Sunday, September 23, 2007

Settling In

Wow! Its hard to believe we're approaching two weeks since returning from China. However, we have officially recovered from the trip and are getting settled in.

Classes start tomorrow and Sarah is pretty excited about it. While we are still a ways from having regular conversations, the communication level is improving at a pretty good rate. She has had a couple of sessions with her tutor and Deb has been working with her using flashcards and a little writing each day. Plus, she is picking up a few things from watching TV and regular conversation. She's a sharp kid (no, we're not biased at all...grin), so while I'm sure there will be a few bumps in the road yet with learning English, I don't think it will be too long until those regular conversations are going.

While in China we picked up the first three Harry Potter movies. This week we watched all three (the first two in Chinese with English subtitles and the last one in English with Chinese subtitles). We were watching them downstairs with Mom and Sarah sharing the futon/couch and Dad on a chair next to the futon. During one of the movies, Sarah was cuddled up with Mom about halfway through the movie...I guess there is some magic in Hogwarts after all.

One of Dad's toys is an XBox 360 that had run into the red rings of death (for non-videogamers, this is a notorious problem with the 360's where it stops working) before we left for China. We had sent it in for repairs and got it back a couple of days ago. So, on Friday we went shopping and picked up Dance, Dance Revolution. Sarah quickly got the hang of it and started moving through the levels. Although, I'm not sure whether she had more fun playing it or laughing at Dad's lack of rhythm.

Also, on Saturday we had some visitors. Kevin's Mom and Dad came down for a visit. They surprised Sarah by taking her out to pick up a bike, so today we all went for a little bike ride.

Now for some "bad" news. We started this blog to keep family and friends up to date on our journey to Sarah (although we didn't know her name was going to be Sarah at the time). Along the way we have found many new friends. Some of you have left one or more heartfelt comments along the way and I'm sure many more have followed along, sending their good thoughts and prayers along the way. We truly appreciate all the goodwill that we have received. However, at this point we feel we are telling her story as well and that is more her story to tell instead of ours. We will leave the blog up for a little while longer, but it will probably be coming down before too much longer and this will likely be the last post. Please feel free to keep in touch through email. If you have questions, we will be happy to answer them. If you are just curious about how things are going send us an email. I won't promise an immediate or a super detailed response, but we will be happy to let you know how things are going.

We also hope that along the way, a few families that might find their hearts wondering about the possibility of older children have gained a little information from our experience and have seen that, while there are a few unique challenges, the rewards can be wonderful. The ability to bond as a family does not disappear at age one, two or three. Sarah will have fewer years in our home before going out on her own, but she will be our daughter forever. If your heart is with a baby, pursue that dream. However, if you have considered an older child, don't be afraid to pursue THAT dream.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Back Home

Warning -- this post is a bit whiny at times as it deals primarily with a travel day. Being in China was fun. Meeting Sarah and being able to welcome her into our family forever was beyond a blessing. GETTING TO AND FROM CHINA...not so much.

Our last morning in China started with a very early wakeup call (although there were a couple of families that left an hour or so earlier than us, so I guess it could've been worse) followed by one last run through the White Swan breakfast buffet. A few comments on the White Swan for those that are going to be there in the near future. First, it was easily the nicest of the three hotels we stayed at on our trip. In Beijing, the hotel was quite warm and in Nanjing the room was so small we had to have the sitting chair and coffee table removed in order to squeeze the cot in. The Swan room seemed almost spacious after Nanjing, the cot was MUCH more comfortable, and the air conditioning kept the room more than cold enough. In addition, the setting along the river with all the neon lights makes a trip to the balcony at night very worthwhile.

With the above said, there were two frustrating parts of the White Swan stay (one of which I'll blame on our agency). First, at check-in they wanted to charge us for the cot. We explained that we had already pre-paid through our agency. They couldn't find a record of it, so we agreed to pay if it couldn't be sorted out (our guide had not yet arrived in the hotel). The next morning, we talked to the guide and she said that the paperwork would be sent and everything would be taken care of. Crisis averted...or so we thought. At checkout time, we get hit with a charge of over 1000 yuan for the cot and a few other items (Internet is 300 yuan for the week or 100 a day). This time we spent another 10 minutes trying to explain the situation to three different people and them looking through paperwork before they finally agreed to let us check out without paying for the cot.

The second negative was when it came time to convert our Yuan back to dollars. Apparently, the hotel offers a one-way conversion only. You can convert dollars to Yuan, but not the other way around. While we didn't have a ton of yuan left over (maybe $50-$60 worth), it was still a little frustrating. Fortunately we did have time while in the Hong Kong airport to stop at a currency exchange booth. However, that required conversion from Yuan to HK dollars to US dollars. Lesson for future travelers -- try not to be carrying too much extra yuan on the last couple days as it can be a bit of a hassle to convert back.

One funny moment on the trip back came as the guy in front of Sarah decided to recline his seat about 15 minutes into our Hong Kong to Chicago flight. This did not make her happy and we had to stop her from letting him know about her opinion on the topic. She didn't seem convinced even as we tried to explain that that is part of air travel. Fortunately a stewardess was nearby and helped provide the "official" word. Another incident, this one's not funny, on the long flight was hearing the ever-famous phrase "Ladies and Gentlemen, is there a doctor on the plane?" come over the intercom as we were over the Pacific. We hope it wasn't too serious, but don't really know what had happened.

There was one other family that was on two of our flights back home (Guangzhou to HK and HK to Chicago), so we spent a little time with them as we moved through the HK airport (our outgoing flight was quite a ways from where we came in) and through customs in Chicago. In addition to their new daughter, the had two smaller girls who had come along to meet their new sister. As we were in the airports, Sarah spent most of her time playing with the two little sweethearts (one of the pictures on a previous post shows her playing with these same girls while we were in Guangzhou). Going through customs was relatively uneventful (wait in line here, then go wait in line here, then go through yet another security checkpoint, etc.), but once we were through Sarah was officially a US citizen (YES!).

