China Travel Journal - August 2003

Day 1: August 12-13
Jet-lagged, sleep deprived, zombies too tired to type. We slept like babies last night, the beds in the Sino Swiss are very comfortable. The one thing I will say is that the security at the Albany International Airport was impressive, they really took everyone seriously. This was not our experience after we flew in October 2001. As we were arriving, I set off the sensors and got searched, including taking off my shoes, which they took away and inspected further. Of course Joe and Sara just breezed right through and enjoyed the show. But seriously, I didn't consider it as an imposition at all - it actually made me feel good. Flights left on time and landed on time. Mission accomplished - no overweight luggage fees! (Even though I brought a pharmacy with us to China).

Day 2 : August 14
Greetings from Beijing,
We arrived safe and tired last night and are glad to have this day to rest. Sara put it perfectly this morning "my brain just feels all weird and stuff." This morning we took a stroll around some of the surrounding streets of our hotel and are amazed and in awe of the Chinese way of life. There is a little supermarket across the street where we found an umbrella stroller on the second floor. To give you an idea of the exchange rate in relation to what you are buying, the umbrella stroller was 188 Yuan ($22.65 US) but 3 cans of Chinese beer, 4 cans of soda, 4 bottles of water and 1 2-liter bottle of water only cost 21.95 Yuan (only $2.65 US).

They have the same type of brooms here that they had in Kazakhstan. I am going to try and get a picture of one before we leave.

Sara is a constant source of attention here, people look and touch her hair, then touch my hair. As we were walking down the street, a shopkeeper looked at her and said to me "China girl?" It is getting easier to become accustomed to the blatant stares, we don't exactly blend in here. In the hotel there are some English speaking staff, but on the streets of Beijing, we can only communicate with each other by sign language (so far). The bicycles are fascinating. Children sit on the back of bicycles while their parent pedals along, chatting away. We saw a woman and her husband peddling a bicycle with two baskets filled to the brim with brown eggs. I have yet to see a new bicycle here, they are all old with wire baskets.

There is also a shop on the way into the Sino Swiss that is filled with watermelons. The only other thing in the store is a mattress in the back where I saw a couple young kids lying down.

The flight from Chicago to Tokyo was long and tiring. Humans were not meant to sit in one place for 13 hours. However, it is truly astonishing that in one full day you can go from Albany NY to Beijing China. How can you complain about that?

Sara did amazing. I am so glad that we are all here together to bring home baby sister. She slept a few hours before we landed and then about another hour on the Tokyo to Beijing flight. We landed in Tokyo in the late afternoon and flew out at dusk. We were zombies in the Tokyo and Beijing airports, I wish we had taken a picture of the aquarium outside the Tokyo gate where we boarded our flight to Beijing. Albany International Airport should get an aquarium, it has a surprisingly calming effect. Sara was naming the fish in the aquarium after Finding Nemo characters ("...and this one is Gill, and this one is Dora..."). When we were boarding the bus to take us to the airplane, Sara yelled out "bye bye fishees"

We arrived in Beijing in the dark. The Beijing airport is spotless, very modern. We went through a health quarantine check station where they took our body temperatures through a sensor as we walked through (there was a sign that said "please cooperate and walk slowly"' which I got a kick out of). We filled out health status questionnaires on the plane. There was a large LCD as we were entering the health quarantine area that was detailing the seriousness of SARS, unfortunately it was written in Asian characters so we couldn't read it (not saying that we could of even if we wanted to, our brains were oatmeal at that point). It is increasingly obvious that the Chinese are continuing to take the health threat of SARS seriously, even though there have been no new cases since early June. The airport had a distinctive chemical disinfectant smell to it - as we were walking through it to the custom area, I was thinking back to the pictures I saw of the large aerosol disinfectant machines they set up at the height of the quarantine in Beijing. Customs was very easy, the official got a kick out of Sara's passport photo. There was a beautiful painting of the Great Wall as we were going through Customs. There was a painting on the wall as we were descending on an escalator to the baggage check area that I will try and capture with the digital camera before we leave for Chongqing on Sunday.

It was a miracle to see our bags on the luggage carousel. Thanks be to God. I don't think we are alone in this sentiment, I think that everyone is amazed and thankful when they see their luggage coming around the bend. China is not exactly a hop, skip and a jump away.

I won't even try and attempt to explain the horror of Beijing traffic . You have to see it to believe it. It's every man for himself. As we were riding on the bus from the airport to the hotel last night, there were a number of times I just had to close my eyes in horror, anticipating a crash at every turn. Let's put it this way - picture a four way intersection with no traffic signals and no one yields, ever. Every encounter is a game of "chicken". Now throw bicycles and pedestrians on motor scooters into the mix - it is amazing to me that there are not bodies and metal scraps littering the streets on every corner. OK, I am exaggerating just a little - but everything you have read about the traffic in Beijing is true. People don't merge, they just pull out, never breaking, and hope for the best. Kind of like in Moscow, except without the traffic jams. Maybe that is why traffic keeps moving here, no one breaks.

Contrary to what we have read, we have not seen any western style fast food restaurants yet, however the area of Beijing that we are staying in (by the airport) is not affluent.

The air quality is thick and smells of diesel fuel. The leaves on the trees that line the streets are limp and dusty. The trees surrounding the hotel are lush and green. There are insects here that make a loud buzzing noise. When we first heard it we thought it was birds, but a China day camp counselor in the hotel spoke some English and explained to me that when it is hot and humid like this, the bugs make the unbelievably loud noise.

