Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Temple of Heaven

Today Michael had all day meetings away from the hotel. While the older children were in the children's program making fans and flying kites, Sophia and I accepted an invitation to join some other spouses of Fulbrighters on an outing to the Temple of Heaven. This Ming dynasty temple is one of the largest in China. The buildings are wooden, but have been recently restored with vividly detailed repainting of the details and were quite lovely. This is where the Emperor would perform ceremonies to pray for a good harvest. There were a number of groups of amateur musicians playing together and singing traditional music.

Tonight we had an official dinner with member of the Chinese Ministry of Education, which was a nice banquet -- not too formal. The kids did very well back at the hotel with the orientation staff and tomorrow morning I must stuff everything we have unpacked -- which unfortunately is everything -- back into our suitcases for the trip to Xiamen. We are sorry to say good bye to the other Fulbrighters and their families, especially the family who is going to Xi'an and whose 11 yo son has been Thomas's buddy. We'll just have to visit and see those terra cotta soldiers after all. I'll post when we figure out our internet in Xiamen. I think I may be having trouble with comments on the blog - I screwed it up when all the commands were in Chinese. I am working on it.

Fulbright orientation and Tian'anmen Square

I know I went a day without posting, but I fell asleep putting Sophia down last night and woke up in the morning! Yesterday I attended some briefings with Michael while the children were cared for nearby, and then we all went on a field trip with the Embassy staff who are in charge of us. First we went to the Beijing City Planning Center, where we saw a scale model of Beijing and films and models of the "new Beijing" under construction for the Olympics. The "Bird's Nest" building we saw the day before was featured prominently. Also Helen posed for me with her Huan-Huan mascot by the Olympic countdown clock. Did I post already about how Helen's Chinese name is Huan (now her middle name) and she is planning to use Huan-huan as her name at school here? When we arrived we found out that one of the five mascots has the same name and is all over the place.

On our field trip we went to Tian'anmen for a group photo and then out for Peking Duck at a famous restaurant. It was a long meal featuring duck at least four different ways, but even Thomas ate a lot of the duck, which was very good. Managed to get enough cash together (finally found an HSBC ATM) for our tickets to Xiamen -- we leave 2 pm on Thursday.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Great Wall

Our expectations were very high for today's trip to the wall, and I don't think any of us were disappointed. the weather was clear and a little cooler than the typical 90 degrees, although we did get pretty heated up in midday when we were at the top. The pictures really speak for themselves. We hired a minivan through the hotel and went to Mutianyu, which is a little farther from Beijing than the Badaling section where a lot of people go, but is still a "developed" area for tourists. The benefit was that there was hardly anyone there. We hiked up to the top of the developed area, and one of the photos shows the signed which marks the ruined area of the wall, where you can't go. The last bit was very strenuous -- and Michael had Sophia in the backpack! But we all made it and it was a really breathtaking view and impressive sight. My photos don't really do it justice.

On the way back Helen needed a bathroom, so we stopped off at a hotel in the northern suburbs and right out the window was the unfinished Olympic stadium, nicknamed "the Bird's nest" for an added bonus. One of the five friendlies, which are the mascots of the Olympics, is named Huan-huan, which is Helen's Chinese name, same character and everything. Its the "passion" mascot and she is now attached to a stuffed one constantly.

By the way, tonight the Fulbright orientation began, so our major sightseeing is starting to wind down. I realized tonight that I have no other home than this hotel room -- I think I am almost ready to move on to Xiamen.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dinner with Frank

Some of you may know exactly who we are referring to...Frank is the nickname of the China-based guide and adoption facilitator from our adoption agency. He was our constant companion for the two weeks we spent in China adopting Helen. Tonight we had dinner with him and his 3 year old son Jiawen. We brought his little son a book and some candy, and while shy at first he did show us his "ultraman" moves. We were really excited to introduce Frank to Helen and our other children -- so proud of her and so grateful for his help in building our family. Unfortunately Helen and Thomas both were tired and more subdued during our dinner (they are still rising at 5:30 am, also we went to 7 am Mass this morning in Chinese, so with that and modern art it hasn't been the most kid oriented day). I also wonder if Helen felt a bit shy and awkward around Frank, a stranger to her but so important to us, etc. Anyway, we had a nice meal and gave Frank pictures of all the girls in our travel group (glad you sent them, Kay and Gary). He is organizing a trip in the spring to bring back New Life families to Beijing and the Hunan province and maybe we might join him on the Hunan leg of the trip, especially if others are going on to Yongzhou. It was great to see Frank and remember the fun parts of our adoption trip, also to talk about his family and meet his son.

