*Note: If you just want to see the photos from this portion of our trip, scroll down and click on the video link at the very bottom. The narrative gives a lot more detail, as we want Mei Li to have a really thorough story of our trip to her birth country.
Ready for departure! Three happy travelers!
Our “Mission to Mei Li” began on October 15, 2014. We departed from Buffalo and were fortunate that the weather cooperated on our departure date. If you know anything about Buffalo weather….it’s very unpredictable! We arrived at the airport WELL in advance of takeoff due to Jim’s need to be at the airport several hours before the flight. Christine is a little more lax about “time schedules”. We were in “carry-on only mode” but did check 1 bag in Buffalo all the way to Beijing. That bag had food, liquids and an arsenal of medication that we were prepared to leave in China before returning home. Food? Yes….granola bars, trail mix, crackers, peanut butter, dried fruit, etc. Jim wouldn’t leave home without it! We decided to do “Carry On” only, because on the way home, we had a very short connection time in Detroit, and would need to get our newest family member, a Chinese citizen, through immigration. It wasn’t hard to do “Carry On” on the way there, but on the way home, with Mei Li, it was slightly more challenging. (More on that later!) Right now, the emotions of excitement, mixed with some anxiety about the long flight were flowing out of our pores! James said it best while we were waiting to board our long haul flight in Detroit, “This is the best day of my life!”
“This is the best day of my life!” James proclaims.
Our long haul flight to Beijing (12+ hours!) wasn’t too bad, as we were introduced to inflight entertainment, which included free Disney movies! To say James was excited about his own personal tv on the seat back, would be an understatement. Jim enjoyed a James Bond flick and worked on an art project with James. James worked on homework and watched How to Train Your Dragon 2, and Christine watched the Hunger Games Part 2. We all drew pictures, played cards, and had some interesting Asian cuisine. James slept for about 4 hours, Christine describes her sleeping as “sporadic”, and Jim was unable to sleep…at all. He’s a very nervous traveler. On that flight, we were also introduced to the “Asian amazement” with fair-haired, blue-eyed children. While on a leisurely walk through the cabin to use the bathroom, two different Chinese couples touched James’ hair or face while smiling and saying, “such a beautiful boy.” This was, of course, the middle of the night and James was completely scared and clung to my leg for the rest of the trip to the bathroom. This was the first of many experiences of this fascinating (but not to James) phenomenon. We must admit, with rare exception, we saw very few caucasians in China. We did see many in Guangzhou, but that was due to the International Trade Show that was going on at the same time as our visit.
At this point…I couldn’t believe we had only been flying for 3 hours!! 9 hours to go!!! Yikes!
October 16, 2014: Our arrival in the Biejing airport was also uneventful as we were able to clear customs in under twenty minutes, despite what appeared to be hundreds of people waiting in line. The whole process was pretty efficient. We met our guide near the exit, and began our long van ride into the city of Beijing. Along with our family in the van, was a fellow adoptive dad, Matt, who was flying solo to pick up his son in Nanjing. We were impressed that he was alone but he said his wife was not a good traveler, and he was unable to bring his entire family. As a side note, in a conversation with Matt later in the trip, we came to discover that he was a former lawyer, like Jim, and decided on another career as he saw his life heading down the wrong road.
The Novatel Hotel was our destination, and we were simply happy to finally relax…but did we? We arrived at the hotel around 5pm, ate dinner, and were in bed by 6:30 pm. Unfortunately, jetlag has a funny way of messing with your internal clock. We all fell right to sleep, but were awake again in just a couple of hours. “Is it really only 9:30pm?” It honestly felt like we had slept all night. Unfortunately, we would not sleep much at all for the rest of the night, making for a really tough morning! Good thing Jim also packed Starbucks coffee and a french press! Similar sleep patterns were true for the better part of three days until we adjusted to the 12 hour difference in time zones. One morning, James even woke up at 4am, watched a movie on the ipad and then did some homework….all before breakfast!
James loves to draw, color and design. Here, he is working on some homework with a great view of Beijing!
October 17, 2014: We were up early(very early for some of us) for our trip to the Great Wall of China! Our guide, Forest, was very entertaining. His English was excellent, and he easily told jokes while educating us about the city of Beijing. Jim was impressed with his knowledge of American football, and he sports a Donavan McNabb Philadelphia Eagles jersey wherever he goes! He said he usually gets a jersey just before the player gets traded so he claims he was bad luck for those players.
