Friday, December 28, 2007

The New Jew Review and Other Sleepless Tales

It's been nearly two weeks since we've posted, and our lives have been crazy-hectic since our return. Some folks have opined that we should change the name of our blog since our daughter IS finally, technically home, but our journey is not yet done, at least until everyone sleeps all night in their designated bed. So for now we will keep our post-travel adventures under this same banner, and we thank everyone for keeping up with us.

Before our trip, our son Harry expressed to us his fear of no longer being the baby; of no longer being special to us. I assured him that love is a thing that grows as a family grows. This has come true to unbelievable proportions. In truth I was afraid that mine would be the only heart that couldn't adequately expand. Although my heart usually thinks before my brain does, I had kept my heart incredibly safe during the more than 2 1/2 years it took for us to crawl over the crags to get to our daughter. Would I be too exhausted at the end of our journey to love her properly?

When we got together with our daughter, all my fears fell away. My heart unlocked to receive her totally. She met us more than halfway on that score. But we did not feel like a family of four until we touched down in Newark and Harry was in our arms once more. And there was still work to be done; Harry had been left out of our first two weeks with his sister, and there was a heavy price to pay. Now we needed to lay all our love, and then some, on both kids.

It wasn't more than a few days before the little mister was his old self again. He fell in love with his sister right away (and she with him), which tided us over in the meantime. When he once more began soliciting hugs, kisses and "I love you"s (in English and in Mandarin) we knew we were back on the right road. Now they chatter constantly and each understands the other 99% of the time. He calls her Mei-Mei and she calls him Guh-Guh except for when she teases him and calls him Dee-Dee (little brother), which he thinks is a hoot.

The second most amazing discovery here is that everyone was right: the heart is indeed our most flexible muscle, with room to grow and expand for every special person we add into our lives. The most amazing discovery is how much more our love could grow for the child who was already in it. I love Harry more each time I see him, and not just because of the patience and guidance he displays toward his sister. His very soul has grown in the last two weeks, and it is a blessing to our entire family. There is nothing he wouldn't do for Xiao-Ling.

As for the cats, they are besides themselves with joy. They swan around the house purring loudly all day; they check on their newest "kitten" with nuzzles and more purrs, and end up in Mark's or my arms, buzz-bombing us with halleluyahs that plainly say, Thank you, thank you for bringing her home! We can't believe we have another baby to take care of and we love it love it love it!

Our first major outing as a family came five days after we got home: to the mikveh in Teaneck, where our little one formally Joined the Tribe. I went into the water with her. She looked awfully cute but I can't post that picture here. So I'll post its opposite: the first-ever published photo from the POV of the Ritual Bath - check out the smiling rabbis, all good friends of ours, who served as our Beit Din:


So this is what it looks like to watch somebody turn into a Jew! The short one in front has yet to be ordained: he is still known as Guh-Guh.

Yesterday our daughter turned five. We had a family-only celebration with lasagna and cake. Xiao-Ling joined in the singing of "Happy Birthday." I can't believe we are the parents of two five-year-olds. Mark and I have Jewish twins. It's amazing.

The hardest part comes at night. At first we put each kid in his/her own bedroom, but they got up and partied way into the night. Then we put Harry and Xiao-Ling into her bedroom together and...they got up and partied all night. As much as he loves her, he soon got tired of getting up to play, so she did it alone. Then she would cry like an infant when we put her back in bed - dozens of times in one night. We tried a few times to wait until she fell asleep on one of us (after she was in her PJs) but the moment she felt her body being laid prone, she woke up and cried to break your heart. By this time we were putting her in a toddler bed at the foot of our bed (our bedroom is on the main floor) and putting Harry in the guest room (same level) because he didn't want to be the only one sleeping upstairs. I know I haven't had a full night's sleep in two weeks. That's never happened to me before.

Last night it finally hit me: The infant-like weeping, the clinging to me in her sleep unlike any interaction when she's awake, the refusal to sleep alone - it all added up. Between the orphanage and the foster-care center, she's never had a room to herself. The first ten months of her life are a mystery, but chances are she has never slept they way we're all used to sleeping, or at least napping, immediately after we're born: cuddled up to a parent, assimilating his or her aroma, receiving unconditional physical care. The term "kangaroo care" comes to mind (see Internet) and I spent the the entire night holding my youngest. Although she isn't a preemie and both parties were fully pajama'd, Xiao-Ling had her most restful night yet Stateside. Before she can graduate to somnulent independence, she must first experience what every baby is entitled to: a hand-on feeling of love that guards her while she slumbers. I feel quite confident that she won't still require this when she graduates college, but for now it's necessary. Shabbat Shalom - we'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Jersey Girl

Fresh off the plane: here is a sleepy little miss enjoying her first lolly on American soil.

Good news: Harry's arm isn't broken, it's wrenched and bruised. He has a follow-up Friday with his orthopedist.

Bad news: These kids aren't getting much sleep, and neither are we. They love each other to pieces (yay) but stay up all night to celebrate siblinghood (boo). Plus, Xiao-Ling's digestion is still on Beijing time so when she does sleep she wakes up at 2 and 3am to holler for food or to be taken to the potty. How is it possible for this silver-bell-fairy-voiced little pipsqueak be so all-fired LOUD in the dead of night? It's not as if she inherited a big mouth! And yet when she woke up this morning, it was once again fairy time. Her sleepy, sweet smile with that gap-toothed grin belied any ruckus, past or present. Sheeesh.

Harry's spirits have risen as his arm improves. Every time he comes home from school or wakes up, the first thing he wants to do is check on his Mei-Mei.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Q:How To Make Shabbat Last Twice As Long

A. 1.Go to Beijing Capital Airport at 3 in the afternoon
2.Board flight CO88 for Newark, New Jersey
3.Take off at 5pm
4.Land in Newark same day, 40 minutes later
5.Remember: Steps 3-4 take 13 hours to complete.

We have landed. All our stuff arrived just fine, and....drum roll please! May I introduce the newest citizen of the United States of America, Miss Xiao-Ling Shuchat-Marx! As we officially entered U.S. soil through the "Foreigners" queue as instructed, we were escorted to a special security area where we sat comfortably for almost an hour while they got to her file. As soon as the immigrations officer pronounced her a citizen, her dad and mom broke into a loud "Shehechiyanu" followed by an even louder rendition of "Stars & Stripes Forever."

Harry met us outside the security area with his Saba and Savta, and all present were most enchanted with their new sister and granddaughter, respectively. Xiao-Ling took to her brother like a duck to water. She won his heart by repeating everything he said; by offering to share her Tootsie Pop with a devastating smile; and by saying, "I LUB-you, Gur-Gur." We got home late after stopping for food staples, and I have not been to bed yet except for a short nap. It has been a pleasure to settle in. Xiao-Ling is crazy about her room. She received a huge package of clothes from her Ayeh Karen, who is obviously not planning to send her kids back to college next semester from the size of this gift!

First bedtime at new home was absolutely delicious. She loves the cats. Gingie spent bedtime on Xiao-Ling's bed; he's obviously delighted to have a new baby to look after. We read her two adoption classics: The White Swan Express, which we mentioned earlier, and Rose Lewis' I Love You Like Crazycakes. She enjoyed them but pointed out that the mother pictured in Crazycakes is really an ayeh. Okay, that's her story and she's sticking to it. Also, when she opened the book to the page illustrating the babies being cared for in the orphanage, she sang, "Ohh Mei-Mei, Mei-Mei," for quite a while and pointed at each baby in turn as she did so. Just before Sh'ma I got lots of kisses rained on me, and was told, "I LUB-you veh'mush!" My feet haven't touched the ground since.

It's important to mention that Harry is very excited but his feelings are quite conflicted. He and his sister had fun gabbing in the backseat on our way home and he's enjoying the love she showers on him, but he says that at the same time he feels out of the loop. After being part of our threesome for more than five years, he had to endure three weeks away from us while we forged a bond with Xiao-Ling in his absence. That's a tough one and I wish we could have done things differently but he would have chafed all the way through China. The hardest part of this whole adventure was being separated from him for three weeks. He seems to have grown and aged by leaps and bounds in our absence. I will do all in my power to heal his spirit from any damage we may have caused him in the quest for his sister. Ana Eil na r'fa na lo - God, please heal my boy and help me to mend his hurt.

There is something else - Harry had to go to the ER tonight with what turned out to be a "bend" fracture in his left arm. Apparently he was crawling under something earlier today at his aunt & uncle's house, and fell on his own arm. He was favoring it significantly, but cried in pain at one point and that's not like him. Mark was with him in ER and Xray until they came home at 5am. Harry now has a splint and we'll take him to an orthopedist on Monday for a cast, which he'll have to wear for at least four weeks. Guilt screams in my inner ear. Ana Eil na r'fa na lanu...

