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The Red Thread Express
Friday, 28 November 2008
The Last Hurrah
Topic: Fuling

This is going to be a quick post, since we have to be up at 4 am - oh dear Lord - to get ready to catch the bus that will take us to Chongqing to catch the plane that will take us to Beijing to catch the plane that will take us HOME!!! Prayers for traveling mercies and long naps for Liann will be much appreciated.

Incidentally, if anyone is so inclined to leave a comment to let me know people are reading these posts, I'd love to have them. I have no traffic statistics, so have no idea if anyone is even reading this blog, other than my nearest and dearest.  Not that I've ever needed an audience to spout off, but it does help. 

Anyway, we began the day at the Fuling Cultural Arts museum, which gave an absolutely fascinating history of Fuling and the Ba people. Some of the earliest relics have been submerged as a result of the Three Gorges Dam - however, construction is almost complete on a underwater domed viewing station that will allow people to continue to see the relics. Sadly, pictures were not allowed, so I have books with photos and explanations of the relics if anyone is interested.

After lunch, we traveled back to the orphanage for the closing ceremony. After one final group picture, the girls received a present from Director Yang - a lovely jade pendant with the Fu symbol and a carving of the vegetable used for the Fuling pickle,  and the symbol for Fuling carved on the back.

[The girls (or most of them) with Director Yang]


We were also invited to plant a gingko tree, reknowned for its longevity, with the girls' names on them; we've been promised that we will receive a yearly picture of the tree and its growth. Liann and Erica, both from the same travel group in 2005, planted the first one together.


[Erica and Liann working the land]

We also had a chance to go back inside the orphanage, which was nice, since Liann wanted to see "her baby" again. I'm fairly certain she knows the baby isn't coming home with us. . .

Tonight, the staff at BLAS threw a banquet for us. I had the chance to thank Director Yang (who is retiring), using the only words I had - "Xie xie." She enveloped Liann and me in a huge bear hug and held us for the longest time. There were tears in both our eyes when we let go.

I want to end this blog with some pictures of our new friends and the happy families we've met on this trip. I hope we get to cross paths again. These are very special people.

[Renee, Grace and Evan]

[The Australian contingent: Joy, Alan, Lucinda, Lucy, De Ang, Jayne, Adrian, and Suzanne * Please correct me if I get the names wrong!]

[Debby, Terri, Anslee, Emma, and Andrew]

[Mary and Livie]

[Christine and Olivia, Ai Lin and Roseann]

 

Thanks to everyone who helped to make this trip so special for Liann and me. We will always treasure these memories.


Posted by heartstringsoh at 8:41 AM EST
Thursday, 27 November 2008
Thanksgiving
Topic: Fuling

What an amazing day we have had! Despite the fact that I miss my stateside family like crazy, this has to have been one of the best Thanksgivings I've ever had.

We began the day at the orphanage where the building was all decked out in red for its ribbon-cutting ceremony.



As if paying tribute to the day, the weather provided the rarest of sunshine and blue sky throughout the ceremony and after.  As the theme from "Bonanza" burst from the speakers, the Fuling and Social Welfare Institute officials were introduced and the opening speeches were read. Directer Yang's speech noted that the new Fuling SWI has 430 beds with a library, play areas, PT room, and much more. Everyone reinforced how its doors are open at any time for our girls to come visit. 


Then the girls were brought up on stage in small groups and given a present by one of the Fuling officials; the present turned out to be a Chinese dictionary. Liann immediately began leafing through hers, and when I asked her what it said, she replied, "I can't read it; I can read it when I'm five." Of course.


Kathlene gave an absolutely beautiful and diplomatic speech on behalf of the Fuling families, and then came the ribbon cutting itself. All the children were invited to cut part of the ribbon, and allowed to keep the section they cut - so we now will always have a physical reminder of the role we were allowed to play in this wonderful ceremony.

[Liann, who clearly needs some scissor safety tips]

[And more ribbon for the officials. . .]