I think I can safely say that at this point, all three of us are in love with China. The sights, sounds and smells are fascinating, we hope to capture as much as possible during this journey. Every day brings us closer to meeting Fu Hui Xiao, who Sara decided on the plane that she is going to call Emma "pooh bear" Cate.

Sara loves the pool at the Sino Swiss, it is a great pool for kids. She swam for almost 3 hours this afternoon then we came back up to the room and took naps. It is still hard dealing with the dehydration and exhaustion from jet lag, we are feeling more and more like it was a good decision to come a little early. We will all be rested and alert by the time we meet Emma Cate for the first time.

There is a lot of construction going on in Beijing right now - the Olympics are going to be big business here.

I saw a sign in Beijing across a government building that stated something to the effect of "SARS will be overcome by the power of the People's Republic of China." I was on the bus and regret that I didn't get a photo.

Day 3: August 15 Beijing - The Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Pandas at Beijing Zoo

We left bright and early at 8:15am and didn't return to the hotel until after 7pm. It was a long day of touring. When we got to the Summer Palace it started to thunder and lightning and the rain was pouring down. Poor Sara was trapped in her umbrella stroller underneath 2 ponchos that we draped over the stroller to keep her dry. She was not a happy camper. Unfortunately, because of the rain, we didn't really get to enjoy the Summer Palace as much as we would have if the weather had cooperated. We took a nice boat ride across the lake though and there were beautiful lotus flowers.

Nature called for Sara which led to our first experience with the squat toilets, you had to see it to believe it. The group continued on and we had to hurry to catch up. As we were going down the Summer Palace corridor there was a Chinese celebrity that was mobbed by young girls and he was signing autographs. I didn't recognize who it was, but he was obviously a big name in Beijing. Beijing is crowded at every turn. There are 13 million people living in Beijing alone, so we are getting used to being crowded. It was an odd feeling to come right up next to this guy, pushing our way through the crowd and see the hysteria he was causing among the young people. He was a good sport signing autographs when Sara and I pushed past him.

At one point in the Summer Palace a young man came up to me and asked if he could practice his English.

After the Summer Palace the guide brought us to a pearl factory where we learned how fresh water pearls are harvested from oysters. We bought Sara a pearl necklace and myself some pearl drop earrings.

After the pearl factory, we caused a public spectacle when we weren't sure if our tour bus was going to make it under a bridge. We cause enough commotion going around, but this drew a crowd. Our guide Maggy was outside the bus in the insane Beijing traffic and trying to coax the bus driver slowly underneath the bridge. We then started going the wrong way up the two way street because the bridge was higher in the middle. Strange as it sounds, this was okay in Beijing. I saw a person stop dead in the third lane of traffic, put his car in reverse and go up a exit ramp. I was just trying to picture someone missing a Northway exit and stopping dead in traffic and putting their car in reverse. Yes - this really happened. Our tour guide told us that the reason that you don't see alot of accidents in China is because everyone drives this way so everyone expects this type of thing. Its a cultural thing.

We then went to a traditional Chinese lunch, complete with chopsticks and whole fishes served with their eyes looking right at you. There was a beautiful flower exhibit in the lobby, it was a very nice restaurant.

We then went to the Beijing zoo to see the Panda exhibit. We learned that there are only 1000 pandas left in China. There were 3 pandas that we saw and they all looked dirty and unhappy. One was eating lunch hunched in a corner, one was sleeping on a concrete floor, and the last one was outside in a overgrown, weedy area. I wondered why if panda's are cherished so much by the people of China why they didn't keep up their area in the zoo a little better. There was a rusty old ladder and a broken slide by a dirty water pond in the outside exhibit. Sara thought the panda's were great, but I thought it was sad to see them in such dismal captivity. The people of China have given pandas as a gift to Washington DC and to Atlanta Georgia. We saw the pandas in Atlanta and they were living a whole heck of a lot better than the pandas we saw at the Beijing zoo.

On the way to the Temple of Heaven, we saw a truck that was three full tiers jam packed full of live sheep. Needless to say, the sheep looked miserable.

The next stop was the Temple of Heaven, which was beautiful. It is the type of thing that you just know that pictures are not going to do the scenery justice. There were concentric circles that led to a middle raised platform. If you stood on the middle tile, then your prayers were heard with more resonance by the Gods. Emperors went to the Temple of Heaven to pray for good harvests.

Emperors were big into rituals for longevity, yet the average age of death for emperors was 40 years.

We ended the day with a tea ceremony at the Temple of Heaven. Joe was at a separate, smaller table than Sara and I and he enjoyed the ceremony much more than I did at a crowded table with Sara on my lap. A Chinese woman demonstrated the proper way to brew tea and then we all sampled the various types of tea she was preparing. We bought two types of teas to bring home with us. At one part of the ceremony, there is a little ceramic boy that they poured water over his head and the water came out of him like he was peeing. Sara got such a big kick out of it (what 5 year old doesn't think this type of thing is funny?) the Chinese woman gave her the little ceramic boy as a sovenier.

Day 4: August 16 Beijing - The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City

Another very long day - up early and home late after a full day of exercise and touring.

There are street vendors that are very aggressive around the tourist spots. They come rushing right at you saying "one dollar, one dollar" or "two dollar two dollar" and hold up whatever it is they are peddling - hats, fans, tea sets, etc.

We have also seen some poor children who beg. They come up to you and cup their hands in front of you. It is very sad.

Our last day in Beijing started out great - our tour guide David told us that there was a change in plans and instead of getting the babies on Monday, that the Civil Affairs office in Chongqing agreed to allow us to come at 3:00 tomorrow instead!

