Saturday, March 24, 2012

Guest Appearance by Jon

There are two sections to this post.  The first which is labeled, "Travel, Lodging and Electronics," is really intended for those who are actually planning on going to China.  The second section labeled, "Adoption," is Jon's personal thoughts on adoption from a father's perspective.

There was never a formal, or informal, invitation to participate on Rebecca's blog.  This is her blog and she does an amazing job expressing her thoughts and emotions through her words.  While initially I was not a fan of Rebecca putting details about our family on the world wide web, I began to see, based upon the feedback she received, that for some folks her words were a source of comfort and hope, and for others it was another resource to help navigate through the adoption process.

So, in an attempt to share the male perspective on our journey I have offered the editor of this blog my words...


After twelve years of accumulating Skymiles we finally cashed out.  Completely out.  At the beginning of February we had 440,000 miles in our account...we now have 350.  Was it worth it to cash in all our points to ride in the front of the plane?  I don't know...but we enjoyed ourselves.

Our main concern was for the flights back to the US when we would be traveling with Princess Petals.  We wanted the additional space to spread out.  She is under two years old so we were able to have her in our seats as a lap child...

Couple of comments about traveling with a child...

*On international flights a lap child is NOT free.  There is a 10% of the normal seat prince for the lap child.  Buy this ticket when you arrange your own tickets.  We were told, "oh you can get that ticket at the airport when you are leaving."  Fortunately we didn't take that advice, because guess what...that means you would be paying 10% of the day of...last minute...walk up to the ticket counter price for an international flight.  You don't want to do that (especially if you fly business class).

*Rebecca read a lot of different people's ideas about whether or not to get an additional seat for Princess Petals.  Everyone has their own experience and opinion and no one can tell you the best way to travel.  Since we were up front we didn't need the seat for more space.  If we had been in the back, we probably wouldn't have needed it either.  Princess Petal's behavior on both flights was just another of many answered prayers.  But for me a huge one.  I am not a fan of crying babies.  Even less so on a plane.  Even less so if it's my baby.  All I can say is, "good luck!"

Initially we had an itinerary that we thought was ideal.  Minimal days traveling.  Straight in and out of Guangzhou.  Short and sweet.  Then those plans fell apart when Delta's partner airline didn't confirm our reward travel before the itinerary expired...  Add three additional days and a detour through Hong Kong and we had a new itinerary...and it was perfect.  I cherish that short amount of time Rebecca and I had alone.  We didn't do anything amazing, we just did it together.  We don't get much time alone and if we do the evening usually ends back at the home with the boys, which is wonderful, but not time alone.  We knew our boys were in good hands and everything back home was out of our control.  So we took that time to just enjoy one another...that's what got us into this mess 12 years ago.  

If you do travel through Hong Kong en-route to Guangzhou, consider using a van service for that part of your trip.  We flew to Guangzhou from Hong Kong but ended up using a van service to get back at the end of our trip.  The cost for the van was 360 yuan plus tip, or roughly 60 US dollars plus tip.  The travel time for us was about 2 and a half hours and the border crossings were painless.  The train is supposed to be a good option as well and costs about the same.  Just keep in mind you will be hauling all your luggage with you at the train stations which might be cumbersome.

Speaking of luggage, our guide, John Feng (we'll talk more about him later) commented that we had the least amount of luggage of anyone he had ever worked with.  What did we have?  Rebecca and I each had an Eagle Creek weekender backpack that contained most of our clothes.  We also had an additional small backpack and a "really cool" fanny pack that contained all our cameras.  Our final piece of luggage was a large roller suitcase.  The suitcase was for Princess Petals.  Formula, diapers, bottles, toys, yada, yada, yada...  On the return trip souvenirs replaced the used formula and diapers.  We checked this bag both ways and kept it right at 50 lbs.  You will notice from our pictures that we appear to be wearing the same clothes for 13 days.  Optical Illusion.  It was probably one of four outfits and we only did laundry twice which cost us about $30 each time.

