Monday, March 23, 2015

The Most Famous of Places

For the last stop of the trip, we headed to Beijing.  Finally, a nice hotel-- no raucous parties of smoking Chinese business men outside our room, no smell of mold or smoke.  Our hotel was in the heart of downtown, with Starbucks and Pizza Hut within walking distance.  The air was clear and the skies were blue.  The city felt clean and organized and modern.  The urge to get home suddenly melted away, and both girls were feeling sad that vacation had to ever come to an end.

One thing we learned traveling with seven years olds is to take the chair lift up and the toboggan down, and that is indeed how we visited the Great Wall.  In Phoebe's words, "The toboggan was awesome!  . . .And the Great Wall was pretty great, too."

The next day was our very last, but since the flight didn't leave until evening was had the day to explore on our own.  As it ends up, our hotel was just a few blocks from the Forbidden City, so we checked out, left our bags at the desk, grabbed a map, and made our way through the city.  Beijing is about a month ahead of us in Spring, so the forsythia was in bloom on one of the first 70 degree days.  Really beautiful.  We got the audio sets to self-guide our tour and navigated our way through thousands of Chinese tourists around us.  There is an element of huge-plaza-after huge-plaza to the Forbidden City, and being with kids makes that sensation a bit worse, but the kids really did a good job.  About halfway through Phoebe said, "Look, that's where Big Bird was!"   Ends up we retraced a lot of Big Bird's steps from Big Bird in China.

Ah, the Forbidden City-- Here we are!

This is where Big Bird was, apparently.

Taking a break.  Lots of walking!

I love this dragon in the Imperial Garden. 

And then, homeward bound.  A great trip.  Phoebe lost two teeth in China, met her foster mom, and declared that she is going to return to China again someday.  Miranda, whom I always feared would feel a little left out, embraced this trip as if China were her own from the start.  I hope they remember this trip when they are older, but even if they don't, it was well worth it.  Even if the details fade, they will have a sense that China is part of who we are as a family, together.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


. . . by Miranda (even typed by her this time)

okay, first of all, people are taking pictures of me/ my hair like MAD!!!!!!!!! (even a photographer)
  Right now we are in Wuyuan(WOO-you-awn),which is very beautiful.also,there is a lot of rapeseed( oh, the rapeseed is very beautiful.Also, I got a very pretty fan that is purple and has flowers on it.

well,I think thats enough for my part.


Sanqingsan Mountain

Just an hour or two outside of the city of Shangrao the city falls away and the mountain rise up.  We took an enclosed gondola-- a rather high tech one that I imagine would be right at home in Switzerland-- far up  into the peaks where the clouds are.  An elaborate system of paved walking trails clings to the cliffs on the mountain sides, going on for miles and miles.  Pictures can only hardly do it justice.  It was really striking.  Like living inside a Chinese water color painting!

Homecoming: The Shangrao Orphanage visit

At long last, here it is-- our day at the orphanage.  It was full of warm welcomes, smiles, surprises, and questions.  Lots of unanswered questions, too, but that is to be expected.  Longer letters coming soon to some of you (our Travel Group and the families whose photos I carried, in particular), but here is a summary of the day in pictures:

M and P outside the entrance of the big, new, clean, bright Shangrao Orphanage, built just a few years ago:

Our family with the director of the orphanage, with a banner that says, "Welcome to the family of Ling Qian Yang."  (Yes, the Christmas tree is still up.)

Phoebe and Miranda's shocked faces after spotting a framed photo on the orphanage wall of us-- yes, our family, back home, eating ice cream on one of our May 25th Family Day celebrations.  Pictures of happily adopted kids with their forever families line the orphanage walls, taken from updates that families have sent over the years, blown up and framed.

Miranda and Phoebe got very busy playing with the babies.  This one, like many children in the orphanage, has Down Syndrome.

In a surprise that really threw me for an emotional loop, mid-conversation with us the director received a phone call that a baby had just been found and would soon be arriving at the orphanage.  Here is the baby minutes after she arrived, with M and P pondering what it all means.  That black blanket you see is actually a man's winter coat that someone had wrapped her in.

Here is a foster family who lives in the apartments that make up the heart and soul of the orphanage.  This husband-wife team live with and take care of several children and glow with fabulous energy.  They pointed out these two babies with pride as "healthy babies" (we would say "non-special needs") whose paperwork is in process and will be adopted soon.

And this is Phoebe's foster mom.  She's 69 years old and has a smile that shines like the sun.  She has been foster mom to 20 children-- including to one of the other families whose pictures I carried-- all whom she reports as being adopted.  She served us tea that she picked and roasted herself, and graciously accepted our thanks for the excellent care she gave to Phoebe.

It was a long and wonderful day!  Lots of thoughts about it, really, but I'll save the insights and reflections for conversations when we get home.  

Sleeper Train

. . . by Miranda

In our last day in Guilin we took a train to Shangrao. It was a sleeper train and we slept overnight. The train station was very crowded and there were a lot of people smoking. It was really really really unpleasant, and not very happy. Everybody seemed to be wearing grey or black, and most of the suitcases were black. Me on the other hand, I was wearing purple.