When we arrived at the Great Wall, Sara looked at me and said "Is baby sister at the top of the Wall?" I realized that we had been linking going to China and climbing the Great Wall with bringing home baby sister. If baby sister was at the top of the Wall then you can be sure we would have sprinted much faster up the ancient stone stairs than the leisurely stroll we took. The steps are all different sizes and lengths. Believe it or not, climbing up was less stressful than coming back down! We climbed to the third guard tower, then I felt like the steps were becoming too steep and uneven and I was afraid for Sara's safety that high up on the wall.

We saw a little boy with split pants on the wall. Split pants are very common here for young children since diapers are too expensive. You can imagine how the ground smells - you get use to it after a while.

Tianamen Square was awe inspiring. As we walked across this very political area of China I couldn't help but think of all the young, peacefully demonstrating pro-democracy students that were killed in the very area that I was casually strolling across for a way of life that we take for granted every day.

October 1st is China's independence day.

The Forbidden City is where the Last Emperor was filmed. It is very large and the gardens are beautiful. There are gold bricks. I have to let the pictures speak for themselves.

There is a corridor in the Forbidden City where the emperors learned to ride bicycles. In doorways here, there are metal thresholds that you have to step over. David told us that the Chinese believe that ghosts are present, but they have no leg bones. They glide across the floor. So the thresholds keep the ghosts from entering the room. In this one corridor of the forbidden city the thresholds were taken out so that bicycles could be ridden.

We were leaving the Forbidden City and a young girl came up to me and struck up a conversation to practice her English. For a little kid, she spoke great English, and I told her so. She was waiting for the Americans to come out to practice her English, and came right up to me as I walked out.

When we were leaving the Forbidden City there was an old woman who was begging for money. She was hunched over and very dirty. One of her legs was a stump. Joe stopped to take out his wallet to give her money but the other street vendors start to see you and come hurrying over. He only gave her a few yuen, we wish we could have given her more.

After the Forbidden City, David brought us to a pearl factory. We bought Emma a white pearl necklace and myself a double stranded pink pearl necklace.

Day 5: August 17 Beijing/Chongqing
Beijing Airport. Here we are at the Beijing airport, Gate 24, waiting to board the Chinese Airlines flight to Chongqing. There is a lot of excitement here among the families, anxious anticipation. We woke up very early this morning since our luggage needed to be out in the hallway at 7am for the porter to bring to the airport ahead of time to check in. David, our tour guide, is very efficient. He is handling everything for us. Like a shepherd, he carries a green flag with the large letters "GWCA" and we follow the flag like sheep. The Beijing airport is very crowded, not like when we first arrived. As a large American group, we attract a lot of attention and stares - just wait until we all have Chinese babies with us, we should be quite the spectacle. Our Chongqing group will be further subdivided by orphanage.

It won't be long until we see Emma - our flight is set to depart at 11:30 and we will board around 11:10. It is a little over a 2 hour flight to Chongqing, and we will go straight to the Civil Affairs Office. Sara is very excited to be a big sister.

The flight from Beijing to Chongqing was quick and easy, just 2 1/2 hours. When we got to the airport you could feel the difference in air quality. Chongqing is a city of 31 million people, the largest city in the world. It is quite a contradiction, there are street sweepers everywhere but the air is so thick with pollution is looks like a dense fog.

When we were on the bus from the airport, David told us that the babies were waiting for us at the Civil Affairs Office. We couldn't believe after waiting for so long that we were finally only 15 minutes away from meeting Emma.

We arrived in front of the Civil Affairs office, which was on the 4th floor of a very dirty building that smelled like fermenting garbage. It was on steps like these that Fu Hui Xiao was left one morning in October, wrapped up, only days from birth, her umbilical cord still attached. Finally her family was climbing the steps to bring her home.

The fourth floor was modern looking with modern furniture. There was a desk and small windowed offices to the rear of the room. We came into the room off the elevator, there were babies everywhere and the parents were crying and the babies looked shell-shocked. I kept looking around the room for Emma, but couldn't see her. Then a man said, "Conroy" and I walked up to him and he placed Emma in my arms and my brain just shut down. She was the most beautiful baby in the room (how many other parents are typing that same sentence right now - you can be sure just about every one of us). The last 18 months vanished in a haze, we were here now and she was here and from now on everything was going to be okay for little Fu Hui Xiao. When I held her for the first time she was tense and her eyes were hesitant. She wasn't quite sure what was going on. I handed her to Joe and she rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. I then began to realize that Emma was very listless and her eyes were heavy. She felt very hot and she kept resting her head. She had a wheezy, crackly cough that was constant. The coughs came in bursts, which at first I thought were sneezes. We knew she was sick, really sick, and we had to get her back to our hotel and get on the phone with Dr. Schulte as soon as possible. The other babies were all sick, but not as bad as Emma. The orphanage director was handing out boxes of antibiotics and this powdered mixture in folded origami packets which he was telling us "to make babies breathe" - which we later found out the antibiotics were expired and the powdered packets were a type of asthma medication. The babies in Chongqing are given asthma medications because of the air pollution. I asked the director how long Emma had been sick like this and he said three days. We decided against giving her anything in the origami packets until we cleared it with Dr. Schulte and only gave her one dose of the antibiotic since she had already started the regimen. Thank God we held off - Dr. Schulte later told us that we should not give her any of the Chinese medications.