Then came the performances, including a wonderful dance by one of the girls, singing by a boy from the orphanage, and a rousing rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle" and "Jingle Bells" by the girls. I only captured a few of the girls in this photo for a couple reasons: (a) my camera doesn't have a wide enough lens to get all 43 of them; and (b) there were as many cameras crowding me as if Obama himself were walking down the street.


The final piece was everyone getting to write their name on a special wall that will be a part of the new orphanage. Our name may be misspelled, but the intent was good. . .



After the ceremony, we were able to go back and see some more of the orphanage. This meant Liann and I were able to go back and visit the baby we'd fallen for yesterday. Liann was so sweet with her, calling her and all the babies part of our family, and when the baby cried, saying, "Don't worry, your nanny will take care of you."



We had a lovely Thanksgiving lunch of smoked turkey and fried rice at the orphanage. Then it was back to the hotel for a brief rest, and then off on a tour of the Fuling countryside.

The Fuling country is beyond beautiful. We stopped at a village called Liang Gui, which translates to "Magnolia." It is an experimental agricultural base for the region, cultivating new approaches to planting and bringing additional prosperity to the farmers, who rent their land to the scientists but continue to farm the land.



[Cow and photographer]

The villagers got a kick (I hope) out of seeing all these silly-looking foreigners. The head of the village was exceedingly kind and had a basket of Mandarin oranges brought onto the bus as we waited while the bus and pile of just-dumped gravel had a standoff as to who would rule the road.


[Bus vs. gravel]

[Mandarin orange trees]

On we traveled to the Wujiang Fuling Pickle Factory, where the president of the factory gave us a personal tour of the premises. Fuling is reknowned for its pickled vegetables - when we asked what the English name for the tuber was, neither our guide nor the president could give a name. Perhaps looking at a picture will spur some answers - otherwise, "pickled tuber vegetable" it shall remain.


[Photo of tuber vegetable and packets of Wujiang pickles]

Pretty scenery was noted on the way home as the sun set. . .


To finish the day with a kick, we were taken to a hot pot restaurant for dinner - this is where Greg gets really jealous. I LOVED this type of eating. Hot pot is essentially a fondue type of dish, with two types of bubbling broth in the middle of the table - a seasoned beef broth, and a SPICY pepper broth up top. You throw any manner of meat, vegetable, and whatnot in the broth, let it cook to its yummy goodness, and then eat it.

[Hot pot with accompaniments; Erica and her grandma Kay look on with consternation]

The accompaniments  shown in the picture are lamb kabobs, quail eggs, tripe, bean curd, beef meatballs, fish balls, fish pieces, bamboo shoots, cucumber, sprouts, various mushrooms, and more. The "normal" broth was absolutely delicious; and Natalie's friend Nancy and I even ventured to try the various foods in the spicy broth. I'm happy to report I survived the experience and happily, even enjoyed it. Dare I even mention the fried milk doughnuts, which quite possibly are the best thing I've ever put in my mouth. Liann did respectably, although reported to "not like" most of it - she stuck with fried shrimp and orange slices for the most part.

So that's my Thanksgiving. As I reflect on the day, I am so thankful, not only for my family and friends, but for this unparalleled opportunity to travel here with Liann, to experience the Chinese people with their warmth and hospitality, and to see firsthand the beauty of this land.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! 


Posted by heartstringsoh at 8:24 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 27 November 2008 9:44 AM EST
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Homecoming
Topic: Fuling

As I write this, there is an outdoor plaza outside our window, pulsing with music and packed with at least a hundred people  line dancing. Kinf of like a stripped down version of the Olympics Opening ceremonies, I suppose.

So we left Chongqing very early this morning to travel to the girls' hometown, Fuling. It took a couple hours by bus, but the scenery was gorgeous, even in the haze.


Finally we arrived in the city, with its distinctive suspension bridge to remind us that we were here.


After our arrival, we made a brief stop at the Fuling Dam, which keeps the waters of the heightened Yangtze from reaching the city. We also saw the spot where the Yangtze and Wujiang rivers meet, and then found our hotel, the Tai Ji.



