Thursday, February 28, 2013

The highs and lows on the way to Guangzhou

For months before we left we had been dreaming about Guangzhou.  Why?  Because it's a tropical climate and it's the last stop on this journey here in China.  Yesterday we finally got to Guangzhou.  Arriving here it lived up to it's hype.  It was warm and pretty and our hotel room is HUGE but before that - we weren't feeling the love.

In order to be cautious and helpful we arrived at the airport in Nanchang WAY in advance - like we still had nearly two hours when we got to our gate.  The girls were nervous and restless and then the flight got delayed more than an hour. We were hungry, exhausted, bored, and all a little on edge.  Mike and I were particularly all of those things and we were feeling so down.  We were severely homesick - tired of being so far from home in such a foreign place.  We had been exactly two weeks in China and we were feeling it.

Eventually the plane docked and we boarded.  And then when it finally left the ground we all felt our spirits lift.  Esther and Pearl took the flight instructions very seriously and listened very intently.  Esther was so excited to see the ground down below us and to fly through the clouds.  Pearl was an old pro and didn't even feel the need to look our the window much.  But all in all it was a good flight.
Barf bag in hand.
Thank goodness for Rock, Paper, Scissors.
We had our medical appointments this morning and they went well.  The girls were impressed by all of the Chinese people who were there getting the same medical check-ups in hopes of being granted visas to the US.  They felt pretty special that they've got a free pass to this fabled place.

Everyone is much happier here.  Esther told our guide that she loves us very much and is excited to go to the US with us.  Last night she even gave us both a kiss all on her own.  Pearl is as sweet as ever and seems excited to go out and do some shopping.  They are both so cute.  We will be here about a week before we take the high speed train to Hong Kong to fly back home.  We can't wait.  We miss the boys so much.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

We made it to the Pavilion!!!

Yesterday we escaped our room!  Esther was against the tour we had scheduled until literally right at the moment we were going to leave.  We kinda begged her to go since both Mike and I wanted to see it so bad.

The Pavilion of Prince Teng.

This is considered one of the three most important buildings in China and was originally built in 653 A.D.  by Prince Teng who wasn't interested in politics and built himself a home along the Gan River far away from his family.  There he painted pictures of butterflies and wrote poetry - I'm not kidding.  Sounds like a pretty sensitive guy.

It has been destroyed and rebuilt like a million times since then and has become a national landmark.   We were all giddy to be leaving our room and our guide Claire did an amazing job talking up the U.S. to Esther and Pearl.  It seems to have had a good effect because Esther seems a little more relaxed.

I know you're jealous.
We had a great time and even sprang for the tourist trap picture.  I mean, come on - when are we ever going to be in Nanchang at the pavilion again?!

View of Nanchang from the 4th floor of the pavilion.

Watched a pretty good performance on the top floor.

View of the Gan River.

Mike's BFF

After the tour we went and got some of the best Chinese food we have ever eaten.  I don't know what most of it was but it was awesome.  Thankfully our guide didn't order us anything too crazy - after two weeks of Chinese food I don't think we could stomach it.  Most of our adventurous spirit is out.  We have honestly been pining after McDonald's but just haven't made it yet.   Today we fly to Guangzhou and we are all pretty excited.  It's in the 80's there and there is an amazing zoo and lots to do with all of the other many adoptive families there.  Every adoption in China finalizes in that city so it's got sections that are tailored to adoptive families.  We can't wait.

PS - I know this is so irrelevant but I wanted to add a disclaimer to my dark and sometimes oddly colored images - I have no way to edit them here so they are straight out of the camera.  I know it doesn't matter to anybody but me but being a photographer it drives me a little nuts.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Murky waters.

Not much to report here.  Just another day in - trying to navigate the murky waters of adopting an older child with it's anger, frustration, name calling, love, excitement, and everything else.  We are grateful for the gift of prayer, for the answers and insight we received before coming here so that we could hold on to that during these "hard to know what to do" times.

Several nights ago while sharing a bed with Esther she cozied up to me and let me run my fingers through her hair and hold her in my arms.  It is the only time she is not only comfortable with affection but seeks it out.  As I ran my fingers through her thick, beautiful hair I could feel how flat a part of her skull was.  My heart ached knowing that it was likely from her time in the orphanage for the first year and a half of her life - that as a baby she spent much of her time laying still on that side of her head causing a particularly flat side to be created.  I ached to have been there - promising my sweet girl that I would have picked her up, I would have held her, I would have loved her.  I was grateful that she was placed into the arms of a loving foster family when she was 18 months old.  That they changed her life forever.  They taught her that she was safe to love and be loved.  They gave her attention, affection, support, and love.  They will always be her China family - and we will be eternally grateful for them.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Our Experiment in Nanchang.

