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