Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Too cool for words

Our apologies for not posting too much lately. First Meg was sick, then Dan got sick, then Meg's back went out, but CJ? She's just plugging along.

Here's one of the ways she cracks us up. When she moves from a sitting position to a crawl, she spreads her legs wide and goes into a split!

The time-lapse photography:

And here's how it looks "real-time," when she's on the move:

However, she's already getting tired of crawling and can now hoist herself up on her two legs and walk around a bit (provided she's got the coffee table as a support, of course):


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Two more photos

Breakfast and Dinner from yesterday:

And yes, we're still suffering from jet lag...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Happy at home

We haven't unpacked yet, but at least we're having fun:

And here's a few nice shots from a photo shoot with Mommy:

Recipe: Jet Lag Congee

Get home Wednesday afternoon. Struggle to stay awake until 8pm.

Wake up thinking it's 6am, but then realize it's actually midnight.

Hear CJ start to cry. Take CJ out of the bedroom so she doesn't (fully) wake up Mommy.

Add 2 cups rice to 16 cups boiling water. Realize you're making way too much congee. Add a bouillion cube for taste.

Play with CJ for an hour as congee simmers. Stir occasionally.

As CJ tires, pick her up, walk her around until she falls back asleep. Let congee cool.

When CJ wakes up again at 4:30, again pick her up and take her out of the room.

Put her on the floor with "educational" toys. As you peel two sweet potatoes, watch her ignore the toys and play with the luggage yet to be unpacked.

Chop the sweet potatoes into 1/2" cubes, checking CJ occasionally. Sautee in olive oil while holding CJ. Enjoy sensation of cooking a meal for your daughter for the first time, then freak as she tries to jump out of your arms into the frying pan. Cook until soft.

Serve congee with sweet potato. Enjoy first breakfast at home (at 5:30am).


Home sweet home

Here we are Wednesday afternoon, a little tousled and jet lagged, but happy to be home:

And, because the previous photo was so popular, we have a special, behind the scenes look at "The Making of the Red Couch Photo" for everyone:

Monday, January 22, 2007

The red couch photo

Today is (hopefully) our last day in Guangzhou. We leave tomorrow, bright and early.

Yesterday, we went to the US Consulate for "the swear." We did not, as one might expect, swear an oath that we will bring CJ up to be a proper American or something of the sort. Nope. Instead, we simply swore an oath that all the forms that we filled out contained the truth and nothing but the truth.

Here's the utterly bizarre part. This oath was administered by Karen Hughes, Undersecretary of State for Public Affairs. With a special guest appearance by Michelle Kwan and the American Ambassador to China.

Apparently it was some sort of photo op, except that they wouldn't allow the parents to bring cameras (or cell phones, or bags) and the state dept lackeys didn't take any photos.

But Meg did introduce CJ to Michelle ("Michell, CJ. CJ, Michelle."), and when Michelle asked if we were going to raise CJ to be an ice skater, Meg responded, "First thing's first, we're trying to get her to walk."

Anyhow, back to the red couch at the White Swan Hotel, a tradition for families who adopt from China. You see, everyone who adopts has to pass through Guangzhou and get the visas processed by the consulate here. And we all stay at the White Swan, the most expensive hotel in South China, because of it's proximity to the US Consulate. Of course, the Consulate moved to a different location a half hour away, but families still stay at this place on the off chance that we have any money left in our bank accounts awaiting extraction.

The tradition is that all the children travelling in an adoption group have their photo taken on one of the hotel's supposedly famous red couches. Because all of the kids in our group are in various stages of illness or convalescence, we decided to do this photo solo, as a family:

We'll be back in NYC tomorrow.

Love to all,
CJ, Meg, and Dan

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Video? We got video.

Our new family had dinner last night with Dan's former colleague Jeff, who is living in China (teaching at the University in Xi'an).

These videos are kind of long, but do a great job of showing her personality.

Here's CJ stealing the show at dinner:

And here she is putting off bed time:


A scorching case of PINK BUY?!?

