Wednesday, August 26, 2015

8/26: Our last day in China

Today was our last day in China.  We spent the day doing a whole lot of waiting around for Samuel's visa to be ready... so a whole lot of nothing all the live long day.  We initially planned to go to Shamian Island but lacked the motivation and had no desire to sweat profusely for yet another day.  Instead we went to the hotel playroom with the McDonalds.  The boys enjoyed playing and then we decided to go to Pizza Hut for lunch where we had the slowest, most pitiful service.  Samuel slept in his stroller throughout the meal (nap ruined!).  Our general feeling about the day of waiting + Pizza Hut is best summarized below:
Ready to blow this joint

When we got back from Pizza Hut Samuel ate his take-out at the coffee table.  We tried to get him to nap again but failed.  By this point, our will to parent was greatly diminished.  We let him call the shots this afternoon which meant this anti pant-ite played around the hotel room in his pull-up all afternoon.  And who doesn't love the look of a pull-up with athletic shoes??

We played balloons, colored, wiped crayon off the carpet, ripped up toilet paper, flushed the potty a lot, threw a few fits...

Then Samuel asked to take a bath.  Mind you it was 4pm but with nothing else to do (and because we had to stay in the room to wait for our guide to bring Samuel's visa) we said OH SURE, KID! Go ahead and play in the tub!  Samuel splashed and played for an hour.  He had a great time and it made for some easy parenting since we could just raise the bathtub curtain and watch him play.  In most Chinese hotels the bathtub/shower area is visible from the bedroom but can be hidden by a powered curtain.  Woo hoo, fancy!

Once we got Samuel's visa and immigration paperwork from our guide, we decided to go to dinner with the McDonald's at the Irish Pub.  Mexican food & Irish food in China -- what an international experience we've had this week!  We struggled to keep Samuel awake in the restaurant but Bryan fought the good fight and managed to perk him up enough to last through the meal.

We are now packing up our things while Samuel sleeps and getting pumped up to start the long trek home.  Tomorrow morning we will go to the train station and take a train ride to Hong Kong.  It takes about 1 hour 45 minutes.  From there, we will take a cab to our hotel in Hong Kong.  We won't actually spend the night there but need a place to crash/freshen up before our flight at midnight.  The hotel is attached to the airport so it will be very convenient to take sleepy kids straight into the terminal from our hotel.  The McDonalds will join us there and we will be on the same flights home along with another family from Texas.

We take off from Hong Kong at 12:45am on Friday 8/28 and fly for about 4 hours to Seoul.  We land in Seoul a little after 5 am, have a 4 hour layover then fly from Seoul to Houston for a little over 13 hours.  We'll take Samuel through immigration where he will officially become a US citizen-- and then we will walk out of baggage claim and see the faces of our sweet children and parents who we miss so much!!

We will likely not be able to update the blog any more as we begin the marathon journey back to our home.  We appreciate prayers for safe and easy travel, for sleep on the plane, and for Samuel's heart to be prepared for the many changes he is about to experience.  The adoption story may appear to be over, but for him the biggest changes are still ahead.  He will leave his incredible birth culture behind, his language, his familiar foods and smells and join an entirely different culture, home and environment.  Pray that he would continue to find comfort in Bryan and me as he makes these huge transitions, and for our children at home as we experience the growing pains of becoming a family of 6.

We are so grateful for the support, prayers, emails, comments and encouragement during this adoption journey.  We can't wait to be home and introduce you to the precious son God chose for us-- our Samuel.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tuesday 8/25: Consulate Appointment

Today was our consulate appointment the US Consulate in Guangzhou.  We left the hotel at 9am for our 10am consulate appointment.  Our guide had meticulously prepared our paperwork ahead of time so all we needed to do was show up and follow instructions!  

Outside of the consulate there are hundreds of Chinese people waiting in line so they can try to get a visa to come to the US.  As American citizens, we immediately go to the front of the line and walk straight in for our appointment.  The privilege of being an American and living in our amazing nation is not lost on us as we are abroad in China.  Once inside the consulate we could not bring in any electronics so we don't have any pictures.  During the appointment, each family takes an oath that the information they have provided on their child's visa application is truthful.  Then each family is called up one by one to be interviewed by the officer.  The female officer that interviewed us recognized Samuel's Chinese name.  She is the same officer I spoke with on the phone at midnight in Texas one night, trying to find out if our paperwork had been expedited and was ready for pick up.  I was able to thank her personally for the work she did to help Samuel join our family so quickly.  

