Monday, November 24, 2014

Day Four: Gotcha Day for Sara Liu Xinqin Jensen

Today is a blur. Very emotional, exhausting and filled with lots of gratitude, and lots of feeling overwhelmed! We have XinQin and she is amazing. She has chosen to be called Sara! She has been very good at answering to Sara or Sara Xinqin. She is all over the place and wide-eyed. She was very shy for about 10 minutes, and then she took over. We sat for 20 minutes going through the photo book we sent her, with our guide translating. She showed us her cross-stitch and coloring, and let us hug her. She didn't hug back at first, but she had no trouble taking our arms to get our attention. She seems to be about the same size as Maren, but as we anticipated, acts more like she is about 10 years old in maturity. I think this is good. She will have a chance to be a kid with us. She holds our hands as we walk. It's very sweet and a relief. She was holding an umbrella (it's been pouring) and a Barbie doll (we brought 2 of our collection with us) and as she noticed Brandon and I walking on either side of her, she promptly handed me the umbrella and took my free hand, then handed Brandon the Barbie and took his free hand. So we walked like that. The best part was Brandon holding the Barbie. ;)

She is very aware of us and what we might like. She shares without asking. She was concerned when I didn't eat dinner (my stomach was too uneasy--not from food, but from the emotion I heaped on myself ) and insisted I share some of her fries (she requested KFC for dinner). I'm not sure she'd eaten there before, but she definitely wanted to try. She is eating very well and seems to know what she wants, although at dinner tonight the chicken she ordered was too spicy so she gave it to Ba ba (Brandon is Dad). I am Ma or Ma ma. Easy-peasy. She ate all her vegetables and rice. She eats fast and practically from the edge of the plate. I'm so glad she has an appetite. She patted her belly to let us know she was full.

She strikes up conversations with people and even bargains prices down, ha! But our conversations are funny. We don't understand and we try and try and then BLAMMO we figure it out and she just beams. None of our translator apps work reliably, so tomorrow we will get a pocket translator, no wifi necessary. We've had to do some funny pantomimes. She laughs a full laugh. She seems patient with that. I honestly don't think she has any idea what it meant when our guide told her she will learn English so we can talk.

Her and Brandon have hit it off. This is a blessing. His interest in learning how to speak Chinese is cause for a lot of laughter between them. He teases. She teases right back. After this full day she seems very comfortable with both of us. I fell asleep at 3 for a little but, and she laid down and fell asleep, too. We both slept for an hour. Then she was ready to go again! We walked out and about. She walks fast, but adjusts to our speed when we hold hands, which we do because we're afraid of losing her. Brandon lets her use our room card to key the elevator (required to punch in our floor) and get into the room. She's super quick to memorize. Earlier, he had opened his iPad for translating, then a game. A while later, she asked to use the iPad. She took it and opened it with Brandon's password. Without us telling her what it was. We will have to be careful with this one!

The orphanage gave her a disposable camera to use, and she LOVES taking pictures. We let her use up the pictures in that, and then this afternoon we gave her her own little Vivitar point-and-shoot digital. She was wide-eyed and so happy. She jumped up and down and said "Thank you, Mama!" in English and hugged me! She was astonished. She has been shooting lots of pictures, even making Brandon and I kiss for pictures as she giggles. That was probably the best investment we made as far as things for her to do. She likes to fold paper, too. She was telling us and when it was clear we didn't understand, she started singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and I gasped and sang it with her! She turned to her backpack and pulled out a little container full of tiny paper-folded stars! We will have to get her some folding papers.

We played a few games of UNO. She caught on fast and won 3 games out of four. We didn't play with the "UNO" rule. Keeping it simple. We also practiced counting in English while we played, and saying the colors. She knows a little English. Hello. Thank you. Sorry. Okay. Some numbers. One, two, three, four. She plays math games on the iPad so she knows basic math. We didn't evaluate her yet or anything, we just observed her answering the problems correctly.