Here's the real scoop on health-related matters: the day before we were united with CJ, Dan (who many of you know is Mr. Anti-Pink) and I got worried we hadn't brought enough warm clothes for her, so we did a little shopping. Dan picked out an outfit where the predominant color was pale pink.

Now, who's not feeling well!?!

Seriously, I'm getting back in the land of the living -- the regimen of antibiotics I've been on has been key but your wishes for my speedy recovery, and especially seeing and knowing CJ is happy and healthy (and an awesome sleeper to boot!), have been the best medicine!

-- Meg

Photos and update

We are in so many ways amazingly lucky. Although Meg's been under the weather for much of the past week, she is finally starting to feel better. CJ has so far been quite healthy. She's babbling and giggling, sleeps soundly, and is very active and curious. When we met her, she couldn't even roll over on her back. Now, she's on the verge of walking.

CJ has also eaten everything we have given her without any problems. Here's she is chomping some noodles:

And here she is in her first official photo shoot:

We are so blessed indeed.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

We're in Guangzhou

Guangzhoy is the last stop on our trip. In the eyes of the Chinese Government, CJ is legally our daughter. In Guangzhou, we will get recognition from the US government.

Our apologies for not posting more--it's been far busier than we thought.

Here's a few final photos from Nanchang.

CJ in the hotel room:

and Mom and CJ at the Tengwang Pavillion:

More to come...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Before and After Shots

Mom's laid up today with a cold/sore throat type of thing, so CJ and I went for a brief walk around the tourist shops near our hotel. It was our first unescorted venture.

Here's CJ waiting for the elevator in the hotel:

And here she is on our return to the hotel room:

The first thought that occurred was that she usually takes a nap later in the afternoon; was I courting disaster by letting her sleep earlier? The second thought was that if I were to let her sleep, I should probably take her out of the stroller. But then she would kick up a fuss, waking up Mom.

I chose to let sleeping babies lie, and joined the crew with my own nap...


A few videos

Yestersay (Tuesday) started out with a real bang--as we tried to pick her up out of the hotel's crib, the crib collapsed. Fortunately, we caught her and no harm was done.

The good news is that she slept the night. And she slep through the night last night as well.

We thought we'd give a few videos as an update today.

Here's Meg and CJ introducing themselves to each other:

And here they are getting to know each other a bit more quietly:

Lastly, here's a woman who works at the orphanage who explains how to say Ling Cha Jiao:

Our apologies for not updating yesterday. We didn't have time until the evening, and the hotel server was running quite slow.

All in all, everything's going wonderfully.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The long awaited photos

Today went better than expected. Although we were not able to get CJ to pose for a family photo (that will come tomorrow, hopefully), we did get a few good shots:

Here's the blow by blow, in brief:

At 2:45pm, we show up at the hotel lobby with some paperwork and bags of gifts for the orphanage. Meg and I and five other couples (including one single mother and her Dad) are led to a hotel conference room, where we wait impatiently for our daughters.

The orphanage director and staff show up with the six girls dressed in identical and extremely cute red outfits. My attempts to photograph the scene were not quite adequate, regrettably, although Meg managed to get a good shot of CJ and I.

After filling out some paperwork, we took CJ upstairs where she had a complete meltdown. Screaming unconsolably, I walked her back and forth in our room; managed to get her to nap for 15 minutes and then she started up again. Finally, Meg managed to feed her a bottle, and all of the sudden she must have decided that we weren't half bad because she pretty much calmed down.

We even took her down to the hotel restaurant for dinner, where she ate a bowl of corn congee.

After dinner, she fussed and cried a bit, but it was relatively minor and much much quieter. And now she's asleep.

An unbelievable day.


Jan. 10-12, More of Jiangxi Province

It's 1:20pm, Nanchang time. At 2:45pm, we go downstairs to meet CJ. But first, we wanted to post some more details from the past week's travels.

The photos can be found here.

Jan 10 Longhushan (Dragon and Tiger Mountain)

Driving from Nanchang to the national park called Longhushan was fascinating. Like a growing city in the US, Nanchang has its share of suburban and exurban sprawl—large plots of farmland precipitously smoothed over sprouting obtrusive office complexes. The one difference is that each complex seemed to be for one company only; in the US, many of these places have more than one tenant.