The orphanage director gave us a gift - a paperweight of the Chongqing City Hall and a CD-Rom with the history of Chongqing on it. We left our gifts to them on the table along with all the other families. Since the room was in utter chaos, David kept yelling out directions: "Pictures" - all the families had their pictures taken with their new babies; "Money" - standing in line to pay the orphanage donation fee and notary fee and receiving a receipt to bring with us to Guangzhao; "Fingerprints" - moms and dads needed to put their fingerprints over their signatures on the paperwork., "Questions" - each of the families had the opportunity to ask the assistant director of the orphanage (who was a very small man) what their babies like and dislike. We learned that Emma was in a room with 37 other children (yes, in one room) and one nanny took care of 12 children each. I noticed that most of the kids in the room had crib head. He told us that Emma was a very shy child. Somehow I had the feeling that the director didn't know any of the children very well, and that we were probably all getting some of the same answers. There are just too many orphan children here in China. David told us that China is thinking to change its one-child policy.

After piles and piles of paperwork and being fingerprinted once more, and exchanging gifts we came on the bus to check into the Holiday Inn Yangtze. We laid Emma down on the bed and took her temperature, which was almost 102. We started her on Motrin to get the fever down. She couldn't rest at all, when she lay down she would start a choking cough like she wasn't getting enough air. It was terrifying for all of us. No one slept that night.

Day 6 & 7: August 18 & 19 Chongqing

Luckily there is a PA here adopting also and he came into our room and listened to Emma's chest. He said he was pretty sure in one lung that she had pneumonia. It was not bronchitis, the lung was crackling and it was very deep in her lung. We called Albany Med and got approval to start her on the Western antibiotics that Dr. Schulte had given to us in case of an emergency. After her first double dose, within hours, she started to breathe easier and rest. We kept her inside all day yesterday and she rested quite a bit. She likes her stroller, which I walk her around the lobbies and hallways. There is also a terrace on the third floor where I can bring her for a little fresh air (well, fresh polluted air). She slept through the night last night and today we brought her on a quick tour of the city, which she seemed to enjoy tremendously.

Chongqing is a city of mountains and steps. There are "stick men" that carry loads up and down the hills and steps. They have buckets attached to sticks which they carry across their shoulders. They are intense men, who stare and gather around you and they are every where. The buildings are very dirty. We can see the Yangtze from our hotel room, it is a magnificent river. We haven't seen the Three Gorges yet, we will see if David can arrange to bring us.

Chongqing is hot and crowded. It is one of the three furnaces of China. The humidity feels like a steam bath. It has not been open to outsiders for very long so we are quite the attraction here. The people come up in droves and crowd you and touch you. They are very curious about everything. David told us that one of the locals said to him "how long will the Americans keep the babies before they send them back?" I am not sure that the concept of adoption is fully understood here.

We have seen poverty here, extreme poverty. We are very lucky. I vow to never take for granted what I have been given ever again.

Emma is resting comfortably now, the medication makes her sleepy. She is very weak, developmentally she is probably around 5-6 months. She cannot sit up on her own or feed herself. She is not on any solid foods. She will need early intervention and physical therapy to get caught up. But she is a very hearty and beautiful child, with the most gorgeous long eyelashes.

Sara is doing great with her promotion to big sister. No problems yet, but we are still in the honeymoon period.

Tomorrow David is bringing us to see the pandas in Chongqing. Let's hope they are living better than the pandas in Beijing.

Wednesday August 20 - Chongqing
This morning we all met at 9am to board the bus to see the Pandas being fed their breakfast at 9:30. I am very happy to say that the panda's in the Chongqing zoo are living very well and seemed very healthy and happy. We also saw golden monkeys, tigers and lions. It was very hot out and as usual, we were drawing a crowd so we had to keep things moving. Is this what celebrities feel like without the paparazzi?

After the zoo we had our silk shopping excursion. We went into a shop where they showed us how silk worms are harvested and the silk is stretched and dyed. It was actually pretty interesting the way they harvest, stretch and dye the silk. Sara starting running around in this princess style silk outfit and looked so cute we got her one and baby sister one in red. It should make for a good Christmas card photo outfit.

It was a quiet day because tomorrow is a big day. The director of the orphanage has allowed families to visit the orphanage (not the whole orphanage of 400 children, just a couple floors where our children were referred from). We decided against letting Sara go, we don't want to trigger any bad memories for her, and we made the decision that Emma is not going back there, from this point forward her life will improve every day as she bonds with her new family. Although we are grateful for what they did for her for her first 10 months, we don't want to confuse her in any way.

Emma had her very first bath today. The water was very shallow and warm and she loved it.

At night we all met at the Chinese restaurant in the hotel and had a group dinner. David organized the whole dinner, including the menu. There were very spicy dishes and it was all authentic Chinese.

Thursday August 21: Chongqing

Sara and I saw Joe off at 8:30 on the bus to the Fuling First Social Welfare Institute. We told him to take a lot of pictures. Joe also brought an additional orphanage donation, along with some of the other parents. After he left, I brought Sara and Emma up to the pool to swim for a little while. Then we all came back to the room and rested in the air conditioning and took naps and waited for Joe to come back. It was weird being in the hotel and not having any of the other adoptive families around - we have all become close during this journey.

Joe said the bus ride took about 2 hours to get to the SWI. He said that some of the other parents started crying as soon as they walked in, it is very hard to see just how many babies there are in these welfare homes. There are babies and there are older children. There are also elderly residents whose families have sent them to the home - which David said is considered extremely bad in Chinese culture. Parents take care of their children when they are young, and children take care of their parents when they are old.

Joe got a picture of Emma's nanny standing next to old crib. She had the crib to herself, unlike some of the other babies. He said they let the babies go into saucer strollers around the play area (which explains why she hates standing up and has no leg strength) and that they would wheel them into this one room where there is a television that plays cartoons. He said the cartoon was Tom and Jerry.