In Guangzhou we stayed on Shamian Island at the Victory Hotel's renovated west side.  The first room they gave us had a large balcony, however, the balcony consumed valuable floor space.  We ended up switching to a room that was considered the same style, but it did not have a balcony so the room was very large with plenty of room for a baby bed and still room to sprawl out and play.  Staying on the island was wonderful.  At anytime you can step out the door of your hotel and take a stroll around in a park-like setting and not be in a crowd.  Not to say that the island isn't a busy place, but it's not overcrowded.  If you desire crowds, they're just a 15 minute walk away over by the Holiday Inn.  The island is also small.  Several times Rebecca would head out to shop and I stayed back with Princess Petals while she napped.  When Princess Petals would wake up, the two of us would head out to take a stroll and see if we could find Mommy.  I bet we were 5 out of 6 for catching up to Rebecca.  Why not just call Rebecca to find out her location?  We chose not to use our cell phones or get Panda phones while we were over there.  How refreshing!!!  No calls, messages, no alerts...the silence was the loveliest sound I have never heard.  I have been tethered to my cell phone working on-call for the past 6 years for 24/7 days a week, probably around 340 days per year...

The island has four or five excellent restaurants.  Local cuisine, Thai, French and an American style restaurant are all available.  The only downside to the island is there isn't a "fast food" place.  Our friend Ed decided that the noodles and fish balls at the 7-Eleven would be an acceptable option to curb his appetite.  Ed didn't strike me as the kind of guy who would walk into a 7-Eleven here in the states and grab a couple of chorizos that had been rolling around on the heater for a couple of days so why a pot of steaming noodles and fish balls in a Chinese 7-Eleven seemed like a good idea I will never comprehend.  Ed paid the price for several days and I don't think he would recommend them to anyone else...

Despite the fact we laughed at our guide and only took the phone number to be polite, Papa John's pizza in China tastes very much like it does over here...all three times.  We didn't order it because we didn't want to go out to get some local grub, but at 6 o'clock at night with a tired little girl it was just the best, safe option.

The US Consulate and Physical Examination Center have both relocated off the island and we were part of the last group of families to go through before the move.  Some shop keepers indicated that foot traffic in their stores has decreased due to the closing of the White Swan.  I'm sure some of those shops will close down.  There are plenty of them and they all sell the same things.  I hate to see them lose their shops but that is capitalism in socialism at its best.  The restaurants were full of locals so I'm sure they will not be affected by a decrease in Westerners.  Unless a strong case against staying on Shamian Island could be made to me, I would definitely prefer staying there to other locations.  But, "you don't know, what you don't know."

John Feng...pronounced John Fung.  Demand him by name as your personal guide.  As a guide he was professional and knowledgeable.  As a person he is a warm, caring and fun individual who seems to have a passion for the kids.  He volunteers with a few organizations that help the orphans with what little spare time he has.  I could go on and on about John but I will stop so as not to embarrass him.

Do you enjoy blogs?  I realize at this point probably not as much as you used to...  Nothing embodies freedom like the ability to know that Sally "just burned her toast" or Bob "is upset about the Spartan's loss but his perfect cup of morning coffee is easing the pain."  We are accustomed to quickly disseminating such vital information through Facebook or Blogger.  The government of China is aware of the chaos such information sharing can cause...72 friends all confirming that they too have burned toast...and therefore seen fit to block access to some web sites.  If you would like to access these web sites, you will need to have a VPN (Virtual Private Network) before you go over to China.  I picked two and signed up for a one month subscription at a cost of about $12 each.  The one we ended up using was Overplay.  Very simple to use.  The second one was HideMyA$$.  I'm not saying their product doesn't just didn't work for us and I wouldn't use it again.  

In order to charge our computer and cameras we borrowed a power converter from a friend.  Initially we purchased one from REI but on closer inspection of the user guide it cautioned not to use with computers.  The one we borrowed (from Brookstone) may have originally had the same statement, but we didn't have a manual with cautionary notes and therefore didn't have to worry about it.  Anyway, it worked well and kept us in the videography, photography and Skypeology business.