Then it was off to the old orphanage, a place of some very happy memories for me. Many of the parents had never seen the orphanage before - their children had been brought to them in Chongqing - so this was completely new to them. Reactions in the adults ranged from calm curiousity to full-blown tears. Many of the children, though, seemed to look at the SWI as just another building, albeity with a playground.

 

  

 


Then it was time to visit the new facility, which is up at the very most tippy-top of Fuling. It's a beautiful new place. We got to play with the babies and/or decorate the rooms. Liann and I quickly found a baby in one of the rooms that we wanted to cuddle with. I believe this was one of the Special Needs rooms, but can't be certain, since they were all so darn cute. Liann, who usually can take or leave babies, was a wonderful friend here, finding toys and bringing them over, and generally flirting with this baby. It was very very sweet.


As a wonderful end to the day, everyone traipsed to another building in the facility, first to make dumplings, and then to eat them. It was the perfect dinner.



Posted by heartstringsoh at 7:29 AM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 26 November 2008 8:10 AM EST
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
In Which I Have a Day Full of Things I Love
Topic: Chongqing

After sleeping the sleep of the dead, we woke this morning to a lovely breakfast here at the Holiday Inn Chongqing, and then went right to the Chongqing Zoo. The weather was hazy but warm, in the mid-50s Fahrenheit.

Things I love No. 1: Pandas (Liann thought they were pretty nifty too)


There were tigers, too, who were inches away from us (although thankfully ensconced behind several inches of glass - I'm sure we looked like a tasty bunch).



As we've encountered over and over again on this trip, the Chinese people we met were overwhelmingly kind and giving, including one man who gave an impromptu martial arts class.

[Martial arts teacher with Andrew]

Things I Love No. 2: Chinese Food

After the zoo, it was off to lunch where we got to eat some delicious Szechuan dishes, many of them SPICY!! But oh so yummy. Liann liked many of the dishes, saying for the first time, "I love this lunch!"

 

So you have some idea of the menu, I wrote down what we had today:

  • Steamed baby bok choy
  • Green beans in sesame oil
  • Beef and bean sprouts
  • Spicy peanut and spring onions
  • Corn fritters
  • Eggplant in red sauce
  • Steamed fish
  • Sweet and sour chicken
  • Bamboo shoots with mushrooms
  • Watermelon

It was insanely good.

After lunch, we had some free time before going to the Bureau of Marriage and Adoption Registration, so we gathered for a group picture, then did a little shopping. Even with 43 families and over 100 people in the group, the crowd we attracted while taking the picture was almost as large.


Lian's favorite part of the afternoon came after the shopping, when some Chinese music began playing and a set of fountains began dancing, ala the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas. She and her friend Natalie ran up and down for over half an hour watching and dancing in front of the leaping jets of water.


Things I Love No. 3: Liann

Finally it was our group's turn to go inside the Bureau of Adoption Registration and get to see our files. First we gathered in a conference room and watched a video on the orphanage and the Bureau that had everyone in the room blubbering like a baby. Then we got to go and spend a few minutes reviewing our file. Sadly, we weren't allowed to make copies or even photograph anything from the file. Truthfully, there was little more than what we'd been provided, although I was able to see a picture of Liann when she was first brought to the orphanage as well as a footprint. She was with me in the room, and I'm very happy that she was able to see those bits of her babyhood. She was somewhat put out that she couldn't bring it home with her, like all the rest of the presents we've been showered with on the trip.

Tomorrow we are off to Fuling to visit the old orphanage and help decorate the new. It should be a very incredible day. 


Posted by heartstringsoh at 10:09 AM EST
Monday, 24 November 2008
A Day for Reflection
Topic: Travel day

While today was a travel day, and much time and energy needed to be devoted to seeing whether we could get everything in the suitcases and closed, Liann and I did not want to miss the opportunity to see some tai chi at a local park. About one third of the families left at 6:30 am to go to Ko Hill, located behind the Forbidden City.

What a lovely park. Persimmon trees, lots of rock sculptures and winding paths. Even at the crack of dawn, it was relatively populated. We found one man willing to let Westerners imitate his moves badly for a few minutes, and then we climbed the hill to the top, from whence you could see the entire enclosed Forbidden City in one direction, the rest of Beijing in another.