But she is busy, and we're sure that this is her personality and maybe some ADD, mixed with the excitement of being here and being with us. She rode her first escalator today. She was a little nervous but did it. I gave her "high-five" which Brandon taught her earlier. Her eyes were wide as we walked through the shopping district. She picked out a little kit to make rubber-band bracelets. We need to keep her hands and mind busy. We will figure it out.

It's 7:30 here and it feels like 9:30. We're exhausted, but encouraged. She is sweet, sassy, curious, trusting, and speaks her mind. I am thinking how we are going to spend the next few days with her in a hotel room. Hopefully the rain will clear and we can schedule some activities with our guide. We don't want her (or us) growing dependent on electronics for entertainment. We also need to set a few main boundaries (don't run away from us when we're walking, put the game away, time for bed, etc) which is difficult without a translator, so we're excited to get the pocket translator for that, too.

I'm afraid of how it will be once we leave any guides and are on our own, and on a plane, and get off in a place where nobody speaks Chinese. I imagine her becoming her shy self again for a time. We will take it as it comes.

I'll post pictures tomorrow. Time to work with Google translate for a bit! Keep us in your prayers! We are happy and grateful, and overwhelmed. She is lovable. She may be exasperating. We are laughing a lot, and scratching our heads a lot. This is a big thing to do. Big.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Day Three: A Miracle and Nanjing

We arrived in Nanjing at 11:45 am and met our new guide, Jin. She is older than Emma and very kind. She is like a mother to us, and loves her city. Nanjing is the capital city of Jiangsu province, and XinQin lives about 40 minutes from here. It's 1:30 in the morning now, and we meet XinQin at 9:00am this morning.

I'm feeling all fluttery.

I need to get the room ready for XinQin, and get her bag organized, and put the things we'll take with us to the consulate in a backpack. I was going to do that last night, but I fell asleep. Hazzard of 16-hour time differences, I guess. I can't believe we get her tomorrow.

We had another miracle just before we left home. Weeks ago I made a request for any photos of XinQin growing up. She's been in the same foster home since she was 3, so I hoped somebody had taken pictures of her during that time. It felt so important to me to have record of her connection to China and being a child, and I desperately wanted to see her during the years we've missed.  We only had 5 pictures of her from age 10-11. But our agency said it was rare to get pictures like that.
The day before we left home I received an excited email from Kayley, our agent at GWCA, with almost FIFTY pictures attached! I cried. I called Brandon at work and he cried. It was such a blessing. Before, our window into XinQin's life was pretty foggy, and these pictures of her from age 3 to 11 threw the window open. They also made my heart ache a little that we couldn't get her sooner. I would have gotten her sooner if I could have. Here are just a few of my favorites.

Jin took us walking around all the shopping near our hotel and we bought lunch at a supermarket. they make a stir fry for you with ingredients of your choice and then charge by weight. Brandon and I split a large container of stirfry and a small complimentary soup for $1.65. Not too shabby. It was delicious. We also bought water bottles, but will save the fun shopping for when we have XinQin.

We walked back to the hotel and relaxed for a few hours. "Relaxed" as in Brandon slept for 4 hours while I posted the previous posts. :) When Brandon finally woke up I was crashing and my internet no longer worked, so I went to bed at 7pm, to his dismay . . . I couldn't even keep myself upright anymore. SO tired. And he was pretty much awake, so he went for a walk. I was asleep before the room door closed. I'm curious how his walk went. Of course, he's sleeping great, now, but I got 6 hours, so not too bad, I'll try again in a bit.

The pictures of Nanjing are taking FOREVER to upload, even one at a time, so here is one:

It's about 60 degrees and hazy here. Lots of old sycamore trees. The city isn't as showy or as big as Beijing, but still very old and colorful. It's built along the Yangtze River (just upriver from Singapore) and is very industrial. There is a 6oo year old Confucius Temple just behind our hotel. Jin told us Nanjing was the capital of China for 10 dynasties, and the capital city went back and forth between Beijing(Peking) and Nanjing for a while. I'll try to post more pictures later!

