Days 11-13: Final Finishes

We’re down to our last days in China. Days 11 through 13 included final adoption appointments and a few fun trips to see and experience new things. Peyton is beginning to bond with us. She’s still enamored with Jordan, but her attention has mostly focused on Mommy. She still won’t let me hold her. When I do, she whimpers, makes a face like you’d make if you tasted bad cheese, and reaches for Janet. (Maybe I should change deodorants.) But I do get good responses when I play with her, and I can occasionally put my arm around her. Like Elijah, she’ll get used to me.

On Monday, we went to a wholesale market, a six-story mall with hundreds of tiny little shops crammed side-by-side, selling everything China is famous for creating, jade, silk, pearls, and more. No one in the Clark family bought anything. We’d already picked up handcrafted souvenirs at a couple of museums, so we were done, but it was nice to hang out with the other families. After the market, we toured Shamian Island on the Pearl River. The island was gifted to English and French consulates by the Qing Dynasty in the 19th century and played host to a number of other consulates for years, but today the only active consulate on the island is Poland’s.

One of the remaining historical structures on the island is a Catholic church built by the French, Our Lady of Lourdes. It features a statue in its courtyard of Jesus welcoming children. The statue is meant to evoke Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:14: “Let the little children come unto me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” words that strike a chord with any parent, but feel especially poignant to newly adoptive families. Many Chinese brides and grooms, regardless of religious affiliation, come to have formal wedding pictures taken next to the church. We saw a half dozen posing for their shots at different times while we were nearby.

Another statue stands in the center of the island, depicting a life-sized woman with a violin leading life-sized toddlers, Pied-Piper style. That statue has become a traditional place for adoptive families to take photographs with their new children. We put the “bigs” (Taylor and Jordan) and the “littles” (Elijah and Peyton) into the shot and did our best to get smiles, but only the bigs complied. The littles were intimidated by the crowd behind us waiting and watching.

On Tuesday morning, we had Peyton’s visa appointment at the US Consulate in Guangzhou. We couldn’t take pictures. No phones or cameras are allowed on site. In fact, we had to temporarily surrender our watches at the security checkpoint, because both of our watches are the type that send or receive signals. Everything went smoothly and we took Tuesday afternoon off as a rest and refresh day, partly because we were tired and partly because the heat index was 106 degrees Fahrenheit due to the high humidity. (Given that it was the same or hotter in San Diego that day, we can’t brag about our hardships.)

Today is Wednesday. We spent the morning at Yuexiu Park, a huge park across the street from our hotel. It is filled with small lakes, waterfalls, and steep paths that climb through a lush, green tropical rain forest environment. We stopped to take quite a few photographs including some silly ones with the Fantastic Four. It was a relaxing way to spend our final free morning in China.

It’s Wednesday night as we post this. Tomorrow, we have one more morning tour and then we check out of our hotel and head for the Guangzhou Airport. Our flight leaves that evening and is scheduled to take thirteen hours to arrive in Los Angeles. Due to the date change which happens as you cross the International Date Line, we’ll actually arrive two hours before we took off. Weird. We’ll be driving back to San Diego from LAX. It will make for a long day. Pray for safe travels, no delays, rest on the plane, and patience for all of us.

Thank you all again who have prayed for us, encouraged us, and supported us financially. (If you were wondering if it’s still possible to support us through our online giving page, the answer is “Yes,” until we get home. Once we arrive home, our support account is closed by the agency that runs it.) You have all helped to make our adoption of Peyton possible and we are very grateful. We look forward to introducing her to you personally in the near future.

We thought it would be fun to end with a few pictures of unusual signs or things we saw.

We stayed in an area of Guangzhou with a large Muslim population. Instead of a Gideon’s Bible in each hotel room we found this directional sticker inside of the nightstand drawers.

In a Guiyang Wal-Mart, we saw more varieties of Lays Potato Chips than we knew existed. We selected the two varieties most likely to make Americans squirm.

We saw unusual signs everywhere. Some made us smile. Some made us scratch our heads.

The other side of the fence is a lake. “No Swimming” must not have been clear.

Would the scenic spot still be scenic if it wasn’t excellently managed by the city?

We think this means, “Keep Off the Grass,” while taking pictures. Elijah walked on it, of course.

We were sorry we couldn’t spend the evening at the Timeout Cafe and enjoy its Ukulele Night. (“Mahalo!”) I was very curious about the small chalkboard sign that appears to advertise coffee and crescent rolls… or maybe coffee and pigs-in-the-blanket, if you’re from the South. I’m not sure how they fit together with cowboys and floral leis, but I wanted to find out.