***  ADOPTION  ***

As Rebecca has already written on this blog, adoption was her idea.  I was content, and sometimes exhausted, with just the boys.  I had always thought I would have a large family when I was younger.  Part of that thought process did not account for getting married at 31 and not having our first child until I was 34.  Fast forward 3 years and numero two comes along when I'm 37.  Between our two boys sometimes I feel 70 years old.  When we discovered that we would not be having a third biological child I didn't have the same sense of loss as Rebecca did.  I suppose that's a guy thing.  Just conceiving our sons had been quite a process.  Sometimes I felt that space exploration would have been an easier endeavor...and I'm talking deep space, not just a few rotations around the planet.  If you're familiar with the movie 'The Right Stuff' and the astronaut selection scenes, that's about what the process begins to feel like.  Not to mention the abuse I saw Rebecca put her body through injecting multiple drugs into her system trying to get the right chemical balance to conceive...and then there were the miscarriages... 

So Rebecca comes to me with this adoption idea and I enthusiastically reply, "okay."  As time passed I occasionally ask if she had learned anything new about the adoption process..."where are we at?"  As if "we" had been doing anything.

Time goes by and the details get fuzzy but I know Rebecca kept plugging along with the paperwork.  At some point Rebecca mentioned her blog to me - but it was still private.  Only her first post so it was more like a diary.  After nagging her for awhile she finally logged on and let me read it...I'm not sure she wanted me to...but that's the power of nagging.  I got it.  I was all in.  I read words that expressed things Rebecca had never directly said to me...and it was not the part about me being a "wonderful man."  Rebecca has a way with words so I probably read better than I actually am.

We knocked out the home study and eventually started the matching process.  We received our first two files and before we opened them I reminded Rebecca that we did not have to accept either.  Rebecca has already detailed our process with those files.  We were moving forward with Princess Petals.  She was cute as a button and we were excited.  But, time goes by and some of the excitement wears off.  We talked about Princess Petals, we thought about her, we tried to celebrate her, but the fact was that we didn't yet know her and she was at this point just a picture of a little girl on our fridge. 

Yes were were making efforts to bring her to us, but at this point we did not know her.  Some people write that their heart is bursting with joy, love and excitement about their soon to be child.  I don't want to take anything away from them, but I don't get it.  Yes, I love all children.  I want the best for them.  It makes me sad when I see images of children suffering around the world.  But that's just it, they're images...and so was Princess Petals to me at this point.  There's no shame in feeling this way.  During our home study process I had already expressed thoughts along the same line.  Can I love my adopted child as much as my biological children?  Especially considering some days it seems like a struggle just to love them :)

Day 436 of Princess Petals' life.  The big test.  We meet for the first time.  How will it feel?  Will I feel something for this girl who up until now has been a picture on our fridge?  I would have to wait my turn to get my hands on her.  Rebecca called first rights.  So I waited patiently with cameras at the ready to capture the moments.  I watched my wife light up as she made eye contact with her new daughter.  

And it was a relief to watch Princess Petals make eye contact with Rebecca.  Holding each other's gaze.  Then Princess Petals would look around the room and take in everything going on around her.  Then right back to Rebecca for another long gaze.  

I discovered my eyes were must have been the pollution...  My turn.

I held my daughter for the first time.  I looked into my daughter's eyes for the first time...and I loved her.  Sound corny?  ...maybe.  Why did I love my biological sons the first time I held them or looked into their eyes?  Its only been three weeks since that day...and I love her even more.  Other adoptive parents will tell you the same.  I don't see a little Chinese girl.  I don't see a missing hand.  I see my daughter and she is beautiful...just like her brothers.

