It was a crazy morning of packing everyone up to leave for Guangzhou, getting Ming’s passport and checking out of the hotel. We had gotten very comfortable there and it was definitely hard to leave but it was time to head south for the next phase of paperwork. Our bus/van broke down on the way to the airport so we were ‘stranded’ on the side of the road for about 45 minutes while we waited for another driver. We still got to the airport with plenty of time to spare and Mary helped us navigate getting all the bags checked and making sure everyone had tickets. There were three other families on our flight so the girls all got to run around the gate area until it was time to board. We had lollipops for all the kids which was a hit but very messy. (I was completely sticky before we even took off.) Salty caramel was Ming and Mia’s favorite flavor.
We arrived in Guangzhou in the early evening and our guide, Lee, met us at the airport and got us checked into the hotel. We stayed on Shamian Island which has the vibe of a South Florida resort. The weather was nice and warm and the architecture is British colonial. All adoption appointments for the doctor and consulate used to be on the island and you could just walk, but more recently the offices have moved inland. The island is also home to the White Swan hotel where many people have stayed as part of their adoption trip. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation during our visit. Our hotel was very nice but probably more suited to a romantic getaway rather than a family with toddler.
We were up for an early breakfast and off to the doctor’s office for Ming’s medical report and visa pictures. Lee kept us moving and we were lucky to be the first family in and out of the office that morning. Just as we were finishing up, 10-15 families arrived at the same time so we were very glad to have gotten an early start.
Our next stop was the grocery store to get snacks and drinks for the hotel room. The store had almost an entire floor devoted to New Year’s decorations and candy. We had fun picking out a few more decorations and gathering a couple bags of assorted candy to bring back for Mia’s hockey team. Back at the island, there was an art fair going on just down from our hotel. We had a caricature done from a photo of Mia and her friend Chanel with the Stanley Cup. The artist asked if we wanted their names in Chinese underneath but we opted for ‘Girls Rule, Boys Drool’ instead. He thought that was hilarious!
The laundry was at crisis stage so Doug and Mia venture out to find a place to take it. They found Jessica’s, a one-stop shop for laundry and almost any gift item you can imagine. Jess has quite the business and by the end of the day she had Doug passing out her store business cards to the other American families who were staying on the island. We wondered if business was a bit slow due to the White Swan Hotel being closed. Dinner was early (or a very late lunch) at Lucy’s – an Americanized Chinese restaurant. The food is really good though with outdoor seating and a view of the park that runs along the river.
We started our day downstairs with a big breakfast. Each hotel has had a large buffet and this one did as well but it also included an omelet bar and espresso machine. We were the only people down at breakfast and wondered if anyone else was even staying at the hotel…kind of creepy.
Lee picked us up late morning and we went to the Six Banyan Temple. The buildings in the compound were fairly close together and bordered a central courtyard. Ming had a great time running around with Mia chasing behind. We got to watch part of a ceremony in the main temple before leaving. Our next stop was the Liu Hua Hu Lake Park…lovely! There were walking paths surrounded by mini-lagoons with resting points anchored by large banyan trees. The flowers were in full bloom since the weather was in the mid 60s. Doug had Ming in the back pack and people were very curious about us. They collected quite a crowd while trying to explain our trip to the group. There was definitely a language barrier during our whole trip but overall people were very patient and wanted to talk with us. We always felt very welcome.
There was an area in the park devoted to table tennis, both singles and doubles. Doug was watching a group play and was invited to join in. He was matched with an older gentleman who had taken up table tennis in his retirement. It was hard to tell if the match up was even or if the guy was going easy on Doug, but they had a great time. They even let Doug and Mia play a few points before it was time to turn over the table to another group.
Doug and Mia crossed the bridge, from the island to mainland, in the afternoon to check out the spice market. (Ming was taking a nap so I decided to wait for another day to go over.) This spice market is one of the largest for medicinal herbs and spices. They saw mushrooms the size of car tires, buckets full of live scorpions and even a family of taxidermied deer.
