Monday, June 30, 2008

Lame, but Cute

Nothing really newsworthy today--Judy Wu went to the U.S. Consulate on our behalf, and reported that they accepted all our paperwork without any questions, so I guess that means we passed the final exam. Tomorrow we go with 20 or more other couples staying at the White Swan Hotel to the Consulate (a 45 minute bus ride) to pick up Katie's U.S. passport and a thick and mysterious envelope that must be dropped off at the USCIS office at the Minneapolis airport OR ELSE!

I'm not clear on the ramifications of a slip-up here, but I'm assured by more experienced adoptive parents that the Consulate will fully apprise me on the consequences should I fail my mission.

I'll tell you one thing they won't do (or at least only over my dead body): take little Katie away from us. She has wormed her sunny little way deep into our hearts, and she's there to stay. On that note, (and in reference to the title today), I've mined my cellphone for odds and ends that some of you gentle readers may find touching or amusing. Some are repeats, as my most discerning and dedicated readers will surely know. Enjoy!

Daddy and Katie took the afternoon to bond while mommy finished buying gifts for family and friends.

Daddy takes Katie's naptime very seriously.

The trusty thumb is an ever-present friend in time of need.

Whatever it is, it was really good. Now if I can just get some all over daddy's shirt for later...

The headband lasted all of 10 minutes. My feeling is that if people can't tell she's a girl by the little dress she has on, they're not going to have a clue that the headband indicates female gender either.

Pure, gratuitous sentimentalism. Nothing like a sleeping baby to completely disarm you. Permanently.

Didn't get hooked by the last one? Here's a close-up for good measure. If that cute little rosebud doesn't tug at your heartstrings, you're truly heartless.

Thea displays her green bean ice cream bar. Yesterday she ordered mango ice with forest frog; we were all quite keen on discovering just what that meant, but were disappointed to find out that the forest frog was really just an orchid garnish.

Yup, they're all over China, and they're worse here than in the States. Egad! Walmart, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut. What are we doing to the world? Forget global warming--we're dumbing down the rest of the world so fast that greenhouse gases are the least of our worries.

Our guide in Nanning, David.

"Grandma" Nora, traveling with the Peters

Haruyo, Gordon, and Mark

Lisa, Kari, Shawn, and Cam

Mystery candy--even after I tasted it, it's still a mystery. There are nuts on the package, but not a nutty taste at all. More like corn starch and karo syrup.

Buddy and Pippin are staying with our friends, the Rammels, who have 2 girls. The youngest, Annika, has the exact same birthdate as Katie: tomorrow, July 1! Happy birthday to both of you.
We plan to have a dinner out tomorrow night at our new favorite Thai restaurant here on Shamian Island, followed by birthday cake and some traditional Chinese customs. More on that with photos tomorrow if time allows.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Random Images

There's a massive thunderstorm going on over Guangzhou right now (it is monsoon season, after all), so today we've been indoors all day, exploring the hotel. There are gobs of shops for mommy to browse in, but we found a room that Katie likes a lot. Virtually all Americans adopting Chinese children have to file papers with the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, and most adoption agencies book their families into the White Swan Hotel. Because of the influx of kids and new parents, the staff has created a beautiful new playroom in the hotel. Here's Katie checking it out:

We had a rough night last night due to teething and a little virus that's going around the family. I'm afraid I passed my little cold on to Katie; I'm guilty, but it's impossible to resist kissing that adorable little face and nibbling on those cute little fingers. Mommy and daddy are paying for those little indulgences right now with frequent awakenings and lots of short naps. Oops--Katie's waking up again, so I don't know if I'll get this post done.

I thought I would just post a bunch of mix and match photos from the trip so far. Some family shots, some travel logs, and some oddities. Here goes:

This is a little pagoda in Peoples' Park in Nanning:

Here is the pool and spa at the Majestic Hotel:

Katie is in her reading chair:

Mark, Gordon, Chuck, and Doc:

Haruyo, Soulmate, Kari, and Lisa:

The whole gang at the foot of the staircase at the Majestic Hotel. The hotel had weddings several days during our stay their. Weddings aren't just for Saturdays around here. Someone told us that the bride and groom have to stand at the stairs and greet and take pictures with every single wedding guest before they can go up to the banquet room to eat dinner. That would make for a very short guest list if Doc were planning his wedding again. After 25 years, I can still remember greeting all 400 of our closest friends (lol) at the reception.