He said the orphanage was spartan and sterile, more like a hospital than a home for children. This was an institution of custodial care. There were no rugs on the floors and everything was government issue style. He said it was an overwhelming feeling to see just how many babies there are in these rooms.

If you are reading this and it has ever crossed your mind to open your heart and your home to a daughter from China, my advice to you is to not think about it one more day, and start doing it. Pick up the phone and start the process. These are lost children. From the first day that we all were united, these babies with bad chest coughs, crib head and ear infections had vacant stares and jumped at the slightest noise. Only 5 days later we see these children starting to blossom into little children who have had attention paid only to them. Their cheeks are getting color, they are babbling words and reaching for their mommies and daddies. This experience has further confirmed that these children were born the day we picked them up. Due to a one-child policy and a country that values males over females, these daughters are being left every day in doorsteps and on well-traveled country roads by mothers so desperate that they feel that abandonment is their only option. These haunted women are rumored to stand outside of the doors of the closest Social Welfare Institute to see if their lost daughter is one of the lucky ones to leave with the foreigners and have a chance of having a say in her own life, but afraid to come forward because the crime of abandonment is punishable by life imprisonment or death. There are over 750 Social Welfare Institutes in China and only about 225 participate in an international adoption program. From these orphanages, only 5,000 children are adopted each year. I read somewhere once that current estimates are that there are over 1 million children in orphanages in China, 99% of them girls. So I look at Emma and I think, how was she chosen to be a lucky child? Well, that's easy, she is beautiful and healthy. But what about the other children, the not so beautiful children or the sick children? What about the children on the 4th and 5th floor of Fuling that the orphanage director wouldn't allow the families to tour? I know that they all cannot be saved, but each one should have a chance to be saved. There is a saying by Mother Theresa - "How can you say that there are too many children in the world? That is like saying that there are too many flowers." I don't know what the life expectancy estimates are for children who were raised in orphanages in China, but I know in Kazakhstan it is 26 years old.

One of the mothers in the Fuling group told me that her daughters found site is now under water in Fuling. In fact, the Three Gorges Dam is going to flood the orphanage in the next few years so they will have to move to a new orphanage. The whole area of the Institute will be under water by 2008.

Friday August 22: Chongqing

Emma had some solid food for the first time today. At breakfast, there is a Chinese dish called "congee" which is a rice-based porridge. Joe added some sugar to it and put it to her lips. In her usual Fuling-stubbornish way, she pursed her lips tightly and shook her head no. Joe tried again and she took it. She squeezed her eyes shut two times fast then opened them up like there was a new day dawning. Joe took another small spoonful and she opened up her mouth wide. We were so happy that she was doing so much better (this was day 5 for her antibiotic) that I had Joe get some of the pears in juice from the buffet and she tried those - which she just flipped over. She was smiling her snaggle tooth smile and clapping her hands. Baby sister is eating - which will be real popular with our families of cooks and bakers!

At breakfast some of the other Fuling families decided it would be adventurous to take cabs to a park in the city that that has a grand view of all of Chongqing. We all met in the lobby at 10am. This was our first excursion out without David (he was busy getting the babies passports at the Civil Affairs Office so we had a "free day"). The hotel porter arranged for the taxis to bring us there and wrote on little business cards the name of the park that we wanted to go to, and on the other side of the card wrote the name of the hotel we are staying in. Since no one has any idea what we are saying, and we have no idea what they are saying, we have to resort to written communications on index cards. We took about 5 taxis and the ride took about a half hour. After going through the narrow streets of Chongqing, the taxi dropped us off at the base of a hill and then he got out and pointed upward. We pointed up the mountain and said "there?" to which the taxi drivers nodded. So up we plodded up a hill steeper than the Great Wall in 100 degree heat with a humidity index of about 90%. We were the first Americans to be seen in this part of Chongqing in a long time and people were fascinated by us. There is another woman who has short red hair and she gets her hair touched a lot also. When we reached the top of the park's mountain the view was unbelievable, but so was the drop-off. My legs couldn't handle the feeling and I was scared to death to have Sara any where near the edge. The guys with their camcorders and digital cameras were going wild though. There was a little house with chickens and roosters all around it and there was a green Lotus flower pond with black fish right below the surface. We saw men doing ceramic type tiling on a house at the top of the park's mountain. We were all feeling weak when we reached the top so we rested a bit and then started the much easier climb down the mountain. When we reached the bottom it dawned on us that it was not going to be easy to get a taxi in this part of town. Of course all of us standing there, panting and sweating, with our Chinese babies and our red and blond hair and blue and green eyes, started to draw the now familiar crowd. When a taxi would go by, we would put out our hands and they would just go right on by (just like in New York except these taxis were empty!) One taxi actually stopped and then looked at us and rolled the window back up and drove off. Maybe we were more than he felt he could handle! I noticed that the stick-stick men were started to multiply slowly behind us every time I turned around. At first there were 4 intense looking men, then 8, then 12 or more, all looking at us intensely, not saying a word. The stick-stick men fascinate me. If I had the time, I would love to do a photo collection of stick-stick men, it is unbelievable what they can haul on that one stick across their back. They are very intense.