Friday, December 14, 2007

If It's Friday, This Must Be Beijing

For our last evening in Guangzhou on Wednesday most of the families wanted to get together for dinner, babies included. We decided on Italian (not Pizza Hut, my dears) because it usually has something for everyone. My daughter sat on my lap and fed me salad and pasta. We shared these dishes with great mutual delight. Mark thought his tomato juice was a bit strange until we each took a cursory taste and found that it was made from - yep, you guessed it - fresh tomatoes, not canned. Shazam -how delicious! Mark also asked for chopsticks and got laughed at by the nice Chinese waitstaff at this fine Italian establishment.

Next morning we left the hotel at 7am with another family (from Wichita), escorted to the airport by CHI's fabulous Elsie. Mark & I had bought an extra suitcase on the trip, as had most of the other families. It was our only bag that was a whopping 2 kilos overweight and the nice airline staff didn't even blink. Bless 'em - and we have since re-strategized the packing so that won't happen when we leave China). When we arrived in Beijing we were met by Lina from CHI and of course Tang the wonderful van driver. CHI, if you're reading this, which I hope you are, our family wants you to know that every one of your "family" have been absolutely terrific to us from day one. Thanks to you, we have felt completely cared-for these past two weeks and change. And yes, I'm naming names: Sabrina, Elsie, Melody, Dennis, Tang, Lina, Chloe, Jessie and Simon.

Beijing's cold weather was a welcome relief to us after nearly two weeks of off-season (to us) temperatures. We had every intention of settling in quickly at the hotel and then doing a little sightseeing, but somebody said she was hungry. So we went to lunch, and that person (who shall go nameless) decided she didn't want to eat anything, just before she fell asleep in her soup. The lovely dining staff allowed us to literally carry all of her still-full dishes and glasses upstairs to our room so she could have a nap (which she didn't take) and eat later (which she finally did). So Thursday turned into day of rest, packing for the trip home, and making plans for Friday.

Our last full day in China was chock-full of adventure. We are near the end of our tour but other CHI families at the hotel are just beginning theirs. At breakfast we met a mother-to-be from Chicago who is set to fly to Nanjing to meet her daughter tomorrow. We wished her well, told her that we know she is going to have an amazing experience, and exchanged hugs. How much we have in common even though we just met for few minutes!

Then we met Jason and Theresa from Kansas City, along with Chloe and Tang who were ready to take us to the Great Wall. I go straight into cocker spaniel mode whenever I get into a van or a cab here. It doesn't matter where we're going or what route we take (I have no sense of direction here anyway); I enjoy every moment of the trip and hang on every inch of every block to watch people, signs and sights. As a result I was the first to spot part of the Wall as soon as it became visible from the van. Hee-heeeeee! And we climbed a decent part of it, by golly.

Got back to the hotel for a couple hours' rest and this time ventured out alone as a family. Next stop: The Forbidden City. The cab let us out at the east entrance,


but you actually have to enter at the south entrance, so we began a lovely half-mile walk at the edge of the river / lake bordering the City.


Of course countless mini-cabs, scooter cabs and map sellers descended on us at this point (I think they have a deal going with the cabbies) and all of the "Bu-xie-xie" (no thank you) in the world couldn't keep them from following us for nearly a third of our journey. Finally one intrepid fellow said, "You need tour guide?" "Bu-xie-xie" we responded. He asked, "Who is your guide?" I indicated our daughter, asleep on her Ba-ba's shoulder, and said, "SHE is."

We didn't actually go inside to see treasures and thrones and things because it was nearly closing time, but we did get inside the gates.



After awhile we joined the exit procession and came out onto Tien An Men Square.



'Twas extremely crowded, and everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the changing of the guard / retirement of the colors. But we were swept afar by those in command, so it was time to walk. Our route took us eastward next to the Forbidden City Walls, and after half an hour we came to a charming little oasis of a restaurant inside the actual city, where we were tended to as if we were little lost children. For the life of me I don't know the name of the place, because it was the only thing on the menu that wasn't transliterated, but I brought home some matches and so will ask folks in the know just where it was we had dinner.

Our kind hosts caught us a cab, and our next stop was, finally, to get to Shabbat services. Kehillat Beijing is a small Reconstructionist congregation located in what's actually the Capitol Club Athletic Center. When we arrived, I joked that I knew we had arrived at shul by all the Christmas trees in the lobby. The third-floor auditorium was our ultimate venue.


About 30 people of all ages, from all over the world, made up the lay-led congregation, and Maya, our sh'lichat tzibbur (service leader) made us very welcome indeed. In fact, she invited our family to lead the candle blessing and Mark to lead Kiddush.

Let me point out here that this was not Xiao-Ling's first time in a synogogue. Her foster family is also Jewish, and two years ago she attended High Holy Day services in California. This was just the first time she had taken her parents to shul and we were quite pleased to be escorted by such lovely company who was obviously used to the surroundings.


In fact she felt so at home that she followed along in the prayerbook, flirted with Barry who sat next to us, and stood next to Maya with a book for much of the service. She did not horse around once (Harry, are you reading this??).

Barry gave a great d'var Torah on the weekly portion, VaYigash. This is the point in Joseph's story where he reunites with his brothers. Twenty-two years after they tried to kill him and then sold him into slavery, Joseph is now viceroy of Egypt and his brothers do not recognize him. It's easy to take the soft road into interpreting this family's reunion of forgiveness, but Barry made a good case for Joseph's continued anger against his family, which is why he sets such harsh boundaries for giving them food in time of famine. In the past two decades and change, Joseph has used separation to solve family problems, at least for the time being; a method heretofore successful in avoiding conflict [bloodshed?] between Abraham and Lot; Isaac and Ishmael; Jacob and Esau.

Two thoughts occurred as I listened: Robert Frost's great quote, "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors," and our trip to the Great Wall that morning. This world's biggest physical boundary represents safety, protection, exclusion, embrace and countless other images. I reflected that only when we raise a fence, when we reduce to simplest terms that which we can and cannot do without, when we acknowledge who and what we are within these self-set boundaries, can we open a door in this fence to allow other elements back in. Barry ended on a slightly deceptive cadence; he concluded that ultimately separation was not what Joseph and his family needed. I disagree because only when Joseph had time to rebuild his torn life as best he could (and with God's help) could he move on to forgive his brothers. Unfortunately, sometimes this takes many, many years.

Some words and deeds are unforgivable. Few would disagree that attempted murder and human trafficking fall into that category. Current events continue to provide further examples. Embarrassing another person in public is among the worst. But if we cannot find forgiveness for any other reason, we must do so for our own personal healing and well-being. Forgiveness doesn't mean going back to the relationship's original dance, but should bring about a new normal. I've long subscribed to Bette Midler's film company, All-Girl Productions' motto ("We Hold a Grudge"). But if we refuse to build doors of re-entry into the Great Wall or the Good Fence that surrounds our souls, how can we heal from life's inevitable hurts? We could never be ready for life's joys or worse yet, even see them coming. I could never fully treasure the most holy gifts God has given me: Mark, Harry and Xiao-Ling. And I do mean to treasure them.

So yes, walls and fences are necessary. Don't be quick to tear them down or to subscribe to anyone else's timeline of your own refuge within. But don't forget the doors and windows that let in the sun, the wind, the tears of rain, and a view of the goodness that lies ahead.

Barry is an expert on fence-building and -mending. He mediates between U.S. and Chinese teams to facilitate matters of international infrastructure. I'm so grateful for his teaching; it really made my Shabbat.

We stayed at the Oneg Shabbat for hours. There were so many fascinating people including a five-day-old couple still in early blush, and a translator for Chinese sports teams who is the only Jew living on Hainan Island (boy, did we bond over Hainan!) and who may be covering the Olympics next summer. Marian's Mandarin is extensive; she's taken many immersion courses in writing and speaking the language (she even texts in it!) and gave Xiao-Ling a lecture on manners that stopped our daughter cold after she grabbed food from my plate. Here is a photo of Marian and our daughter:


At last we poured our weary selves into the last cab of the day and headed back to the hotel. We were all exhausted but wouldn't have traded the day for anything. And now (I can't say "tomorrow" because I waited until "today" to post) we're ready for a bit of relaxation before the van comes to take us to the airport at 2:30. Every particle of our trip to China has been fabulous. Sabrina just called. She's back from her vacation to Hunan (her home province) and misses us very much, as we do her. I hope she'll come to the States for a visit, because we are ready to receive her!

And now, it's time to look forward to all the good things that await us at home. Hugs from Harry, cuddles from the cats, tucking our little girl into her new pink bedroom, settling in as a family of four, and seeing the joy our daughter will kindle in everyone. Shalom Beijing!