Outside the city there is a combination of rural life – the occasional water buffalo grazes in the rice fields that were harvested in October – and the beginnings of industry. Iron-rich red soil disrupted for mining perhaps, and new construction, with bamboo scaffolding, abounds. Many of the buildings are vacant, half-finished; our guide Susan explains that the younger people in the area have left for the cities and are sending money back to family to build as money permits. We see all this while zipping along in our VW Santana on a fairly new toll road. The occasional sign states in both Chinese and English, “No driving while sleepy; Overspeeding prohibition.”

We arrive at the entrance to Longhushan, and before starting our sightseeing, we have lunch overlooking a construction site. The Chinese are discovering their tourism industry and stores selling trinkets and cheap carvings are already sprouting. It’s hard to know how this area looked just a couple of years ago, but when we visit again with CJ ten years from now or so, how different will it look?

The actual sandstone formation of Longhushan is just one of many alongside the Lu Xi river. We are taken up the river in a boat that is poled upstream by two middle-aged women. Small caves high above the river house ancient tombs; no one knows how the bodies were buried there but we saw a performance that describes one possible theory.

The performance is set above a Taoist shrine and features a young guy who, along with demonstrating how the bodies are placed in these caves, performs a few tricks without any safety net. The river scenery is exotic; the weather is mild, and the trip quite relaxing.

Our guide points out the various mountains and notes what they are supposed to look like. We had a hard time seeing the images that others see, but found the sizes and shapes astonishing nevertheless.

We get off the boat and walk the last mile, past a stable with persistent women who are sure we want to ride their horses to the temple, and then men who are sure we want to ride their hand-pulled carts instead of walking. We feel conspicuous.

Sitting in the shadow of Dragon and Tiger Mountain is a 1500 year-old Taoist temple. Our guide, Susan, tells us that the temple, made of wood and sitting near a river, has been rebuilt many times.

The temple is wonderful, all wood and brightly painted. For something rebuilt in the last decade, it is without any modern flourishes. The site itself is peaceful and calming, with wild dogs sunning themselves in the late afternoon. One has a red mark on its belly; Susan comments that it will be killed to be eaten.

We are brought downstream in a bamboo raft poled by men with small bamboo chairs lashed to it. It is less sturdy than the boat we came up in and whichever side the men were poling was a couple of inches underwater. Why the men propel the boat downstream and the women propel the boat upstream was a question that Susan could not answer. She agreed that there was something wrong with the set-up though…

When we disembarked, we were led past a rock formation called something “Maiden” in the shape of a woman’s private parts. No photos of that one nor the matching phallic formation just outside the park. Weirder still was a billboard sign we passed on our way back to the entrance to the park featured a naked woman leering over a glass coffin containing one of the bodies buried in the caves nearby. We didn’t ask Susan about that one.

We drove the rest of the way to Shangrao quietly, meditating on the beautiful scenery and then sleeping.

We didn’t actually stay in Shangrao city; instead we stayed in Shangrao county (the City is the capital of the county). The whole area was either newly built or almost built, like the government decided to add a new part of the city to house and entertain and employ a hundred thousand people. Our room was quite nice, with a broad views of the nearly finished construction, a plaza, and an amusement park.

We ate dinner around the corner from the hotel, in a private room so that we had heat. Heat, especially when it’s no more than 40 degrees and DAMP(!), is a definite luxury.

Jan 11 Sanqingshan

The drive to Sanqingshan was quite interesting, bringing us closer to the Chinese countryside than the highway. We saw more farms, light industry (mainly brick factories), and heavy industry (refineries and power plants).

The towns we drove through were a hodgepodge of poor and poorer; rush hour consisted of folks walking, riding dilapidated one-speed bicycles, or riding old scooters or motorcycles to work. No one seemed inclined to make way for the car traffic.

The pollution, always prevalent, was even worse in this area. In our research and from what the guide explained, Shangrao is known for its natural resources: copper, tungsten, silver, gold, even uranium. Mining the ores and refining the metals makes for a lot of air pollution. Think Northern New Jersey, alongside the turnpike, except the plants are spread out and several miles from each other. There’s less concentrated pollution but more haze and soot and smog spread out over the countryside.