798 Art District

After our Great Wall plans for today fell through (don't worry -- we go tomorrow rain or shine), we set off on an adventure -- just the 5 of us because no other families wanted to come -- to find the "Soho" of Beijing -- the 798 art district, a converted warehouse district of art galleries and trendy coffee houses. Michael and I have been reading about this neighborhood, and it's in danger of being demolished for high rise apartments. Michael in particular is very interested in modern art -- so we thought we'd take a look. Some highlights in the photos were: A large Tibetan art student exhibition, some very impressive gallery space, the "terra cotta women" exhibit -- which features the feminine version of those famous icons of ancient China (see the pregnant one in the picture) a break for coffee and snacks, and the kids liked these giant "ages of Chinese man" sculptures. It was a pretty mellow outing, everyone is looking a little the worse for wear at this point.
I also went to the supermarket today to buy some snacks, and had 2 failed attempts at using my ATM card -- the realities of daily life loom as complex problems that have to be confronted constantly. On the bright side, my rudimentary Chinese is already coming along (as is my sign language) and I had to give the cab driver directions to our hotel from a nearby landmark and we made it back just fine!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Forbidden (and formidable city)

Seeing the Forbidden city on a map of Beijing does not convey the labyrinthine enormity of the place. In fact -- like other travellers before us, at times we felt almost defeated by the vastness and mysterious twists and turns of the imperial palace and grounds. It is really amazing to consider that it was built and maintained over 600 years to serve one man -- who ever ruled from the Dragon throne. If you've seen The Last Emperor, you know that finally Puyi abdicated in 1912, but he lived here a bit longer (this is the guy who came to the throne at age 3 and was spoiled royally by a staff of hundreds).

We saw most of the grounds and some of the museums. I liked the gardens, but we also appreciated the grand view of the Hall of Supreme Harmony (as Helen pointed out -- just like in Mulan). Another high point was the $6 I spent to have all 3 kids outfitted in court attire (see photo)...

Tonight we went for a walk through the "Times Square" of Beijing -- the Wangfujing strip near our hotel. We chickened out on the exotic stall foods (and I left my camera behind so you will not see photos of insects on a stick.) Tomorrow is the long awaited Great Wall trip and afterwards we are trying to meet up with Frank, the adoption facilitator and guide for Helen's adoption, who lives here.

Chinese Tea ceremony

We were served a sample of Oolong, Jasmine and lychee teas by our hostess, who explained everything. She warmed the pot and cups and the tea tasted really fresh. Sophia drank all the teas, as did all the kids.

More photos

The group of us -- all paused on the streets at a "workout center" for some exercise.

Also-- the pedicab for the Hutong tour , a street view, making friends at the home of the Wu's where we visited a typical hutong home and had a nice talk with this couple. He has lived here for 54 years, shares it with his 2 sons and their wives and one grandaughter. Mrs. Wu really took to the girls, especially Sophia.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Hutong tour

Very exciting -- I now have blogger commands in English so I can be sure I am posting. The bad news is that I can't find my USB cable to upload photos tonight. So I will try to get one tomorrow. In the mean time, imagine if you will, the five of us along with 2 other Fulbright families we have met up with, split among about 6 pedicabs (that's a guy on a bicycle) pedaling 2 of us each in a comfy seat through an old neighborhood of hutong, or traditional Chinese narrow lanes with courtyard style housing and tiny shops lining them. We also made a few stops, at the drum tower, in a private "typical hutong home" and for a tea demonstration. More tomorrow with photos! We are tired but managed to stay up until 8 pm, an accomplishment. It is hot and humid here, which took a toll, but the the kids are doing really well. There is a boy and girl near Thomas's age among the other families, also a 7 year old boy, who is as full of mischief as Helen. She gave me a 60 second scare today when she got out of sight at a park. Fortunately it scared her straight a little and she was more cooperative with holding my hand the rest of the day. Sophia is quite the sensation, everyone wants to touch her. She seems undisturbed by it all.

Trying to post again

My screen is completely in Chinese so I don't know if I am sending or deleting posts! please send me an email, Dad -- or someone if you can read this post.

We have had a night of sleep, although it was from 6 pm to 3 am local time. Now the sun is up and we are counting down until the breakfast buffet opens!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

We have arrived

And actually -- considering the 5 of us and all that luggage -- it couldn't have been smoother, no missed connections and an empty seat next to me for Sophia. Helen got a special welcome back chat with the border guards and Sophia is treated like a rock star. Thomas is looking pretty tired, as are we all. We have already met up with another Fulbright family-- Deb and her daughter Kate are also going to be in Xiamen and they are in the next room. More after a few hours of sleep.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

On the countdown

I have become a little giddy this evening when I weighed all of the bags, which are almost packed and none was over 40 lbs (44 is the limit for us). Yippee! Then I flipped on my MP3 player and one of my favorite Gospel tunes was playing "my storage is empty...and I am available to You". I laughed out loud because at 40 lbs per person plus carry-ons plus backpacks, our storage doesn't look very empty right now! Tomorrow is a day of running errands, and my sister arrives from Michigan to take custody of the minivan. The children are beginning to get wistful about the cats and their routines, as am I -- but realizing that I am spending the upcoming weekend in Beijing is a rather mind-blowing distraction.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Hello and welcome...this blog is under construction -- look for posts to begin after August 23rd.