Another Brick in the Wall

Slight change of plans this morning - another CHI family went to a section of the Great Wall of China which is about an hour north of Beijing, so we tagged along. One of the original seven wonders of the world, the Wall snakes along the country's former northern border and was designed to keep out Mongol invaders. Today, the only invaders at the Wall are tourists. Which includes us, I suppose.

Climbing the Wall as it snakes up and down mountains is not for the faint of heart.


And indeed, signs along the path make visitors aware of this fact:


Climbing the Wall, even a small portion of it, is supposed to be something to really brag about. Or at least the many souvenir vendors would have us believe.


It was cold and windy up there, so I indulged and bought myself a warm hat, in which I posed with our little girl for the obligatory hero shot.


As did Mama.


We hope to make it over to the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square this afternoon before Shabbat services tonight at Kehillat Beijing. More to come!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Back to Beijing

Well, here we are right back in Beijing for a couple of days of pure sightseeing. We were going to go to the city's fabled Silk Market but someone (hint: she'll be five years old in exactly two weeks) was exhausted and had a bit of a fit over lunch (which she refused to eat after asking for it) so we're back in our hotel room. Maybe we'll get out later.

Tomorrow, we're hoping to visit the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square. These two sites symbolize China's past, both recent and ancient. More to come.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

FAQs

For the folks at home, whether or not you are contemplating adoption in the future, here are the answers to some of the questions you may have.

Q: Why China?
A: Why not China? But seriously, China has millions of children who need parents and there are millions of parents out there who need children. So it's a match made in heaven.

Q: Is adoption expensive?
A: Frankly, yes. There are travel expenses (yours and the agency staff's, international and in-country), administrative expenses (tons of paperwork for you and for professionals such as notaries, translators, medical staff, lawyers, social workers, etc), fingerprinting and orphanage contributions which are factored in. This is just the tip of the iceberg and we are by no means accountants, but this gives you some idea.

Q: How long does adoption from China take?
A: We're not going to kid you here; we spent more than two and a half years on the journey to Xiao-Ling and it was that short only because she was declared a special-needs child. Certain time factors remain out of your hands, such as document-processing turnaround time, the number of families adopting at once (this is a good thing) and government bureaucracy both at home and abroad. Remember to stay in touch with the team that's helping you to adopt your child; you can call them often with questions but be nice! Today's glitches will be soon forgotten, especially (1) when you know they're beyond your control, and (2) when you're holding that bundle of love.

Q: What should I pack to bring to China?
A: You'll need plenty of clothes for whatever climate you'll be in, and make sure to check weather conditions for where and at what time of year you're going. Our December trip has ranged from 30° in Beijing to 80° or more in Haikou and Sanya. Guangzhou is pretty warm too, and everyone goes to Guangzhou. If we had planned a little better, we would have brought more warm-weather shirts and found a way to leave our winter coats in Beijing until we got back at the end of our trip. But we managed nonetheless. You have to plan for your child's clothes as well, since you'll be bringing about a suitcase-worth of clothes for him or her.

The things we didn't have to bring but you probably will are diapers and formula. Our daughter is nearly five and potty trained - now we're trying to train her not to use up a whole roll of toilet paper every time she goes to the bathroom! It would not be out of the question to include bathing suits, sunscreen and winter hats and gloves for both you and your child. You will receive a list of your child's measurements as an aid to shopping for clothes stateside prior to your trip.

Bring Ziploc bags, both quart- and gallon-size. We were very grateful for this tip before we packed. They enable you to separate snacks from lotions, garbage from non-garbage and medications from anything else. They're also good for dirty clothes in a pinch.

Q: Anything I should not bring to China?
A: Pick your reading material carefully. Don't bring anything that can be construed as critical of Mao Zedong, the Chinese government, etc. Granted, you won't have much time for reading, but it's good to keep in mind.

You don't need to bring snacks, as they're available everywhere.

Also please check your attitude at the border. Leave behind any notion that the good people of China are here to do your bidding. You are here as a guest; an honored guest, but a guest nonetheless. Not everything is going to go as it does at home, nor is it supposed to. You are here to become parents and you are here as an ambassador. Don't do anything that would make anyone happy to see you leave.

Q: Will I need to learn Chinese before coming?
A: If you're adopting an child under 2, not at all. There will be a guide with you almost all the time. Due to our daughter's age, we wanted to learn a few words and our guides were very helpful with that. At this point, we understand each other 95% of the time even though we address our daughter mostly in English and she speaks to us almost entirely in Mandarin.

Remember that "please" and "thank you" are your tickets to the world. You should learn these words in the language of any country you visit. It also never hurts to buy a pocket dictionary for translation on the go.

Q: So how's the food?
A: Pretty darn good, but since we both love Asian food in general and Chinese food in particular, we may not be typical in this respect. People will also tell you that Chinese food in China is different from Chinese food in America, but this is true only if your idea of Chinese food is store-brand frozen egg rolls. Whether you enjoy noodles, rice, vegetables, different kinds of meat or all of the above, we promise you'll find something you enjoy without having to stray too far from your comfort zone.

If you read some of our earlier posts, you can check out some of the new foods we tried, such as dragon fruit, congee, duck eggs and star fruit. If you're willing to be a bit adventurous, you might be pleasantly surprised. However, do not under any circumstances use tap water here for drinking or brushing your teeth without boiling it first; not even the natives do that.

Q: When do I get to meet my child?
A: As soon as possible, depending on where he or she is located. Your first meeting will be filmed by agency staff, so don't worry about the Hollywood aspect of this important moment. Relax (hah!) and let your child take the lead. Bring along an unwrapped cuddly gift - we chose a pig because this is the Year of the Pig. (Xiao-Ling takes it everywhere and calls it Zhu-Zhu, which is a very loose translation of "Piggly Wiggly.") Bask and enjoy.

If you have any other questions, just ask them in comments or E-mail us privately.

A Three-Hour Tour (sort of )

Back on Shamian Island, the babies received their medical exams to make sure they had no communicable diseases. It was supposed to take just a short while and then we would have until noon to wander the island, shop and hang out until we met for lunch at noon. Our girl passed with flying colors but things went a bit slowly for us. First they couldn't quite find her file. Then we needed to get into a special line for bigger kids (she would be weighed and measured on a standing scale, not the produce-style one most doctors use for infants). Then in the middle of everything: "Wuo niao-niao!" - guess who had to go to the bathroom.

My daughter and I were hustled through the slim, crowded corridors to a ladies room that - you guessed it - featured the native variety of commode that give new meaning to the term, "hole-in-the-wall" (see earlier posting by Mark, with illustration, if you need further help here). After more than a week with us, Xiao-Ling was used to American-style powder-rooms. Fine by me. We toddled back to the doctor's office, which adjoined accommodations that were much more accommodating. Unfortunately while we were in there my child 1) took her usual sweet time with thorough self-santization and 2) accidentally knocked a roll of paper to the floor. When I bent over to pick it up, the pen behind my ear slid into the bowl with a farewell splash. Needless to say, I have written my last word with that quill, but worse yet, it jammed up the pipes. Oh hell and botheration. That medical staff was awfully sweet about it.

On with the medical exam. They measured the length of each leg, the circumference of her head, and tested her arm mobility. Things checked out pretty well, and we were eager to skip out of there and have some leisure time because we were the last family in there. As we skibbled out the front door, wait for it, wait for it...

"Come back! Come back!" the voice of our guide Dennis beseeched us. Turns out they needed to measure the length of one of her surgical scars. Soooooo close! By the time we got out of there we had only 45 minutes, and Xiao-Ling needed to play. Before we found a playgrosund and it wasn't long before our darling was back to her old self and demonstrating her derring-do on the slides.

Shamian Island is also a nice spot for brides and grooms to have their outdoor wedding photo sessions, which are fun to watch. Our guide Simon told us that these are never done on the actual wedding, but several days to weeks in advance. Guess that explains the bride's dungarees under her gown when she walks from venue to venue for the next photos.

Lunch was at a very homey restaurant where we sat at huge round tables with Lazy Susans in the middle and ate mostly dim sum along with fresh steamed broccoli and little bowls of beef broth. Absolutely delicious. Mark thought our meal was a bit American because the selections felt familiar, but I reminded him that he and I do not favor egg rolls or sweet-and-sour swill and therefore we have always been attuned to food that's a little more Chinese than Chinese-American. Xiao-Ling only wanted to eat the egg custard tarts and nearly turned into one herself. Normally I would have picked that battle but she'd had such a rough morning that I let it go.