We arrived at the base of Sanqingshan, “Three Peaks Mountain,” to have a man yelling at us in Chinese to hurry up; the cable car that would take us up the mountain and to our hotel – a 45 minute ride – was about to shut down for the day.

We climbed on board the car, a two-seater, with our guide in the car behind us, and up we went. On the drive over, I was concerned at how much of the mountain we would be able to see with all the pollution. But miraculously, Sanqingshan rose above the smog, and after a short while, the visibility increased dramatically.

Our hotel was about 1,500 meters high—about a mile from sea level. A foot trail, made up mostly of steps, made its way up the mountain beneath us. Porters carried supplies for the hotels –water, rice, cooking oil –up the many stairs. To carry their wares, they used a bamboo rod that rested on one shoulder with their load split in two, dangling from either side of the pole. One hand held the load in place and the other used a smaller stick to help counterbalance the awkward burden.

Dan has run a marathon, a half-ironman triathlon, up Mount Washington, and even the Empire State Building, but watching these guys toil made him feel incredibly soft.

Sanqingshan is more than just a pretty mountain. There is something about it, how the steep rock peaks work in harmony with gnarled thousand-year old trees, that is regal and sublime. Photos can capture a sense of what it was like, but they don’t do the place justice.

After checking in and eating lunch, we went for what was supposed to be a brief three-hour walk. The government had put in a network of concrete paths and platforms that wound through the peaks and promontories. The paths in some ways stuck out like sore thumbs amongst the awe-inspiring natural beauty, but in other ways lent a different kind of amazement to the scene. We have no idea how they made these paths that cling so precariously to the rock face, or how they could even have first imagined such a thing.

A porter told us that the mountain altogether held 16,000 steps. Even though we didn’t walk up the mountain, by the end of our hike it felt as thought we had walked just about every single one. That’s because our three-hour jaunt became a five hour walk that ended in total darkness (albeit Dan remembered to bring flashlights) as our guide Susan took a wrong turn. The poor woman, with cellphone reception but a dead battery, became absolutely panicked.

Neither of us were as panicked. Dan was amused to be lost when it was someone else’s fault; Meg was so used to being lost, it didn’t phase her one bit.

We looked closely at the map, made for tourists and lacking scale and elevation lines, estimated where we were, and kept going. As we were trying to find our way, we passed an old Taoist temple and shrines that had been built about 1500 years old. The temple was made of wood and had been rebuilt; the temple gate and the shrines were made of stone and dated back over a millennium ago.

The temple caretaker was nice enough to point us in the right direction, and we kept going. As it became lightsome and misty at the day’s end, it was if the mountain changed and showed a softer side, playing with the light and shadows. Sanqingshan holds a spiritual quality that we had never experienced before. We had seen a rare grouping of Chinese landscape paintings from the Song dynasty while at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, and we felt an uncanny sense of déjà vu, that we had stepped inside one of those moody, mysterious, sublime paintings. As we walked up and down stairs and along the ledges of the cliffsides, we truly felt we were at the place where the earth touches the sky, where the physical and the spiritual converge.

Jan 12, Sanqingshan and Shangrao

There was no point in getting up early, as the mountain was completely socked in with fog and while we had no hot water (we were there in the off-season and the only guests at our hotel) the beds had built-in heaters.

Breakfast in Sanqingshan was more traditional than the buffets we had been served at the hotels and consisted of congee (rice porridge) with pickled vegetables that could be added, noodles in chicken broth, eggs boiled in tea, steamed buns, hot soybean milk to which sugar may be added. Green tea of course. Since arriving in China, both of us have been eating to our heart’s content. The only thing Dan has missed is coffee at breakfast. Meg’s been missing restaurants that are smoke-free and heated.

We set out on a brief hike, walking the way we came in so we could see what we had missed in the dark. But what we saw was a new Sanqingshan, one enrobed in clouds of soft white furs that slink up and down the peaks. The fog ebbed briefly, and as it began to close around us Susan told us we needed to get back to the hotel to take the cable car down.

