now, and I'm about to join them. Thanks for following. 

Min Jing officially consenting to being adopted.

Manu, Min Jing, and her caretaker.

Group photo at the Notary office. 

The kids in front of the lotus fountain. 

Quancheng Square.

Brother and sister bonding.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Hello, my name is Jeff, but you can call me 爸爸

(Bàba, Papa, Father, Daddy, the Old Man, etc.)

Today was a day much like any other: you wake up in a foreign country, enjoy a breakfast of things you cannot pronounce, take a trip to the bank to exchange some money only to be accosted by several people trying to get you to use their "services" instead of the bank, stop at Starbucks for a 2pm latte, walk down a food alley where all manner of strange creatures are barbecued on a skewer, be stared at by anyone and everyone you pass on the street, and meeting your 5yo daughter for the first time. Yep, pretty ordinary by most accounts. 

 For the benefit of our parents, I'll cut right to the chase. Min Jing and adults from her orphanage came to our room at about 3pm. Leslie opened the door to find this precious little girl holding a beautiful bouquet of flowers. She came in followed by the adults and our interpreter/guide, Missy. Min Jing immediately recognized us as Mama, Baba, and Gege. She was a bit reserved, but not shy. She immediately allowed us to hold her and kiss her. She soon noticed a doll that we had brought for her and immediately picked it up and began taking off it's clothes. We had an assortment of toys and sweets lay'd out for her. She particularly liked the nail polish and glittering lip gloss. She soon began painting her own nails, and then Leslie's, too. The orphanage director handed her a gift that she then handed to Gege (Manu); a bank in the shape of a Chinese boy. Leslie and I were then presented with a few gifts of beautiful artwork from her hometown. They also gave us a few gifts for Min Jing from people who had worked/volunteered at her orphanage, including a beautiful boxed-set of decorated chopsticks that we will save for her until she is older. 

The director and the two other adults were very warm and friendly. They seemed to take a genuine interest in Manu. The gentleman of the group was snapping away, picture after picture, as the events were unfolding. We presented them with gifts that we had brought from the states, and then the director answered all questions we had about Min Jing and her situation. Then it was time to sign the temporary adoption paperwork. I say temporary because, in China, we have 24 hours to change our minds and cancel the adoption. No chance of that happening, but it is a formaility. We'll head to the civil affairs office tomorrow to finalize, at which point she officially becomes our daughter. Finally we said our goodbyes to the orphanage staff and they left our hotel. Once they were gone, Missy took us to a nearby photography store to have her passport photos taken. We came back to the room and, after it seemed that everything was going to be OK, Missy left for the evening as well. We were now on our own!

So much has happened in the last few hours, my head is still spinning, but I'd like to touch on a few items of note:

1st - This little girl is the most beautiful girl in the world. When she smiles and her eyes light up, it melts my heart. She is very talkative, and as yet doesn't seem much bothered by that fact that we don't understand what she is saying; she just talks and talks and talks, and sometime sings in her sweet little voice. She seems very inquisitive and fiercely independent; she doesn't want or need help opening packages or using the TV remote control. She seems to like Gege and has been mimicking a lot of what he does. Her chopstick skills put us to shame, and we're getting pretty good! She had no problems figuring out our camera or our phones; She actually took several really good photos of us, plus a selfie! She enjoyed her first bath, and went to bed easily, except for getting up a couple of times to get me to come to bed, too. 

2nd - It is obvious that the people at her orphanage deeply care for her, and have taken great care of her, and prepared her for this transition. She seems very healthy and happy. She instinctively puts things back where they belong, without being asked, and has even neatly folded and stacked all of the clothes that Leslie has lay'd out for her to look at. It seems apparent that, because of her situation, she has had more responsibility put upon her than that of a typical 5yo. Developmentally she seems right on point, both physically and intellectually. 

3rd - As part of the care package we sent to her for her 5th birthday, we included a USB thumb drive for the staff to download any pictures that had of her from over the years. They gave that back to us today. On it were almost 900 pictures of her going as far back as her pictures on the day she was found when she was approximately 19 days old! This was truly a blessing as we scanned through photos of special moments and events in her life. But as wonderful as it is to have them (and it really is), it is also a little painful as we realize more clearly all of the good times and milestones we have missed.

In the end, today went about as well as it possibly could; not a single tear and the first signs of bonding are beginning to appear. While this was a great relief, we know that it could be short-lived. Often the reality of what is happening can be delayed for adopted children, so she could break-down on us at any time. We hope it doesn't come to that, but we understand it is a normal part of the grieving process, and we'll do our best to empathize with her, cry with her, and comfort her as she cements her place in our family, forever. 

And now, what you've all been waiting for, the pictures:

My three favorite people in the world!
The nail polish was a hit.
Missy and the orphanage director.
The staff and our kids. 
All of us together. 
Having fun coloring.
More nail polish
Leslie and her flowers. 
Her first selfie. 
Daddy's princess!