I am thankful to Rebecca for pushing us towards adoption.  I'm thankful to the Lord for working in our lives over the past few years and making mole hills out of perceived mountains surrounding the adoption.  Life is moving fast around here with a new 15 month old in the house.  We scramble to keep up with our kids and keep two in clean diapers.  Princess Petals is talking, crawling and almost walking already.  Feisty and tough is my little girl.  I hope she holds onto a good way...because I know she will need it when the world challenges her and her limb difference.  Whether that's hurtful words or a difficult activity, I hope she knows they're just mole hills.

It's too early to know if we'll adopt again.  After all, I am 41 now...but I will share a secret.  I have a wicked cool idea for a set of princess castle bunk beds...

 - Jon

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Life After China

I am not on the computer much these days.  Trying to balance three kids and maintain some sort of order in our house is proving to be more of a challenge than expected.  But, after receiving many emails and texts inquiring about how things are going I decided to sacrifice my kitchen and carve out a little time today to add to this blog as it seems the easiest way to update everyone.  I have to warn you that while much of this post is light and fluffy the end is not.  I keep thinking about Princess Petals' first 14 months and all of the children still living that life.

Our last day in Guangzhou, Tuesday, March 7, was spent with our friends Ed, Sandy and their new daughter B.  We met Sandy on the couch at civil affairs when we all had to return to sign the adoption paperwork.  They have a gorgeous baby girl and we were so honored to be there for some of her first smiles.  We had our last lunch together and then Sandy and I went out to purchase squeaky shoes for our girls (where I was discouraged from buying the proper size because it would allow her feet to grow too big).  We were sad to say good-bye to our new friends and are hoping we'll see them again even though we are several states away.

We were also sad to say good-bye to our guide, John, as we climbed into our van that would take us back to Hong Kong.  We met a few other guides while there and feel like we really lucked out with him!  He was so very open with us and our questions about Chinese culture and customs.  We were also able to answer some of his questions about America.  He and Jon had a long conversation about American history (north v. south) and our taxation system.  Our very skilled driver for the week, Mr. Joe, is also pictured here.

On Tuesday afternoon we took a van back to Hong Kong where we would be spending our last night in China.  When we arrived at our hotel we ran into a family from Illinois, Angie, Doug and their new daughter E, whom we had seen a few times at different appointments in Guangzhou.  They had not been staying on the island so all of our previous encounters had been very brief.  Our rooms in Hong Kong, however, were across the hall from one another and although we were all exhausted we decided to have dinner together.  I'm so glad we did!  They were really great and their daughter was very close in age to Princess Petals.  We wished we had met them earlier in the trip as they are another couple we would've liked to have spent more time with.

While Sandy and I were out stimulating the economy on the island earlier in the week, one of the shopkeepers kindly referred to B and Princess Petals as "sisters" because they are orphans from the same province.  I prefer to link their sisterhood through sharing the same adoption day.  I hope that we're able to keep in touch with both B and E's families so that when the girls are older and possibly struggling with their past they will always have sisters that understand.

On Wednesday morning we packed up for the last time and walked to the airport to check in for our 8:00 AM flight.  Everything was on schedule and although we were dreading all the possible problems of traveling with a toddler we were also eager to board and head home to our boys.  Our flight plan took us to Tokyo for a two hour layover (where I got hit with pink eye) and then on to the US.  

On the flight to Tokyo Princess Petals was excellent.  She slept most of the way and when she was awake she was a very happy little girl.

When we arrived in Tokyo the Delta flight crew presented Princess Petals with a "First Flight Certificate" that they had all signed and she got her picture taken in the cockpit.  

Clowning around in Tokyo during our layover...

Boarding our flight back to the USA!!!  Princess Petals is already asleep and my right eye is about to swell up in a matter of minutes...
Thankfully baby girl also slept A LOT during the flight.  I was so uncomfortable and couldn't keep my eyes open so I wouldn't have been much help entertaining her if she'd been fussy.