Murphy’s law being what it is, we check out and arrive at the cable car at 11:30 only to find closed for repairs until 1:00. Dan’s thought was, oh well, let’s eat a second breakfast. Meg’s first thought was, “how long does it take to walk down?”

Poor Susan looked even more bewildered at this turn of events, asked the question, and was told that it took only an hour. So off we went, walking down the steps, wondering if it really only did take an hour and what crazy person had counted all 16,000 steps. By the time we got to the bottom, we could confidently say we walked on most of them.

The walk in some ways was uneventful. The fog was still quite thick, and only occasionally could we catch a glimpse of the cable cars. There was nothing terribly photogenic about it, a walk through the woods with fog that was light enough so you could see where you were going yet thick enough to obscure any views. No quaint little tendrils wrapping around a thousand-year old tree or anything.

But in a deeper, again more spiritual way, the walk down was wonderful. A happy little stream followed us down, growing in strength and voice with every step. And it took an hour fifteen, not too much longer than the cable car. However, our calves paid the price and were sore for more than a few days afterwards.

We passed several porters bringing wares up to the hotels and other people on the stairs, the most memorable being a guy in a dress jacket carrying a pitchfork in one hand and a briefcase in another. What he did for a living we didn’t ask but we didn’t see a forked tail, thankfully.

After a well-deserved lunch, we drove back to Shangrao. This time, we took a tour of the downtown, a hectic affair with lots of construction, poverty, and even more air pollution. Many of the shops and stalls along the main roads were dedicated to the building trade—tiles, doors, windows were all on display.

We stopped at what Susan had thought was the most likely the Bureau of Civil Affairs where CJ was abandoned as an infant. We were able to photograph what seemed a nondescript office building back in the states but from a distance – an iron fence blocked entry to the grounds. Dan was amazed nobody tackled us and took away our cameras as we photographed the building and determined that China is decidedly less paranoid than the US at this point. Three nine year old girls crossed the street said hello in English to Dan. When Dan responded in Chinese he was happy to meet them, one said under her breath “bu gaoxing, bu gaoxing” (not happy, not happy). A man asked me in Chinese why I was taking a picture because it was cold and raining. I agreed that the weather was indeed quite bad (tianqi bu hao le)..

We briefly visited the Shangrao City Welfare Institute, a large depressing building off a dirt road that winds along an offshoot of the Rao River, with small farms along the way. Our presence at the institute was greeted with caution. We remained neutral, trying neither to enter the orphanage or make contact with any of the institute workers. We just wanted to see it. It was a several story building, with sounds of crying children emanating from within. There was a large display on the front façade of the building; we’ll be curious to know what it describes. We may have the opportunity to visit the orphanage again with CJ later this week.

We drove around Shangrao, making our way to the Rao River which flows through one side of the city. We visited a hundred and fifty year old tower that was built to ask the gods to not flood the town, and I also photographed the dilapidated apartments and shanties across the street. The city government was building a few tourist buildings next to the tower, as if this hectic town had a second thought about perhaps becoming a little bit tourist-friendly.

A policeman came up and suggested we also see a larger tower, also built in the middle of the 19th century, a few blocks away. We did so. The tower was nice, but more remarkable to me was a lone boat on the Rao. It was hard to figure out, through the smog, what the boater was doing. If the water was anything like the air, it probably wasn’t recreational.

After dinner, we went to a supermarket next to a middle school that was just letting out at 8 o’clock at night. All the sales help in the store were immediately trailing us, as were many of the customers, or staring at the very least. There was a vast snack section and oOne saleslady offered us the local favorite – a pickled pumpkin jerky.

And that is Shangrao, the city where CJ was born. It’s a rough place, as diametrically opposed to the majesty and tranquility of Sanqingshan as possible. But her heritage includes both places, and hopefully we can help her find the balance between them.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Jan. 9, Nanchang

One of my friends at work thought it was a good idea to visit Taipei because it would help acclimate us culturally. She wasn’t kidding. From the looks we got today, we were the first white people ever seen in some quarters of this city—population 2 million or so. Being in Taipei first helped I think.