There were very friendly vibes coming from everyone, they just had not seen Americans in this section of town so we were of amusement to them. They started to come out of the small shops that line the streets and stand on the curbs and point and say things to us and wave. We saw a woman in a wedding dress get into a taxi and drive off. She was very beautiful, but she was wary of us and only smiled and nodded a little. (Probably wedding day jitters, right?) So after a while we decided that we should just start walking down the street and see if we could come to a section of town that was a little less rural and maybe there were more taxis. So we started single file, with our baby strollers, and Snugli's in hand to go down the hill. The market places were making me sick to my stomach, the smells and the hanging meats were more than I could handle. Coupled with the heat and my nerves about getting the baby and Sara back to the hotel out of this heat, I started to get really light-headed and panicy. Then from what seemed like out of no where, a taxi pulled up. The other couples were so nice they let us get in first, which we did feeling very guilty at being the first ones "saved". Joe showed the taxi driver the business card with the hotel name written in Chinese and I saw a beautiful sight - he made the sign OK with his fingers. Whoo Hoo!!! We tried to communicate with the taxi driver that he needed to see if other taxis could go back for the others and he just nodded. He had no idea what we were saying. Then we drove off, waving guiltily to our friends standing in the heat, sweat pouring down their faces, surrounded by gawking locals, and rounded the next corner and the taxi driver stopped. He motioned a taxi that was driving up the hill in the opposite direction that there were people at the top of the hill. We tried to say "Thank You" in Chinese "xie xie" but I think our intonation was wrong, hopefully not insulting - which is very easy to do here. Your best bet is to just keep your mouth shut and nod and smile. (But if I can brag just a little, I do have the Mandarin intonation down for Hello, How are You? - "Knee How Ma") When we arrived back at the hotel we sat in the lobby waiting anxiously for the next ten minutes when two taxis pulled up and out poured the rest of our group. What an experience! We saw Chongqing and the Holiday Inn Yangtze is not real Chongqing!

I realized today that I was really going to miss Chongqing when we leave tomorrow, I have become very attached to the sights and people here, who are so friendly. The shops along the street are all similar to garage stalls, only not as deep. There is a section down the road which was used as bunkers during World War II. The laundry people, who are always so happy to see us, particularly Sara and Emma. The supermarket kids, who follow us around and peer around corners and giggle when we see them and smile. The elderly women strolling arm and arm up the sidewalk, who just can't help but stop and slap Emma's cheeks gently. There are no rude people here (not that we have encountered anyway), every one is friendly and helpful, even though it gets hotter than I have ever felt in my life here. It really is a furnace city. Today in the taxi ride to the park, Joe & I already started to plan to come back here with Emma and Sara. We decided when Emma is 10 we will ask her if she wants to come back. Our guide David was here 10 years ago, and this is his first time back, and he said the city has changed so much he barely recognizes it. I can't imagine what this city will be like 10 years from now. Could it grow any more than 34 million people in one city?

Tomorrow, off to Guangzhao.

August 23 & 24 - Greetings from Guangzhao.

Emma's first plane ride was short and sweet - one hour and thirty minutes from Chongqing to Guangzhao. She dozed off and one at first, then wanted to be part of it all, which she was. Just wait until next Saturday when she has to do the 13-hour plane ride from Hong Kong to Chicago - we are not going to be as popular with her as we are now.

Have I mentioned that it was hot here? Well Guangzhao is hot, really hot. Too hot to describe, but kind of like Chongqing in a closed car with the windows all rolled up, wearing your winter jacket. Hot - constant humidity, sweating, just breathing hot. I have spent two weeks in progressively hotter steam baths. OK - now that I have mentioned that it is tropically hot here, I will end this description by saying that it is HOT HERE! However, the White Swan borders a river which puts off a nice breeze, which makes it almost bearable but not really. It's nice to walk by the river in the morning and see the Chinese doing tai chi. We saw a Chinese man swimming in the river this morning - he must have the immune system of an iron tank. Don't come to Guangzhao in August unless you are prepared to sweat.

And, by the way, we were just starting to get familiar with Mandarin (not really) and now we have been thrown into the land of the Cantonese. David said that Cantonese people are very proud of their cuisine and culture, which is why fast food restaurants do not do well on Shamian island (where the White Swan Hotel is located). In fact, the Hard Rock Cafe in Guangzhou has shut down due to poor business.

As I am sure everyone who has ever stayed here has attested many times before, The White Swan is unbelievably nice. Much nicer than the hotels that we stayed in Beijing and Chongqing. As my friend said to me before we left - "I could easily live there!" We are no longer a source of stares and amusement - we are a majority! Guangzhou, in particular The White Swan, is a mecca for adoptive families. Our room doesn't have a crib because the hotel ran out of cribs as of noon yesterday! Yes, the suspension has been lifted and we are here in droves. There are all different kinds of stories from orphanage cities, some similar to ours, some not so similar. Some families have been here in this 5-star hotel for the last two weeks - I feel sorry for them, they missed out on the real China. I miss Chongqing already - there is not a stick-stick man to be found on this westernized island.

When I was in the infant play room with Emma this morning (Sara and her dad were taking on the pool outside with full force and playful power) I got talking to some of the other April/May 2002 mothers and found out that a lot of the children who have been referred have been very sick. Two families actually had to decline their referral once they were over here. I can't imagine the grief that must have caused those two families, (what child should have to face abandonment twice in lives?) I also ran into another mom in our Chongqing group in the lobby and she told me that four of the babies had to go to the local hospital in China for treatment. Suddenly we are so thankful for Emma's miraculous recovery. Five days after gotcha she is now sitting up without falling over. As soon as we get home I am sure she will be able to pull herself up and stand with assistance. But she is just not strong enough yet.

She is a bright eyed wonderful child, full of life and energy. She loves visual stimulation and to be part of things. But there is one thing she loves more than anything else since the first time she laid eyes on her, and that is her big sister Sara. Her face just lights up when she looks at Sara. Sara can make her stop crying with a sideways glance. They are truly sisters as if they had been together since the day Emma was born (which they have been, only we didn't know exactly where Emma was located!) We are very lucky, we have been blessed.