Once we landed in Springfield, things were looking up. First, it felt SOOOO GOOD to know that the plane portion of the trip was behind us. Second, we got a wonderful greeting by our friends Mary, Gwen, and Lydia when we landed (thanks was really nice to see some friendly, cheerful faces after the long day). Third, we were ALMOST home. Once we hit the road, we got out the cell phone and called Sarah's friend in Portland. She really enjoyed the opportunity to say hi and talk to someone she knew.

As we mentioned in the "WERE BAAACK" post, we were greeted by a decorated home when we arrived. Some friends in town had put a really cool "Welcome Home Sarah" banner up in the front lawn and decorated the inside as well. The last step in the long day was to have show Sarah around the house, have some dinner and then off to bed.

(Kevin wrote the above, and now Deb is chiming in below!)

Since then, time has just been flying by! On Friday we went to Sarah's new middle school and talked with the staff regarding options for Sarah's schooling. Beginning in one week, Sarah will start at school and will be taking two classes -- PE and art. We thought it best to start with these two which are less driven by English. Having her start with two classes will help her get used to the school, the students, etc. Sarah will be in 7th grade and hopefully be starting full time in January.

We also met with her new tutor for the first time and Sarah will begin with the tutor on Tuesday. Her tutor is a visiting lecturer from Beijing who is only in town until December, but we hope the time she is able to spend with Sarah will greatly help the transition to English.

Sarah seems really excited to start school and on Saturday even asked if today was a day she would go to school. To help her understand what is in her future, we printed out a calendar and have written on each day remaining in September what will be happening ... either "home" or "school" or "tutor" etc. She does have a doctor's appointment in there as well. And, family will start arriving to greet her, so it will be a very busy time.

She is a wonderful, cheerful and generally happy girl. While the language is a struggle for all three of us, we seem to be getting by with just a few glitches and misunderstandings. Last night Kevin got Skype to work on our computer so Sarah was able to call her teacher, nanny and a friend in China for the low, low rate of .02 per minute! She had a blast and it was a cheap night of entertainment for her.

The first two days she wanted to watch the movies we had brought back from China which are in Chinese, but since then has been watching US tv programs. I don't know how much she understands of it, but she seems interested and I actually think it may help her language development -- except for some of these silly cartoons!

One area that is a challenge for her is our style of food. We haven't really hit on anything that is yummy for her yet except for all the ramen noodles she picked out. Hopefully we'll find more things that she'll like or she may be getting smaller by the minute!

Thanks again to all for your kind comments and good thoughts.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Last Day in Guangzhou

For some reason, we couldn't pull up the blog for the last day so here is a recap of our last day in Guangzhou (tomorrow we might get around to the trip home and settling in). However, if we posted it all at once, how could we keep all of our faithful readers coming back for more.

The big event for our last day was the swearing-in ceremony at the US Consulate. Since it wasn't scheduled until the afternoon (we were supposed to leave the hotel around 2:45), we had time for a little shopping trip. When we had went to the pearl market a couple days earlier, we noticed that there were lots of little shops in the area, so decided to head back there. It was only about a 5-10 minute cab ride from the hotel (grand total of 8 yuan before tip...yes, that is like $1.05 for the 3 of us. Try THAT in the US). We searched in vain for some special candy for a friend back home (sorry Emerson!). While we did find a decent sized candy store (more on that in a minute), they didn't have the right kind. After walking around for awhile, we spotted the ever-famous KFC and decided to take Sarah for her last KFC China-style. When ordering, it took us a bit to get out the no ice requirement (while most places right around the White Swan speak very good English, as you get a bit further away it is hit or miss). Luckily one of the ladies spoke enough English to understand the pathetic Americans and their lack of Mandarin.

The KFC was inside a mall, so we decided to look around for a bit afterwards. One store had a collection of toys and Hello Kitty items. Since Deb and Sarah both agree that Hello Kitty is just the cat's meow (sorry...had to do it), that was a required stop. Sarah picked out a Hello Kitty purse.

Next stop...candy store. I wanted to pick up some candy to take back to the office as well as some to try a little variety. This was a mix-n-match candy store with most stuff the same price. While picking out a good-sized mix, we noticed a few "unique" items on the wall. One was a package of very small crabs (in the shell) about the size of a 50-cent piece. There were maybe 10-15 in the bag and they had some kind of coating. Another was a duck liver paste. We decided to pass on both of these...imagine that.

After another super-expensive cab drive back to the hotel (this time we didn't make it past the minimum 7 yuan fee), we rested for a bit before getting ready to go to the day's big event. Sarah and Marty (one of the fathers in our group) had a good time picking on each other in the bus on the ride over. As our guide was going through the instructions, one of the key items was that we were supposed to make sure we "held our babies up to the window" as we checked in for our paperwork. We tried to get Sarah to jump into our arms so we could hold her up, but she wasn't going for it. After we got the paperwork, we got a few instructions about getting back into the country, took our oath, and bounced on back to the hotel.

We decided to join Marty and family for dinner (in addition to their new daughter Julia, they brought their adorable little girl Mary...Sarah and Mary became fast friends on the trip with Sarah playing big sister). Sarah decided it was time for a little squid on the dinner menu. Its hard to see in the picture above, but the squid came with the little legs and everything. She thought it was quite tasty. For the record, I tried a little bit and it wasn't too bad. A little like scallops, but with a little tougher texture. Along with the squid were a couple of jumbo sized shrimp (cooked, but with heads and all)...Sarah loves the shrimp. The picture of the White Swan above was taken on the way back...lots of neon in Guangzhou.

One last purchase on the way home was another suitcase so we could fit everything into the bags on the way home. Since we were going on an international flight, each person got 2 bags plus carry-on. While we didn't go overboard with the souvenirs, we did accumulate a fair amount of extra stuff.

That covers most of the day's it was time for our last nights sleep before returning to our beds at home. Thinking about the wake-up call coming at 5:15 the next morning was not one of bright spots.

One last note -- in the comments section of the last entry, Sheila mentioned Shen You from Nanjing. Sheila, I'm sure Sarah knows her (I'm pretty sure we saw her on our visit). I couldn't find an email address on your profile, so let us know your email address or send us one at bracker at mchsi dot com if you'd like to chat more.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

We're Baaaaack!