After the loveliness and calm of the park, we dashed back to the hotel and lost all that lovely calm trying to get checked out of the hotel and get everyone on the buses. Then it was off to BLAS (Bridge of Love Adoption Service) and CCAA (China Center for Adoption Affairs) for a tour. It was surreal to see rooms that we'd imagined for so long during the adoption process:

The matching room


and the Eligibility Records room.


After the CCAA tour, BLAS had activities scheduled for the children (BLAS is located in the same building as the CCAA). The younger kids made paper airplanes, did a puzzle of China, and watched a sweet animated story. Liann was happily ensconced at the head of the table (where else?:)) in doing her puzzle and had one of the videographers of the week recording her every move. 


At the end of the morning, the entire BLAS staf, including the Director, gathered outside and waved goodbye to us all. Thinking of everything they have done for us - giving the children presents, arranging the ceremonies, etc. - it was enormously moving to see them all out there sending us off like royalty.

We had lunch at a Thai-style restaurant where Liann played drums with her chopsticks and some of the girls gathered on the steps afterward for a photo, all the while chanting "Cheddar Cheese."



Some of them also thought it would be fun to play Ring Around  the Rosie.


Finally, it was off to the airport. The Beijing Airport is the biggest thing I've ever seen. Absolutely mammoth. God smiled on us all, however, and had put a really cute children's play area literally right next to our gate. A fairly long crowded flight later, we were in Chongqing, where the next leg of our journey begins.

Tomorrow - PANDAS!!! 


Posted by heartstringsoh at 9:37 AM EST
Updated: Monday, 24 November 2008 10:15 AM EST
Sunday, 23 November 2008
A Day of Very Big Things
Topic: Beijing

Big Thing No. 1:

All the adoptive families attended a welcome ceremony at the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The ceremony was also attended by Minister  of Civil Affairs Li Xueju and Deputy Minister Dou Yupei, both instrumental in creating the international adoption program In China in the not-too-distant past.


 

The ceremony was lovely and very moving; our children were hailed as good will ambassadors, furthering friendly relations between the countries, and told they would always have two homes.  The staff at Bridge of Love Adoption Service (BLAS), who have organized this amazing tour, performed a dance with traditional costumes of the various regions, and then our children got up on stage and sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of their performance, because Liann dragged me up their with her.


Finally, the families were presented with gifts from the Ministry of Civil Affairs and gathered for a very large group picture. It really was a lovely ceremony to be involved with, and quite humbling to be thought of as a honoree.

Big Thing No. 2: The Olympic Venue

After we completed the ceremony at the MCA, we traveled to the point in Beijing where the Olympics had been held. Having been obsessed with the China Olympics from this year's opening ceremonies, I felt like I was meeting a celebrity. We only stayed a few minutes, but still managed to squeeze in a few shots of the Big Kahuna buildings of the 2008 Summer Games.


Big Thing No. 3: The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu Section

After partaking of lunch, we settled in for a long winter's nap on the bus and traveled about an hour out of Beijing to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China. It was a fascinating drive, very rural, with some of the most gorgeous landscape I've ever seen. This is the China that looks like no place else on earth. 

Liann was loving the Great Wall, scaling steps that were essentially half her size. Best of all, we got to ride up to the Wall in a cable car that she described as going "super fast." It didn't really go that fast, but she liked saying it. It was indescribably beautiful at the top; I kept turning and seeing new vistas that I wanted to take a picture of, knowing full well that it can't capture even a little bit of the awe and majesty of the place.





It was a spectacular - and exhausting - day. 


Posted by heartstringsoh at 8:36 AM EST
Saturday, 22 November 2008
Day Two: In Which the Forbidden City Loosens Up a Bit
Topic: Beijing

Another wildly fun and exhausting day. Met up with many of the families at breakfast with no real plans in mind. Some of us finally decided to try to walk to the Forbidden City, since we hadn't gone in yesterday. At least one of the parents in the group has been to China several times, so we felt like we were in good hands. And it was terrific to be able to do something unstructured; I enjoyed the walks to and from enormously, just being able to see the people and sounds and sights of everyday China.