We are very, very homesick for Harry. I miss him so much and can't believe we will have been separated for three weeks. When we see him, I get to hug him first. His sister shows his picture to absolutely everyone and cannot wait to take a bite out of him either.

The Year of the Bull

Yesterday was a free day so Mark & Xiao-Ling and I returned to Shamian Island to finish our gift-buying. Since the old consulate is located on the island and all the babies still receive their medical exams there (plus of course the White Swan Hotel is there), there's quite a trade in adoption souvenirs, such as T-shirts and caps that say "Jieh-jieh" (big sister), "Guh-guh" (big brother), "Mei-Mei" (little sister), "Ba-Ba" (father) and "Ye-Ye" (grandfather). These are just the tip of the iceberg; of course there are traditional Chinese gifts of all kinds as well, and everything is beautiful, well-made, and relatively inexpensive. The shopkeepers can smell us coming a mile away and greet you at least that far in advance in order to take you for a nice chatty stroll to what happens to be their store, where they are more than ready to butter us up into buying out their entire store.

"Hal-lo...American right? Very, very handsome. You most beautiful American man / woman / family I have ever seen. So good-looking. And smart too. I can tell you very very smart and wise. And you love daughter. This girl very very lucky. She love you very very much. Best baby I ever seen. You want nice outfit / jade / barrettes / shoes / toys / condominium for her?" Okay, the condo part is an exaggeration. I will give 'em this: everyone stands behind the quality of their stuff, and if you need to exchange something for any reason, you'll have good luck with hat. Poor Mark got re-named Mart, Mike, Michael, Mikey, Mack, Matt, Matty... at least he was addressed with a smile and that's what counts. Sure beats "Yacklin..."

One particular shopkeeper was adorable but so overzealous in currying our favor while we discussed the price and quality of a Chinese zodiac wall hanging that I guessed out loud she was born in the Year of the Bull. This made me not only the smartest and most beautiful woman who ever shopped in her store but also the funniest. Suffice it to say that when we return to China I think folks will be glad to see us. Which is of course one of the main points of being a good guest.

"I (I)...Your name...(Your name)..."

Somebody is fighting off sleep with all her might. She had quite a busy day today: a trip to the Guangzhou zoo; dinner out with most of the other CHI families, and... getting her entry visa into the U.S. at the American consulate. We were given all of the packets and papers we need to hand-carry in order to bring children our into the promised land. Just before we all took the oath, the administering officer from Immigration said,

"Now, about that sealed brown packet we handed you: Do you open it?"

"NOooooooo!" we chorused, over dozens of crying babies, along with hundreds of other adoptive parents.
"Do you give it to the baby?"

"NOooooooo!"

"Do you check it with your luggage?"

"NOooooooo!"

I don't think this is how God and Moses got us out of Egypt but it works. When we actually took the oath, I had to read Mark's lips to get some of it because the babies drowned out part of it. But after all, without the children this wouldn't be happening, so their music gave the occasion a certain Gilbert & Sullivan cadence to the occasion: "We certify that everything... written and verbal is true (waaaaa waaaa)....to the best of our knowledge and certainty (waaaaaa waaaaaaa)."

Best highlight of the day: Xiao-Ling's newest English word is...."YES!"

Good night - we leave for Beijing bright and early in the morning.

Xiao-Ling, All-American

Well, it's official. We went to the American consulate this afternoon and took the oath of citizenship on Xiao-Ling's behalf. She even raised her right hand when asked to do so!

We now have an IR3 immigrant visa pasted into our daughter's Chinese passport, which means that once we land in Newark and go through passport control, she will automatically become America's newest citizen. We really have quite a family. My ancestry is Russian, Jacquie's is German, our son is Korean and our daughter is Chinese. If all that doesn't make us 100% American, we don't know what does.

Tomorrow morning, we fly back to Beijing for a couple of days before we head back to America on Saturday. Most of the other CHI families, whose kids were scattered around China, were taken on tours of the Beijing area when they first landed. Because Xiao-Ling was actually in the capital when we met her, we were unable to do that. We thus plan to do a little touring there before we head for home.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

First Hebrew Word

Several nights ago as we were lighting the candles for Hanukkah, we sang the blessings and our daughter clearly said, "Baruch (Blessed)".

On the 7th night of Hanukkah she sang all the blessings with us. True, she doesn't yet know the words, but she hung on to the tune with all her might.

Tonight is the last night of Hanukkah. Wonder if she will tell the story of the Maccabees? She is quite like them - small but mighty, and tenacious. Don't know if they were as cute, though.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Showdown at the Guangzhou Corral

We went to dinner tonight at an Azerbaijani restaurant named Baku, just down the street from our hotel. "Here is so pleasant to smoke hookah," the brochure says, and while we didn't encounter any hookah smoking there, we did have the first major battle of wills with Xiao-Ling.

After we were finished eating, our daughter was playing with the plastic number marker on the table indicating that we were sitting at table 4. She got a little too excited and knocked it onto the floor. Pick it up, we said. She just stared back at us with a very dirty look on her face. It was an expression which said, plain as day, that she understood us perfectly but didn't feel like complying, that she could stare us down whenever she felt like it.

Of course, we could not let her get away with this, so we returned her stare, with our daughter's gaze going back and forth between the two of us and with occasional repeated directives from us to pick up the marker. Since the restaurant is open 24 hours, Jacquie could and did legitimately promise not to let anyone go back to the hotel and to bed until Xiao-Ling picked up the marker. We even waved away the waitress who came over to pick it up for us, telling her that it was our daughter's job and she would do it come hell or high water.

No one gave an inch.

This went on for twenty-one minutes. I counted it on my watch.

Finally, Xiao-Ling's expression softened and she grinned. Her point made, that she could give as good as she gets, she bent over and picked up the marker. We all laughed and hugged, with lots of kisses and giggles, and all was forgiven.

Jacquie and Xiao-Ling in particular celebrated together by holding up the mother-daughter jade pendants they had gotten on Shamian Island earlier today. They each kissed their own pendant, then each others. Then there was much kissing of silken cheeks, puffed up with smiles and pride that we had all come through this narrow place together.

When we originally got our little girl's psych profile from China, it said that she was very stubborn. I guess she just proved it, and she fits quite well into this family filled with stubborn souls.

Doctor, Doctor, Gimme the News

We took Xiao-Ling for her medical check this morning. It wasn't a full medical exam, just a quick once-over to make sure that she has no communicable diseases. Which she doesn't, therefore she passed with flying colors.


Afterwards, we went for a walk, passing shops with various women's names (Jennifer's, Susie's, and so on) and we picked one with the improbable name of Hebe's to do a little shopping.


We got our daughter a traditional red silk outfit, after which all the families went to lunch. While we were out and about, we passed a number of sidewalk stalls roasting and serving various meats and fishes on skewers. Beef, chicken, pig, duck, etc, all were out there for the asking.


And right across the street was America's contribution to Chinese cuisine:


You know, this really isn't fair. China gave us the soybean, tofu, pasta, and other fine dishes. What do we give them in return? The Big Mac. No wonder waistlines are expanding all over the Middle Kingdom.

Tomorrow, our agency is taking Xiao-Ling's paperwork over to the American consulate for her visa processing. Assuming all goes as planned, we will go there in person on Wednesday so we can take the citizenship oath on our daughter's behalf.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Oh Where Oh Where Has My Yapee Dog Gone...

Boo hoo hooo. We left our daughter's new backpack on the plane when we got off at Guangzhou (I forgot to mention this earlier). We remembered before we left the airport. The plane was still there but the cleaning crew couldn't find it.

Goodbye Yapee Dog! Goodbye Donkey! Goodbye pink-and-white Mary Jane sandal (we have your mate to remember you by) Goodbye Barbie Doll and finger puppets and saddest of all, goodbye photo album. We have another photo album exactly like you at home, captions and all. However, it does not contain the several photos at the end that CHI put in of Xiao-Ling and her friends.

I must say that she has borne the loss quite stoically, unlike her mama. We left word where we'd be staying in Guangzhou so I keep hoping Yapee Dog will eventually find its way home. Stranger things have happened.

Sunday in Guangzhou with Xiao

Good afternoon yall, I'm no longer in drag but blogging you as the Jacqster herself. Our little peanut has reached the boiling point and is throwing a few things around because we said NO...she could not use fifty million tissues at once. Having thus employed the aforementioned "N" word, unlike many parents who are loath to do so, we have evinced the natural response, whose scientific name is Royal Hissy Fit (or, as we say in the south, Having a Fit and Falling In It). We removed anything breakable from within her reach, went on about our business, squelched all instincts to yell or otherwise let her push our buttons, and - hey, what do you know, she's back to sunshine within two minutes! Parents everywhere, do you need help disciplining your kids? Are you at the end of your tether with frustration? Forget SuperNanny. Pish-pish on Ritalin. Call 1-800-SHUCHAT-MARX! And don't let our son see this ad.