Ready to head to the US Consulate!

Standing outside the US Consulate in Guangzhou.  Many families dress their children in red, white and blue for this appointment.  Samuel got lots of compliments on his shorts with a belt! He looked like a little man :)

They had a little tikes playhouse and some small toys in the waiting area.  Samuel played nicely with the other kids while we waited our turn at the appointment.  He was not happy when we picked him up to leave, and even more unhappy that Mama was carrying him instead of Baba.  He turned into total limp dead weight and yelled for Daddy while I carried him out.  I walked on out of there with the hundreds of chinese people lined up outside staring as our son yelled for his Daddy who was walking right beside me.  It would have made less of a scene to hand him to Bryan but we are trying to help him learn that a) Mama and Baba are both good and b) Mama and Baba run the show!

We met up with our guide in the lobby of the medical building (the guides/drivers cannot park in front of the consulate).  Bryan took Samuel to the bathroom.  When they were done, Bryan wanted Samuel to walk out into the lobby but Samuel was not having it.  He wanted to be carried.  Cue the temper tantrum in the lobby of the medical building.  Our guide had to come over and explain to Samuel in Cantonese that sometimes he needs to walk and it was time to stand up and go.  He then proceeded to do the slowest, most deliberate process of going from laying down to standing that I have ever seen.  Classic toddler move.  Somethings are just universal, ya know??  It was actually really hard not to laugh!!!  We've continued to have those kinds of moments throughout the day (and have had them consistently for about 5-6 days now).  The fits are over horrible injustices like getting out of the bathtub, not being allowed to lay on the floor of a restaurant under the table, and being asked to put on pants.  Luckily these instances really aren't frustrating us-- we are just trying to be consistent, pick our battles and set some boundaries.

Back at the hotel, our guide took us to a shop to buy an inexpensive stroller.  I am glad she showed us how to get there since it was a few blocks back in a Chinese neighborhood.  There's no way we could have found it on our own.  Unfortunately I started to get a migraine at this point.  We grabbed a quick lunch and came back to the hotel so I could nap.  Bryan played with Samuel and eventually took him down to the kiddie pool to swim while I rested and started packing our stuff.  

Tonight we went to dinner at the same noodle house with the McDonalds again.  Bryan and I ordered pork dumplings, bok choy, a large noodle bowl with vegetables and meat, a pork dish and 2 cokes.  Our total was less than $20!  The restaurant makes the noodles and dumplings fresh in an open kitchen that you can see from your seat.  The boys ate a TON just like the night before.  We continue to be impressed with Samuel's attempt at using chopsticks!

On the way back from dinner we saw this bike.  The little seat in the front is meant for your small child to sit on.

The boys were jabbering about a dog they saw on the street and were not amused with my photo shoot.  They were also not amused by the moon cakes we bought from a bakery on the way back.  Can't say that I blame them-- we tasted them and thought they were kinda yucky. 

At this point all of our paperwork is finished.  We are just waiting on Samuel's visa which should be in our hands by 4:30 pm tomorrow.  We plan to go to Shamian Island tomorrow and may try to find our way to the toy market also.  We stay here on Wednesday night then take a train to Hong Kong on Thursday morning.  Our flights leave Hong Kong a little after midnight on Thursday night (so basically Friday morning here).  We are really on the home stretch now and can't wait to bring Samuel home to meet the rest of his family!  

Monday, August 24, 2015

Monday 8/24: Safari Park

Another day down in Guangzhou, just a few more to go!  Today was a free day so our agency arranged for our group of 3 families to go to the Safari Park.  It was about a 45 minute drive from our hotel and we left after breakfast.  We were able to stay for 4 hours and enjoyed the drive thru safari and the many animal exhibits.  It was a cross between Disney's Animal Kingdom and a great zoo. The animals were all very active and visible so we really enjoyed that.  We had noticed that Samuel likes animals so he really loved it too! 

In our hotel lobby before leaving for the safari park.  I have no idea what the 30 means but I love my boy's sweet smile in this pic!