More and more foreigners adopt babies from Jiangxi province, and the children are all brought to Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi. We flew in a week early, to scope out and document the area that our daughter is from.

Our guide, Susan, met us at the airport. She proudly told us how new the airport was, to serve the growing city of Nanchang. It was, however, smaller than the airport in Syracuse, NY, a city one tenth the size. There was one baggage carousel, and, happily, all of our luggage was available by the time we got through customs.

The city was quite hazy from pollution. It was a little better than I feared, but not by a lot. The air had a slight tinge of what I assume is burning coal, and visibility was not as good as you would expect on a sunny day. Our throats dried up quickly.

After checking in and washing up, Susan took us around the town. We saw the Nanchang Cultural Museum, at the former site of General He Long’s headquarters (he led the August 1 Uprising, the first revolt by Communists to overthrow the Kuomintang). There was a room dedicated to his life, a model of Nanchang in the year 300 AD, an interesting display on traditional weddings, and no heat. Details were lost in translation, and in shivering.

Much of Nanchang’s cultural pride centers around the August 1 uprising. There’s a large plaza and a suspension bridge named after it. At the far end of the plaza, the second largest in China, is a familiar store—Wal-Mart.

We also went to Shengjin Pagoda, a wooden tower that was built and rebuilt many times over, and was the tallest building in Nanchang for hundreds of years. The stairs were steep, the view was excellent. There were artifacts and a Buddhist temple on the ground floor.

Dinner was in a smoky lobby of a neighboring hotel. We had duck that I think was stuffed with cabbage (with hard-boiled duck eggs and mushrooms and fake crab leg as fixings), and a whole fish that was steamed with a pickled cucumber sauce. Very tasty.

Photos from January 9

Jan. 7 & 8, Taipei

Sammy and Grace were wonderful hosts. They took such pride in showing us around town. And it’s an interesting town, with the world’s tallest building (Taipei 101), monuments to Sun Yat-Sen and Chiang Kai-Shek, and a good-sized museum with wonderful landscape paintings and historic artifacts.

It seems like much of Taipei was built in the late 70s. There’s not as much construction going on now as there might be. It’s an interesting town, very Americanized. The roads all have signs in English (and you keep right when you drive), the power outlets are all compatible, a number of the stores are American brand outlets, even the subways have all signs in English. But much of Taipei’s street commerce doesn’t happen in formal stores as much in little storefronts or stalls.

Most everywhere people live, steel gates protect the windows from robbers. The apartment could be high up with no reasonable way anyone can climb up, but the windows are still gated.

The night market was fun—a carnival of street vendors selling all sorts of food, clothes, gadgets, you name it. In one corner, we even stumbled upon what could have been a higher-end designer store.

The highlight of this leg might have been the hot springs though. The mountains just north of Taipei are volcanic, and have plenty. For roughly $4 US, we sat in a tub and soaked out the stress of the past, thinking about a wonderful future ahead.

Photos from January 7

Photos from January 8

Sunday, January 07, 2007

We have arrived

Meg and I arrived safe and sound in Taipei, where we are visiting our friends Grace and Sammy. Here I am at the Hong Kong Airport, happy that at least the ads are in English.

Yesterday, we did a whirlwind tour of Taipei, including Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world. Today, we visit the museum and hot springs.

That is all for now. I am typing on Sammy's computer, and I will type more when our computer (which is in English not Chinese) has connectivity.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Many many many thanks

As we prepare to leave this morning, we just want to say again, and again, and again, thank you to all of our family, friends, colleagues and neighbors who have showered us with so much love and support.

We went out for drinks last night (after my office treated me to a pre-drinks drink) and Meg and I were so overwhelmed with how so many people from every facet of our life came out to celebrate.

We are truly blessed to be part of such a wonderful community.

Our first stop on the trip is to visit with our friends Grace and Sammy in Taipei. We should have internet access there, and will post something. The next part, though, we will be touring around CJ's home province, and I'm not so sure we will be able to post right away. But we will be able to post full reports by the morning of January 15 (which is actually going to be the night of January 14 I think). We meet CJ later that day, and will try to post the long awaited photos as soon as possible. And then we will try to post daily.

Many thanks, again.