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 guys...it 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.