We had a beautiful sunny day, with very little pollution. Forest said the week before, the pollution was very bad, and he would’ve insisted that the kids wear masks on their climb up to protect their lungs. We were so glad that we didn’t have to wear those! There were about 8 families on the tour. All but two families were adopting boys! This shows how the China Adoption program has changed since the 1990’s. Many more boys are being adopted from China, and in fact, there is a greater need for families who are willing to adopt a boy. Anyone have room in their homes for a boy? 😉 We met two other families who would be traveling with us to Wuhan to get their children (both boys). All the other families would travel to different parts of China, but we would meet up again in Guangzhou at the end of the trip. James was very happy as one family brought their 8 year old son with them. The two became fast friends and were inseparable! What an absolute blessing to have him on our entire journey through China. James would have had a much different experience without his new buddy!
James and his best friend at the Great Wall entrance.
The Great Wall was simply amazing both in size and scope. From a distance, it looked like a picture until you actually climbed the steps. There were thousands of tourists there that day and thousands of steps! James was asked MANY more times by Chinese people to take his picture. If they did not have a camera, they would simply smile and touch his hair and face and would say things like, “Such a beautiful boy” or “I love you, boy.” By the end of our time at The Great Wall, James was all Poparazi’d up with sunglasses and a hat to hide his new found fame.
Hats and sunglasses are a must for these two cuties! They’re hiding from the many people who want to take their picture!
Following The Great Wall, we went to a Jade Factory and ate lunch in the same location. We learned a lot about jade that we didn’t know before, including how to spot fake jade from the MANY vendors selling on the streets. Jim bought Christine a nice jade bangle and a beautiful sculpture that symbolizes the many generations of family that fit together like a puzzle. Although we would be meeting Mei Li on Christine’s birthday…Jim wasn’t getting off easy! Presents!! Lunch was delicious…eating “family style” with all the dishes placed in the center on the “lazy susan”. Each person took a bit of what they wanted as the food was slowly spun in front of you. James thought that was pretty cool, and waiting anxiously for the items that most resembled “chicken nuggets”. Even Jim found a few things that he enjoyed including a local homebrew called Yanjing! Everything tastes better with beer, apparently!
After lunch, the tour continued into central Beijing in an area called Hutong Lane. Although this area looks really poor and run down (and some parts really really smell, due to their restroom plumbing differences), it is a highly sought after location. Forest described the people who live here as “sitting on the gold.” His real estate friend only needs to make 2 sales per year to live comfortably off the commissions of the sales. We learned that people are looking to purchase centrally located properties in Beijing. They will purchase old, run down, “smelly” places at a premium and then fix them up beautifully. I guess even in China the saying rings true…”Location, Location, Location!” The rickshaw ride through this area was really interesting. Riding through this old neighborhood, with narrow streets, we saw young professionals bustling here and there, and older (and younger) locals just “hanging out” having conversation or sipping coffee at a local shop. One funny thing happened while we were riding along…the rickshaw driver peddling just ahead of us, took a look at his phone, and ran right into the rickshaw in front of him! “Don’t text and peddle, buddy! Eyes on the road!”
The rickshaw ride….highly recommended! Fun for all ages!
Back at the hotel, we discovered that some of the best Western cuisine was actually on the room service menu. Jim and James were not as receptive to Asian dishes so we found BLTs and club sandwiches from the room service menu was just what the doctor ordered! Also, James and his new friend bonded over some pool time, and then we all went to bed early….but again, I can’t say any of us slept well, even after a long day like that!
October 18: Since Christine had made the long journey to China about 7 years ago, she was happy to stay back at the hotel with James today, take naps, and chill out to movies. She knew that the tour to Tianamen Square and The Forbidden City included a lot of walking, and that a certain 5 year old would not find those sites nearly as interesting as The Great Wall and the Rickshaw Ride through Hutong Lane. So, she and James laughed at some funny Chinese cartoons on TV, and tried to get some rest. Even though the cartoons were in Mandarin, James LOVED them. I guess cartoons are in a universal language.