Just a real brief post tonight to let everyone know we are back home safe and sound. It was a VERY LONG day of traveling. We woke up this morning at 5:15 AM China Time and arrived back home around 9:00 PM CST (that did include the obligatory stop at KFC as Sarah chanted KFC #1, KFC #1,... as we pulled into the parking lot). With the 13 hour time difference that makes about a 28 hour day (I can't imagine the families with babies and small children). After we got home to a festive house decorated wonderfully by our friends, we showed Sarah around her new home, checked some email, and are heading to bed shortly. Look for a longer post tomorrow after we've had some rest.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Stress Level -- HIGH!

Okay, our guide called this afternoon to say that when she arrived at the US Consulate to turn in our group's paperwork that our home study addendum was not in the packet! So, it's been a long several hours as we waited for it to turn morning time in the US so we could contact our social worker about getting another copy faxed to the US Consulate so that we can still take the oath and receive Sarah's visa tomorrow. Thank goodness for email! We just heard from our social worker and she will be faxing the addendum within the next 30 minutes, so we will be able to finish all our paperwork tomorrow and head HOME on Wednesday! Yeah!

Today we took a taxi today to Beijing Road to find a certain book store that sells text books. Sarah's tutor asked for us to pick up a series called "New Concepts in English" so we bought the four books in the series as well as the study guides. Poor Sarah -- more school!

We had authentic Thai food for dinner and several of the items on the menu made me laugh so I'm including a photo of my favorite item (and trust me, there were MANY more just as tasty sounding!): Braised Goose's Hand in Thai Style -- only 38 RMB per person (about $5.70 US) -- and, yes, it is just what you think it is! Also, a photo of Sarah playing a kind of hackey sack in the park with another dad from our travel group and some local people. And, a photo of a man who paints beautiful pictures all by dipping the side of his hand or his fingers in paint -- no brushes.

Off to bed. It's 10:30 pm here on Monday night and 9:30 am central time in the states. If it's like other nights, Sarah will be up watching tv for another hour or so and Kev and I will be OUT!

Hugs to all and thanks for your great comments, notes, emails and thoughts!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

How Sarah Got Her Groove Back!

Two posts in one day -- oh, boy! Just wanted to put up a few photos from the day and a bit more news. Before I forget, for anyone reading who will be in Guangzhou soon, we highly recommend Sherri's if you need laundry done. We've had laundry done four times now and the clothes washed at Sherri's smell really good and were done very inexpensively. The clothes we had washed in province came back smelling rather bad and were very "crisp". The clothes we had done at Sherri's today are soft and smell fresh! Sherri's will be moving in the next two weeks to about a block away, but you can always ask for the new location at the hotel.

Sarah has been a bit under the weather as well the emotional side of everything going on taking a toll. Until today, that is ! Right now, Kevin is standing on one bed and Sarah is standing on the other bed and they are pretending to karate each other! Beginning this morning she has broken out of any shell she was in and is smiling, happy and very playful. She LOVES being around the little girls in our travel group and while we were in a store today she was talking with a sales clerk who told us Sarah said that at the orphanage the older children were not allowed to be with the smaller children so she never got to play with them even though she wanted to. Today at the pearl market she picked out three little beaded kittens and gave one to each of the three older American girls that are in our travel group -- the girls are about 2, 4 and 6. The 4 year old girl today told Sarah that she loves her! And she loves being with the Chinese girls in our travel group as well and has been enjoying holding them and helping the older girls by holding their hands as they walk.

She is very open and social with not only the children but the adults as well. One of other dads in the travel group and Sarah had a whistling contest and she love talking with one of the other moms who was born and raised in China and speaks both Mandarin and English.

After dinner Sarah said "Ma" and showed me her wrist and she had what looked like a large blister about the size of a quarter. Right away I thought it was a reaction to all the shots she had yesterday, but she made a "buzzing" sound and then mimed that a bug had bite her. We went to 7-11 first but couldn't find anything to bring the swelling down so we headed down the street to a slightly larger grocery store (we have yet to see any grocery store that I would call even medium sized except for the Walmart in Nanjing). I couldn't see anything that looked like medicine for bug bites to me but right away she picked up a green bottle about the size of a Tabasco bottle that was all written in Chinese and said it was for bug bites. As soon as we left the store she had the bottle open and put some on the bug bite and the swelling is already going down. I love how independent she is but at times I think I should be doing more for her as her Mom, but for so long now she has taken care of herself and is just used to life that way.

At the pearl market today she was asked as least on one occasion about who were were and she didn't seem to mind telling them. Then at the little grocery store tonight she was looking at a necklace and said she wanted to buy it using the "fun" money we had given her and I could tell the sales girl was asking her about us. I know very little Mandarin but heard Sarah say "daughter" in Mandarin and then "Mama" and "Baba" and she doesn't seem to mind at all that people are asking. I had gone out by myself today to take laundry to be cleaned and stopped at a small store right outside the hotel. As I entered, a sales girl came right up to me and said "you are the Mama to the big girl, right?" I was kind of taken back and said something like "we have adopted an older girl" and the young woman went on to say that she has seen us walking outside and she and the other shop owners had been talking and first they thought Sarah was our guide but then they realized she must be our daughter so apparently we have been the talk of the shops around the hotel. The young woman was so nice and said how wonderful it was that we were a family and how everyone was so happy for us.

We have been able to learn a bit more about Sarah through her talking with our guide, the other adoptive mother who speaks Mandarin and through the shop owners. She likes to run and was excited to learn to swim at the hotel with us and would like to learn more about swimming. Also, she would like to learn to ride a bike. She wants to take classes to learn to paint and draw. She told one person that she received very good grades in school and likes school. She wanted our guide to ask us if we had any pets and when we told her "no" she didn't seem to mind but we asked if she liked pets and she said she likes cats. She doesn't seem to like chocolate at all and makes a bad face when I taunt her with the chocolate they leave with the turn down service (although tonight she hid the chocolate on me and said "no ma!") She hates coffee!!! We went to Starbucks tonight so I could have a latte and she kept saying "no, no coffee!" In Chinese "coffee" sounds just like "coffee" in English so it's one Mandarin word I can say! She told a sales clerk tonight that she is really excited to "go home to America" and she is counting down the days until we leave -- apparently she told the girl "just three more days until I get to go home!"