While we were waiting for the train to move, we went into our cabin. Our cabin was very very small and there was hardly any room to climb around the bed.  Mom says the beds were hard but I thought they were very comfortable.  (But one of the beds in our room right now, which is in Wuyuan, is, under the covers, made of wood.  It's completely wood.  No wonder it's so hard.  And there is no mattress.)  . . .But, back to the sleeper train.

I slept pretty well on the sleeper train.  I woke up a couple of times but other than that it was really fun.  Mom wouldn't let me read on the train because it was 9:00, but that's the time I usually do lights-out with my reading.  The sleeper train was really fun.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Saturday, March 14, Guilin

Yesterday we ventured out for the first time without a guide.  To get our feet wet we walked to the mall a few blocks away, and discovered a whole floor of kids-fun stuff.  Since tempers and temperaments weren’t the steadiest, this turned out to be quite a blessing.  With some gestures and smiles we managed to exchange a few Yuan for tokens, and the girls rode little cars around the floor.  Right next to the unprotected stairwell heading down.

Next up, the girls strapped into belay harnesses and clipped into ropes hanging from a steel track overhead.  They then clambered around a course consisting of obstacles of various difficulty suspended about waist-height above the ground.  Some were easy, some required bailouts from Papa.  Then, indoor boats.  Probably 45 minutes of close attention to gathering up all the little balls, throwing them back out, repeating.  Mom and Dad finally declared lunchtime.

Then, Walmart!  Enough said.

After lunch at the apartment we caught a cab to Seven Star Park.  The driver was formal and polite and charged us exactly what the meter said, which was exactly what we expected.  We paid four admissions but then the ticket-checker measured Phoebe as less than 1.2 meters tall, and so with much gesturing and incomprehension, sent me back for one refund.  The park is a few hundred acres of flat areas and karsts.  The first bright spot was feeding the goldfish from baby bottles on the ends of short poles.   This was a huge hit, as was the adjacent troop of monkeys.

The fun park was closed up due to rain and no customers, and tempers frayed again as we wandered trying to find the zoo. Two Giant Pandas and a handful of Red Pandas perked things up again.  The rest of the zoo consisted of large animals in small pens, at which the girls became quite indignant.  It’s amusing how difficult it can be to catch a cab at rush hour in a foreign place.  They pass you by and you ask yourself “Wrong place to stand?  Wrong type of wave?  Wrong time of day?”  Eventually we perched at the upstream side of a bus stop and a cab picked us up despite having another passenger.  We took an interesting tour of industrial side streets as we dropped him off.

Overnight Kristen and Miranda both got sick, probably food poisoning of some kind.  Oddly Phoebe and I were fine, but we can’t identify anything they ate and we didn’t.  I’ll spare you the specifics.  About 10:00 Phoebe and I cut out for Elephant Hill Park, a site of some renown to our girls due to its appearance in Big Bird in China.  Our specific target was “Sun and Moon Pavilion, South Gate”, which is the center of a tourist area that contains the park.  Our guide had written out this phrase in Mandarin for us, which worked perfectly when going to Seven Star Park the day before.  Today, with a different destination, four consecutive cab drivers looked and the paper and then refused us for some reason I could not puzzle out.  It’s not plausible that they didn’t know the area, so I can only guess it had something to do with the destination not being clear enough from the written phrase.  When the fifth cab stopped I pointed to Seven Star Park again, knowing that it wasn’t all that far from Elephant Hill.  This again worked fine, although we ended up at a different gate to the park despite pointing the driver to exactly the same Mandarin text. 

The plan was to cut across the north edge of the park to a bridge over the Li River, but nature called so we bought another admission to Seven Star and hiked through it instead.  Emerging at a southern gate, iPhone maps in hand and Phoebe on piggyback, we trudged over to the river, hitched north to the bridge, then walked along the quay down to the park itself.  It was much farther than I anticipated. 

We spent a few hours wandering around and over Elephant Hill, then headed back to avoid the rush-hour-cab-hailing difficulties of the previous day.

Mom and Miranda spent the day mostly in bed. They seem to be stabilizing but not well.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Guilin!  Picture paintings of China with the steep karst rock formations jetting up out of the otherwise flat land, with fog at their peaks above and bamboo rafts moved by  long poles below.  That’s Guilin.   We are here.

Truth is we are still trying to convince our bodies to catch up with the time zone, but we forge on.  Rather than a hotel, we are in an apartment—on the 13th floor, surrounded by Chinese families and ordinary life.   The courtyard had exercise equipment and a big boxwood maze—for taking walks for good health, our guide says, and probably for contemplation, but it seems pretty good for running wild in and chasing your sister too.

We drove about two hours to a tranquil place called Yansou where we rode bamboo rafts slowly up the river with the rocky karst formations jetting up into the midst around us.  The great excitement of the ride was when the raft charged down a little three foot waterfall, plunging the front part of the long raft under water and splashing it’s squealing riders.  We spotted a painter with his easel on the bank, painting what Chinese artists have painted for hundreds of years.  It was one of those hours of life to be held onto forever. 