I meant to mention this in yesterday's post and forgot - the weather the past two days has been gorgeous and the sky absolutely blue. The environmental work that was done here in preparation for the Olympics really paid off; it's far less hazy from pollution than when I was here three years ago.

The Forbidden City was big and imposing and awe-inspiring, but with our less structured pace and the little girls chasing each other around, the pace was very relaxed. We kept to many of the side Halls, which had fabulous names like "The Hall of Mental Cultivation." And the Imperial Garden was so lovely with its rockery and trees - I could have stayed there all day.


Liann was a joy to everyone, and entertained countless people with her impressive skill at looking and the map and telling people where we were, all while walking. Something I could not do at all.



Now, sadly, I was having a wee bit of gastrointestinal distress, despite all my precautions. So my favorite part of the Forbidden City was not the Imperial Garden, or the Throne Room, but a smaller throne room. . .


Let me just say, it was well worth every star.

Upon returning back to the hotel, we enjoyed a brief respite, then sojourned back out, this time to the shopping mall connected to the hotel - nine floors of chaotic consumer sensory overload. It was magnificent. Best of all was the knowledge that even when you travel halfway around the world, some things remain the same.


Meanwhile, in the courtyard of the mall, someone was putting on some kind of dance competition. There was a pole involved, but let me reassure, participants remained fully dressed. As Liann watched the dancer below, she asked the question for the ages: "Can Daddy do that?"


After finding dinner at the mall (Dairy Queen was involved), all the families met at a brief orientation that outlined some of what is to come. Tomorrow, in addition to scaling the Great Wall of China, we will also be participating in a Homecoming Welcome Ceremony at the Ministry of Civil Affairs. It is a very big deal, and one I will be excited to report about tomorrow.

Until then. . . 

 


Posted by heartstringsoh at 8:37 AM EST
Friday, 21 November 2008
Day One: Sisterhood of the Traveling Fulingers
Topic: Beijing
Well, despite the fact that we hadn't yet accustomed to China time yet and woke up at 2:30 am Friday morning, we (and I mean Liann especially) acclimated pretty quickly. Liann was a ball of energy the entire day until she finally closed her eyes about 8 pm. Think about that - that's 17 1/2 hours. Pretty impressive for a 4 year old. I'm fairly certain that the girls all fed off each other's energy yesterday - but more on that in a moment.
 
We began the day with a fine buffet breakfast at the hotel. Liann ate about 8 pieces of bacon ("I LOVE BACON!"), the Chinese version of Cheerios, and lots of fruit. We met out tour group at 9 am - about 6 families, 2 from Washington and 3 from Australia - and began the day at the Temple of Heaven.



The girls all seemed to enjoy the wide open spaces of the courtyards; Liann found that marble stair boundaries make a rocking slide!


The girls all chased each other and had tons of fun watching the water calligraphy, people practicing tai chi, the Chinese version of hacky sac, and more. Liann was beyond happy making so many new friends, like Lily.


Next it was onto lunch. All that energy must come from somewhere. Our restaurant also provided a traditional dance performance that Liann loved: "These guys are great!"



After lunch, it was onto shopping at the Pearl Market. For someone who tends to run from the hard-sell salesman, it was a little bit of an intimidating experience for me. Imagine HUNDREDs of stalls and booths all selling souvenirs, jewelry, clothes, shoes, knock-off luggage and bags, all with wares you'd want to pore over - except at every stall, vendors from that stall and every surrounding stall are calling you, "Lady, Lady! Come see my [insert merchandise here]. Come feel. Real Pashmina. Come try. I give you good deal." Very soon, I was at the point of overload. Yet despite the odds, I was able to do my part to bolster the Chinese economy and find some fun things.

But wait, the day isn't done. There's still Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The girls had a ball chasing each other through the Square and generally hanging on our very accommodating and kind guide William.