Killing time riding the escalator up and down, up and down

Samuel slept on the way to the safari park.  He tends to pass out every time we drive for more than 5 minutes.  Our guide helped us get tickets then let us explore on our own while she went back to the city to handle paperwork for our adoptions.

We went to the safari train ride first.  Bryan and I both love the beautiful trees that filled the park.  Here's the lovely view while we waited in line for the train.

All aboard! Poor Samuel wasn't sure what to think.  I can't imagine what he thinks is going on with us.  Which hotel do we live in? Why are they taking me to a doctor? Why are we on a train? What is going on??? He sure is a good sport!

Once on the train Samuel LOVED seeing the animals.  He was so excited.  It gave me a lump in my throat to see his joy at experiencing something like this.  He spent the entire ride pointing his finger and chattering away in Cantonese about the animals.  

Love the excitement on his face!

And this one, just because he is precious.  He loved seeing the lions and then realizing he had a lion on his shirt.  


Giraffes chilling in the giraffe house

After the tour our next stop was to feed the giraffes! Samuel was a little uncertain at first but still enjoyed it.

We then walked up on some kind of elephant show.  The elephants were so close to us!  There were at least 10 of them.

We made our way to the Panda exhibit.  This safari park is famous for having panda triplets that were born a little over a year ago.

An adult panda just chillin'

The playroom for the panda triplets

The baby pandas were all playing with their toys.  This one was swinging in a little basket swing! So cute!

Just like Disney, you walk through a zoo gift shop as you leave each major exhibit.  Wonder what this Chinese lady in the background thinks of me in the Panda Triplet headband???

We then went to the children's area where they had free rides.  Samuel liked the carousel a lot and didn't want to get off the ride when it was over, even though he looks solemn in every picture!

Checking out a giant circus ball with Daddy after the carousel

It was almost time to go so we made our way out via the primate section.  Love the meditation pose on this monkey.

Just to give you an idea of how beautiful the safari park was... this is the sidewalk leading through the primate area.  The canopy of trees was pretty and helpful on a very hot day!  We were so sweaty by the end of our time there.   I am not sure what we would have done without the stroller we borrowed from the hotel.  

Monkeys playing on spinning hamster wheel contraptions! This was fun to watch.

A video of the playful monkeys 

Love this mother with her tiny baby!

On our way out we saw a concession stand called "Mr. Sleeve-fish".  Don't worry, we resisted the urge and did not eat here.

 Samuel was pooped from the long day at the safari park. He napped in the stroller and for a little while in the van on the way back.

Once back in the room, Samuel was in rare form.  It was 4:30 so too late for a real nap.  He busied himself with all kinds of things, including pushing the buttons so rapidly on the room safe that he broke it.  It set off the alarm on it for a good 10 minutes then couldn't be re-locked.  Bryan had to call the front desk and they sent 2 staff members up to fix it.  He is living up to his nickname of "tornado".

We went to dinner with the McDonalds again.  We managed to find a noodle restaurant that our guides told us about.  We ordered dumplings, noodle dishes, sautéed greens (none of us are sure what vegetable it was but it was certainly delicious!) and they brought an egg dish for the kids.  The food was very good and cheap, and the boys both ate and ate and ate.  I was proud of myself for eating my entire meal with chopsticks!

After dinner Samuel took a bath and is now fast asleep in our bed!

We are going to bed with grateful hearts for many reasons:  Samuel's Tb test came back negative and his blood counts look great for our travel in just a few days!  Caleb had a great start to second grade today!  We are on the home stretch of our trip and ready to have all 4 of our kids together under one roof.  

Tomorrow is our consulate appointment for Samuel's visa interview.  The appointment is at 10am and we hope to receive Samuel's visa on Wednesday.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday 8/23: Guangzhou church & fun with the McDonalds

Today we spent the majority of the day in Guangzhou with our friends the McDonalds.  We had a great and very full day!

We started off by attending church at the Guangzhou International Christian Fellowship.  We took a taxi from our hotel to a Hilton a few miles away.  We started seeing Americans carrying bibles go inside and up the elevators and knew we were in the right place!  Those of you who are my Facebook friends may have already seen what I wrote about our experience at church.  I want to document it here, as well.  

To our friends in America who are waking up on Sunday morning---

Today we were able to attend the Guangzhou International Christian Fellowship church which meets at a local hotel. Many nations were represented there to hear the Gospel proclaimed-- but not China. From the church website: "Please Note - In accordance with local government regulations, Guangzhou International Christian Fellowship is open to foreign passport and foreign residence permit holders from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan."