Kevin hopes to stay up late tonight in hopes that ESPN will have some American Football on! And, there is NO Mountain Dew in China (oh, the horrors!) so Kev is going through some serious withdrawal!!! We even have a hard time finding Diet Pepsi or Diet Coke here and when we do it usually has lemon added and tastes really bad.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

One Tough Cookie!

Well, our Sarah is one tough cookie! Normally the medical exam that the children must have while in Guangzhou is a quick check of weight, listening to the lungs, etc. Sarah had this as well as having her eye sight tested (she's 20/20 without glasses) PLUS because of her age the CDC in the states requires her to have a series of shots before she can enter the US (such as her first Hep B). So, even with them combining two of the vaccinations into one shot, she had to have 4 shots -- two in each arm! She didn't flinch a bit and kind of thought it was funny that the band-aids they put over each injection site looked like little t-shirts with writing on them.

After the medical check we headed back to the hotel and Sarah didn't want to go out for lunch, so I ventured down to Lucy's for some take-out. Lucy's is an American-style restaurant on the island. The White Swan Hotel where we are staying is on a small island in the middle of the Pearl River. To those from Davenport, it would remind you in size and location within the river of the Rock Island Arsenal. The city of Guangzhou is about 10 million people, but on the island you would swear you are in a tiny little town. The island is very British in style due to colonization here and the small one-lane streets are lined with very large trees which overhang the street. It is a very casual place, very pretty and very quiet where historically most of the American adoptive families have stayed for the last part of the adoption journey. Our understanding is that the US Consulate has moved from Shamian Island into the city and shortly the families will no longer stay on the island while in Guangzhou as the White Swan Hotel is renovating and moving more toward a business geared hotel. Our guide told us that for about the last 15 years local people have been able to move OFF the island but no people can move ONTO the island as they seem to have plans for it.

Today (Sunday) I took our last load of laundry down to Sherry's Place which is right outside the hotel. All along the roads near the hotel are small souvenir shops that all seem to do laundry as well as sell trinkets.

Yesterday we had taken a photo down to a shop outside the hotel as our friend Hayley had asked for us to have a slate etching made of her daughter Emerson. What they do is take a photo and by hand they use a tiny pointed instrument and reproduce the image on a piece of slate, dot by dot until the image is formed. Then yesterday afternoon we went for a short walk and in one of the stores NOT located near where we ordered the etching, Sarah pulled at my shirt sleeve and pointed to a lady sitting in the store doing the etching of Emerson! HOWEVER, the photo Hayley had sent also included one of her sons, but she wanted the etching to be just of her daughter. We were very clear when we ordered the etching. Sarah saw right away that the etching wasn't right and explained in Chinese to the lady doing the etching. She had us follow her back to the original store where Sarah explained it again! They said they had made the mistake and would have the correct etching when we returned on Tuesday. Our girl is quite a helper!
Today (Sunday) we went on a tour of the Chen Family Temple, a place which was built during the last dynasty in China solely for use by the Chen Family. The Chen line is very large and one of the oldest family lines in China. Family members from all over the area donated money and then family members could come to the temple (which is located in what was the capitol of the province) to study, pray, etc.

After the Chen Family Temple, we went to the jade market which was very expensive so we just looked around. After that, our last stop was the pearl market. The pearl market is actually a large mall with various stores that have just bags and bags (like the size of brown paper bags, but clear plastic) full of all kinds of pearls -- they have so many that the floors of the small stores are just covered in these large bags. While we did not buy any pearls, we did enjoy some of the small bead shops which had the most wonderful costume jewelry. We bought several items ranging from 4 yuan (about 60 cents US) for a necklace and matching earrings to the highest price items we bought being 10 yuan (for VERY pretty bead necklaces with blown glass). Sarah picked out a pretty pink necklace and the lady running the booth must have asked who we were as I heard to tell the lady something in Chinese that included "Mama" and "Baba". The lady seemed shocked and kind of bowed to Sarah and then pointed to me. Sarah giggled and then told me the lady said that "Mama is pretty". Then I giggled! The lady wanted to have Sarah get some pierced earrings to match the necklace, but she pointed to show that her ears weren't pierced. We told her she could get them pierced when we got home so she smiled and picked out about 5 gorgeous pairs of crystal earrings -- at a whopping price of about $1 US each.

We just hanging out right now until our group dinner at 6. Tonight is an authentic Cantonese restaurant although our guide has warned us about not ordering a very popular Cantonese soup which is made from snake, chicken and cat -- yep, we're gonna stay away from that one!

Just two more days and we head for home! While we've been in China we've been able to arrange back home (via the wonderful world wide web) for Sarah to have two tutors. One is a student at the university and another is a Chinese woman who lives in China but who is in our area until December. In China this woman teaches English to Chinese students who are heading to the US to study. She has given us the name of a Chinese text book that helps teach English so tomorrow we will try to find a bookstore or why to locate this textbook. And we are trying to arrange an appointment with our junior high school for the Friday after we get home to see about what options Sarah will have for school. She is such a social child that we think her being able to get into a few things at school will make her happy. Her face just lights us when she is around the other children in our travel group.
We had Diet Pepsi and Papa John's pizza for lunch! Then we followed it up with some Oreos. Hey, what can I say? And our girl LOVES American food -- I think she would eat KFC and pizza until she burst. We've had KFC four times so far.. And for breakfast, she love hashbrowns although two of the mornings she had hashbrowns and sushi! The last two mornings she has wanted congee as well which is a poridge made from mushy rice. And she NEVER wants anything sweet and when she saw me eating a chocolate today she waved her finger at me -- guess I'm going have to watch my sweet intake!
Photos above: typical apartments in Nanjing, temple bell and the field right outside the side door of Sarah's elementary school which is completely surrounded by high apartments.

Friday, September 7, 2007

We have arrived in Guangzhou! Our schedule had us flying out of Nanjing at 6:2o pm on Thursday night, but when we arrived at the airport our e-tickets were not only for another time but for another airline! So we waited awhile at the airport as the "new" flight didn't leave until 7:30 pm, but we made it here! The White Swan room is very nice but we have not seen anything else yet as we arrived so late last night. We had a small snafu with check-in as our agency told the hotel we had not paid for the extra bed we need, so for now we have signed the papers to pay again and will get it straightened out with our new guide today. Our new guide is Kelly but we have not met her yet.

