Friday, May 30, 2008

Happy Children's Day

When I was a kid, we used to hear "every day is children's day" but today in China it was the real thing. Sophia came home in a crown and new t shirt, and both girls with new toys foam ping pong sets) and little cakes.

Glad someone knew about it because I didn't!

Tomorrow we say good bye to Gary who is on his way home via a tour of Beijing. It has been great to have a friend visit us here.

The lizard is missing.

It is raining and thunderstorms off and on every day.

But tomorrow we have a baby sitter -- something indeed to look forward to!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A busy which we find chili fries, acquire a lizard and give Thomas a haircut

Here we are at midday on Tuesday -- working hard as you can see, with our friend Gary, the visiting prof from Syracuse anticipating what is rumored to be the best American food in Xiamen, at a new place along the island ring road.

There was plenty of outdoor beach ambiance to the place, including this little guy. We are experiencing what can only be classified as an insect "bloom" here -- overnight the heat and humidity have exploded the insect population and affected our lives..more on that in a minute.

First we must celebrate the arrival at our table of not only real hamburgers not made with preformed patties, actual burritos with sour cream....just when we thought it could not get any better...chili cheese fries. I mean we are talking not just about American food here, but almost Detroit Coney Island chili cheese fries -- except the cheese was too high quality for Coney Island. Above you see the happy sabbatical professor..and below another happy professor while teaching abroad! Could it be the beer with lunch?!?!?!?

If you are ever in Xiamen and need real American cuisine (at real American prices by the way) -- here is the place. I told my classmates about it and they are all psyched..

OK -- now the lizard. With the increased population of our apartment on an insect level (although no cockroaches yet, thank heavens, just ants, mosquitoes and for 2 days dozens of moth pupa crawling around) it stands to reason that a predator might find its way in as well, in the form of the house gecko. He took up residence in the sink one morning and we have taken to him and are allowing him to roam freely, provided he 1) eats bugs 2) stays in the kitchen 3) stays out of the bedrooms 4) does not run across my toes while I do the dishes. Helen has named him Wushu (like the martial art?!?) and although she has been warned that a free roaming gecko is not likely to make a long term commitment to us, she has rushed home from school to see him the past 2 days (oh yes -- he is still here after 2 days -- he sleeps in a quiet corner in the day time and does his roaming at night) and has made him a water cup out of the lid of the toothpaste tube. It think she misses the cats.

This picture is here because this is a very cute child, don't you agree?!?! Still working on the "V" sign, though..we are killing time waiting for Helen's bus, which one of us does with Sophia every day because her school gets to at 4:30 and Helen's bus doesn't arrive until 5. It is Sophia's daily public appearance on campus -- she does get tired of the attention sometimes and declares "Why is that lady LOOKING at me?!"

Finally..the haircut. Over the last week Xiamen has become a very hot, but especially humid place. We have A/C at home and in my classroom (not Michael's or the kids though) which helps. But it is hot and we are all slowing into the tropical rhythm of slowing down in the heat of the day and expecting rain every afternoon. Then Thomas agreed to have you know its gotta be hot. We started cutting and just couldn't stop. Here he is at dinner tonight...

And at bedtime with his head a lot lighter! Now you know it must be hot for T. to give up his beloved long hair. Or I guess he decided it was time for a change. By the way he wanted me to wait to post this until he had time to email Uncle Dave and see if his uncle would give him $5 if he got his hair cut.

The blog is celebrating its 10,000th visit this week. Wow! Lots of loyal readers from family and friends and some new "e-friends" too! If you make a comment and want a personal reply -- include your email address if I do not have it. I do not need to post the comments if they contain personal info.

Please continue to hold the people of China and Sichuan province in your thoughts. The death toll form the earthquake, not to mention the injured and homeless, is staggering. And there is some political trouble brewing over the fact that so many of the buildings which collapsed were schools. Some grieving parents have begun protesting quite angrily in the hardest hit areas, contending that officials knew that some schools were unsafe-- a serious allegation which will hopefully be taken seriously and investigated.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Odds and Ends

Just a quick post to catch up. After my long Yongzhou post and all our travels -- I haven't had too much that was noteworthy -- just trying to get back into normal life. My Chinese classes have gotten really really hard. I passed the midterm, but not by much! We are learning so much new vocabulary and have entered the realm of truly unfamiliar grammar. But I like going, so I keep showing up, even if I am lost a lot!