Speaking of life's blessings, we are going to a Buddist temple tomorrow to have the babies blessed. It should be interesting since there has been reports all day that there is a typhoon coming tonight. David said "Typhoon is coming, but we still go to Buddist Temple tomorrow for the blessing of the babies, just bring umbrella please." David! Gotta love him. Typhoon or no typhoon, after the Buddist blessing we are going on a porcelain factory tour.

August 25 - Guangzhou

Well the typhoon is heading off to the west of us so we are only experiencing downpours and winds. The Buddist temple was awe-inspiring. As we were all standing in the pouring rain under our umbrellas, we each received three sticks of incense to burn to ask the three Buddhas (past, present and future) for three wishes. David said that many Chinese people believe that in this one temple where these three Buddha preside, wishes will be granted. The first temple we entered was 1400 years old. I won't tell you what my three wishes were, but I think most parents probably wish the same things that I did.

Then we went to another Buddist temple in the same area where there was an icon of a female Buddha of wishes. David told us that the Chinese believe that this woman will bring children to childless couples and will save you if you are drowning (I thought it was appropriate that this female Buddha protects you from both, as anyone who has gone through the agony of infertility treatment can attest to sometimes you do feel like you are drowning.) His exact words were "if you are falling under the water, the Buddha will come up underneath you and scoop you to the surface." It was in this temple of the female Buddha that two monks did the blessing ceremony. We all took off our shoes as we entered the temple and kneeled on a red rug in front of the female Buddha. The ceremony was in Cantonese and was chanting for about 2 minutes with incense burning. We then all bowed three times to the Buddha to thank her for blessing our children. It was very nice.

No matter what your religion, when you enter a temple you are filled with respect and awe. David was telling us that monks shave their hair as a sign that they have completely devoted themselves to Buddhism and have extradited themselves from their family. Hair is a symbol of family in China. Someone asked David what happens if a monk falls in love - and he said that a monk can retire and start a family, but it is a very difficult decision for them to make.

Buddhist monks are strict vegetarians.

The first day and the fifteenth day of the month are very popular days for Buddhist temples.

We got a picture of Emma with one of the monks that did the blessing of the children today.

The porcelain store was actually very nice. There was a Chinese artist painting original scenes on the porcelain. The sales lady that was with us kept showing us what the porcelain looked like under light and would tap on the side to show us the sound that the porcelain makes. I could have spent hours in this store but we only had 40 minutes. I wanted half of the stuff there, each piece was more beautiful than the next. I was joking with David about how brave he was to bring all of us and the babies into this store, and he agreed, but once we were there we knew why he brought us there. We got all our purchases wrapped up nice and tight for the plane ride home.

Tonight we went to a Thai restaurant called Cow Bridge for a group dinner. Our group is only about half present - there are a lot of people who are sick. It has been a hard trip for a lot of us health wise, I have been sick about half the time we are here, Sara is now sick and Emma is getting better. Joe has been like teflon, even though he has eaten pretty much anything he wanted and taken just as many of Emma's sneezes and coughs right in the face as we have. The pollution in Chongqing did a number on us, about a third of our group is on antibiotics right now, and two women lost their voices completely. My throat is still very sore from the pollution, but I did not want to go to the clinic for antibiotics. My feeling is that after a week or so at home, we will all be back to normal. You can't travel halfway across the globe and not meet some bacteria that just doesn't like you. There is one mom who is really sick, she is on IV treatment for 2 hours every day and on all kinds of medicines - they diagnosed her with a stomach & intestine infection from something she ate. There are some nasty germs here in China.

Tomorrow morning is American Consulate paperwork and tomorrow afternoon little miss Emma Cate Huixiao is going to have her medical exam. I bet the screams will be heard in upstate New York.

Tuesday, August 26

This morning I went to David's room along with one parent from each of the other Fuling families to prepare our American Consulate paperwork. He told us to show up at 9 and that we would work until 10:30, when the next orphanage group families would start their paperwork - silently none of us thought it would really take that long to do the forms. Well, we worked clear through to 10:30 and then some. Our government requires a lot of paperwork! We have it all organized now and at 3:00 today we are having Emma's visa photo done and her medical exam.

The visa photo was quick and painless. We went across the street to the Kodak shop and filed in one-by-one. Sara showed how protective she is already of Emma. When Emma was on the chair ready to have her picture taken, the woman in the store sprayed some water in her hair to push it back from her face and Sara whispered to me "Emma hates to have anyone touch her face." Which is true. When we first received Emma, she absolutely hated having anything pulled over her face, so dressing her was very hard. She is getting better as she gets to know us. I think at some point something was covering her face and it scared her.

Based upon our experience with Sara at the American Medical Clinic in Moscow, I predicted that Emma would scream bloody murder during the entire exam. Especially when all the other babies in the group started flipping out as we were going through the three stations: Basic medical, Ear, Nose & Throat, and Weight/Height. Well our little baby Buddha-belly laughed and giggled through each station. She thought it was hysterical when they put the thermometer under her arm, and even funnier when they laid her on the scale. Even the doctors were surprised, they kept tickling her and rubbing the top of her head. She wasn't the biggest baby in the group, but she was in the top three. She weighted in at 9.7 kilograms (21.4 lbs) and 30 inches! Where do you think the other two big babies were from? You guessed it, Fuling. The combination of mountains, converging river systems and hot temperatures sure do produce some big, beautiful babies.