Today Sarah has her doctor's visit so we need to tell her about that when she wakes up!

Just a few tidbits I've wanted to post but haven't had a chance yet.

Nanjing is city of 10 million people. We have seen stores such as Cartier Diamonds, Starbucks, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, etc. The people have been very friendly to us. In the park yesterday we were walking along and a group of 3 young women asked if they could have their picture taken with us. While it is a very very large city, there are very few Caucasian people so we are kind of a unique sight (regarding Caucasians, we've seen maybe 6 at the hotel breakfast buffet and they seem to be business men and then maybe 14 or so on the streets while we've been out shopping/touring). Also at the park, we were walking when a tram came along and a young Chinese man jumped up from his seat on the tram and yelled "Hello!" to us and was just waving away. There was an old Chinese man sitting on the bench near where we were walking and he just bust out laughing. So we waved to the young man and yelled back "Hello!" and then we waved to the old man as well. He nodded his head and said "Xie Xie" which is "Thank You!" and was just all smiles. The day I went out shopping by myself to find some clothes for Sarah, all the store clerks in the various stores did everything they could to help me. In two stores, the clerks even went to get another clerk who could speak a little more English so they could help me better. And when we go to KFC (which is Sarah's favorite) while we are waiting in line one of the girls behind the counter will get a picture sheets for us so it is ready when we get to the counter to order. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the people here could not have been more friendly, hospitable and understanding of us not knowing their language -- we really appreciate it!

A few little things:

First, in case you ever are on Jeopardy, in China taxi cabs are green (and very cheap!)

With meals, you generally drink fresh fruit juice or hot water (with no flavoring) served in a tea cup.

At our authentic meal last night, we were not served any tea or rice. After thinking about the meal, we realized we had been served pretty much every meat group (pork, beef, chicken, fish and shrimp) and well as several kinds of vegetables (large green colored beans similar to fava beans, steamed bok choy, etc). We were offered wine and Kevin and I both said "no" however we were then told that to toast it is tradition to drink wine so we graciously took some. Sarah was offered wine as well, but refused. She was given the hot cup of water instead.

While we have only witnessed one car accident (and it involved us!) but the traffic here is pretty much indescribable! There are lanes, stop lights, speed signs and signs that say "do not honk" but I think every single one of these if useless here! Cars, bikes and mopeds just go in every direction and even up on the sidewalk if it's more open than the street is! And if you miss your turn, no need to go to the next corner and turn around ... just jam the brakes on and turn around right in the middle of the street! If you are on your way to China soon, please follow the advice we received which has turned out to be a life-saver -- do not cross the street on foot unless there is a Chinese person on your left and right sides as they know how the system works and if you follow their lead you'll be okay!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Saying Good-bye to Nanjing

We've just returned from wonderful authentic Chinese dinner. When we visited Sarah's orphanage on Tuesday the director asked us if we would join her for dinner on Thursday. When we arrived at the restaurant tonight we were greeted not only by the orphanage director but by five other staff members as well including Sarah's favorite nanny. The restaurant was simply gorgeous and had private rooms for each party. In the middle of the table was a large round serving "Susan" full of various kinds of meats, sauces and vegetables. We were each given a glass of wine and our choice of fresh squeezed juice (watermelon or orange). Then, the dishes started arriving and didn't stop until at least 10 different courses were served. We started with soup and went on to all kinds of meats and vegetables and ended with fresh watermelon, cantaloupe and grape tomatoes. During the dinner, there were about 8 different times that toasts were given and most of the time Sarah was the special person being toasted.

After dinner we commented to our guide about how much food there had been and he explained that in China when someone invites you to his/her home or to a restaurant, they wish to be able to provide more food than the guest can eat. By being able to do this, the host is being gracious and doing all that they can for the guest. We certainly had more food than any of us could eat and were very grateful for the delightful opportunity to experience such hospitality and kindness. We can tell how much Sarah is loved by all these people and how much they are going to miss her. The director even explained to her during the dinner how to prepare some authentic Chinese food for us once we all get home. At the end of dinner, the director explained that Sarah is a daughter of Nanjing and now as her parents we will always been a part of Nanjing as well and they hope we can return soon for a visit to "our home in Nanjing."

The orphanage director explained to us that Sarah had been given the choice to remain in the orphanage or they would try to find a family for her. She chose to have a family outside the orphanage. Due to her age, she had to write an application regarding why she wanted to be adopted and what she envisioned her life being. Then the orphanage worked on her papers and submitted her file to the CCAA. The director asked us why we wanted to adopt an older child and we explained that when we read her file that we could tell she had great spirit and a kind heart and we just knew that she was meant to be our daughter. The director asked Sarah what she thinks she will like to do when she comes to the US and she said she would like to learn to paint and draw so that she can be a designer.

The taxi ride to the restaurant was 10 yuan (about $1.50 US for a 15 minute ride), but on the way home the fare was 12 yuan. Kevin kidded that the extra weight in the taxi after the large meal was the difference in why we were charged more for the ride back!

Sarah really seemed to enjoy seeing everyone She is now watching tv -- funny enough, she picked "The Dukes of Hazzard" so I think she and her cousin Ai will get along real well!

Tomorrow we say good-bye to Nanjing and head to our final destination in China. We will be in Guangzhou for 4 days and then fly home next Wednesday. We have really enjoyed China -- I must say more than I thought I would when I envisioned the trip. We have the language barrier to get through, but know everything will work out. Sarah has been using her new translator quite a bit and is starting to use new English words.

Here are a few photos from our trip to the park today and from her good-bye dinner.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Simming, Shopping, and Sight Seeing!

We had a good day today although started off with a little rocky start. This morning Sarah showered and got dressed, but did not want to go to breakfast. Instead, she just wanted to watch tv. So we thought she just needed some "her" time so we went ahead up to the 20th floor where the breakfast buffet is. About half way through breakfast, Kevin says "You don't think she hopped in a taxi and is headed back for the orphanage?" While he was kidding, all the sudden I started eating faster! But, when we came back to the room she was watching tv! Whew!