Both girls have been sick with mysterious ailments that have not amounted to much...Helen had what I like to call the 24 hour mumps. She came home Thursday with one side of her face really swollen in just the right spot. We were exposed to mumps while in Japan, but having had the vaccine I didn't think much of it. 25 days later, here was Helen...she stayed home one day while I consulted with my sister in law the pediatric PA...and the next morning -- mumps are gone! Guess that vaccine kicked in after all.

To add to the fun, Sophia was sent home from school on Friday with coughing and the teacher said she had a sore inside her mouth. Every one is being very vigilant about Hand, Foot and Mouth disease this year, so they sent her home. She has not really been acting very sick other than a slight cough, but we laid low this weekend and today I took her to the clinic at the hospital to be checked so she can return to school. More or less a waste of time, as the doctor barely looked at her and didn't even listen to her chest, just ordered a blood test (not sure what for), the results are available tomorrow. So I guess I'll find out something then....? Doctor says she doesn't have HFM, though. I guess she bit her cheek or something!

In the US I wouldn't have worried, as neither girl was acting or looking very sick, but I always want to do the right thing for the teachers' expectations, even though I don't like going near Chinese health care unless we have to! I guess the overpriced system in the US is something to look forward to.

Our friend Gary is here from Syracuse, New York with a group of students (they were originally going to Chengdu before the earthquake). It has been great to have another witness to our lives here and the beauty of Xiamen! We are also looking forward to welcoming Michael's brother and his family in a couple of weeks.

We'll try for a more interesting post soon!

The time is going by very fast. It is almost time to begin to think about packing, or at least sorting this mess. I feel no more ready to leave, but as the time keeps going by I am slowly making my peace with it, and eager to see our family and friends back home...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Yongzhou trip

We traveled by bus from Guilin/Yangshuo area (which turned out to be a lot longer bus ride than you might think from looking at a map -- over 5 hours for under 200 kilometers-- because we stopped in every small town and there was a traffic tie up (typical of bus travel in China, by the way).

We stayed at the Great Wall Hotel, which was fine, and met up with our guide, Oscar. The guide turned out to be just fine, very good English and good with the kids, although he didn't know much about the city, being from Changsha.

Here we are arriving at the orphanage.

There is a new director (new to me at least -- I think she has been on the job for 1-2 years). She is called Director Qiao. She has worked there for a long time in different capacities and was there when Helen was a baby (although not involved in baby care then). There are now very few of the old staff left, and in fact very few staff at Lengshuitan at all because there are now only 15 children there. The numbers of babies peaked in 2003 and has been falling, and now more of the infants are in foster care. We were a little disappointed not to meet any of Helen's ayis, or the nurse who accompanied her to Changsha for the adoption because the nurse is on maternity leave. We had brought a scrapbook made by one of our travel group families (Kathrin -- thanks!) and some other photos sent along from other group members. The business office staff and driver came in too to look at all the photos. They were especially interested in the ones of Helen in Xiamen, at school, the Forbidden City, Chinese New Year, etc. The director served fruit and showed us her office where lots of photos sent by adoptive parents were displayed under glass on her desk .

I am choosing not to post the photos from the inside of the orphanage, to honor the agreement we signed, but it was very interesting. We only saw a few rooms, but they included a play room , a baby room, and the room where Helen was cared for as a baby.

The staff told the baby, "here is your Jie Jie (older sister)"

The children's laundry..

The director and some staff accompanied us on a tour of the Lengshuitan district of Yongzhou. Above is the municipal building.

Some older style housing..

An apartment building..

They took us to the finding site described in Helen's paperwork. The Fenghuayuan Central Flowerbed turns out to be a monument to commemorate the area becoming an economic development zone under Deng Xiaoping. It was a busy area, with lots of people about, which I ws glad about.

Afterwards we took them to lunch. We ate some local dishes including Dong'An chicken, with a strong vinegar and ginger taste,

And Helen's favorite -- Wu gu feng deng : made from corn and duck egg yolk deep fried, topped with nuts -- delicious!

After lunch the restaurant presented Helen and Sophia with presents -- giant stuffed ones!

We took the staff shopping to buy something to give the orphanage and picked a washing machine for the babies laundry.

Helen saying goodbye to Director Qiao.

