Saturday, April 19, 2008

April 7, 2003

Sorry for the long delay in finishing our story, but a lot has happened in the last two weeks. Don't worry -- nothing particularly earth shattering. I just had a personal goal of getting all our tax-related paperwork finished by April 1 so that our accountant would have a couple of weeks to work on it, and then on April 4, Madeline and I drove to Tennessee for a family wedding. (No, I did not let Madeline drive. Her feet don't reach the pedals yet, and my gut sense is that she will be a speeder.) We returned on April 6, and since that time, I've been crunching away on Girl Scout stuff. I lead Madeline's Daisy troop. I had new leader training last weekend, and the Spring merchandise sale stuff came in and had to be distributed to the parents. On top of all this, I've been doing shuttle diplomacy for four different appeals at work. I've had no time to write. Zero, zip, nada. The dust has settled now, and I can continue the saga.

We spent a few days in Nanning waiting for Madeline's Chinese passport and various other documents, then on Friday, April 4, we flew to Guangzhou for the last leg of our trip. And that's when things started to get weird -- at least they did for us. Here's an email home dated April 7, which I wrote while Kevin was at our Consulate appointment for Madeline's visa. I've interjected a few comments in brackets.

Hello everyone!

Greetings from the epicenter of SARS. We are in Guangzhou getting Madeline's visa. Guangzhou reminds me a lot of San Francisco. On the water, cool and foggy.
[I will add here, five years after the fact, that unlike the City by the Bay, Guangzhou is not particularly hilly.] Although the Consulate assures us everything is okay -- no one there has gotten sick, and they have a lot of public contact -- we have been told not to go out where there are crowds of people and are complying. To save us from venturing out, they even did a "group swear" at the hotel. [After writing this email, I learned that they actually did it at the Consulate. We were told it would be at the hotel, but apparently they put everyone who showed up on the bus when the appointed time came. They did, however, allow us to send only one parent and did not require us to bring the baby.] We are also coming back one day early and avoiding spending the night in Hong Kong, which was our original itinerary.

Fortunately, this is a VERY nice hotel, comparable to a big Park Avenue hotel in NYC, so we are very comfortable even as we are cloistered somewhat. Kevin went back to Shamian Island this afternoon to shop. I'd love to see more of the city myself, but because it's raining and I've been running a low-grade fever since last Wednesday (I caught Madeline's cold), I am typing one-handed and holding her with the other.

After spending Thursday touring the Nanning countryside and visiting a farm village similar to the one where Madeline was likely conceived and born (you've never seen poverty like this, believe me), we got all her paperwork on Friday morning and flew to Guangzhou on Friday night. Madeline did very well on the plane. [Kevin tells me he's seen far worse poverty in the Philippines. The guides did tell us that this particular village was relatively wealthy; nonetheless, seeing it was still sobering for a rich, fat American like me.] No screaming. She just went right to sleep. We spent Saturday getting her visa physical exam and photos made, as well as shopping on Shamian Island. BTW, Madeline is 28.5 inches high and weighs 19.3 lbs.

On Sunday, we went to church on Shamian Island right by the Consulate. It was an "official" protestant church, but the people were very fervent. [It's a partial misconception that people can't worship in China. You can worship, but it has to be at a government-approved church. The government-sanctioned protestant denomination is called the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.] We sang hymns in Mandarin -- same hymns, and they had the Pinyin (English phonetic) words on an overhead screen. They had an English language translator for the sermon. The sermon was on 2nd Timothy. It was more in the nature of a Bible study than an American sermon, and definitely had a cultural twist. The pastor talked about being a good citizen of China AND Christian. He also admonished the younger parishioners to obey their parents and grandparents. [Very Chinese.] We met a bunch of young university students who spoke good English and had a nice visit while waiting for the service to begin. They were very supportive of international adoption of orphaned or abandoned children like Madeline. On Sunday afternoon we saw the Guangdong Folk Art Museum. What a place! Beautiful paintings, ceramics, bone carving, wood carving and embroidered pieces to die for. Today was the group swear. Since they only needed one parent, I stayed in the room with Madeline and Kevin went.

Madeline is doing beautifully. She still has a cold and scabies, both of which we are treating, but she's really warmed up to us and is showing us what she can do and who she is. She's a velcro baby with me and is gradually warming up to Kevin. She took her first steps on Saturday afternoon. The orphanage told me she was right on the verge of walking. We had a meeting to do paperwork on Saturday, and we, of course, brought her. She saw a ziplock bag of Cheerios (a favorite of this little girl) on the other side of the room and just took off. She's not real steady on her feet, but she walks on her own, and we got to witness those first steps. Unfortunately, we didn't have the cameras with us at the time.

She also talks a little. In Cantonese, of course. The waitress this morning translated, and she's definitely trying to communicate with us. She asked us for milk (nai-nai). She also calls me "mama" and Kevin "dada." She also loves to steal things from us and play games. She's anything but peaceful and quiet, which is another meaning for her name.

I'll write some more when I get back. It's hard to do this with a baby on your lap!

One of my few regrets about the trip was not getting out more during the Guangzhou leg. We'd heard time and time again from adoptive parents that Guangzhou is a terrific city with wonderful, child-friendly restaurants and fabulous shopping, much of which is on Shamian Island where the U.S. Consulate is located. (The fabled White Swan Hotel is also on Shamian Island, and most adoptive families stay there. Our agency, America-World Adoption Association, doesn't use the White Swan, so we missed that part of the China adoption experience. Oh, well. Some parents are peeved when they learn that AWAA uses a different hotel, but the agency has its reasons, and they are good ones. And the China Hotel where we stayed is itself fabulous.) We'd heard about the lovely park across from our hotel. We'd heard about the famed open-air food market where you can get just about anything you might want to eat, including animals that we Americans consider house pets. We'd heard about the beautiful Six Banyan Temple, a renouned Buddhist cultural site. We missed all that. And we broke our rule and ate at Mickey D's our first night there. It was next to the hotel. (I don't regret eating at McDonalds, but I do regret introducing Madeline to french fries at such a tender age. She was also introduced to another favorite while still in China: chocolate ice cream. See the video above.) Hopefully, we'll get back to Guangzhou in not too many years. I want to see it properly.

We also missed our Hong Kong layover. I've always wanted to go to Hong Kong. We'd planned to fly out of Guangzhou with our group the morning of April 9. Our group was leaving Guangzhou at 6:30 a.m. and taking a 30-minute hop to Hong Kong, then flying back to Chicago at noon. We planned to check into the airport hotel instead, spend the 9th playing in Hong Kong, and leave on the same flight the next day. Our agency advised us that it might be wise to return with the group instead, so we changed our flights while we were in Guangzhou. While I was disappointed on both counts, it was smart to do what we did, given that the World Health Organization had declared Guangzhou to be the epicenter of SARS the very week that we arrived there.

While the email above sounds totally cheery, the truth was, I felt like crap. I didn't have a low-grade fever, unless you consider 101.5 to be low-grade. I had a dry, hacking cough and trouble breathing. Even though it was cool in Guangzhou, sweat just poured off of my body with the slightest activity. I had zero energy. It was hard work just getting out of bed and taking care of the baby. My gut was going crazy, and I was losing weight at a precarious rate. I was disappointed to have to miss so much on this long-awaited trip, but there was definitely something wrong with my body. I wanted to go home. April 9 did not come a moment too soon.

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