For those of you hitting my blog to see bike stuff, here's one for you, a veritable shop on wheels:

Grandma Nora from our group has some chicken and sticky rice steamed and served in a bamboo log:

A random shop window on Shamian Island in Guangzhou is either a really nice prom dress, or an unusual wedding gown:

Mommy and Katie leaving the Chinese notary's office:

A close-up of the entrance to the retirement home where Katie was found by the security guard:

A gazebo or pagoda in the park next to Katie's orphanage:

A random government building in Yulin on our road trip to see Katie's orphanage:

Mommy and Katie in the playroom:

Well the thunderstorm has passed and the girls are hot for shopping, so gotta go!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Katie Sees the Doctor(s)

We got into Guangzhou last night at 8pm, and took a bus to the hotel. Here's a night shot from our room:

This morning we walked from the White Swan Hotel (more on the hotel in a later post) to the walk-in clinic down the street. Virtually everything here on Shamian Island caters to westerners, mostly adoptive families from the States. Katie visited the doctor for her adoption physical, and got examined by the ENT doctor (not me this time). Chinese ENT appointments are evidently shorter than U.S. ones.

Katie finished up her appointment by getting measured, weighed, and poked by the pediatrician. She showed her sunny side throughout.

As we walked back to the hotel, Kari pointed out a shop called "Jordan's" and said he was a friendly guy who has all kinds of stuff to sell. That pretty much sums up a description of every Chinese shopkeeper I've ever met. The surly ones with nothing good to sell don't stay in business long I suspect. Anyway, just after she finished telling us about his shop, "Jordan" himself passed us and recognized her:

After shopping we returned to the hotel for a nap (Katie), blogging (Doc), and more shopping unencumbered by husband and baby (Soulmate). Then I spent 2 hours with our facilitator filling out 4 documents for the U.S. State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Each one has to be filled out exactly correctly or we won't be allowed to land in the States next Wednesday. I made two little gaffs, but our facilitator said she will go over each line and white out any mistakes. She must really want us to make that flight!

Then she suggested all 4 families go to her "favorite" Chinese restaurant, where she ordered 6 or 7 wonderful dishes, and we ate til we were stuffed. For dessert I had a wonderful rolled bread with a sweet paste of sesame seeds inside. I snuck a 2nd piece after everyone had been offered the plate. Surprised?

Tomorrow is a free day for us, with absolutely no paperwork. Soulmate has already made it abundantly clear that there will be shopping. My wallet is starting to throb again...

Actually, I am encouraging her to shop for lots of bargains, and we'll plan to buy some cheap luggage here before we head for the airport next week, so we can safely transport the schwag back to the States. Watch future posts for pix and video of our once-in-a-lifetime shopping spree.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Videos as Promised

Here are some videos from yesterday. The first one is the orphanage visit, the second just some footage of the interesting Chinese countryside, and the last some night street scenes in Nanning.

We're heading for Gaungzhou this afternoon, so I don't know if I'll have much to post tomorrow.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

One of a Kind Road Trip

I don't even know where to begin today's post, and we're all three pretty worn out from the events of the day, so we're going to go a little sparse on the text (ya think that'll really happen?), and no video, only stills. I think you'll still find it satisfying.

We got up early this morning, around 6am. We've all been sleeping through the night, and Katie usually takes a bottle early in the morning and conks out for another hour or two. This morning she didn't, but woke up on the sunny side (as usual) and didn't go back to sleep after her bottle. We had a good time playing until it was time for (adult) breakfast.

Ah yes, breakfast. I really can't even describe to you all the wonderful and not-so-wonderful buffet selections we have here. Some things I would never have considered having for breakfast, and some things I would never consider having at all (not many of those though). This morning it was coffee, a couple small pastries, fried rice noodles with soy sauce, an unknown but tasty cooked green vegetable, several types of steamed breads and cakes, and a boiled egg.

Anyway, after breakfast we met the Ottenbreits, Auntie Nora (traveling with the Peters), and our guide David, who had hired a minibus and driver for the day. We hit the road for Beiliu City at 9 for what was supposed to take 2 hours on an expressway. Due to traffic and especially road construction, it took 3 1/2 hours, and half of it was on a road too bumpy to be called an expressway.

The countryside was rugged and beautiful, like you see on those calendars hanging in your favorite Chinese restaurant. It was overcast and rained some, but the rice paddies, banyan tree groves, and gumdrop-shaped hills rising out of the pancake-flat plains were really awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, the road was so bumpy that I didn't really get any good stills, and the videos inspire more nausea than awe.

Once we got to Beiliu City, all our traveling woes proved worthwhile. We found the orphanage with the help of 9 year old Thea, the Ottenbreits' newly adopted daughter, who had spent 2 years in the orphanage after being abandoned by her older sister (after her parents both died).

