Saturday, July 22, 2006

July 22--Beijing/ Nanning

We are in Maya's province of Guangxi! Flying in, the scenery was absolutely stunning--so green, with dramatic mountains and winding rivers. We feel like we've stepped into an ancient Chinese painting. It's so beautiful. Our guide, David, met us at the airport. He's a total crack-up. He reminds us of an asian version of the Martin Short character, the Wedding Planner, in the movie, "Father of the Bride." Our hotel is gorgeous and of course, we noticed right away that there is a CRIB in our room! The bad news is that we aren't getting the babies on Sunday, but not until Monday. After 15 months, I suppose we can wait one extra day!

We're having issues with our laptop, so I'm in the business office here at the hotel. Once we get the baby, we'll somehow find a way to get pictures on the website for everyone to see. In the meantime, I have so much I want to say about our trip so far. The last few days have been amazing. It's an odd (and probably good) experience being a minority. I've been amazed at all the attention that is paid to Madeline. I expected that maybe in the smaller cities, but not in Beijing. Our guide, Odette, said that there are two reasons that Madeline is being followed like a celebrity. First, she said most of the people at the big tourist attractions are not Beijingers (as she calls herself), but are from the countryside. She considers anywhere besides Beijing and Shanghai "countryside". The second reason, which I found ironic considering the purpose of our visit, is that, "The Chinese love little girls." If we didn't have issues with the language, I think I would have delved into the obvious contradiction.

It was so interesting talking to Odette. I asked her if a person from the countryside could come and make a living in Beijing. She said it would be incredibly difficult and that they would have to be highly educated. I asked her if an orphan could make it in the city and she said simply, "impossible". When I was on the plane to Beijing, I sat next to a woman who currently lives in Arizona, but grew up in Shanghai. I talked to her about our adoption and showed her our information on Jin Qiu Ju. She said that anyone looking at Qiu Ju's surname would know she came from the countryside. "Jin" means gold and she said that you could tell it's a country name because, "it's trying too hard to sound prosperous." Lyle said like naming a mobile home park "estates". "That's it exactly," she said.

All over Beijing there is construction going on for the 2008 Olympics. Odette expressed her views on the Olympics in this way. "There is a man who wants to have a big face to appear very powerful and important. He hits his face very hard many times until it swells. That is what Beijing is doing. We need many things more than we need stadiums, but we will hit ourselves to look important to the world."

Odette's English was very good, but we had to concentrate on what she was saying to understand. Still, we had several miscommunications. When we booked our Beijing tour, I spoke on the phone with a Chinese man who went by the name of Frank. He also e-mailed me several times. When we arrived at the airport and saw Odette and a man holding a sign with "Eileen and Vernon" written on it, we just assumed this man was Frank. We even said, "You must be Frank, " and called him that repeatedly. Yesterday morning, Odette was a few minutes late meeting us and we tried to converse with "Frank" only to realize that he didn't speak a word of English. Obviously this wasn't the person I had spoken to, just our driver. Lyle said that maybe when Odette heard us say, "You must be Frank," she just thought we wanted them to be honest. Who knows, but we still call our driver Frank. Frank is a man of few words who lets his car horn do the talking. Driving here is like nothing we've ever seen. Pedestrians and bikes do not have the right of way and lane changes can apparently happen at any time with no warning. The obscene gestures and road rage you'd see in the U.S. at any one of Frank's maneuvers don't seem to be acknowledged by the other drivers at all. Their driving techniques are the same and we all seem to move along in a state of organized chaos.

