Friday, December 27, 2019

China 2019

So when I left off....two months ago.... (I am literally the worst blogger, so sorry guys), we were just finishing up our short time in Hawaii. 
Wednesday we were up for a very long day of travel. When we left Hawaii it was Wednesday morning, and by the time we got to China it was Thursday night, so that was weird. We were traveling for somewhere around 20-22 hours with layovers, etc. So basically that entire day was traveling and a couple super long flights. We did layover in Tokyo, but never left the airport, so I guess I can technically say I've been to Japan, but not really. I can't even remember what the rest of the day was like. By the end of the trip I had been on 10 flights, so at some point they all started blurring together. 

Once we landed in China, there was going through customs and all that fun stuff, and then a driver met us and we were off. We were staying in Guangzhou for one night. When we went to China 17 years ago to adopt my sister, we stayed in Guangzhou the entire 2 weeks we were there. At the time (and maybe even still?) pretty much all (if not all) of the adoptions went through Guangzhou, so the White Swan hotel is where everyone stays for that.

The view we had 17 years ago was pretty much exactly this. Our room was right around the same area in the hotel this time as it was then. I remember spending tons of time then just looking out the window at the city and the culture. It was really cool to do that again! Guangzhou is a cool city.

 There are just not as many adoptions happening now through China, so the hotel had changed some, but it was fun to go back for one night. My step mom had never been there and of course my sister didn't remember it, so it was cool to relive some of that. I wish we had had a little more time there, but it was great! We were all thankful for a good night of sleep in a comfy bed, and a great breakfast the next morning. 

I need to see if I can find the photos of her, and all of us in front of this fountain from 2002. It would be really cool to get these side by side! 

After breakfast Friday, we rushed off with a guide to get to the train station. We were taking a bullet train to Zhanjiang, my sister's birth place! The train station was a very interesting experience. The guide rushed us up through security where she basically cut off all of these people and it was just a mad rush to get through. Everyone was waving passports and papers into the guards' faces and it was absolute, complete chaos, but everyone seemed to function totally fine with it. Once our bags got through, she left us, took all of our passports, and tried to go work out something with our tickets. We all kind of stood there like what the heck do we do now? It seemed like she was gone forever, and there were jokes about what if she just took off and we're stranded in this train station with no passports and no one we can communicate with, but she eventually came back, showed us where to go and what to do and we were on our own. It was definitely culture shock. Once we boarded the train, absolutely no one spoke English, we obviously don't speak Cantonese or Mandarin, and we had to figure out things like where to put our luggage, because no one could tell us or understand what we were asking. It was a very interesting few hours. The train was an awesome experience, and we got to see the Chinese countryside, which was beautiful. 
We eventually arrived in Zhanjiang, and we were met by another guide who was wonderful. She rushed us off to town to buy gifts for the orphanage, at none other than...Walmart! Of course it was nothing like an American Walmart, so that was a fun experience. 
After Walmart, we were off to the orphanage. 
This is where the orphanage is now, which is in the same little square that it used to be in, they just moved buildings right after Lili was adopted. The building she lived in is the building straight ahead in the photo below.

At the orphanage, we got to meet with the current director, who was a nanny when Lili was there, so she almost certainly cared for Lili in her first 15 months of life. We just all kind of sat in a meeting room and they asked questions about her life, we asked them questions about the orphanage and the programs and things like that. It was a really sweet time. There was a book that girls who came back to visit could sign, and we even found a girl in the book whose parents we had met when we were in the waiting room waiting to meet the babies the first day we were in China last time. So that was really neat! Lili got to put her handprint in the book and write about her life. I can't remember which number book they said this was, but they've already filled many up! So cool to see that many girls coming back to China after all this time. 

After we were done meeting with them, we got to go into the playroom and spend some time with some of the sweet kiddos. The nannies told us that all of the children in the orphanage now have special needs. A few of them have even been matched with adoptive parents and it hasn't worked out. It was really heartbreaking. We also got to go peek into the nursery and that's where I lost it. It just broke my heart to see all of the little ones laying in those cribs. Whew.
 One of the nannies who cared for Lili! 
After the orphanage we walked a few blocks away to Lili's "finding spot" as they call it, which was the spot where she was left as a newborn. That was really emotional. I don't think I have any photos of that place but I feel like it will be etched into my memory forever. It was nothing like what I've pictured all these years. 

After that our driver picked us back up and we were taken to an apartment we had planned to stay in for the next few days while we were in Zhanjiang. The apartment was not really what had been advertised so it didn't work out and our guide was able to get us rooms at a nice hotel in the city. The really interesting thing was the integrity and peaceful negotiations of the owner of that apartment. Everything was worked out so smoothly and cordially, with the guide translating and leading the conversation. I'm sure the Chinese do get angry at times, but it just always seemed like they weren't overly bothered by things. I'm so used to Americans getting offended by every little thing. 