We had a cooking class, with all of us dressed up in hats and aprons.  We didn’t let our seven year olds wield the vegetable clever, but we did let them each control their own flaming wok.  They were amazing.  Our dumplings had creative shapes and our vegetable noodles were a little bland, but we were proud of our efforts!

In an ancient Chinese village with a thousand years of history, a wrinkled man with hands deformed from arthritis waved us into his dirt-floor home from his wheel chair.  He  lives in just two tiny rooms, poorly lit and cluttered with clothes and life, but he proudly showed us his old carved bed, an ancient treasure of time long past.

We’ve seen silk larvae in their cocoons and touched the silk they spin.  We watched children no older than ours doing anatomy-defying stunts in an acrobat show full of laser lights, parasols, rock music, and ballet.  We walked on mud walls between fields where the farmers were hoeing.  We saw a baby buffalo with its mother walk up and over an old stone bridge.  We strolled by a Buddhist temple with incense burning.  We walked through town with venders selling live fish in plastic tubs, chicken feet, and pig heads.  We learned how tea is grown and harvested, then had a tea ceremony where we learned to tap our fingers three times to say thank you for being served, and to hold our cups with polite and complicated fingers. 

To the kids, I think the best of has not been any of these adventures, but has been playing in the courtyard of our apartment building.  This afternoon when the sun came out, so too did the little children and babies.  Language is no barrier for Miranda and Phoebe.  They had the babies counting with them in Chinese, chasing them in the maze, and playing on the seesaw.  There is much confusion over Phoebe.  We mostly just ignore it and once in a while explain it.  Our life back home is full of international adoption, so we blend in.  Here, not so.

And now for some voices from the children.  First, from Miranda, on our scenic visit up Yaoshan Mountain and the Reed Flute Caves:

Part 1:  Going up.  On the way up, it was very fun.  For a while in front of us I could see an almost straight up cable wire to the top of the mountain, which is the highest point in  all of Guilin.   After a while we were going up on that straight up wire.  It was very, very, very, very fun!  Near the end of the ride up it got so misty and so beautiful.  When I looked to my right I saw beautiful mountains and some of Guilin.  When I looked to my left, I saw plants and bushes.  When I looked up, I saw the sky.  When I looked down, I saw plants and a few lost items—like a hat, a water bottle, and an ACCORDION!  Phoebe kept telling mom not to lose her phone when she took pictures.  P.S.—Our cable car number was 113.

At the top of the mountain we got off and we walked around a little.  We saw a little bit of dancing from some Chinese women, a.k.a. a minority group.  We also went all the way to the highest point of the platform and saw most of Guilin.  We saw Buddhas and two white RABBITS with leashes on.  The mountains were so beautiful.  They were rocky and smooth at the same time.  Each one had its own unique shape.   Mama noticed that the mountains look like they are layered.  The front ones look the darkest, and as you go back Mama says they look lighter and lighter.  

Part 2:  Going halfway down.  We got back on the cable cars, and this time our number was 78.  We said Nihao to some of the people who were going up on the other side.  People loved my hair!  (Well, you don’t see very curly hair in China every day.)  We were watching for our old number, and as we got close to the half-point where we would get off, we found our old number, 113!  There was a young woman (not one of the dancers) and a little boy.   We said Nihao to them and they said hello back, in English!

Part 3:  Toboggan time!!  Next stop, toboggans!  At the halfway point, we got off the cable car.  The toboggans were black with a steering lever – you pushed it and you went faster, you pulled it and it went slower.  Dad and I went on one toboggan and mom and Phoebe went on another.  It took about five minutes to get to the bottom.  It was very fun!  And I got to steer without Dad holding the steering lever!  (And he had to say “Hurry up, Mama!” because she was in front and was going way too slow!!)

Reed Flute Caves:  Really amazing!  Actually, it was just a cave with lights, but it made it look amazing.  Inside the cave there are stalagmites and stalactites that thousands and thousands of years old.    They even went back to the age of the dinosaurs, and the age of the Qin (pronounced “Chin”) Dynasty.  There were beautiful little ponds of water that weren’t very big.  The water was so still that you could see amazing reflections that made them look like they were growing out of the water.   One of my favorite parts is when my guide Judy found a hollow part of the stalagmite.  I knocked on it and it almost sounded like tom-tom drums.   One of the shapes I saw was a frog, a lion, and a big patch of snow (which they called a waterfall but I think looked like snow).

Phoebe would like to share her journal:  “I landed in China.  So far, I’ve been in two places, Chengdu and Guilin.  I went to the panda reserve.  I got a big panda.  When I got here I got a little panda too.  Now they are baby and mom.  And I got my little panda March 8th.  And I got my big panda on March 9th.  Now I am at the apartment.  See you tomorrow!

Good morning!  Time to tell you something.  I woke up at something like 9:22 a.m.  Then I had breakfast and went to the tea farm.  I had tea at the tea farm.  Then I drove home and got out my friendship bracelet and did a little bit.    Then I wrote a little bit in my notebook.  Then I went to bed.”

For the next few days, we are on our own, without a guide.  The pace should slow down.  I’m thankful for the Mandarin lessons I’ve listened to the last few months, but it isn’t nearly enough!  Here’s to adventure!