That's right-- the local government regulates who can attend this church. There is a Christian church in Guangzhou, but it is state-run, meaning their message and practices are influenced (controlled?) by the Chinese government.

As you wake up this morning, please don't waste the amazing privilege you have to attend the church of your choosing, worship the God of your choosing, sing the songs of your choosing. To know that billions of people in the beautiful nation of China are not given this opportunity was sobering.

All that being said, we were so encouraged by our time in worship there today. We were given a warm welcome and our sweet Chinese son was able to attend church for the first time in his life.

The service was completely full- an entire banquet room at the Hilton- by the end of the service.  It was so encouraging to be surrounded by fellow believers today and to spend time in worship.

After the service we took a cab back to our hotel and chose to walk with the McDonalds to find something to eat.  We were originally looking for a noodle/dumpling place that our guide told us about but didn't find it.  We spotted Tekila's, a Mexican restaurant that Bryan and I ate at during our last visit to Guangzhou.  We all had low expectations for Mexican food in China but it ended up being a great spot for lunch.  They have added a children's play area that Samuel and Christian enjoyed and our food was pretty good too!

Bryan ordered table-side guacamole, forgetting it would have many fresh, raw vegetables in it (not safe to eat if they've been washed in Chinese tap water).  We all decided to roll the dice and eat it, knowing we could just take some Cipro if we got sick.  10 hours later and none of us are sick yet!

The new play area at Tekila's

Samuel loved playing.  He was definitely in his element and it was a great, safe place for him to burn some energy while we visited with Jess & Mike. 

Who do you think he is smiling at?? His Daddy!! This boy loves his Baba.

Sharing with Christian

 After lunch we came back to the room and Samuel took a nice, long nap while we enjoyed the quiet. When he woke up we decided to try out the hotel pool.  He was happy to bring along a beach ball that we brought.  Once at the pool, he was very solemn.  He didn't cry but I wouldn't say he enjoyed it either.  I think he was a little overwhelmed by the experience but I'm sure he will grow to love it!  We only stayed in for a little bit before deciding to try out the hotel playground instead.

This picture cracks me up.  Have you ever seen such long legs going down a kid slide?!? Bryan is such a fun, involved Daddy.  Samuel adores him

This is the face Samuel makes right before he's about to get wild.  It's kind of a crazed underbite.  This was just before he started rocking like a wild man on this toy on the playground.

We changed out of our swimsuits and walked with the McDonalds to eat at McDonalds.  Bryan and I rarely if ever eat at McDonalds in the states, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  After our meal we bought some mosquito spray at the drug store in anticipation of our day tomorrow and then headed back to the hotel.

Samuel is attaching really well to both of us:  he accepts care and comfort from us, will play/engage with both of us, is not seeking out attention or comfort from other adults, etc.  He calls us "Ma" and "Ba" short for Baba which is Chinese for Daddy.  He wants to hold our hands every where we go.  At nap and bedtime he will hold our hands as he falls asleep.  His sleeping is SO much better in Guangzhou and I think it is because our hotel room is so much cooler.  In Nanning the room felt balmy many nights as the 3 of us laid in the king sized bed.  It is chilly here so I think he is a lot more comfortable.  The ninja bed moves have basically stopped.

We are also seeing another sign of being attached and comfortable with us-- tantrums.  They aren't horrible but are definitely happening more!  Today's tantrums were over things like using or not using a fork, not being able to play with Mommy's phone anymore (after somehow changing the language to Russian), not being carried from the elevator to the room, being taken out of the bathtub, being forced to put on pants.  The struggle is real, y'all.  He is a typical toddler who wants his way and we are carefully choosing our battles while also trying to establish who runs the show.  It's a delicate balance between building trust and attachment and also establishing the parent/child relationship.  Let me tell you-- discipline and establishing a parent/child relationship is not fun when most of it is being done in public with a toddler who does not speak the same language as you!  We are hanging in there and SO encouraged by how well he is doing.  We know his trust and attachment to us will only continue to improve as the weeks go by.

Tomorrow we will go to the Safari Park with our guide.  We are really looking forward to it since we did not go on our last trip to China.  Samuel seems to love animals so it should be a blast!