Jim was up early and the day began with an exciting event…distribution of the RED BOOK! The Red Book is the final update on your child and contains helpful information about the Chinese culture. It also contained more pictures of our little butterfly. Our guide handed the books out to all the families in the hotel lobby after our morning breakfast at the hotel –Western faire which was the major source .of food intake for the day. Jim ran the book upstairs to Christine and James so we could all look at it together. He then ran back downstairs to the bus. His trip to Tiananmen Square began with an explanation by Forest of the significance of Moa and how he ordered the construction of the square. He also explained how his tomb was located at the end of the square opposite the Forbidden City. As we entered the square, we were met by armed guards who checked our information. We were all then allowed to enter the square by walking in an underground tunnel that passed under the street and up into the square. The square is massive and is in fact the largest public square in the world. We saw a line that wound around for several hundred yards and were told that it was the line to see Moa’s tomb. We were told it takes hours to get through the line even though you actually walk past the tomb at a fairly quick pace. Approximately half way across the square (about ¼ mile) Forest explained to us about the National Museum and Legislative House of China. The buildings were on opposite sides of the square. At the far end of the square was a cool monument where two soldiers stood perfectly still and at attention. It reminded Jim of the soldiers at the tomb of the unknown soldier or the guards at Buckingham Palace. Forest told us that we would next visit the Forbidden City but we would need to leave the square by passing under the street through another tunnel.
On the other side, we saw the Forbidden City which contained a giant portrait of Moa outside. I took a picture of it, but Flat Stanley decided to photo bomb it…sillly kid! (We brought Flat Stanley as a favor to another adoptive mom that Christine “met” through Facebook. Her daughter, who was adopted from China several years before, was participating in a school project where a character from a book, Flat Stanley, visits different parts of the world.) The city was amazing and took 20 years to build in the 1700’s. The one down-side to its construction was that it was made entirely of wood and the whole thing is connected! Although it took 20 years to build, only three years after it was first constructed, it burned to the ground. Forest said it burned a total of three times since it was first constructed. Jim thought it was funny that there were two huge cisterns that Forest said were filled with water in case of a fire…apparently not too effective!
Flat Stanley was our quietest traveller…but he liked to “photo bomb” our images!
After leaving the square, we headed to lunch where we met a representative from our agency who answered any last minute questions prior to our departure to our child’s province. Once again, the food was challenging for Jim, but he found most of the dishes (minus the one with the fish heads staring at him) rather good! An exciting event at the lunch was news that one of our fellow adoptive families would be going to get their child that day! In fact, they left lunch in a cab so they could head to get her…very exciting as this was this family’s first child.
After lunch we headed to a silk factory where we learned about how silk is spun and how it is done entirely by hand. We were even allowed to try and pull out silk into layers and make a comforter. We were told that we were not very good and would not last long in the silk industry! Jim was able to get a piece of red silk for James as he really wanted a silk blanket! We returned to the hotel and once again enjoyed something off the room service menu! We tried to get to bed early as we leaving the next day to Wuhan to meet our Mei Li!
October 19: Today we boarded our last flight as a group of 3, and traveled about 1 hour south to Wuhan in the province of Hubei. This is Mei Li’s home town…and is the home town of 9 and a half million other Chinese citizens. This is considered a “medium sized city” in China. Medium? Christine has a nasty eye infection, which we think is a sty. Hot compresses provide relief, but she is unhappy about her “make up free face”. She doesn’t want to add anything to her eye that might irritate it, since the air quality is probably making it worse anyways! There is a lot of pollution in China, but the government is trying to do something about it. The flight is quick and painless and we met our new guide, “Christina”, in the airport. Now, we found the hotel room in Beijing small, and the beds were tiny, but apparently that was a luxury compared to the room in Wuhan! The beds were still about the same size…tiny….but there really wasn’t any “space” in the actual room. There was limited drawer space for clothing and NO place to put items that would be interesting, but dangerous, to a toddler….like medication. The only additional space that we had in the room was now taken up with….(exciting)….a crib! The crib also looked a bit sketchy, and small, but all in all….everything turned out just fine.
Ready to become big brothers! One for the first time, and one for the third time!
How did it turn out? Read the next chapter to find out our “Wuhan Wonder Woman Won our Hearts!”