The visit was smooth, everyone friendly and interested in the kids, Helen spoke a little Chinese, which pleased them and us. But I could hardly wait to get back to the hotel room to lock myself in the bathroom and have a good cry. Hard to explain. I think it was relief and also coming to grips with reality that there is so much we will not know about Helen's early life. I asked the director about whether she thinks the girls usually come from the country side or not. Helen's finding site is close to the railway station, which prompted me to ask. The director answered that maybe the babies born in the hospital and left behind might be from the city, but the rural preference for boys is much stronger now days than in the cities. So although we walked around Yongzhou for the rest of the afternoon, calling it Helen's hometown -- its probably not.

We spent most of our time at a playground on the river. There was a little carnival with a few rides and games, such as fishing for eels (!) So we did the 6 year old tour -- Helen liked this place so much we didn't leave until dinner time.

This is the Xiang River which runs through Yongzhou.

And here is the playground! A 6 year old's tour of the city would be incomplete without it!

Helen catching eels...

And the catch!

Thomas roller skating at the park...

We also spent time hanging around while Oscar went to get the bus tickets and once the locals figured out I spoke a little Chinese they had lots of questions. It pleased me to tell them that Helen was from this area and we had come back for a visit. It felt like an act of positive publicity for international adoption. Who knows...maybe some birth parent will hear by word of mouth about us and feel a little better about the decision they had to make.

The next day we left early in the morning . On the bus ride on the way back to Guilin, it was a beautiful day, and we marveled at the beauty of the countryside of southern Hunan -- the rice fields are so green in the spring time that even though the mountains are not as impressive as Guangxi province to the south, it was a treat to drive through, although I could have done without stopping every few minutes to try and lure passengers onto the half empty bus-- negotiating the price at every stop!

It was a powerful but tiring weekend and we are glad to be back in Xiamen and back to regular life. No more traveling until we leave, I think!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

We've returned from Hunan

Tonight I am too tired to begin the monumental task of sorting the dozens of photos we took in Yongzhou and Hunan and tell our story of returning to Helen's home province. I will soon. It was a very successful trip in that many of our hopes were realized in touring the city, visiting the orphanage, meeting the staff etc., but it was also a little emotional, maybe even more for me than for Helen.

China has been an emotional place this week. Yesterday was the one week anniversary of the earthquake in Sichuan, and at the precise time of the earthquake there was a national 3 minutes of silence (signaled by the ringing of sirens and horns throughout the country). We were in our hotel in Yongzhou when we heard the sirens go off, and out the back window I shot this photo of the troops at the military headquarters in formation after lowering the flag to half mast. We spent so much time riding through the countryside by bus on our way to and from Yongzhou that I was reminded that most of China (about 60%of the population) is still rural, living in small, somewhat isolated communities like the ones devastated by the earthquake.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Li river cruise and Sanjie light show

Yesterday was not quite as auspicious as our first day here -- for one, in began with some rain, although it did subside and leave us with a hazy humid day for exploring the river. We thought we had booked tickets for a 2:00 cruise on a small boat from Xingping, town about 30 minutes away by bus, up the river through the most famous section and then back. When we arrived we were told -- no 2:00 boat, "we'll leave at 3:00", at 3:00 "in 5 minutes" and at 3:35 finally we were taken to the boats. I did have my first argument in Chinese, although futile.

Once on the boat it was very nice, but we had such fun fishing the night before that the kids were a little bored until we started counting water buffalo..had stop around 30 or something...

The purpose of the cruise is to appreciate these unusual mountains all along-- of course there are names for the oddly shaped ones in was hazy, in no small part from the motors from all the boat engines.

We stopped for some forced shopping opportunities with the locals, but Helen managed to get herself on top of a water buffalo for a small price. When I saw her up there it occurred to me that Helen's alternate life, had the story been different, might have been to grow up on a farm near made me see everything in a new light.

Almost right at the end the sun broke through the clouds for a dramatic moment..

And we saw a lone chicken near the banks of the river we named Daisy (see previous day's post).

We had a ride back to Yangshuo on an overcrowded bus, and at night we went to the Sanjie light is a blend of theatrical staging and the music of the local minority group. The designer of the show is doing the opening ceremony of the Olympics. It was on a grand scale with the river as the stage and the mountains as backdrop and a cast of hundreds of dancers in and singers in ethnic costume. The girls really liked it and we all thought it was worthwhile.
This morning we leave for our trip to Yongzhou by bus. I hope it goes smoothly. We are meeting our guide in Yongzhou, which is the way I wanted it, but I am a little nervous about making the connection and all with my primary school Chinese! We do have the guide's cell phone number if we need it. It will be a long day I think --and little chance of posting until we return to Xiamen on Tuesday night...