At the gate leading into the orphanage, David read two signs written in Chinese characters. The one on the left identified the Guangrong Institute, an old peoples' retirement home, and the one on the right indicated the Beiliu City Social Welfare Institute. A single gate and guardhouse protected both places. Inside this gate was where our little Katie was abandoned by her family who probably hoped that she would be found by the watchman. They must have known the orphanage was just across from the retirement home.

That is exactly what happened. The guard found her under the canopy of the Guangrong Institute and called the authorities, who then walked her across the street to the orphanage. We know all this to be true because that's what was written in the short blurb we received with our adoption referral on May 2nd. We also know that blurb is true because when we talked to the guard at the gate this afternoon, IT WAS THE SAME GUARD!

After being spotted at the gate, a fairly large crowd gathered around us, and Thea indicated that she knew most of them. Two ladies came forward and reached out to Katie while we held her; they turned out to be the two nannies who most often cared for her while she was at the orphanage. They seemed genuinely happy for Katie, though they weren't all that happy that Katie didn't want to go to them. They were very sweet, and wished us all the best when we parted.

Just before we left, we inquired of them and the guard exactly how Katie had been found. The guard said he remembered she was in a cardboard box with a single blanket around her. The nannies said that they still had the blanket, and would we like to have it? Obviously, we said yes, knowing that it might be in pretty bad shape or infested with who knows what, but when they brought it, it was a colorful beach towel, somewhat worn but perfectly clean and nice.

After taking boatloads of pictures and videos so Katie will have mementos of her time in the orphanage (not to mention a souvenir from her birth family), we left there in quite a state of happiness. We went to a local (Chinese!) restaurant called the Baicoatang Restaurant and ate more wonderful stuff, then headed to the ceramics store to buy some local products.

Beiliu City is known for ceramic and porcelain teapots, cups, urns, and other decorative items. The shop is basically an outlet store directly across the highway from its gigantic factory. We went in to check it out, and the ladies went wild. Fortunately with the draconian weight restrictions imposed by Shenzhen airlines, we agreed that we could really only carry on one item in a shopping bag, so Soulmate settled on a delicately beautiful tea set with teapot and 6 cups with saucers, as well as one small rice bowl and saucer. We will give both to Katie when she is older so she will have souvenirs from her first town.

I took pictures inside the store and outside of the store and factory. The manager approached me and asked me not to take any pictures in the store, since their items were all trademarked, and, in short, they didn't want another company to rip off their designs. I told her I understood, and promised not to publish any pictures of the inside of the shop. Sorry.

Finally we left there and headed for Thea's "found" location, which turned out to be an hour outside of Beiliu City to the north. This leg took us deep into the back country over roads with potholes so deep I was sure we were going to ground the chassis of the minibus. All the potholes were also filled to the brim with the day's rain, so you could only tell how deep it was by watching someone else traverse it. It was fascinating to see the most rural and agrarian side of China, having mostly been in bigger cities so far.

We wearily made our way back to Nanning by about 8pm, making it 11 hours of travel and visiting. Katie was an angel the entire time, playing, eating, and sleeping despite the cramped conditions and washboard roads. Kari Ottenbreit nominated her for the "best baby in the world" award, which we know she'll win if it ever comes up to a vote.

Katie went to sleep with nary a whimper after a bottle and a diaper change, and Soulmate and I are sleepily wondering at our good fortune to have a baby like her. I'll try to post some video from today in the next couple days if I get a chance, but meanwhile, here are a few key photos from the day's events:
Here is the Guangrong old folks' home:

Here is Katie's orphanage. She lived on the 3rd floor; Thea and Sophia lived on the 2nd.

Here is Katie with her nanny. The man in the red shirt is the guard who found her on July 29, 2007:

I never found out who the old man in the photo is. He was just hanging around the guard shack (in the background), so maybe he is a resident of the retirement home.

Here are the 5 of us in one shot. Katie didn't really want to stay in the nanny's arms, prefering Soulmate's, which gratified us.

Here is our family and the Ottenbreits' standing in front of the sign on the gate that identifies the Beiliu City Social Welfare Institute (the sign is above my head):

Here is the Baicaotang restaurant where we ate lunch:

Here is the GXKC ceramics factory:

And here is the outside of the outlet store:

This one captures the factory sign as well as a veritable parking lot of bicycles and scooters, all belonging to factory workers, I'm sure. This shot was thrown in because this is, after all, a blog that started out being mostly about bikes and bike racing, even though it has been thoroughly hijacked by little Katie.

Enough excitement for one night. Maybe I'll have a chance in the next 5 days to upload some video clips from today. I have a boatload of them. I promise I'll pick mostly ones that won't induce nausea due to the rough roads...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

You Mean to Say it Rains Around Here?