We got settled into our hotel, said goodbye to our guide and we were on our own for the next few days! Zhanjiang is not a tourist area by any means so we were THE only non-Chinese people we ever saw in this city of millions, and as expected due to that fact, we were highly intriguing to many people. Absolutely no one spoke English, and people seemed to really not know what to make of us around town. Everyone automatically assumed Lili was our guide, so she eventually spoke into Google Translate (which was our LIFESAVER) "I do not speak Mandarin", had it translated, screenshotted it and made it her screensaver, so that as soon as we walked into a store or restaurant and they automatically went up to her, she showed it to them. There were some pretty hysterical interactions over the next couple of days. The children were all enamored with us and it was so precious. They LOVED to tell us hello in English, and would just get absolutely tickled when we said hello back to them. Many, many children in China are learning English, so we talked a little to a few of them, simple things like how old are you and they were so happy to answer us in English. In one restaurant there was a little boy and girl, I think they said they were 5 & 7, and the little boy was just staring and staring at us until he finally walked over near us and said hello. When we said hello he ran back over to his mom. The sister spoke a little English, so she wanted to talk a little but the little boy was just fascinated, it was so cute and funny. He finally came right over to our table, looked at my dad's hairy arm, touched it, giggled and ran off! We were laughing so hard. I'm sure it was such a foreign thing to see a white, hairy man and he was just completely fascinated with it. So precious! 

Anyway, that first night in the hotel, we just went to the restaurant that was in the hotel for dinner. THAT was an adventure. We were trying to go back and forth with phones translating, and it just wasn't working all that well. We also didn't know how things worked, so we did things like ask for water to drink and they looked at us like we had 2 heads. They only drink hot water. You also have to sanitize your own dishes, so they bring hot water to the table in a little pot thing, and we had no idea what to do with it! I'm sure all of the patrons got a kick out of watching us. It was a really fun experience though. We were all exhausted by the end of this crazy day.
Saturday we were on our own again to explore the city. We did a good bit of relaxing that day, checked out the city, went to an indoor mall, ventured out at night through the city and walked to dinner. That part was really fun. The city was bustling with everyone getting off work and we got to walk through what felt like more of a neighborhood area with people out and about everywhere. There were delis and restaurants and shops and people were sitting outside playing games, children running in the was fun to see the culture.
Our dinner experience that night was a lot more smooth! A smaller, quieter restaurant and we had gotten the hang of google translate by then.
After we walked back, the 3 of us girls decided to check out a fitness class in the hotel fitness center. It was a dance class and it was so much fun. They apparently don't like air conditioning in their gyms so it was CRAZY hot and we were sweating like no other, and of course we couldn't understand any of the instructions, but we just followed the moves and went for it! It was a lot of fun.

Sunday, we moved on to Beijing. Our flight was delayed without us knowing, so we ended up being at the airport for around 8 hours and didn't get to Beijing until very late. It was amazing the difference in the 3 cities. All had millions of people but the culture was very different in each. This was apparent even in the middle of the night in Beijing through the buildings and modernization of so many things.
We got checked into our hotel which was an amazing 3 bedroom quite with a full kitchen, living room, laundry, etc. We were grateful!

Monday morning we were up bright and early to grab breakfast before our day at The Great Wall. The hotel had an amazing breakfast buffet (really all of the hotels did! They all excelled at breakfast!) We met our tour guide, Kai, in the lobby. He was with us for 2 days, and he was incredible. His English was honestly perfect, but he still considered himself a beginner in English. He knew so much history, had lots of jokes, and asked great questions. Our time with him was wonderful. So Kai got us situated and off we went into Beijing. He told us a lot of history of the city and the Chinese culture in general on the way to the Summer Palace. We were at the Summer Palace for an hour or two. When we first got there, he was getting our tickets and this group of women came up to me and were motioning to their camera. I thought they were asking me to take their picture, so I said of course! Well I misunderstood and they wanted to take a picture WITH me. They got their selfie stick out and I was standing there so confused until I realized what was happening. We were all laughing so hard afterwards!
This also happened later to my dad with a group of teenage boys, but my dad was prepared and he got his own selfie with them, lol!
The Summer Palace was rich with history and beautiful buildings. I learned a ton that I didn't know about Chinese history and government.

Next up, Kai took us out for a delicious lunch on the way to The Great Wall!
Ok, maybe I'm the only one, but I had NO idea how high up The Great Wall is! We walked up a HUGE hill, rode a tram way, way up, and walked some more.
I also had no idea that The Great Wall is over 13,000 miles! We heard incredible stories of the building of the wall. Heartbreaking how many lives were lost during that time.
The day that we went was overcast, which was perfect for June because it made the heat a lot more manageable. The steps are all extremely steep, so it was a little difficult to navigate a times, but the views were incredible and it was amazing being at one of the seven wonders of the world! It makes me want to learn more about the history of the other 6 wonders.

We took an alpine slide down which was really fun and then got some fun photos with the "guards", before we did some bartering at the shops at the bottom and headed back to Beijing!

We were all completely spent by the end of that day. I can't remember how many miles we walked, but it was a ton! We had a nice, quiet dinner in Beijing (the last evening for me in China!) and headed back for a good night's sleep.
The next morning we were up and at 'em to do it all over again. Tuesday was the day I was leaving, but not before we packed a ton into our morning! 
Kai was ready to take us all around Beijing to see the sights and learn the history. It was a painfully hot and humid day but interesting to learn more about their history and government. On Tuesday we went to Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, and Temple of Heaven. We packed so much into that morning, it was wild.

Kai took us for one last lunch at a restaurant that was, according to him, more authentic, and then my time in China was done. I needed to get back to my family in America, so I headed home Tuesday night, while they stayed until Wednesday, then went back and stayed a few days in Hawaii on the way home.
I am incredibly grateful to have been able to go to China again. It was such an honor to go with them. I loved learning more about the culture and being able to experience some of the beautiful places we didn't get to see last time. Overall it was just an amazing trip and such a special time with my family. Dad, Donna & Lili-thank you for taking me with you!!! 

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