As I mentioned before, I got smacked with pink eye in Tokyo.  By that I mean I didn't have pink eye, and then I blinked, and I had pink eye.  It was literally that fast.  The Delta flight attendants on the way back to the states were wonderful and brought me hot compresses to keep on my swollen eye.  I went directly to the doctor when we got home.  It has since spread to my other eye but thankfully none of the kids are showing signs of catching it yet...  A few days after we got home Jon got the flu and is still recovering from that almost a week later.  Princess Petals has an ear infection that didn't seem to be bothering her but the puss oozing from her ear was just gross enough to return to the doctor two days after her first well baby exam.  Nothing a little brotherly love and a round of antibiotics can't fix!

Sleeping - This kid is a trooper.  She has slept through the night the past two nights!  We have her in a pack'n'play in our room with us but are going to finish pinking up the nursery and start transitioning her into her own room now that she isn't needing any nourishment or comfort at night.  We made sure to give her plenty of calories during the day and limited her to two, two hour naps to help her get her days and nights switched around.  Then I put a few pacifiers in her crib to help her self soothe orally instead of knocking her head around like she had been doing previously.  It seems to have worked! I hear her wake up a few times at night, fish around for the pacifier and then suck it until she falls back asleep.  Now that she's not rubbing her head to self soothe anymore the hair on her bald spot is starting to come back in!

Eating - This is the biggest challenge we've faced.  So far the only solid food she's really interested in is Cheerios, mashed banana and baby oatmeal.  She spits out anything with even the hint of flavor so I've been mixing pureed baby food in with the oatmeal.  At first glance it appears that she is going to be a picky eater but she is a work in progress and we'll keep plugging away with new foods.  For now she still loves bottles so we are keeping them in the routine as well.  We did switch to soy formula a few days ago.  She never had another solid diaper after we went with the milk-based in China.  For the amount of Asian children that are lactose intolerant I'm surprised that we had so much trouble finding soy formula over there.  It definitely would've made our lives a lot less messy!

Talking - Jon finally conceded today that Princess Petals is indeed calling me "mama."  She says it intentionally and with purpose.  She says it when she's looking at me, crawling towards me and reaching for me.  Baby girl knows I am mama.  Both of our boys said "daddy" first so this is a special treat for me!

So here's where I am, mentally and emotionally, right now as I type this.  I am thinking about this morning when I was rolling around on the floor with Princess Petals.  She loves to climb on us and like most toddlers she is a big fan of being tickled.  I lifted her over my head knowing that it would make her laugh and as I brought her back down for a kiss I caught myself thinking, "what would Princess Petals have been doing this morning if we hadn't adopted her?"  We've had her less than three weeks and as I watch her soak in all of the affection we pour over her in our home it breaks my heart to think how lonely she must have been up until Feb. 27th of this year.  And then I start to think about all of the children that are still there waiting in an orphanage.  Still laying in their cribs 20+ hours a day.  Still having a sponge bath with cold water.  Still scratching their Scabies bites and suffering from diaper rash and bed sores.  Still not knowing the love of a mother.  Still lonely.  Still waiting.

I know it's not part of God's plan that children should suffer.  We are heavily flawed as humans and we created this mess all on our own.  I believe that God's wish is for us to do what we can to help those who need us.  He whispers to us but we have to be willing to listen.  I know full well that not everyone can or will adopt an orphan, but everyone can make an effort to make an orphan's life better.  If it's in your heart to adopt, follow the calling.  It's scary, it's expensive and it's hard work; however, sometimes in life the hardest things we do prove to be the most rewarding.  If adoption isn't part of your story please find a charity that works directly with the orphans.  We donate monthly to the general medical fund for Love Without Boundaries.  They are an amazing organization and we have every confidence that our money is being used to save little lives and provide a glimmer of hope for children that are living with none.  I don't know if we'll adopt again but I can guarantee that we will donate to orphan care for the rest of our lives.

Please take a moment to check out the Love Without Boundaries web page below.  There is a lot of information about the organization and specific children needing sponsorship for surgery, nutrition or foster care.  They also have a general medical fund which is what we chose to do as it allows LWB to use the money where it's most needed.  There is also a blog and a Facebook page if you want to follow their amazing work more closely.