Katie is down for a nap right now, so I'll take this opportunity to update you vicarious world travelers. We were hoping to go as a group to Peoples' Park a few blocks from our hotel (everything in China is the Peoples' something or other), but we woke up in the night to thunder and lightning, and got up to a downpour. I guess I do remember hearing that this is the monsoon season around here.

We've had no rain since we arrived in China, so I have been lulled into thinking it's just hot and muggy. It's actually hot, muggy, AND rainy, with no cooldown after the rain. We're heading for a high of 90 today, 89 tomorrow, with ongoing 50% chance of thunderstorms.

National Geographic Magazine from May had an entire issue dedicated to China. You might not know that there's a building boom of unprecedented size in China right now. 1/3 of the world's steel is being used in China, one of the marks of their industrial expansion. One of the biggest banks in China is called the China Construction Bank (I kid you not).

Here in Guangxi province, they're a little backwards compared to Shanghai (China's largest and fastest growing city) and Beijing (the second largest and equally fast growing) and other cities to the north and east. They do, however, boast a gigantic Wal-Mart (the Mandarin pronunciation is closer to the original Arkansas version: "Woh-Mah"), McDonalds, and Pizza Hut (as previously noted).
Having not shopped at Walmart in MN for a long time, I have to confess my disappointment at being taken there by our guide, but it was a good trip after all was said and done. We bought bottled water, a 6 pack of Pepsi, a small plastic tablecloth (a play mat for Katie, since Soulmate is very suspicious of the floors around here), and a few other incidentals.

I’d like to take this time to introduce our friends and fellow adopters: I mentioned them in a post before we left, so you can go back through the archives if you like. These photos were taken yesterday while meeting with the notary and the Beiliu City orphanage director.

Here’s a photo of Gordon and Haruyo Wright, with their little 18 month old daughter Sumi:
Here’s the Ottenbreit’s new 9 year old daughter Thea.

Here’s the Peters’ new 7 year old daughter Sophia.

Here’s the whole gang together with the director of the orphanage, his assistant, and the head of the nannies at the orphanage.

We got a chance to ask the 3 officials from the orphanage about Katie’s habits while there, and all of them remarked on what a pleasant and easy-going baby she is. They also gave us the disposable camera that we sent to them, and we got the film processed today, along with a CD. I’ll post some of the photos tomorrow, after David tells us where each photo was taken. Many of them appear to be street scenes from around the orphanage. If we make the trip to Beiliu City tomorrow, we will probably see some of the places.

Today we may venture out to the souvenir shopping street, which I think is fairly close to our hotel, but this depends on how Katie feels about the whole thing. She has been very accomodating about most everything except mealtimes: when it's time to eat, it's time to eat NOW. The other thing that has been creeping up on us is that she hasn't, err, produced properly yet. Lots of wet diapers, but no dirty ones in a day and a half.

I'm a doctor, but it doesn't take a medical degree to figure out that what goes in has to come out again. Katie has been putting away formula, rice cereal, and congee like there's no tomorrow, and this morning it all caught up with her. After 2 bottles (before Soulmate and I had breakfast), she started getting fussy and arching her back and waving her legs around.

For those of you unenthused with the business end of babies, I suggest you skip this paragraph. I decided that medical intervention was in order, so after breakfast we headed back to the room after declining an offer from our guide to go to Walmart again (what's that about anyway?). I inserted a glycerin suppository, and we carefully applied her diaper, sealing off any possible leaks.

I have to say that Katie carried herself like a champion, enduring quite a bit of cramping (not to mention the indignity of having a suppository inserted) with only a little whimpering and crying. 20 minutes later, just like the jar said, the grand event occurred, complete with malodorous vapors and a lumpy mound under the diaper. 5 minutes after changing the foul nappy for a clean one, she was playing happily and grinning at us. I guess she decided that we weren't really up to anything nefarious, so all was forgiven.

It wasn't Mt. Vesuvius after all.

I am a little worried though: Katie got a silver bracelet from the director of the orphanage when we met him yesterday, and she keeps looking at it like a Hollywood starlet or Liz Taylor would. Soulmate herself is not at all averse to bangles and baubles, so it's likely that Katie's budding jewelry fetish will grow with time. Oh, my aching VISA card...

Actually, it’s a beautiful little adjustable bracelet in silver, which Chinese parents give their infant daughters. They are usually engraved with Chinese characters, as this one is. David translated them for us yesterday, the pinyin spelling is in parentheses: “forever” (yong), “life” (ming), “wealth” (fu), and “valuable” (gui). It is a wish for long life and prosperity, and it is our prayer for Katie.