Perhaps it was for the best that by the time we reached the ticket window for the Forbidden City, it had closed for the day. So we got to ride on a little mini bus back to our tour bus. Liann's quote: "This is the most fun carnival ride ever!" It did show me a side of the Forbidden City exterior I hadn't seen on the last trip, though.


And then finally, back to the hotel, where our friends from our original travel group, Trina and Erica, had just arrived. We also got to see our travel guide Zhou for a few minutes after dinner, since he was in town to meet some new adopting families. It was wonderful to let him see how big the girls have gotten.

Today, we don't have firm plans yet. There's a number of families here now, so I'm certain we'll find something to keep ourselves occupied. Keep tuned.

P.S. I was going to start loading photos from Liann's camera, since she's been quite the shutterbug, but I just realized her CF card won't fit in my mini-laptop. So that will have to wait until we're home. My apologies.

I did just ask her if she wanted to say anything about China for the blog. She said, and I quote, "No." For anyone who's ever talked to us on the phone and heard the same response when she's asked if she wants to talk on the phone, this comes as no surprise. I think you can tell by the smile on her face, though, that she's having a ball.

 

 

Posted by heartstringsoh at 4:51 PM EST
Updated: Friday, 21 November 2008 8:05 PM EST
Thursday, 20 November 2008
Fun with Flying
Topic: Travel day

Ni hao, everyone! It's currently 2:55 am China time, but as I've gotten 6 hours of sleep and am still on U.S. Pacific time, mostly at the moment, we're just killing time until breakfast.:)

To backtrack to our travel day a little. We arrived at SeaTac to find another traveling Fuling family had already beaten us: Maya and her mom Laurie. It's always so neat to meet other families with the same heritage and history.

Then onto the flight, a twelve hour nonstop on Hainan Airlines. I'd been hoping Liann would get a few hours sleep on the flight; sadly, she napped about an hour and that was all she wrote. However, she was the most wonderful travel partner a mom could ask for, and had lots of fun watching travelogues about China and short little odd Chinese cartoons on the seat's television. And of course, many Spongebob episodes from my laptop. The plane was not crowded, but the coveted middle 4-seat areas were claimed from the get-go.

The only minor setback to the trip was in the pre-arrival meal, when Liann - overtired I think - got sick in her seat. Fortunately, I had an abundance of Wet Wipes and we were able to get cleaned up with a minimum of discomfort, and Liann seemed fine after and continues to seem so.

We were picked up at the airport and experienced the Beijing traffic as we traveled to our hotel, the Joy City Hotel. According to our guide, traffic - always a challenge in Beijing - has gotten even worse. I want to say he said something like 4 million cars driving through daily, but don't quote me. I could have been jet lagged:). Although it did seem like we saw a quarter of that number on our drive to the hotel. The weather last night was very temperate - mid 50s - and the lights of the city were brilliant and quite lovely. Liann and Maya made each other giggle uncontrollably throughout the ride.

Liann and I have a beautiful corner room up on the 11th floor.of the Joy City Hotel. She was fast asleep about 20 seconds after her head hit the pillow (and some FINE pillows they are).

Today, when everyone else wakes up, we are touring the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and - hooray - SHOPPING! So leaving you on that cliffhanger - What will Toddie buy and for whom? - I'll report in later.


Posted by heartstringsoh at 2:25 PM EST
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
China Sequel - A Preview

So, a new China adventure awaits. Liann's orphanage, the Social Welfare Institute in Fuling, is moving to a new location within Fuling. All children adopted from this orphanage have been invited back to China to participate in a week-long Homecoming Celebration. Since Director Yang is also retiring, the celebration will also be a tribute to her leadership.

Needless to say, we had not planned on traveling back to China this early. But this seemed like an opportunity we could not pass up. So on November 19, Liann and I will be traveling to join more than 40 other Fuling families in this amazing celebration.

I will try to blog and post pictures as much as I can. I welcome your questions and comments and support throughout the trip.


Posted by heartstringsoh at 11:49 PM EST
Updated: Saturday, 15 November 2008 12:34 AM EST

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