The doctors at the medical clinic loved Sara. Sara's hair has been a big hit on this trip - everyone is curious of her heritage. The senior medical director of the clinic came over and picked up Sara and put her on his lap and gave her a big hug and kept touching her hair. The medical director pointed to Emma and said to Sara - she is your "mei mei" (baby sister).

While we were at the medical clinic a drenching rain began - remnants of the typhoon. Since we had all walked to the medical clinic we didn't know what to do so we were all in the front lobby. Now, this is not the type of place you want to be with babies, or even by yourself. There were a lot of really sick looking people hanging around on benches around the perimeter of the room, which looked like a run down clinic. Obviously , HIPAA has not reached the east, there was no patient privacy, with clear glass cubicles where exams were being given. I kept saying to Sara - don't touch that, put that down and pulling out the antibacterial cleansing clothes and swabbing her down. Finally David called the White Swan and they sent two mini-buses to come pick us up. After about 10 minutes we all got on the buses to go back to the hotel. From the parents that had gone through medical exams here before, this is a new room in the medical clinic.

Once we arrived at the hotel it started thundering and lightening and the pouring rain continued throughout the night. I think we were all asleep by 8:00 - how much Chinese television can you watch? (All the music videos are sappy love ballads).

Wednesday August 27

The storm from last night made the air extremely humid and everything smelled musty outdoors. We decided to skip the tour to White Cloud Mountain (well, Sara did and we gave in to her - the thought of hiking with a Snugli and a stroller in humid conditions just didn't appeal to us this morning) and went to a little shop across the street to have a granite etching done of Sara and Emma. It came out beautiful.

On each floor of the White Swan there are hotel maids that stand at little stations. Their job is to press the elevator button for you and to tell you which way to go when you get off the elevator. They also greet you when the door opens: "Hello, 8th Floor". I can't imagine having that job, yet they are always so cheerful. Another thing is that they know which button to press and where your room is each time you get off the elevator. They see you leaving your room and they press the down button, then when the bell rings they rush over to the elevator first to hold the door to make sure it doesn't start to close on you before you get in. I have never seen them be wrong. As a directionally-impaired individual, I like having someone tell me which way to go when I get off the elevator.

Thursday August 28

We had our American Consulate swearing in this afternoon at 3:30. It was quite the experience. We all met in the lobby of the White Swan at 3:30 and walked the couple blocks up the street to the Consulate. We couldn't take cameras or strollers with us, the security is pretty tight. The few blocks around the consulate are blocked to traffic. Like cattle, we were herded into a back room where we waited in lines to walk by a glass window and hold up copies of our passport pages next to our faces so the American Consulate workers could see that yes, it was really us. Then a woman with a microphone in the back of the room (I couldn't even see her) told us to all raise our right hands. Then she muttered something into the microphone (which had shut off) and we all said "YES" and started clapping. And that was that. Emma Cate Huixiao now has an American visa and once she enters American soil in Chicago, Illinois she is an American citizen. I later found out as we all hit the pool (the White Swan has two incredible outdoor pools, our favorite has a kiddie section and a waterfall that just pounds all the stress and anxiety right out of your system) that they woman said "Do you attest that everything that you have written is the absolute truth." Or something to that effect.

Friday August 29

We all met in the lobby at 10:30 this morning for a red couch photo of the babies (the White Swan is famous among adoptive families for red couch photos) and a large group photo of all of us with David. The photographer was from the Kodak store across the street, the same store that took Emma's visa photo for the consulate appointment.

We have bought so many things that we had to go buy another large rolling suitcase. There are so many beautiful pieces of art here that it is hard to choose which ones to buy and how to get them home. At 3:30 Joe went down to David's room to give him our gratuity for his services and the Yankees cap we brought as a gift from home. David gave us a gift of a CD-Rom of Chinese lullabies. Joe also picked up the photos that were taken this morning and they are a riot. Emma is such a cutie! He also received the "sealed medical packet" - which you have to keep sealed and hand over to the INS officials at your official port of entry (which in our case is Chicago.) Emma's passport photo is so cute - that blows my theory that they use "ugly film" for all passport photos.

We took another long swim in the waterfall pool outside. Emma smiled at me from across the pool. The transformation that has occurred over the last 12 days is amazing.

The maids here are just so darn cheerful all the time. There is "turn down service" in the evenings, where they come in and take off the bed cover, turn down your sheets, put down a towel mat that says "Good Night", put slippers next to your bed and leave you a little apple filled with two chocolates. As part of turn down service, they bring you a newspaper, empty your garbage pails (which you know are all filled to the rim with smelly diapers) and bring you fresh towels for the morning. If you try to tip them for the service they turn you down. Well, tonight the maid came in and we have been in a purging and cleaning mode all day getting things packed. We had two garbage pails filled to the rim with junk. She came in and cheerfully emptied the garbage and then turned around and said "so sorry to bother you, good night". She emptied our garbage for us and then apologized for bothering us! Great Wall told us that in China there are no employees, there are workers. I wasn't exactly sure what they meant by that when I first read it, but now I know. I have never seen people work as hard as I have as the people I have seen in both rural and urban China.

Well our bags need to be out in the hallway at 5:45am for the porter to bring them to the airport. We are leaving the White Swan at 6:30am for our flight to Hong Kong. I can't believe that this trip is drawing to a close, it went so fast. I am living proof that anyone can make this trip - which feels more like a vacation than an adoption journey. What a beautiful and fascinating country China is - you leave wanting to come back.

As I type this, Emma is sleeping like an angel right next to her big sister Sara. God is good.

Good night.