I can't believe we'll have her tomorrow. I can't believe it. 7.5 more hours . . .

Day Two: Jade Factory and The Great Wall of China

After our trip through Forbidden City, we climbed back into our bus and headed toward the mountains. On the way, we stopped at a restaurant and jade . . . place. It wasn't made of jade. Jade was crafted into all kinds of decorative things and sold there. Beautiful things and delicious food. And we were hungry. My fitbit counted almost 9000 steps from our morning excursion. So, you know, that's a lot of steps. During the Great Wall trip, my fitbit counted about 12,000, but it reset while I was on the wall, because it resets at midnight, and back home, it was midnight. The night before. ISN'T THAT CRAZY? Anyway, enough about my fitbit, I'm just saying, it was probably about 15,000 steps for the day. That was a record for me.

(Enough about the fitbit, Krista, that's boring)


I think I'll just post pics again and caption as necessary. I'm running out of time before we go get some dinner! Brandon has been awesome this whole trip. We are having a wonderful time!

The food was really good. Very fresh. We just turned this lazy susan when we wanted something. My favorite was the onion and duck dish. Yum.
L-R: Brandon, Mark, Tiffany, Margaret, Matt, Lorraine

This is raw yellow jade.

We asked the tour guide how much this was. He said $65,000. We gasped. He grinned and said, "Free shipping."

Silk embroidery was on display. These were my favorites.

This was the demo table. These "family balls" are carved from one block of jade. They end with numerous globes, one loose inside the other, representing generations.

This is on the floor room.
 And then we were off to THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA. We chose to take the harder route. Because of course we did.

Holy smokes, the Great Wall. This was not the harder route.

This is the harder route. 
Maybe it's a toss-up.

Couldn't figure out why this loaded sideways but I decided it was appropriate. Because we could barely breathe.

We climbed these really steep stairs to the top of one of the towers. Amazing.

Just the three of us. Me, Tiffany, and Great Wall.

We were walking on and Mark said, "Hey, look at your celebrity husband." Picture time.

This was the alternate way we took down, I highly recommend it.

Lorraine, Matt, Margaret, who turns 73 on Thanksgiving, and Emma. Happy Birthday, Margaret!

Our turn.

Our adoption group! Hey, Mark! Over here!
An exhausting, glorious day. Loved it. 

Day Two: Tienanmen Square, Forbidden City

After a really weird night's sleep (I woke up for a couple of hours every couple of hours. I wrote a to-do list, and did PiYo, and watched Brandon really close until he opened his eyes) we got up early, got dressed, and went to breakfast at the hotel. I wish I'd taken a picture. They had two kinds of congee (rice porridge), white and black, and lots of toppings. Pickled and salted and cured things to put on top to flavor the porridge. So I had some of that, because I've been studying congee a little bit and even made some a few weeks ago in case XinQin likes that. I really like it and it makes a good breakfast. I also had a little bit of french toast, a sausage, A little fried dough thing, a turnip and pork dumpling, and some fruit. They had lychee, which I already loved, and dragonfruit salad mixed with cantaloupe and watermelon. Very colorful, very fresh. The fried dough thing was kind of flavorless and I didn't finish it. I don't know why I'm telling you that.
I finished my congee before I remembered to take a picture.
 After breakfast we met our other GWCA families. I wish we could spend the whole trip with each other because we all just really got along well. Lorraine, Matt, and Matt's mom, Margaret all from Florida. Tiffany and Mark from Texas. And us! We have the continental US covered. Roughly. After our time in Beijing we will all split up to our kids' provinces, and then meet back up in Guangzhou the last week. I'm really glad we didn't have to say goodbye after Beijing.
We loaded our own little bus and Emma taught us about Beijing, modern and ancient, all the way to Tienanmen Square. I love her. I like her point of view on things and she knows tons of stuff. Very good sense of humor, very down-to-earth, respectful of her history but can also laugh at some of the stranger things. She was great.
I think I'll just post pictures and include captions. This was an AMAZING DAY. One of my favorite days of travel in my lifetime. I'll show you the first half in this post.