We toured Fuzi Temple this morning which is along the Qinhua River. Fuzi Temple is very famous as it is where Confucius taught his students. Now, it is a tourist area with lots of souvenir shops so I'm not sure what Confucius would think about that! But it was a beautiful sight and to this day people come to the temple to leave a red ribbon for their children in hopes that the child will go on to college and follow in the ways of Confucius. Several of the red ribbons have just recently been put up with the children's name and birth date -- one was for a child just born one week ago.

And then we did a bit of shopping! It's amazing how inexpensive things are here relative to the US. There are higher end stores but most stores are VERY reasonable. We stopped by a book store and bought 3 Harry Potter DVDs for about $3.50 each -- when we get back to the hotel and Kevin starts one up in the computer Sarah says "Harry Potter" and we said "Have you seen this?" and she says "yes." Humph ... guess that's $3.50 down the drain! Ha!

Our guide stopped us by an electronics store today and we bought an English/Chinese translator which looks like a little flip-top calculator but allows Sarah to type in Chinese words and read them in English (and the machine will pronounce it for her) and then allows us to type in an English word for her to see in Chinese. It's already been very helpful!

Sarah has not wanted to pick out any clothing for herself and she's wearing the last pair of pants we have for her today. So I asked her if she wanted to go shopping and she said "No" and said that I should shop for her. She really does not like to select things so don't know if she is worried about prices or just that she hasn't had many opportunities to select her own things. We are sure it will come with time. So Kevin stayed in the room with her and helped her write an email in pinyin (Chinese words using the English language but with four kinds of accents) to her friend who already lives in the states and I headed out to try to pick up a few things. I came home with two pair of pants, a pair of jeans, two shirts, pjs and some undergarments -- all for about $60 US. She seemed to like everything except she said the pjs looked too big, but that's not a problem in my mind.

Right before I left for shopping Kevin and I headed to the little grocery store about a block away. We both needed our hotel room keys because the only way the elevator moves is if you insert the key. But, the only way the lights work in the room is if the key is inserted in the wall. So we figured she was watching tv and the curtains were open with the sun coming in that she wouldn't need the lights on. When Kevin got back, the little smarty bear had taken a small sheet of paper, folded it over and slide it down into the key slot to get the lights to work! We said something to her about how smart that was and she just rolled her eyes like "Seriously, it wasn't anything!"

In late afternoon we headed down to the pool as Sarah has been very interested in going swimming. This was more of an "experience" than we would have thought! The pool here is more like a "day spa" where you escorted to the dressing room, given a private keyed locker, sandals, etc. When us girls finally got out to the pool Kevin was already in and had this horrible looking swim cap on! We were laughing at him until he pointed behind us and we saw a man coming toward us with two more swim caps! Seems you MUST wear one in the pool. And, you MUST wear the provided sandals from the dressing area to wherever you get into the pool! We finally pulled Sarah out about 1-1/2 hours later as we were turning into prunes, but I think she would have stayed all day!

Tonight we are watching some type of Chinese show that reminds me of the Three Stooges, only set in ancient China! There is a lot of ear pulling, being hit in the head, etc. She is just laughing away which is quite wonderful to hear!

Thanks to everyone who has left messages on the blog. We have found a way to view the blog from China, but have a friend uploading the text and photos for us. But we are not able to read any of the messages, but hope to be able to when we reach Guangzhou. But we can't thank you all enough for stopping by and sharing in our joy!

Here are a few more photos! One is one Sarah with two of the teachers when we visited the children's room at the orphanage; chickens cooked in clay and laying in a pile waiting to be bought, taken home, broken out of the clay and eaten; view along Qinhaou River, red ribbons at the Fuzi Temple; and Baba and Sarah.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Our Visit to Sarah's Orphanage!

So sorry for the delay in posting on the blog, but Tuesday was a long and full day. Sarah was VERY excited to go back to the orphanage to visit and was having a hard time sitting still in the lobby while we waited for the van! She's so cute. She kept whipping her head around to look out the front window to see if the van was there and then would whip back around and pronounce "Nah."

Before that though, we had our official visit back to the Civil Affairs Office (CAO) to finalize the adoption. When we arrived there were three other children there, two little boys which were being adopted by families from Europe and then a little 5-ish year old girl who seemed to be being transferred from the orphanage to a foster family. The little girl and one of the little boys were very nervous, shaking or rocking, and it was hard to see. Everything at the CAO is done in one large open room. We were called to the first desk and asked several questions like "Why did you choose to adopt from China?" "How do you feel about this girl now that you've spent 24 hours with her?" etc. Then, the man asked Sarah pretty much the same questions (we think as it was all in Chinese!) but we heard "MaMa" and "BaBa" (mom and dad) several times so think she may have been asked more about her feelings for us. Then, she was asked to sign a form using her Chinese name (in Chinese characters) and then to ink her thumb in red ink and press her fingerprint over her signature. We did the same thing on our forms and were told "You are now a family!" They presented us with the official papers in a hardbound red folder which also includes a family photo that was taken the very first day.

Then, we moved right over to the next desk and were asked pretty much the same questions again, did the red ink and were done. Our guide had told us that once we were done with these two desks we would be done. BUT, he started talking with another person and then came over and told us we had to go upstairs! Okay, here is the point where some panic entered! We were taken to a large office that was occupied by one man behind a desk. We could tell by the office, the desk, etc that this was a very important man in the building. Our guide told us that this man is the head of the CAO and that he wanted to speak with us before the adoption would be finalized! He greeted us and then spoke directly to Sarah for a bit. She answered a few questions and from time to time would look over at us -- it was one of those helpless times where we had no idea what the man was saying or what she was saying and nothing we could do but hold her hand. Then, the director looked at us and started talking. Our guide translated for us and basically he wanted to know why we wanted to adopt an older child, for us to understand that it may be hard to bond with her due to her age but that he had spoken with her about it and that he told her she should try very hard to learn English and to be a good daughter. Something along the lines of thinking of this as her "second life" and to make the most of it. We were amazed that he knew several things about Sarah such as the fact that we had sent her emails, letters and a care package and that Kevin was a teacher with Chinese students. He also told us that the orphanage director had told him that Sarah was a very good student and that when she writes Chinese characters she shows great promise both intellectually and creatively. Finally, he asked if we would consider bringing her back to China some day to visit and that he would love for her to come back "home" to Nanjing to see how things that changed while se was on her new life. We thanked him and headed back to the hotel.