Let me go back a ways with you, even though I've pretty much been writing according to timeline. So much has happened to us and I'm not sure I've done it justice here. In Haikou on Hainan Province we spent two mornings at the office of the Ministry for the Department of Civil Affairs; the first to get the adoption rolling and the second to seal the deal. The papers must sit overnight in case - God forbid - the adoptive parents change their minds (what sane person would do that?!?) Our copies of the papers we filled out and signed tell nearly the entire story, but in sum we promised to raise Xiao-Ling as our daughter, to love her always and to never neglect or abandon her. No tough job there. The director and assistant director of our daughter's former orphanage had driven up from Sanya for the occasion. Xiao-Ling remembered them and lavished them with attention, hugs and that devastating smile. I'd like to point out here that she hadn't seen these folks since she was two. Clearly she had also crawled into a special place in their hearts, as she has with everyone she's met and will continue to do. A bit of trivia here: our daughter's birth name is Long Xiao-Ling; the registrar at the Ministry is named Li Xiao-Ling.

Mark and I endorsed our signatures with thumbprints; our daughter used her whole hand. Never have I seen such a dramatic shade of scarlet as in the ink with which we adopted each other. It didn't change color when it dried, either. Brrrr. I'll leave the fruits of my imagination to your conclusions. On the lighter side, it heightened the drama of what was now happening to our family -it had just grown! Sabrina, Miss Li, and the Sanya staff rejoiced with us.

We had to celebrate with a little shopping trip, so when we got back to the hotel we traipsed over to the department store to pick up shoes for Miss Tootsie-Toes. She also got a "Yapee-Dog" backpack, colored pencils and heaps of drawing paper with a pencil sharpener for her favorite activity, hua-hua (drawing). Now she was set to walk anywhere and she would always have something to do! In the morning we left for our next destination - Sanya, our daughter's birthplace.

Hainan Province is like another world. Sanya in particular felt like the edge of this one. As we traveled south for nearly five hours from Haikou by van last Wednesday, we passed farm after farm after farm; exquisitely plowed, carefully cultivated, powered only by water buffalo and elbow grease. The only tractors we saw were used in road construction. Mark and I are both animal-lovers and these powerful, gentle oxen were the first we ever saw outside of captivity. I kept heralding, "Moo alert!" The buffalo are silver-grey, humpbacked and big-horned; the "ox" on the Chinese calendar come to life. Sabrina says they are very tame and I was hoping to be able to pet one at some point but it didn't happen. Sad mooo...

Lots of rice paddies seemed to fly past us. They were also beautifully executed but one could see that they were no easy job to cultivate and maintain. And to think with what abandon we just tear into a serving of rice back home. Shameful. "Ha-Motzi Lechem Min Ha-Aretz" (the Hebrew blessing before eating, which praises God for bringing forth bread from the earth) becomes more meaningful than ever when wet, wrinkled fingers and feet are involved over a lifetime of labor.

The coconut palms, which appeared in great green number from the moment we first stepped onto Hainan Island, proved fruitful and multiplying as we headed south. Let me tell you about coconuts in their natural habitat. They are not brown and hairy. They are smooth and tannish-green. They are not the same sugar-sodden tryptophanic over-manufactured glazy foodstuff we call "coconut" back in the States. Nay, the noble coconut is a fruit. It's a juice. It's a meat. It's a milk. It's a soap. It's a soup. It's in coffee and in candy (but more nutty, less sweet, than you imagine). It's eaten with lamb, chicken and vegetables. Its liquid cradles steamed corn on the cob with kernels plump and tender. It's subtle, sweet and delicate, hale and hardy, piquant but memorable. Coconuts comprise a great deal of Hainan Island's industry, along with coffee and tourism. We find all three to be excellent endeavors.

Xiao-Ling's grieving sessions have grown farther apart in number as she adjusts to life with Mark and me. For the first three nights she was with us, she cried every night after Sabrina left at bedtime for her own hotel room. We held her gently, massaged her hands, sang softly as she wailed loudly, and kissed her tears. Even lately, this little lassie weeps when you look at her crosswise. She is learning that love means not always getting her way, but we do pay through the heart for it. She can give you a look that is pure poison (we haven't yet decided whether she outdoes Harry in that respect) and push you away when you try to reason with her, until she gets over it. But she sleeps through the night, wakes with lambent joy and calls our names as if we've always been together. And now for our song, which we sing together to the tune of Jeopardy. It's got two verses:

1.Happy girl, oh happy girl
Happy girl, oh haaaaaappy happy happy
Happy girl, oh happy girl
Hap-pee happy hap...py girl (boom boom)

2.I love you, oh I love you*
I love you, I LOVE...you love you love you
I love you, oh I love you
I...love you, oh I...Love...You (boom boom)

(* = pronounced "I lubyou" by guess who)

Even though we said we wouldn't overdo it, we have been calling home quite a bit because we're just too happy not to share it with our nearest and dearest. A couple of days ago we called Harry (which kind of backfired because it made him homesick for us and therefore a bit truculent with his aunt and uncle) and he and his sister talked for a couple of minutes. He said, "I love you, Mei-Mei" and she said, "I lubyou, Gur-Gur." Wow.

This morning we called my niece Rachel for her birthday. It was still yesterday where she is (and therefore still her birthday) so she was thrilled and so were we. Then we called my mother, Omi to her grandchildren. That was totally groovy. She got to talk to her new granddaughter for quite awhile. Xiao-Ling said, "Omi, I lubyou." Whatever Omi said in return remains between them, but we know it was good because our daughter was smiling and did not want to give up the phone. She also sang our special song (see lyrics above). My mother enjoys Jeopardy but she ain't never heard the theme song like this!

Tonight is the sixth night of Hanukkah. We have lit candles every night, using the hanukkiyah my late father made when he was a high-school boy in yeshiva in Frankfurt. That part of his life proved to be a light in the darkness that was the Holocaust. He was no longer allowed to go to school in his hometown of Frankenberg-an-der-Eder, a millenium-old town in Hesse where Jews and Christians had lived and worked side by side since the Enlightenment, and where he was raised in the Orthodox Mizrachi traditions that espoused loyalty to Israel before she became a state. But in his short-lived boarding school career he took on even more tradition and created this metal agent of light. To me that's even more miraculous than the ancient story of the single day's worth of oil that lasted eight days and eight nights. I never asked, and I'll never know, whether the hanukkiyah is the result of an assignment or inspiration; there's no one left alive who can tell me, and he created it long before he met my mother. But what counts is that he did make it, and like him, it survived the long dark night of terror. Like my father, it's also durable, and it travels extremely well. It has now celebrated Hanukkah with at least two sets of melodies for three generations, on three continents; in Germany, the United States, Israel and now in China.

Yesterday we left Hainan Island for the northern climate of Guangzhou in Guangdong province. Xiao-Ling made the trip far better than I did. I was out of sorts because we were out of clean clothes, we were on a crowded commuter flight that Mark dubbed "Goats 'n Chickens Air" and I was worried about the next transition: in Guangzhou we would part from our companion Sabrina for the rest of our trip. We enjoyed her so much; it wasn't just because she made our little one so happy and eased our travel and communication situation. Sabrina would answer any question, no matter how trivial it seemed. We shared meals, tried the local snacks of dried fish, bonded over our cats (she has two, we have two) and matters ranging from spiritual to cultural to civic. Of course we didn't want to come off as "ugly Americans" so we kept apologizing out the wazoo for this and that but she was absolutely wonderful about everything. We also realized early on that we could crack her up. The first few times our daughter spurned us in favor of her ayeh, we loudly faked tears and stole a line from the Bugs Bunny cartoon, Gorilla My Dreams: "Waaaaa! My baby doesn't love me!" Sabrina howled every time and was soon imitating us. We told her how to find the cartoon on YouTube. And so it was that, when Sabrina left, Xiao-Ling didn't cry but her parents did.

Now we're at a VERRRR-ry nice hotel. Most adoptive families stay at the White Swan Hotel when in Guangzhou for their American Embassy appointments (you must check out the children's book The White Swan Express - it tells our story in a nutshell) but the White Swan is just finishing up some renovation processes so we're stuck in this five-star beauty at three-star prices. We'll get to visit the White Swan anyway for the official portraits of all the babies and new families -more about that later.