Yesterday was an experiment of sorts.  We decided we were not going to leave our hotel room and see if that improved the girl's behavior.  At first it was excruciating because Esther was still being a little defiant but the afternoon and evening were like a charm.

We had to come up with things to do in our little room so it means we: built a fort, played MANY balloon games, painted our nails AGAIN, did each other's hair and make-up, wrestled, watched TV, ate food and our weight in chocolate, put the girls in a bubble bath, and sat around.  Esther's behavior improved steadily throughout the day with a few steps back here and there.

Meanwhile Esther's friend that I talked with the day before was having a horrible day.  I won't go into it since it isn't my story to tell except that she revealed that on the train ride up here she and Esther made a pact that they would both enjoy the city and let their new families give them a good time but that after a few days they would both ditch their families and go back home.   I guess she was upset because it seemed that Esther wasn't keeping her end of the bargain because she seemed happy with her family when we saw each other.  Wow - that's pretty crazy, isn't it?  It explains a lot though about Esther's behavior around this friend and after they hang out.  I think these girls didn't always intend to ditch their families but the fear on the way here was too overwhelming and it seemed to ease it to have a plan like that.  And I think our saving grace for Esther is Pearl.

Pearl is adorable and sweet and hilarious and she adores her new big sister Esther.  Esther had an unexpected wrench in her plan because in order to ditch her new parents she'd have to ditch her new sister too.  We're grateful for that and for the gift of prayer and the spirit.  We are grateful for your support - we know these things have been blessing our family here and back in the states.  We also know that Esther kinda liked us too - especially when we were hanging out here.  So, we plan on staying in today as well.  We are going to add in some swimming since we had to take it away because of the girl's disobedience   That should eat up a few hours.

Tomorrow we may try going out again - we could visit come historical sites right by our hotel.  If not, it will be our last day in Nanchang before we fly to Guangzhou.  I have a feeling that a lot of things will improve there.

See you then!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Esther's good and bad day.

Yesterday was Esther's turn to have a hard time.  We once again didn't have much on the schedule so we were able to take it easy.  We had a good start with Esther learning to dance with her dad.  It was a really sweet moment.

 Later in the morning Esther's friend from her orphanage was getting adopted and she was excited to see her again. She really wanted to be there for the gotcha day moment - meaning when this girl met her family for the first time but we didn't want Esther to draw attention away from the moment with their friendship.  And we didn't want her friend to be too embarrassed to interact with her new parents like Esther was with us because her friend was there.  But I went so I could take photos for her new parents and had to leave Esther behind in the room.  They were meeting in the lobby of the hotel and it really frustrated Esther that I wouldn't let her be there for that but without the ability to communicate except for google translate it's pretty hard to explain my reasoning on that. 

After lunch Esther's friend and her new family stopped by our room for a game of Uno.  They were both happy to see each other but Pearl was starting to feel bummed about her new sister's attention being drawn away.  Mike and Pearl decided to go swimming but Esther opted to go to Mae (her friend)'s room to hang out some more.  I don't know what it is but Esther gets really sassy after she's hung out with Mae.  It may be that Mae is older than her (Mae is 12) and Esther wants to impress her with her independence or just being around friends in general makes her new situation feel even more strange.  Either way, it meant that Esther started getting an attitude with us - running away and taking the elevator without us - laughing when we finally find her.  Or when we ask her to do something or if she'd like something and she shouts, "No!" with a defiant laugh.   And then she starts roping Pearl into the defiance as well.   That's really difficult stuff to parent when you don't speak the same language.  So we called our guide and asked her to translate some things for us about how if the girls aren't acting appropriately they will lose privileges like swimming and phone time for playing games.  Pearl shaped right up but Esther got even more frustrated. 