It took both Kevin and I a bit to get over the shock of talking with the director and then in the realization that we must have passed the "tests" and indeed were a family of 3!

We had a few hours before our orphanage visit so we headed out to shop a bit as most of the clothes we brought for Sarah are too big. We were pulling out everything preparing for the orphanage visit and she saw what we were doing and we told her these were things to "give to the orphanage". "Ah!" she said, "give." She kind of looked toward her stuff so we asked her if any of the things we had brought for her did she want to "give" but also tried to explain that they were her things that she could keep or give. She picked up the jeans that were too big and questioned "give?" and when we said "yes" then she got the idea. She pulled out all the underwear we had brought for her and with her hands made the sign for "HUGE" and put them in the "give" pile! Then a sleeveless top and the pink leather shoes she had picked out at Walmart the day before. We were so rattled yesterday that we didn't have her try them on at the store but she picked what she thought was her size but when we got back to the hotel they were too big. So, they went into the give pile.

She had picked up several bags of candy at Walmart to take as well. One bag we thought she had picked for herself as she seemed very interested in it (a sesame seed covered chewy candy) so Kevin had opened it up to try. She looked over, saw him eating the candy and started waving her index finger back and forth at him like "no, no Baba". Then I ate one too! So, we folded the bag over and she put it in the "give pile." That wasn't our first faux-paux!

We then went shopping to try and get her some clothes as she only seems to have the skirt she came in and the one pair of jeans we brought that weren't too giant. We pointed to stores and she would say "no." Finally we just pulled her into one and pointed to some jeans and she seemed very nervous. She did try a pair on but came out holding them and looking rather oddly at them. A young sales girl started talking to her and then brought us over to a rack of pants that were not jeans but more like cargo pants. Sarah looked at us like "are these okay" and we said "yes" so she wanted a pair of tan ones but I don't think they had her size but the girl brought a white pair over and she shook her head "yes." As we left the store, Sarah pointed to the hotel and made the sign for sleep so we headed back. When we got back here, we realized it was more a sign for "I'm done shopping and am tired of trying to understand what you are saying!" She sat on the bed, turned on tv and seemed very happy just to chill!

Then, it was time to go to the orphanage! Again, the van was 30 minutes late (driver said there was a traffic jam) and when we arrived at the orphanage there were two women waiting on the front steps to greet her! She was so excited. We first went into the main office on the first floor where we gave our clothing gifts and then we were presented with gifts as well. Sarah received a stunning glass ornament with her Chinese name and a rooster on the front (which is her Chinese zodiac symbol). We received a gorgeous framed silk embroidery that is done only in Nanjing city. From there, we went up the elevator to the floor she lived on. This floor is for only older children and each 'bedroom' has four loft style beds (like in the referral photo we received). Then there is a main "bathroom" area and what we are calling a 'rumpus room' where there is a tv (this is the room behind her in the photos she took of her face in the four different poses). There were probably 6 to 7 children in the rumpus room and we learned that these are the older children who have special needs who do not go outside the orphanage for school. The other children were away at school for the day.

The director was speaking to us and our guide was translating and we didn't even see Sarah leave the room. She came back, arranged some of the little green school chairs, asked us all to sit and then did some magic tricks for us. SHE'S GOOD!

Then, we quickly went by the baby room and they brought several of the babies up to the window for us to see. One nanny was waving the baby's hand and then made it look like the infant was blowing kisses at us -- too cute! Then we went into a class room which is for the 2 to 3 year olds. They were all sitting on the little green chairs which were lined up along a wall and having small snack. When we entered the room, most of the children left their chairs and came right over to us, but did not get close enough to touch us. One adorable little girl sat in her chair and did not move. Kevin and I both waved over to her, she looked at us, shook her head back and forth with "no" and just sat there. It was hilarious! We said to the nannies, "she had quite a mind of her own!" and one nanny who spoke a little English said "YES! YES!" and then said her new parents will be coming soon for her so we were very happy to hear that.

As we left the orphanage, the director asked if we had plans for Thursday. She then invited us to dinner with her. Our guide is going to arrange it for us, but we explained to him that we did not have any nice clothes with us and he said that is okay. I hope so!

After we left the gate of the orphanage, Sarah said something to the driver and we were told that she has a good friend who owns a hair salon near by and that she wanted to know if we could stop by and say good-bye. When we arrived, her friend was not there but someone called him and he jumped in a taxi and about 15 minutes later arrived. She was so excited to see him so we took some video and photos. He then asked if I would like him to style my hair! I thanked him but said "no" and hoped I wasn't being impolite.

After that, the driver said Sarah had also given him directions to her school so we stopped by just as school was letting out. Again, we had to pass through a security guarded gate (just like the orphanage) and made our way up a long brick path to the school. It is a 6 floor very narrow building with a few classrooms on each floor. Then outside there is a track which is where the tug-of-war photo was taken. All around the track and school are hi-rise apartments. We spoke with her teacher and learned that she had gone to this school for 5th and 6th grade. She had passed the test to go to middle school for 7th grade but then when her adoption paperwork came through she did not start 7th grade and instead waited for us.

We asked our guide about school in general and were told that in China the city children go to school through 9th grade as long as they can pass the test to get into each level. If you don't pass the test, you can't advance to the next grade. After 9th grade, the children can decide to stop school completely, go for three years of trade school or go for three years of intensive "high school" which prepares students to take the entrance exam to try to get a spot at a university.

Then, back to the hotel where Sarah asked for KFC so we headed down there. Then, started to watch a movie which from what I could tell was about a rather well-to-do couple who adopted a puppy. Rather interestingly, the puppy was a yellow lab which is a puppy Sarah had pointed to in our photo book. My brother and his wife have a yellow lab and in one photo I was holding him as a pup. So she was interested in the photo and then chose this move to watch -- and not only did she watch the whole move, but then it started to replay again and she content to watch it a second time until we all fell asleep!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Together at Last!!!!!!