If you can't adopt or donate, please pray.  Please advocate for these kids and get the word out.  You just never know.  Simply clicking that you "like" LWB's Facebook page or sharing someones adoption blog may be what inspires someone else to look into adoption or donate.  We can all do something - no act of kindness is insignificant.

Princess Petals in November 2011
...and just four months later...

 Princess Petals in March 2012
Daughter, Sister, Grandchild, Niece, Cousin, Loved

Monday, March 5, 2012

Catching Up

We've been keeping pretty busy the past week so it's been awhile since I blogged...  I'm sure I will regret it as there's a lot I've probably forgotten.  I will do my best to keep everything in proper chronological order, but the days are hard to keep straight already!  This is going to be a long post...  

Princess Petals has really blossomed over the past week and while she continues to be a very happy baby, she has realized that she is allowed to have an opinion now about what she wants and needs...and she voices it!!!  We had a couple of days where she was starting to eat solid food - which was completely new for her - and she seemed to be enjoying it.  Then I guess the novelty wore off because she decided not to eat solids anymore!  She always seemed really hungry though so we started feeding her more bottles. We quickly were about to run out of the formula we had brought with us.  Our guide took us to a HUGE grocery store so we could purchase more.  It was a pretty neat place to see...instead of escalators to the different levels they had flat moving ramps that were magnetized so the shopping cart stuck to it!  How cool, right?  Yes, at first, until the one we were on stopped working...the cart was stuck to it so we had to leave it behind.  There were several unfortunate souls that had carts full of groceries and couldn't just walk away...guess it wasn't such a cool set up after all.  After we had what we needed we tooled around the store for awhile.  Here are a few things we saw:

Beautiful Dragon Fruit
 Apples - somehow they put Chinese characters on them...they said things like, "happiness" & "longevity."
 Chicken's feet...very popular here...

Jon & John sharing some "stinky fruit," also known as a durian.  Sweet taste but I had issues with the custard-like consistency.  We couldn't get the taste out of our mouths for hours.  

The fruit was one of two reasons we went to the store (we had asked John about some local produce we might want to try).  The second reason was for more formula.  We had brought soy formula from home because we'd been told there was a good chance she would be lactose intolerant but the store didn't have soy.  So we had switched her from whatever her orphanage had been giving her to Similac soy and now, because we couldn't find soy, we were switching her again to regular Similac...her poor little tummy!  I started mixing the formulas and over the next three days she was spitting up, not napping or sleeping well and getting downright fussy.  I felt confident that it was the formula and that we needed to find soy somewhere else.  

Thursday, March 1st, was Princess Petals' medical exam. 
First we had her picture taken for her visa and then a family photo was taken for her adoption decree.  We got to the medical exam very early and were in an out quickly.  The doctor looked in her ears, eyes and throat, measured and weighed her and listened to her heart.  I asked about the marks on her body (which we believe are scars from months of untreated Scabies).  He said it appeared she had had a skin infection at one point but that it had been treated...  She also has what looks like a blood blister on one of her toes and he said it looked like another infection so that'll be addressed as soon as we get home.  He pointed out that she does indeed have a Mongolian spot on her back, although the giant mark that was there originally has decreased in size considerably over the past week so we are guessing that part of the mark on her back was actually bruising from laying on a piece of plywood all day.  The bruise on her face hasn't changed so now I'm thinking it may be a birthmark and not a bruise.  Only time will tell!  Her Scabies infection has been clearing up very nicely.  There are still red marks on her face where they had been, but all of the large scabs are gone and everything has faded tremendously.  Now the larger welts look more like small old mosquito bites that are healing.  Her skin just looks so much better now than it did seven days ago and we are so thankful!  