At dinner she gave me quite a few stink eyes.  It is so hard because we know she is experiencing something more difficult than anything we have ever gone through but we also need to show her that we are her parents and that we are going to take care of her.  She doesn't have to love us but she can't run off on a busy street or shout at us.  The whole thing is compounded by how we are treated in public.  It really bothers her to be such a spectacle.  It bothers me too but I know it will get better once we get home.  When I say spectacle it may be hard for some of you to understand - it means that everywhere we go everyone is stopping in their tracks to give us jaw dropping stares.  Or to do a double take - and then a triple, a quadruple, and on and on looks at us.  It meant that on our way home Esther opted not to hold our hand or to walk too close in the crowds.  I love this image because you can see some people staring at us in the background.
Imagine that there are twenty people doing this exact same thing all at once from every direction - all the time.  From across the street, from car windows, from a foot away.  And not just for a moment - they keep staring for a long time.  And while we have no idea the commentary they are making while they are looking - Esther does.  Man, China - learn some manners.
Once we got home Esther had her first real cry.  She was angry, overwhelmed, terribly sad, and lonely.  I'm sure if I asked her if she would like to go back she would have emphatically shouted yes.  It made our hearts ache for her. 

After a while she let us comfort her and she finally started joining in the movie watching with Pearl.  Pearl was so sweet with Esther's sadness - she would walk over and see if she was still crying - try to comfort her and then look at us and motion us over.  It was sweet.

We know that Esther's behavior is because of the immense pressure she's under.  We know that this is requiring so much of her.  We understand the emotional turmoil she is in.  We know every adopted child mourns the loss of their previous life.  We look for the direction of the Lord in how to navigate this time and support her through it.  So, in the end we all need time to be on our side.  It will get better.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Free Day in Nanchang

Yesterday was a slightly uneventful day.  It was our first day with the girls without anything required of us.  We are just waiting for paperwork to clear through the province.   So after breakfast we caught a taxi and headed to the people's park.
Taxi rides
Esther rides up front to help her not get sick.

Parks here aren't like our parks -they aren't full of swings and slides.  They are beautiful with gardens but the equipment isn't play equipment - it's for working out on.  Every park has a bunch of gym-like equipment and there are many people working out on it.  It's pretty cool.
Some  men doing Tai Chi.  So cool.

What some of the parks do have is amusement rides.  And since we're new parents once again we spent a small fortune on those rides to entertain the girls.

 Our favorite was actually the cheapest.  For $5 you can rent a little boat for 30 minutes and drive around a pond.  It was relaxing, the sun was finally out, and the only people that could stare at us were the other boaters.  And stare they did.   And take pictures - I guess that is so they could stare at us on their computer monitor too.  But we all took turns driving and it was a pretty good time.

  But it was also where Pearl staged her first tantrum.  When her turn was over we had to peel her from the wheel and she sat and "cried" which was more like a drawn out whine for the next 10 minutes until it was her turn again.  And once we made her get off the boat it started again.  And if we didn't think we were drawing enough attention to ourselves before - she made sure everyone got a good show.  She went limp like a noodle and continued to cry for at least 20 minutes - sliding out of the stroller and onto the ground so that Mike had to carry her.  It was fun.  But it was also a sign that we might be overdoing it a little.  So we headed home - running an errand or two on the walk back to the hotel.  At the grocery store she did it again and lay on the floor by the check-outs.  This was totally bizarre to everyone but we didn't want to give it to much attention.  I did snap one photo. ;)

 Once we got back we used google translate to explain to the girls that if they are not behaving we can not do fun things so swimming was going to have to wait until after some good behavior.   It is really difficult to parent without speaking the same language.  But they understood.  They really seem happiest when we just stick around here so we've decided to stay here at the hotel as much as possible for the next couple days to give them some more time to adjust before heading out again.   Their favorite activity is playing on our phones.  We limit it as much as we can but it gives everyone a nice break sometimes.

Also, our fear that they wouldn't speak the same language didn't prove to be an issue because while Esther speaks a different language at home - throughout China all children learn and speak Mandarin at school.  They are so cute together - I love to hear them call each other little sister(mei mei) and big sister(jie jie).
Pearl showing Esther the images she came with from her life at the orphanage.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Esther's Second Day

It turns out that we do have fast enough Internet here to blog but only in the morning.  I am grateful Chelsea could update all of you because we were all on pins and needles about getting Esther.

Well, it is Friday morning in China and things are going better than we could have hoped for.  It is so hard to blog about our experiences over here because they are so different from home life and each and every moment could fill a blog post.  From the crazy things we’ve seen in the traffic to the poverty peeking through to the constant noise and commotion to the sights and sounds.  If ever there is a slow spot in conversation with friends I will have great stories to tell.
You can see how the girls are feeling.  Pearl is nervous about being  loved by us still and her new older sister and Esther is wishing she weren't there.