Organized chaos could be used to describe our experience yesterday at the Great Wall. It was an incredible mass of humanity moving up and down the wall. The bottlenecks were a new experience for us. The pushing wasn't done maliciously and as a matter of fact, many people smiled as they shoved me aside. The tunnels were narrow, but usually they were mericfully short. Claustrophobics need not apply! I felt particulary bad for one British woman with twin boys who looked to be about 4 years old. The boys were screaming hysterically in one the tunnels and their mother kept saying, "it's o.k. We're almost there." She looked at me and said, "We're not accustomed to this. How about you?" No, not really. During one particularly bad bottleneck, a policeman in a central corridor pulled Madeline and me out of the crowd and pushed us into a completely empty corridor--apparently the foreigner passage. I felt badly because the British woman with the twins had Asian features and she wan't pulled out of the crowd. I was happy to see them later in a restaurant which catered to foreigners. The boys looked none the worse for the wear.

At one point on the wall, I was surprised to see a hand grasp the top of a turret. I almost expected to see a grappling hook and invading Mongol. A leg came over next and I realized that I recognized the sandal! It wasn't an invading nomad at all. It was Lyle! He claims that he saw someone else do it and he thought it was a good way to get out of the crowd. He sent Adam and Madeline over too, but I braved the bottleneck.

When we were in the Hutong the other day, the woman there asked Odette why were adopting one of China's orphans. Odette said she told her, "They have pity for the little girl and mercy in their hearts." Lyle and I both felt uncomfortable with that explanation. It makes it sound like we're making a difficult sacrifice. We tried to explain that we feel so blessed to be able to do this and feel like just as our older 3 children have each added something special to our family, this little girl will also be a blessing and a gift. To say we're here because we feel pity dosen't adequately express our feeling at all.

We've found that many things which we assume are universal, are really not. Odette mentioned that she studied accounting in college, but hated it. "But," she said, "it wasn't my choice." We, of course, asked whose choice it was. She said that in China your major is chosen for you by your high school principle and parents. She studied English on her own time. The other day, driving down the road, we saw a man up high fixing a telephone wire. What was unique about this was that he was standing in the bucket of a bulldozer, raised to its highest level. His legs were splayed out on either side of the bucket and he had no safety equipment whatsoever. Lyle mentioned to Odette that in the U.S., if that man was injured he could sue the company that put him up there. Odette seemed baffled by that . How could he win money? He's there willingly doing a job--a job that probably pays next to nothing, but he's undoubtedly glad to have it. It's really a different world here.

When we were at Tiananmen Square, Odette mentioned that she was in high school during the student protests, but if she had been older, she thinks she would habe been one of the protestors. She said the majority of Chinese had no idea what happened there, but learned of the tragedy afterward from foreigners. The guards at the square, she said, are not Beijingers, but men recruitted from the countryside. The government wants them to have no connections in Beijing and for them to feel strong allegiance to their employer. It seems like an incredibly boring, not to mention hot job to stand out there in their green uniforms all day, but I suppose maybe it beats working in the fields.

We've realized here that the melting pot of America is really an amazing thing. No Chinese person in the U.S. would get the stares that we get here. In Beijing, we talked with only 3 other Americans. One was a beautiful Asian girl of about 13 who told us she was here from Michigan at a culture camp for Chinese-Americans. Another was a woman and her father, coincidentally also from Michigan. They were both eating popsicles and from Lyle's past experience we knew that popsicles in China are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. The father said, "This is a green bean popsicle, and you know what? It tastes just as bad as it sounds." We all burst out laughing. It had only been a few days and we already missed having others around who could completely understand us.

Just a couple of hours ago, we met one of the other couples who is adopting. They seem very fun. I believe there will be 5 families all getting their babies on Monday. Tomorrow night will be the last time that Jin Qiu Ju, with her less than prosperous surname, will sleep in an orphanage. I once read an eloquent letter written by a Chinese woman to the adopted daughters of China. I copied it for Maya to read when she's older. It said in part, "Although we may never meet, we are sisters. The Yangtze flows through your veins as surely as it does mine, but you are no longer grass to be walked on. You are American girls now and the future is yours."

Please pray for Qiu Ju as she makes this huge transition. Our trip so far has all been preliminary. The real adventure will start here in Nanning.

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