We would like to formally introduce our daughter, "Sarah Qiuyan Bracker", to everyone reading the blog. After a restless night's "sleep", we enjoyed the breakfast buffet before heading down to meet our guide and driver at 9:00.

Here is were things get temporarily ugly and we are fortunate Deb is not being held on assault charges. We were supposed to meet Sarah at 9:30. Unfortunately, the driver and guide apparently didn't know where they were going. So, we got lost, lost, lost. And no, I'm not repeating myself...we got lost at least three separate times (lost as in stopping to ask for directions lost...not just a minor wrong turn). So, we finally arrived at 10:00 to find her waiting there on a coach with other families already having found each other. I wonder what she was thinking while sitting there waiting for us. Fortunately our little girl is a trooper. Her face lit up when she saw us and we ran to hug her.

We've included a few photos taken shortly after we met.One of the documents that we filled out this morning required her American name. We had planned (and told her in a letter) that she would have several options for her name. She could keep her name as is, pick an American name on her own, or have our help. She wanted an American first name but wanted a little help. We gave her the choice of Kara, Sarah, or Lauren. She chose Sarah to go with Qiuyan as her middle name.

One of the highlights was going through her photo album of some photos that she had taken over the past year or two, including a variety of friends, teachers, and people from the orphanage. Some of the pictures were taken from a field trip to Tiananmen Square where we had just visited.While the language gap is a bit of a struggle, we have managed so far. We did a little shopping at Wal-Mart after we met. Some for her, some for gifts for her friends at the orphanage, and also a few snacks. Tomorrow we go in the morning for some more document signing and then a visit to the orphanage.Well, there is probably more to tell, but my mind is overwhelmed at the moment, so I will wrap this up. Let me just say that after spending the day with Sarah, we couldn't be happier to have her as our daughter. We are very lucky indeed. She is a smiling, upbeat girl with a warm and wonderful personality. One little tidbit that we found out was that she performs magic. Of course, we already knew this because she had cast a spell on us from the moment we first found her.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Whirlwind Beijing Tour and More!

Yesterday was a busy, but interesting day. We were up early to grab breakfast and then meet everyone in the hotel lobby for our tour day. We are spending the time in Beijing with a group of seven other adoptive parents from our agency. We split up leaving Beijing to go to our separate provinces and then will meet back up in Guangzhou at the end of the week. Everyone has that combination of excitement, exhaustion, and nervousness but also is a very friendly and supportive group. We look forward to catching back up with everyone in a few days.

Leaving the hotel, our first stop was Tiananmen Square. There were tons of tourists, both international and people from China. All the tour guides had a little stick with some kind of flag or little stuffed animal that they would hold up so everyone could make sure they stayed with the group.

Two stories of note. First, we had our own little "rock star" with the group. A little blonde girl (Mary) who was about three and attracted lots of attention. Several people came up and asked to have their photo taken with her...this lasted throughout the day. Second, there were lots of street merchants wandering around selling watches, parasols, hats, postcards, etc. When we stopped for a few minutes to take a group photo, it was like someone chummed the water. They saw the collection of Americans standing together and, knowing that we would be easy prey, they swarmed. We escaped with minor damages...a hat for 10 yuan (about $1.25) and a parasol for 40 yuan (a little over $5). Both purchases would prove worthwhile as it was sunny for the next few hours and these kept us from being burnt to a crisp.

From Tiananmen Square, we went to the Forbidden City. In old China, the Forbidden City was the home of the Emperor and only select people were allowed in. The Forbidden City really is a small city with a guarded and walled perimeter around it. Huge doors divide various sections and in a few places there would be five bridges crossing to a building-- the middle one was only to be used by the Emperor, the ones on each side of middle were used by high ranking officials and the outer two bridges were for officials slightly below the high officials. All other people were not allowed to use the bridges at all and had to go around the outer perimeter and enter through the back. of course, Kevin and I chose to walk over the middle bridge! It was a long walk through the Forbidden City with lots of ornate buildings.After we finished our walk through the Forbidden City it was back to the tour bus (the AIR-CONDITIONED!!! tour bus) where we would start our drive to the Great Wall. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at a cloisanne factory/shop. I've got a feeling this was an "arranged" stop where our agency was able to get lunch provided free for bringing in the tourists. Deb and I escaped unscathed. While there was some good food for lunch, our plates were literally the size of tea saucers. It was served "table buffet" style with several dishes in the center of the table on a rotating tray and each person could help themselves. However, with such a small plate, it was a challenge to really try much without multiple servings and then having all the sauces blend together on the plate.

The bus ride from the Forbidden City to the Great Wall was over an hour (not counting the lunch stop), but was definitely worth it. We were amazed at how steep the Great Wall is as it climbs up the mountain. As the steps were build centuries ago, they present a unique challenge to climb in that the size of the step varies (sometimes significantly) from step to step (although I doubt the handrails were originally part of the construction). Some of the group went quite a ways. Deb ventured up a few stairs and Kevin a little further. However, neither went too far. Yes, we can admit it...we're sissies.Along the way back, the bus driver went a little out of his way to take us by many of the Olympic buildings including the opening ceremony area, the athletes apartments, etc. While the rest of the day was spent with looking back at ancient China, this provided a glimpse of modern China.

This morning, we were up at 4:30 to get checked out and on the bus to the airport by 5:30. Everything went smoothly (although it was a good thing Deb noticed that they changed the departure gate while we were waiting in the lobby to board the plane). The hotel room is small (especially when we squeezed in the cot). We actually had housekeeping remove a chair and table from the room so there would be room to walk around the beds.The hotel we are at is located right next to a major shopping avenue, so after getting checked in an taking a LONG nap, we too a little walk down the street and found a place for dinner. Now we are getting settled in for the night and counting down the hours until we meet Yan. It is almost hard to believe that this moment we have waited so long for is just a few short hours away.We'll try to get our guide to take lots of photos tomorrow. And we'll get more once we are back at the hotel. Actually we'll be back to the hotel after a trip to Walmart to buy some essentials! Will try to post more with photos tomorrow.