 And so, what happened?  Well, the first afternoon went really well.  We went up to our room and everyone felt pretty out of sorts but once we started showing her the clothes we got her and things she started warming up.  Through Esther’s file and pictures we had deduced that she was a shy girl but we seem to have been wrong.  Esther is SO talkative.  She is either speaking in Chinese, repeating what we’re saying in English or singing to herself.  We also guessed that she was a tomboy but once again – wrong.  She was only interested in the girliest clothes we got her, she was SO excited to get her nails painted – for the first time ever, and she loves having her hair done.
   We also got to give her another first – swimming.  Pearl now loves swimming and so when she asked to go once Esther was here Esther seemed pretty set against it.  When we asked her a couple of times if she would like to swim she firmly replied in English, “No.”   So I hopped on google translate and explained that the water was not deep and suddenly the light switched on In her mind and she said just as emphatically, “Yes!” So we got her in a swimsuit – as story in and of itself – and took her down to the pool.  She was singing and jumping and shouting hooray the entire elevator ride down until we were in the pool.  She was overjoyed to be in the water.  After the pool we put both girls in a bubble bath and they sang and splashed and talked and talked for quite a while.  They are becoming fast friends.  How strange it is to make sisters of these two sweet girls.
 After the bath we got dressed and headed out to dinner in the rain.  Because of the weather we had to gather under umbrellas – Esther and I under our own.  She was very sweet and said to me in pretty clear English, “Hello, my name is Xiangzhuang, nice to meet you.”  The walk was through the busy streets of China with all of it’s lights and sounds and was pretty dreamy.  At dinner Esther could see that her parents were completely lost so she took over and ordered food and got us all situated.

Everyone drinks hot water here because you can't drink water straight out of the tap - it has to be boiled.  Here was the kettle at the restaurant.  Looking pretty old.

Our meal options.  We had no idea what these things were.

In the window of the restaurant - hello pig head.

I love the duck carcass next to the power strip.
 She was so helpful with Pearl since we’re terrible with chopsticks and serving noodles and she hummed and sang her way through dinner.  Once back at the hotel we watched some amazing Chinese TV show ;) about magical girls or something and both girls were totally into it.  It was a nice break for Mike and I.  At bedtime the girls cozied up and read together, drew pictures and played with the little dolls that Jessica gave us – btw – those were brilliant.  Esther was so sweet with Pearl and Pearl ate it up.  She looked through all of the artwork that Pearl brought from the orphanage –one by one – and even held them up to show us as well like, “Isn’t she so good, Mom and Dad?”

Looking at Pearl's art together.

They giggled their way to sleep with lots of whispering under the covers until our hearts seemed like they might burst with happiness.

This morning at the breakfast buffet Esther seemed to love the endless good food and trying our selections and sharing her own.  After breakfast we hurried out with our guide, Claire, to get the paperwork side of Esther’s adoption taken care of – visiting three different offices.  Lots of waiting for the girls and they were bored.  Oh, and Esther gets car sick as well so that was interesting.  Apparently most people in China don’t own cars and so children – especially children from the lower classes – don’t ride in cars that often.  Add to that the craziness of traffic in China and who can blame them?  The paperwork took several hours and the girls were very bored and I think it gave them time to start to really think about what was happening.
 Once we were done we took everyone out for lunch to a dumpling restaurant.  It was good food but I think it was starting to sink in for Esther that she’s not just on some fun sleepover- she’s going to stay with us forever – on the other side of the planet.  By the end of lunch, tears were streaming down her face and she didn’t want to look at us or have us look at her.  Our hearts were breaking for her and we finished up as fast as we could and got a taxi back to the hotel.  By the time we got up to our room and broke out some sticker books she was doing so much better.   We are realizing that urban China can be overwhelming for anyone and that in times like these being bored at the hotel isn’t all that bad.
Last night we headed out to town in a taxi and had dinner at Pizza Hut.  Pizza Hut in China is a super nice restaurant and we had to wait nearly an hour to get a table.  But the girls were excited and loved their pizza.  We got two large pizzas - which were just barely bigger than a personal size in America.  After dinner we got ice cream cones and walked around town and eventually back to our hotel.  It was a super fun night an we were all in good spirit with lots of hand holding and sweetness.
Things continue to get better and more comfortable though Esther is obviously still frustrated that we can't understand her.  We are grateful for these girls and that they are finally in our life.  We can't wait to bring them home to the boys.  I am more homesick than I could have imagined and miss those boys so much.  My heart aches for their hugs and kisses.