That night we went to dinner with another family who had adopted a daughter, about Ming’s age, from the same province. They were lots of fun to hang out with and reminded us of Doug’s fabulous cousins in Portland. The restaurant put us in a private room, we’re not sure why, which made things easier with the two high chairs for the girls. We ordered by looking at pictures on the menu and hoping for the best. Some dishes were a bit of a surprise but we did learn an important new detail. You can pay extra to get a meat dish without the bones chopped up and cooked/served with the meat. It made the food much easier to eat.
We went to the Guangzhou Zoo in the morning. As expected, the pandas were asleep and hard to see. The tigers, elephants and monkeys were very active and fun to watch. Ming slept through the first part of the visit but finally woke up and was fascinated with some miniature deer, maybe because they were more her size. Quite a few of the habitats were under construction and the ones that were open looked very well maintained and fairly roomy. It was another beautiful day and we were appreciating not being home in the brutal Chicago cold weather.
That afternoon, our new friends from St. Louis met us back at the island for lunch at Lucy’s outdoor café. Afterwards, Mia and Mora played badminton and ran around. Mora was a good buddy to Mia and gave her a nice break to hang out with someone closer to her own age. The girls got chased out of their badminton game by a group of military/police trainees. The group brought out a bunch of large mats, rifles and fighting sticks. Then they did an hour or so of drills and training. It was interesting to watch for a few minutes but the activities really took over the whole park and made it difficult for anyone else to use the area.
Doug scoped out a place for dinner and was excited to eat pigeon. Our guide Lee had recommended it as a local specialty. As we were seated and checking out the menu it looked strangely familiar. We finally realized that it was the same restaurant we had eaten at a few nights before but at a second location. Good thing we ordered different things the second time around!
Lee had us up and ready to go early for our visa interview and family swear ceremony. The swearing in ceremony is a group thing and we did it with about 30 other families. Then we were first up for our visa interview, thank you Lee for getting us to the front of the line again! The other families cheered for us when we were done and then we had the rest of the day to enjoy. We finished shopping for gifts and then took a cab over to where our St. Louis friends were staying. (Most of the adopting families were there instead of on the island.) Mia and Mora went swimming in the outdoor pool and then we went out for an early dinner.
There was a 20 block loop of restaurants and businesses around the hotel. The girls chose a dumpling restaurant so we set out to find it. The walk was fun but we made almost the whole way around and must have missed the restaurant. We were all really hungry by then and decided to just go to a different place…but no dumplings. 😦 It was another delicious meal with great company and we were sad to say goodbye. We promised to stop in St. Louis on one of our drives back from Kansas.
We were up early to enjoy our last day in China. After breakfast, we crossed the bridge and walked to the spice market so that I could see the giant mushrooms and scorpions. We had lunch at Lucy’s again and then went back to the hotel to finish packing. Doug had to run out and buy a big backpack to fit all the extra stuff.
Lee arrived around 3:00 with Ming’s visa and to take some photos with us. Our driver showed up at 3:30 and it was time to leave for Hong Kong. The drive was just over 4 hours through never-ending urban sprawl. We mostly slept during the drive. There was a slight glitch once we got to Hong Kong. Hotels.com had made a mistake and had moved our booking to another hotel away from the airport instead of the Marriott right by the airport. You have to love the customer service at Marriott though; they set us up in a room right away. We had plenty of time to relax, go swimming, eat and get to bed so that we could be up early for our flight home.
We got to the airport three hours early to work on checking in for our flight. We had problems trying to check in Ming and her one-way ticket online so needed to get it resolved at the airport. Cathay Pacific moved Mia, Ming and I to the bassinet seat which was very nice. It was still a really long flight, 14 hours, with very little sleep for any of us. The movie selection was extensive though and kept us entertained.
We landed at O’Hare right on time and had no problems getting our bags quickly. The immigration line only took about 20 minutes, then another 20 minutes for an additional paperwork stop for Ming. Then we were on our way back home. It was nice to know we were finally bringing Ming home but we were already missing the fabulous time we had in China and talking about when we would go back!
See more photos at http://www.flickr.com/jilldaffodil