This morning at breakfast I tried dragon fruit. It's black and white and red all over (the outside is red, that is, and you're not supposed to eat it, but I tried before I found out otherwise; the inside is white with tiny edible black seeds) and quite delicious. Afterwards all the families got on a huge bus for Shaiman Island, where all the kids had their individual visa photos taken. We then went to Liwan Plaza, a huge round shopping mall, where you can shop for most of the usual stuff plus jade, amber, coral, lapis, pearls, gold and silver. We got Xiao-Ling a jade pendant and two traditional silver child bracelets with tiny bells on them, so you can always hear where your child is. Our guide Elsie told us that the inscription on one of the bracelets means lifelong peace. The inscription on the other bracelet means health and good fortune. Elsie asked us whether we had chosen the bracelets on purpose for their inscriptions; indeed we had not, but what more could we wish our little one? Our daughter carried a photo of her big brother in her overalls, and pulled it out for all and sundry to see, saying, "Wuo de Gur-Gur (This is my older brother)."

Tomorrow morning we board the bus at 8:30am for the childrens' medical exams. These are mostly to ensure that nobody has communicable diseases. Xiao-Ling will have a thorough appointment with our pediatrician two days after we reach home. After a delightful Cantonese lunch (where our daughter fell asleep at the table and the staff swathed her in softest blankets) we have spent the afternoon in the room. Our darling had a scrubbly bubbly bath with shampoo, where she played for an hour. For dinner we nibbled on chestnuts we bought at the Plaza (Xiao-Ling had instant noodles) and celebrated both Hanukkah and the return of our now clean laundry. Halleluyah!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Guangzhou

Several days ago, Jacquie and I discussed that we count ourselves truly lucky to have experienced so many different regions of China, with varying customs, dialects, cuisine and geography. We have seen farmlands and cities, oceans and mountains, beaches and golf courses. We have seen farms from right out of a Pearl Buck novel and fast-paced cities that are well into the 21st century. This is our daughter's birthplace in all its glory.

We have left the island of Hainan and gone north to Guangzhou, where we will get our daughter an American visa and officially make her a citizen at the consulate here. Xiao-Ling approves of our room, and indeed has already declared her bed to be bounce-worthy. She also tried the pool with her mom, but it was too cold.

Guangzhou is in some ways the most "Westernized" city we've been to so far. McDonalds, 7-11's and Pizza Huts are in abundance here, catering to Westerners who cannot abide the thought of being away from American cuisine. On a walk near the hotel, I found several sidewalk vendors selling what looked suspiciously like chicken feet and duck bills, which I confess to be too cowardly to try without the support of my family. Maybe later.

While waiting for our flight at the Sanya airport this morning, I finally got my coconut. For 15 yuan (about $2) I bought a fresh-off-the-tree coconut. As I watched, the man at the bar bored a hole in it, inserted a straw and handed it over. Fresh coconut milk is truly delicious, sweet without being overpowering,

We have finally joined forces with the other CHI families, with their new children from all over China. All of them (the children, that is) are adorable infants, although we of course are proud enough to claim that our Xiao-Ling is the most adorable of the lot.

Tomorrow is a free day, and we get down to work with medical exams and consular paperwork on Monday.

Friday, December 7, 2007

A Day at the Beach and Happy News from CHI

We had a free day today, so we spent the morning at the beach. Staring out over the South China Sea, we played in the surf, picked up shells, and just relaxed. While we were all standing on the shore, a Chinese man came up to us and noted that Xiao-Ling has black hair while I have red hair and Jacquie is blonde. Without missing a beat, I replied that our differences in hair color were due to "recessive genes."

Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and I indulged in a half-hour "fish massage." Basically, you get into a small heated pool along with thousands of small fish, who then spend time nibbling at various parts of you. It didn't hurt, but did kind of tickle.

When we got back to our room, we checked our E-mail and found ourselves mentioned in the CHI China program's newsletter:
Xiaoling and her new family from America

The Story of Xiao Ling starts from three years ago. A group of surgeons came to Beijing from Cedar Sinan Hospital in LA. They offered to help take one heart baby to US for surgery with no charge. Healing the Children arranged the escorting, etc. Our friend Eulilia arranged for us to get in touch of the group and we helped to find a cute little baby girl, Long Xiao Ling from Sanya to go the America. After the surgery, Xiao Ling was to come back to China, and her foster family in US made a special request: they wanted Xiao Ling to be cared for in Beijing, at our foster home instead of going back to Sanya welfare home. Of course, we were happy to so. Xiaoling was carried by a social worker Keever from LA off of the plane and came to CHI foster home in the winter of 2005. she was one of the early resident of our home! She could speak English and loved only American food first. But very shortly, she switched to all Chinese food and become part of the big family here. We waited and waited, hearing the foster family found a family for her and the family started the process shortly after she came back to China. Xiao Ling was told she would have a family from America to pick her up. She waited and waited, for two years. The big day was Dec 1st, 2007, Jacquelyn and Mark from NJ came to get Xiaoling. We had a party for them and celebrated Xiao Ling’s birthday early.

What surprised all of us is the way Xiaoling acted toward her new family! She run to them with arms wide open the moment she saw them. She called them Mama and Baba and smiled so big that everyone would just melt seeing her that day. She then refused to identify her bed to her new family and many times urged Jacquelyn” hurry up, let’s go!” She told director Wang, I have now my mommy and daddy! She hugged her little friends one by one and went with her daddy!

At the end of the party, the rest of the children realized what’s going on, they each wanted to be picked up and go with mommy and daddy, too. Little John sobbed as the car started to move, and Peter, Xiao Bai, Min Quan all cried and asked, “where are my mommy and daddy?”

There were no dry eyes at the site. Over and over, our children teach us what they need are their own families! Can we find them each a family? Even 7 year old boy XinLi who is loosing his sight slowly, and who is now on CHI waiting list?
That's pretty much how it went. If anyone out there has enough love in their heart to welcome a beautiful child into their family, or knows someone who wants to adopt one of these wonderful children, please contact Tina Qualls, CHI's China program director, at tina.qualls@childrenshope.net.

Addendum

Hi folks. I just thought I'd clear up any confusion caused by our last post. Mark didn't post it; I did. Apparently I was logged on as him for some reason.

What I wanted to write before I fell asleep at the computer was that after our fabulous outdoor dining experience last night, Mark and I carried our be-sweatered daughter out onto the restaurant patio - it's kind of like a manmade jetty so that you can almost walk into the dancing fountains I mentioned earlier. We stood and watched them in their rainbow glory for a few minutes. It was as if they were welcoming our little girl and we told her so.

We'll have lots more to tell you this evening so ta-ta for now.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

All of China at Her Feet

Hello, everybodeeeeee...

Tonight for the first time, our little pipsqueak has allowed her dad to put her to bed - what a treat for him. Unfortunately she is hogging my bed so I think it's the rollaway for me. Oh well. Mark and Xiao-Ling are sound asleep which gives me time to put in my two cents.

We were pretty pooped physically and emotionally after this morning at the orphanage, and then the celebration lunch in town. So we took it easy in the room this afternoon and had a late supper. By this time it was dark and all the pool lights and fountains were on. We got a table outside and our daughter was as delighted as we were to watch the "dinner theatre" aspects of the sights and sounds on the water. Then our menus came - in Chinese and in Russian. This was a hoot for two reasons: Mark's ancestry is mostly Ukraine, and there is a huge Russian clientele in Sanya. I think we are the only non-Russian Caucasians there, and certainly the only Americans. So we burst into laughter and chortled "Wo men Mei Guo" (probably very bad Chinese for We're from the U.S.!) They fetched English/Chinese menus for us posthase.

Well, the waitresses couldn't get enough of our little lady. She was a huge hit. They fed her jasmine tea. They fed her boiled peanuts. They fed her some delicious noodles and wiped her perfect little lips after every bite. And she happily, calmly, naturally let them. The waitstaff did everything but chew her food for her, and every few bites she would bestow upon her subjects the widest grin she could muster. She got more attention than the pool fountains did.

Getting back to this morning - Sabrina had let us know earlier that, with only thirty kids at the Sanya orphanage and eleven aunties, the ratio was quite good for personal care for the children. However, on the way over there in the van, she warned us that our hearts would ache. She was right. I sat on the floor in the baby room and stroked the arm of one little fellow who was lying on a cushion. He began to howl and I was told he has cerebral palsy and fears strangers. He was eight months old and smaller than Harry was at 4 1/2 months.

Then a very little fellow was placed in my arms. He looked at me for all the world like he was trying to impress me with his great talents and strengths in spite of his size. We talked for a bit (well, I did) and rubbed noses. He, too, was eight months old and had weighed only a pound at birth, but he was clearly trying to say, "I'm still here and I'm not leaving quietly!" Sabrina translated for the aunties that his name is Dian-Dian (little spot) because of his birth weight. As if to contradict his physical boundaries, Dian-Dian then chose that moment to lift up his head - all by himself! I cooed praise for his special moment and promptly told the aunties that his nickname from me would be "Shtarker." I made muscles to demonstrate the meaning of the name and they nodded appreciatively.