After the medical our guide took us off of the island.  We got to see the "Pet Market" and we'll call the other street the "Herb Market" although you'll see from the pictures there was a lot more to it than herbs.  This is all an outdoor shopping area set up with storage unit type shops.  During the day they push up the doors and run their stores.  We questioned our guide how so many people could survive selling all of the same stuff as their neighbor and he said each store had dedicated buyers for their wholesale business.  It was pretty neat to see but I did feel bad for the caged animals.

Dried Seahorses...not sure what these are used for...
Lizard on a stick anyone?

At the end of the Qingping Market we hit the shopping streets.  They were still decorated for Chinese New Year so it was quite pretty.  You'll notice several American fast food chains have set up shop in the following pictures.

 Here's Princess Petals napping.  It was amazing how many people tried to look inside her Moby wrap to get a look at her...  There is no shame in blatant staring here.  

After walking around for awhile John took us to his family's favorite Cantonese restaurant.  It doesn't have an English name, but is pronounced "Tao Tao Joo" if anyone reading this is headed to Guangzhou soon.  Best Cantonese food I've ever had!  

Once again Jon volunteered to try something new...something local...pigs feet...and once again, this was just Jon & John - I passed.  The hooves kinda freaked me out.  Jon said they were better than the chickens feet so I guess that was kind of a thumbs up.

After lunch I needed to change Princess Petals and our guide said to go ahead and do it on the bench up I did.  When I stood her up he informed us that I'd just changed a diaper on a 100 year old bench...

Then we hit the jewelry market!  It was a gigantic maze and I don't know how anyone finds their way around in there let alone one specific store...six levels and again, most of them appear to be selling the same stuff store after store.
 This is from the inside of the shop we went into.  There were bags of pearls laying around all over the place.  Really the only thing that separated this store from the others was that they had locked cases and some pretty expensive stuff.   
Daddy bought each of his girls a necklace although obviously Princess Petals won't get hers for quite a while.  Here is my crew patiently waiting as the pearls are strung for us.

On Friday, March 2nd, John picked us up and took us to a park near his house.  
It was also still decorated for Chinese New Year and quite pretty.

Showing John how to do Hopscotch...he's such a good sport!

As we walked around the park we couldn't help noticing all of the different activities going on.  There were groups of people (older, retired adults) playing hacky sack and doing exercises you'd see in a Kung Fu movie.  By far the most interesting was the group of people dancing around to music with badminton rackets hitting the birdie back and forth and they twirled, swayed and dipped.  We got caught watching  this couple and they invited Jon to join in...  There were only enough rackets for two so Jon did the "badminton dance" with this gentleman's wife while he danced around by himself behind them.  I have to admit I was quite impressed with Jon's skills.  He was returning her serves through his legs, backwards over his shoulder and even managed a full spin.  It was very entertaining.  This is a form of exercise over here and Jon actually broke a sweat doing it.  It seems that outdoor physical activity is very important for the older Guangzhou citizens.  We see people doing this stuff all over the place.  When they were done the old man let Jon keep the birdie - I do believe it will be his second favorite thing coming back from China with us.

Baby girl has a sunglasses fetish.  If she sees them she HAS to have them.  

Chinese opera is very popular.  The park had a spot set up where people could pay to do opera karaoke...Jon wasn't a fan...

You see signs like this all should say "please do not step over the line."  There was also a sign that said not to lean on the railing although we could not find any railing in the area...

Cycling may be the most dangerous form of transportation here.  Driving around in China has been...interesting... Everyone drives within inches of car bumpers and pedestrians jump out into the street with no warning to squeeze between the cars.  The streets are filled with honking as the cars constantly cut one another off.  I stopped looking out the windows our first day here.  Anyway - you couldn't pay me enough to zip in and out of traffic here on a bike, as a passenger, holding my baby.

Baby girl didn't make it through the park...

...but was wide awake for the ride back to the hotel...