From the bus. Weeee. Traffic in Beijing was a little crazy. Brandon and I agreed it was similar to Mexico driving, except more graceful. The cars glided around each other within inches, like leaves on water. Just as noisy, though. HONK.

This is Emma. Isn't she sweet?

First Gate building to Forbidden City. There were a few more of these in the city, but they were torn down to make things more modern. AAK!

Arrow building and Gate building make up first gate to forbidden City. The city wall used to be here. It has also been torn down.

Tienanmen Square.

I don't know this woman, but the strip of pavement she's standing on is called the Dragon Line. The first gates to Forbidden City, this monument, and the remaining gates and front entrances all line up on this "line" all the way to Forbidden City Emperial Throne. Buildings must be of extreme importance to be built along or near this line.

Here we're standing on the Dragon Line stretching opposite the monument in the above picture. It was pretty chilly that morning, but the sun was shining. Gorgeous day for sight-seeing!

A lot of tourists from all over China. I heard French and German, too.

Dragon pillars and lions at entrance to 3rd gate. There are 5 tunnels through each gate. Only the Emperor could use the main center tunnel. 

9 is a lucky number in China. All of the doors of Forbidden City are crafted with these 9x9 rows of knobs.

Looking back through the main center tunnel, you can see the Tienanmen monument and the Chairman Mao memorial building (important enough to be built on the Dragon Line).

Looking forward you see another gate to Forbidden City. This huge complex (only 1/3 of Forbidden City is restored and open to public) was very fortified. All these gates had walls, and some had moats. The smooth, high bases are rock, and the buildings on top are wood.

Beyond this gate was a village-type square. Here they sold tickets to get into the rest of Forbidden City.

Through another gate to the Emperial ceremonial square gathering place thing.
That's not the official name.
This is the gate leading to the personal living spaces of the imperial family. Nobody was allowed back here up until the 1920's. Which is why it's called Forbidden City.

A bow shaped moat slices through this courtyard. The stone is quartz. This waterway intersects with the Dragon Line, which leads directly to the Emperial throne here. So the dragon line becomes as an arrow, with the water feature as the bow. Also, with feng shui, a water feature and stone feature are needed to represent rivers and mountains, so these are a necessary part of the design.

It was kind of thrilling to even touch this stuff. Hand-carved quartz 600 years old.

These dragons are at each corner and throughout Forbidden City. They function as downspouts for the rain.

The sun was hitting these pavers so beautifully. It's said there are 15 layers of these bricks laid criss-cross over each other, so tunneling into the city would be impossible. Also, after so many years, running across this courtyard would result in some very serious ankle damage.

Restored paint on the underside of the buildings. 
The final gate to the palace, which is straight ahead, still centered on the Dragon Line.

My neck got sore from looking up. Just gorgeous.

The number of animals on the corners signify the importance of the buildings. 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9. Also, the number of  eaves or levels showed the importance.

The palace itself is the only building with 2 eaves and 9 animals. Of course.

This building to the left of the palace square housed all the Imperial wealth.

The building on the right of the palace housed all of the imperial stamps, or chops. Very important, those.

Emma took us around the outside of the palace, which isn't open to the public, and we explored the Forbidden City.

If I'd lived here I would have been lost all of the time and the imperial family would have been rolling their eyes at me all of the time.

Entering one of the concubines squares. They each had a square of their own with family dwellings.

Emma brought us to her favorite part, the Imperial Gardens. Absolutely stunning. I would have loved to see it in spring or early summer.

Everybody needs a dragon who protects against fire.

Some of the trees are 100-200+ years old. If I was that old, I would need a little bracing, too.

And we're done! 600 years of architecture still standing in this condition. Absolutely incredible.