Before we left we took a couple of group pictures of the bigger kids, some of whom remember Xiao-Ling. Some of them held up two arms, brandishing two "peace, Baby" symbols. I cracked the kids up by drawling, "I am not a crook!" whenever they did this.

I'm literally falling asleep over this so I'm gonna stop now. Tomorrow is a free day. We'll meet Sabrina for breakfast and then take our girl to Butterfly Cove. I can't wait to see a butterfly perch on that bonny wee nose!

>>snorrrrrrrrrr...<< style="font-style: italic;">Lailah tov, all.

Visiting the Orphanage

At breakfast this morning and driving around Sanya, we became well aware that this is not just a resort town for Chinese nationals, but for Russians as well. Half the signs around our hotel are in Cyrillic, as well as a lot of signs in town. We saw Russians everywhere, and the most complicated Russian word I know is "мороженое" - ice cream. Not very useful. So we may not be the only Caucasians in town, but it's probably be a safe bet that we're the only Americans.

But today's big event is that we visited Xiao-Ling's former orphanage this morning, where she spent much of her early life. Meeting some of her friends and the "aunties" who cared for her, the visit was bittersweet to say the least.

As we went from room to room, meeting kids our daughter's age to younger kids to infants, I was overwhelmed by conflicting emotions. Sadness that anyone should have to go to an orphanage in the first place got all mixed up with relief that it was a good place as orphanages go, as well as a million other feelings. Looking at the kids abandoned for a whole slew of reasons, I found myself sobbing with a loving desire to adopt every single one of them, and sobbing with the realization that we can't. My head knew perfectly well what we could and could not realistically do, but my heart still had a ways to go.

After Jacquie mopped me up and my heart caught up with my head, the orphanage staff took us to lunch at a restaurant in Sanya. This was most definitely not the sort of restaurant frequented by tourists who play it safe from a culinary sense. No, this was real Sanya cuisine, and we were made aware of that fact right out front.


Yes, those are real fish in real fish tanks, which diners pick out individually. Our hosts selected a red snapper, which was cooked and brought to our table thusly:


On the one hand, the fish was delicious. On the other hand, it wouldn't stop looking at me. I swear it had a reproachful look on its face, telling us, "Why me? I have a wife and guppies at home."

The rest of lunch was face-free and ranged from a papaya soup to a tasty green vegetable to a rich beef-with-peppers mix, not to mention several other dishes. It was only when we were stuffed like geese that the meal ended.

We made a good impression on the staff - they see clearly that we love our daughter very much and would help all the children there if we could. I like to think we helped the cause of Chinese adoption today.

And finally - Happy Chanukah from China!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Road Trip!

We are now in Sanya, a very nice resort town on the southern side of Hainan Island. This is where our daughter was born and where she spent the first two years or so of her life. Getting here from Haikou took about 4-5 hours by van, and it was fascinating all the way.

Once you get out of the cities, Hainan is largely covered with farms. The American concept of open space is mostly unknown here, and virtually every square meter of tillable land on both sides of the road is used for agriculture. Rice paddies, coconut groves, and fruit and vegetable fields of all kinds are everywhere. There was precisely one tractor we saw en route here. Everywhere else, water buffalo do the work of pulling plows and wagons as well as cropping the weeds and fertilizing the fields.

And speaking of fertilizer, we stopped at a gas station by the road for a pit stop. Anyone who is considering travel to China should be aware that while hotels and other establishments that cater to Westerners feature Western-style toilets, other places - how can I put this delicately - don't.


In a nutshell, unless you are (a) male and (b) standing up, using one of these things takes some dexterity.

Billboards along Chinese highways mostly sell cars and industrial equipment, but there was one that just floored me.


I know this is difficult to make out, but the billboard is selling Goat Placenta Wine. Really. It is apparently something of a local specialty, but I freely confess to be in no hurry to try out this one.

And on that note, it's time for dinner. I wonder what's on the wine list...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"A Boy for You; a Girl for Me..."

It's legal! It's done! We are now a family of four. Long Xiao-Ling is now officially, legally and irrevocably our daughter and Harry's sister. If you're wondering why we aren't posting the Shuchat-Marx version of Xiao-Ling's name, it's because we are observing a tradition of many Jews who don't publicize their child's name until the b'rit milah (if it's a boy) or b'rit bat/naming ceremony if it's a girl. So you'll find out her full name (which will include Xiao-Ling) on or after January 20, the date of her naming at Temple Rodeph Torah.

We know that her original last name, "Long," means "dragon." Furthermore, she was born in the Year of the Horse, and there is a Chinese legend about "spirit of horse and dragon." We'd like to find out more about that tradition so we can wrap our daughter that positive image, among others.

Yesterday after arriving back to the hotel from the Department of Civil Affairs, we took a breather. Our daughter wrapped herself up in the window curtains (she likes to look out at the stunning view of Evergreen Park from the "tai-tai", as she calls the window sill) and began to sing a sweet little ditty to the words, "Wei, wei, wei (her version of tra-la-la)" in a flutelike soprano. It was soooooo sweet and Mark recorded it on his cel phone. She loves to listen to it over and over and over again and so do we. At the height of a good mood she will sing, either alone or with me, and it's heaven.

She understands everything we say to her in English but continues to answer us in toddler Mandarin. We know it's toddler because we can't find certain words in the dictionary, and when we later ask Sabrina to translate she looks at us like we're talking baby talk - which of course we are. She then tutors Xiao-Ling in diction, and we've jokingly told her not to let her get too good. As I type this, Xiao-Ling just said, "du-ah,du-ah" for the eleventeenth time. We can't find it in the dictionary and Sabrina doesn't know what it is. I guess it's just one of the many mysteries about our little beauty.

Mark just took out the sugarless gum and Xiao-Ling went over to him to ask him to give her a piece for Mama. What a love.

Tonight we are lighting candles for the first night of Hanukkah. We have asked Sabrina to join us and she has accepted. Sabrina has become a member of our family too.

Going Shopping

I know I promised Jacquie could have the next crack at updating the blog, but I had to add this little bit. We went to Ever Green Park yesterday afternoon after lunch for a walk. Our little girl was tired of being cooped up and we don't blame her; she had a meltdown during lunch when I said it was time to stop playing with her coconut milk (very fresh, right off the tree) and start eating. (She did eventually forgive me for committing the cardinal sin of parenting - saying "no" - but it took a while.) She never did quite get to her lunch, but we took it back to our room and she devoured it for dinner.

After the park, we went to a department store a few doors down from our hotel to get Xiao-Ling some shoes. She actually does have shoes that she got from the foster care center, but we got her a pair of pink Disney sneakers and a pair of slightly more formal shoes for wearing around town.

The store was quite different from one in America - for starters, I have never been in a Sears where the kids' section overlaps with the lingerie section. We first saw the Barbie shelf amid racks of dainties, so our first reaction was to wonder just what kind of Barbie accessories they were selling here. After that got straightened out, it ended up being pretty amusing but still odd to see children's clothes and toys only a few feet away from a big poster of a woman modeling a bra and panties.

Another big difference is that when you buy something, you don't take items off the shelf and take them to a register to pay for them. Rather, after you pick the items you want, you get a slip which you take to a cashier. After you pay, the cashier stamps the slip, which you then take back to the department and retrieve your items.

The store also has a grocery section on the ground floor, so we picked up a few easy-make noodle soups for Xiao-Ling and a packet of powdered hot coconut drink for me. It's pretty good - we all had some and I definitely have to look for it when we get back to the States.

Today, we're going back to the Ministry to finalize the adoption. More to come!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Adoption Day, Phase I

Quite a day so far here. We started with breakfast down in the hotel restaurant, and we have simply never had anything like it. From salted duck eggs to congee (rice porridge) with various additions to Korean pickles to chicken eggs hard-boiled in tea, it was all new and all delicious. Except for the duck eggs, which Xiao-Ling and I found too salty for our palates.

On the other hand, Jacquie loved them, calling them "the goat cheese of the egg world" and asking if we could get a duck when we get home.

From there, it was to the Hainan Ministry to begin the process of formally adopting our little girl. We had to sign a lot of papers, including one promising we would not abandon her after the adoption - it's sad that such a thing would be needed but it has apparently happened. We also had to send one back because the address was formatted incorrectly. We worked with a notary and several representatives from Xiao-Ling's former orphanage in Sanya, the same place we will visit later this week.

Before we went to a photo shop in town for a family portrait that will be included with the formal adoption papers, Jacquie and I were thumb-printed in bright red ink. Xiao-Ling, who has very tiny thumbs, had her whole hand printed.