We enjoyed another yummy lunch with our guide and then had the afternoon to ourselves.  At this point I was convinced that we needed to find soy formula which was not easily accomplished without a guide because no one spoke English at the "Women and Baby Essentials" department store.  It was a difficult shopping experience because things are done a little different here in a than in the US.  We had only brought four outfits for Princess Petals so in addition to soy formula I needed to pick up a few things for her to wear.  I felt like every time I picked something up the shop girls would write up a ticket for it and hand it to was impossible to just browse.  Here they hand you a ticket for everything you want.  You then take the tickets up to a register to pay and then go back to each section with your paid receipt and pick up your items.  So basically you walk all over the store selecting what you want, and then you have to do it all over again!   The other problem was that they had SO many people working with nothing to do so they were following me around showing me stuff.  If I smiled and feigned polite interest they assumed I wanted it and would pull out the ticket pad.  I learned quickly that it was best to just hold up my hand and shake my head "no."  Politeness really just causes trouble here.  Second problem is that of course all the formula containers were labeled in Chinese characters.  There was some English but not enough to discern milk-based from soy.  After being handed a ticket for another milk-based formula I could take no more we just walked out.  It was the first time I've felt truly home sick since we've been in Guangzhou.  I accepted that this would not be the day we get new formula and decided to do all of my clothes shopping back on Shamian Island where we are staying.  It is so quiet and laid back and there is always at least one person in each of the shops that we can communicate with.  

Saturday, March 3rd, was our "free day."  
Our guide was with another family that had just arrived in Guangzhou.  After thinking it over that morning it dawned on me that maybe it wasn't that Princess Petals needed soy, but maybe we were just feeding her too much...  We pulled in the reigns and dropped her down to just the same four bottles a day like she had been getting at the orphanage.  She still wouldn't eat any solids so I started putting the rice cereal in her bottles as well...just like the orphanage.  Well wouldn't you know girl took three naps and then slept peacefully for 12 hours that night!  Apparently I couldn't blame the was all on me and my desire to meet her needs (or least what I thought her needs were).  Now we have our happy, easy-going girl back!

The next day, Sunday, March 4th, we went out to the Chen Family House and Six Banyan Temple.  

They were both very interesting...that's really all to say about that.  There were a lot of people there worshipping statues and burning incense.  They left things like candy, peanuts, tangerines and more sticks of incense.  The Buddhist monks were milling around as well.  Apparently you can have a monk bless the baby...  We passed - it seemed a little sacrilegious to have people who worship metal statues of hundreds of gods pray over our baby...but to each their own of course.

When we got back to the hotel Princess Petals needed a nap so I went out with our guide to buy more pearls (decided a bracelet was missing from the ensemble) and get some lunch and Jon and Daisy stayed behind at the hotel.  Afterwards they got up and walked around the island together and had some great Daddy & Princess Petals time:

 Happy girl really isn't walking or standing by herself but she can hold the position long enough for a picture.

Today, Monday, March 5, we went to the United States consulate.
We were first in line so it was a pretty quick appointment to process Princess Petals' adoption paperwork and swear an oath.  She won't become a citizen until she actually enters the United States though.

Tomorrow, March 6, is our last day in Guangzhou.
We met a nice family at the consulate that offered to share their van with us so we decided to ditch the train and take them up on their offer.  Our guides had to coordinate getting a larger van to accommodate us all, but now we're set to go tomorrow afternoon after our guide picks up Princess Petals' passport and immigration papers from the consulate.  We are headed back to Hong Kong for the night and then back to the US bright and early the next morning!  

Okay, so now we're all caught up!  I can't believe this trip is almost over!  Although we've missed our boys terribly, we've had a nice time here in China.  We will miss the food, our guide and the awesome new friends from DC we met at the Civil Affairs office last week that we've spent much of our free time with.

Okay, last picture...This is how I wake up in the mornings - with a happy little girl who loves to throw herself at me over and over for good morning kisses!  I swear she's called me "mama" a few times but it's hard to know for sure if it was intentional.  She is just so snuggly and I can't get enough of her!
Time to go to bed now so I can wake up to that beautiful face again!