We also learned of our daughter's origins. She was abandoned by her birth parents when she was about ten months old, with only a note giving her date and time of birth (December 27, 2002, between 9AM and 11AM) and a 20 yuan note (worth about $2.50). She was found by a man who wanted her for his own but could not take care of her due to his modest means and her health problems. And so she was taken to the orphanage in Sanya, and from there she went to Los Angeles on a Heal the Children visa to get medical treatment. That's when we learned about her and, well, the rest is history.


En route to the photo shop, the orphanage representatives passed around rice crackers to celebrate, and Jacquie and I regaled everyone with a rousing chorus of "Siman Tov u Mazel Tov."

Tomorrow morning, we're going back to the Ministry office to finalize the adoption, so she will forever be our daughter legally.

The X-Files, Continued

We're in the Tropic of Cancer (oops, I first typed Tropic of Cantor) in the city of Haikou (pronounced high-KO) on the island province of Hainan off the southern coast of China. This is the island of our daughter's birthplace. It is also the southernmost part of the world we have ever visited, but that will change on Wednesday when we take a van to Sanya.

Mark and I have also recently been to the top of the world, literally - we took the Great Circle route in the plane from Newark to Beijing. When you fly West to go East, you go over the top of the North Pole. This route brings you to Asia sooner than flying laterally west. The only place farther north than that is the moon, I guess.

Anyway, back to Saturday. We got our excited but rather sleepy daughter back to the hotel and proceeded to get acquainted. She amused herself and us by turning all the lights on and off, massaging our hands with moisturizer, singing and dancing, and charming us in her deliciously sunny way. She loves to draw (and is good at it!) but when she started throwing the pens and paper around we knew it was nap time. Which led to her first meltdown with us.

As we petted her and hummed gently, she howled for her friends and her art supplies. Many tears of anguish fell down her lovely cheeks; clearly she had kicked off the mourning process for her old life. We'd been through it with Harry during his first two weeks with us, and we would see it through this time also. The fine line here is to let her know you're there with heaps of love, but to allow her to grieve as much as she needs to. If you stanch the tears, you cramp the soul and clot the healing process.

Eventually she and I fell asleep. I woke up five hours later next to a very limp, very cute bundle. Xiao-Ling is used to a tight schedule, but her life is changing now and she needs rest, so Mark and I chose to stick to our prime directive of "let sleeping babies lie." After she woke up we watched Chinese opera and ballet on TV and she was fascinated. Dinner was soup and salads from room service. Xiao-Ling insisted on serving herself, taking bowlful after bowlful of soup without spilling a drop. I can't do that with two good hands. She is amazing.

I'd conked out in the afternoon, so it was Mark's turn to conked out in the evening. Then it was girls' night in and I gave Xiao-Ling a shower bath. She protested with many squeaks of indignation when I lifted her into the tub, but as soon as she was clean and I started to drain the water, she sat down and began to play in it with a meltingly devastating smile. For the first time I got a full look at the surgery scar on her sternum. It's about six inches long and rather neat except for the very bottom which is slightly wavy in terms of skin texture. This little one has been through so much, but none of her scars are internal, thank God.

Xiao-Ling came to us wearing the clothes on her back, with her pajamas from the night before underneath. Although I put fresh underwear on her, I let her sleep in the pajamas she brought so that she would have a familiar bouquet in which to slumber. She got into the rollaway cot and indicated that I was to lie down with her. What a privilege. I gently opened the fingers of her left hand and massaged her limb as we launched into her first bedtime ritual as a Shuchat-Marx: songs (I See the Moon and Hush Little Baby), two books, plus the usual suspects: Bears in the Night, Goodnight Moon, (later we'll insert Michelle Shapiro Abraham's Laila Tov, as we did for Harry) and the bedtime Sh'ma. By the end she was fast asleep in my arms.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe and Source of all creation - for delivering these parents safely into the arms of our child, and for delivering our child safely into the arms of her parents. Amen Selah!

Sunday morning Mark and I gazed at our still-sleeping pipsqueak. Today would involve lots of travel, but first a moment of peaceful thanksgiving. We were rewarded by the morning's kiss of our daughter unfolding herself gently from slumber. Gracefully, stunningly, simply exquisite, she stirred, opened her gorgeous eyes, rubbed them slightly and gave her BaBa a slow, sweet, sassy smile. We were undone.

After a lovely Scandinavian breakfast (punctuated by our daughter's tonic recipe from the Joy of Disgusting Cuisine), we checked out and met Sabrina downstairs for the ride to the airport. The flight to Haikou took about three hours. I think Mark and I were the only non-Asians on the plane. We boarded last and people couldn't help staring. To one inquisitive but friendly countenance I boasted, "Wuo de bao-BEY (My daughter!)" and earned a satisfied "OHH! xie-xie (thanks)."

[N.B . - I love the way "thank you" sounds in Chinese. As a child who was raised on please and thank you, and as a cat-lover, my ear picks up the word as similar to the chuckle of joy my Siamese cat Pyewacket makes when you scratch his back. By the way, for you cat-lovers out there, the Chinese word for cat is Mao and the sound it makes is...Mao-Mao.]

Hainan is subtropical and we were wearing winter coats because even if we could have checked them into lockers at Beijing's airport, we're not flying back into Beijing from Hainan and we'll need the coats in Guangzhou. Yuck. But it's lushly gorgeous with palm trees everywhere, and I mean it makes Florida look like a desert in that regard. By the time we got our luggage, met our driver and got to the hotel, it was about 7pm and time for a meltdown from the peanut gallery. She was tired of course, and did not want to be separated from her ayeh Sabrina, who had a room just across the hall. So off to dinner we went. I could watch her eat all day. How can anyone with such delicate dining maneuvers eat like such a longshoreman? And where in the hell does she put it all? This dichotomy is part of the never-ending surprise package that is our brand-new daughter.

Bedtime, though it started out stormy, ended up sweet. Again I was told to report to my station in the rollaway bed. Again we massaged each other's hands with moisturizer. I pretended to conk out with my face down on the blanket; she stroked my hair, lifted up my head, pushed my hair out of my face, opened my left eye and grinned at me.

It's almost time to wake up, but it's been worth it to get all this down. Incidentally, "No" is not her only English word. She says two other things: "Butterfly" and "I love you."

Going South (but Not for the Winter)

We are now in Haikou, on the northern side of Hainan Province, off China's southern coast. It's very different from Beijing, as this city is visited mostly by Chinese nationals and virtually nothing here is in English. (If Sabrina from the agency were not traveling with us to help us handle everything and interpret for us, I think we'd manage to blunder our way into an international incident.) It's also known as a tourist mecca for said Chinese nationals, being filled with nightclubs and neon.

Our daughter was clearly concerned as we packed up this morning, probably wondering if we were about to go off and leave her behind. Of course, this was simply not happening. Jacquie was able to get some smiles out of her by playing ringtones on her cell phone, from "Spongebob" to the Hallelujah Chorus.

The flight from Beijing to Haikou was of course very different from an American flight - we've never flown on Southwest when the airline serves coconut milk and beef with rice. Xiao-Ling fell asleep in her mother's arms for an hour or two, then sat next to me for the remainder of the flight, devouring buns and most of my rice. We giggled as we ate lunch together, grinning at each other and rubbing our tummies.


Speaking of food, I think our daughter will be a chef, a chemist or both. At breakfast yesterday in Beijing, she had a merry time combining various liquids - water, milk, orange juice, soy sauce, you name it - into a glass and downing the lot. She also charmed the socks off everyone there, from other CHI families to the wait staff, whom she helped out by carting silverware and other table items over to them.

We find ourselves better connecting with Xiao-Ling almost continually. Our Chinese and her English are both virtually nonexistent, but we are able to get the point across by nonverbal cues, gestures, and so on. And in return, she tells us what she wants by context - for example, when she needs to use the bathroom and needs one of us to lift her onto the toilet.

This is not to say that we're totally linguistically at odds, as we've learned to recognize some Chinese phrases to determine what she is saying and her English is starting to come back. She's already told us the #1 kid word in America - "no."

Last night, we shared a meal at the hotel with Sabrina. Our young lady happily downed heaping quantities of noodle soup, papaya soup, beef with vegetables and warm coconut broth. She grandly declared "Xiao-Ling likes meat!" (We're not really sure just why she referred to herself in the third person, but we're not worried about it.) And it was kind of amusing for Jacquie and myself to receive silverware, even though we're both quite dexterous with chopsticks, while Sabrina and Xiao-Ling did not. Nevertheless, we demonstrated our talents ably, thereby possibly making ourselves a little less strange in our surroundings.

This morning, we will start the formal adoption process, which will take a couple of days. More to come!