After we finished our River Cruise and were exiting the boat, we noticed the equivalent of an Health Department food safety sign on the wall. Instead of scoring the restaurant “A,” “B,” or “C,” they use a big smile (A), half smile (B), or neutral face (C). Our cruise got a neutral face that day. But it sure tasted good, so we’re not complaining. See you back in the USA soon!

Days 8-10: Southern Situations

Days Eight through Ten included our transition from Guiyang to Guangzhou. Guiyang is in south central China. Guangzhou is at the far southern edge of the country. Our flight on Friday was mercifully short, only an hour and forty minutes. It was Peyton’s first time on an airplane, so she and Jordan have something else in common and they sat side by side, ’cause he’s her favorite. Unfortunately, it was very frightening for her. The take-off noises and movement made her whimper super quietly. Tears filled her eyes, her face scrunched up, and she grabbed sweet Jordan’s hand and held it in a death grip until she finally fell asleep, but she never cried.

In fact, Peyton has never cried in front of us, which is incredibly unusual for a two-year-old. She whimpers quietly when she’s uncomfortable, but she’s never cried out loud. We’ve heard terrible stories about babies in Eastern European orphanages who never cry because they’ve learned no one comes when they cry, but Peyton was living with a foster family, so it’s unlikely that’s the reason for her. Our only guess is that her extended stays in the hospital to treat her thalassemia left her alone for long periods of time and she may have had to learn to self-sooth. That makes us sad, but it also makes us fiercely determined to be there for her in her pain or fear, so she never feels alone again.

Our entire adoption travel group of six families is now together. On Saturday, four of the six families had medical appointments for our children at a Guangzhou hospital, which is approved to provide final screenings for adopted children who are headed for the United States. Peyton was examined, poked, and prodded vigorously before being cleared for our final step, the US Consulate appearance on Tuesday morning.

Today, Sunday, we visited a temple built in 1888 by a wealthy, powerful Guangzhou family, who wanted a place to worship their ancestors. The compound is now a museum and features a large number of artifacts created in the style of local artisans. It also includes ornate decorations on every wall, wood panel, and roof line. Many of the decorations were hand carved and painted and have been carefully restored. We spotted an enormous ivory sculpture that must have taken decades to carve, (we couldn’t read the plaque and our guide was in another room at the time), as well as some huge ceramic vases and elaborate wood pieces carved out of single tree trunks.

After our museum visit, our outstanding guide, Helen (in stripes below), who was our guide eighteen months ago when we adopted Elijah, took the group shopping. Those who didn’t shop chose instead to sit in a tea area, where a hostess provided samples of a variety of unusual teas. Our favorite was a fruit tea with pineapple, orange, pomegranate, and other dried fruits. Unlike teas which are made primarily of tea leaves, you could eat the fruit mixture after you steeped the tea. It was quite good. Even the “littles” (Elijah and Peyton) enjoyed their tea nibbles.

Sunday night, we took a dinner cruise on the Pearl River, sometimes called the Guangdong or Canton River. The boat was crowded but comfortable, but the crowd’s actions were unexpected. Dinner was a buffet and when the open buffet announcement was made, the crowd leaped up from their various tables and rushed the buffet, some of them running, many pushing and shoving, a few yelling. We watched people take the serving utensils out of serving dishes and keep them as they forced their way from station to station, which left no utensils at some stations. At other stations, people picked up the entire platter and dumped it onto their plates. Being from a culture where standing is line and waiting your turn is expected, we were a little taken aback. But being big Americans, we were still able to hold our own and got plenty to eat.

A few people went out of their way to make us feel like guests. One young man, serving himself at a vegetable station, turned to go back to his table, saw me behind him in the crowd with Elijah in one arm, smiled at me, turned back to the station, picked up a pair of tongs and put a helping of food onto my plate. When Elijah fell asleep in my arms, one of crew came back to the table with an extra chair and motioned that Elijah could use two chairs as a bed. Every day, we’ve been warmed by the generosity and kindness of individuals who go out of their way to make us feel at home in their country.

The Guangzhou riverfront is lit by an incredible collection of ever-changing LED and neon displays covering hundreds of buildings, bridges, and boats. The cruise was a unique and fun way to spend my first Father’s Day as a dad to four awesome kids. I hope all of you dads who might be reading this had an awesome Father’s Day, too.

Days 5-7: Monkey Madness

Days Five through Seven have been a bit of a blur, adjusting to our new life with Peyton. On Day Five, we returned to the Guiyang Adoption Center for a couple of hours to finalize the adoption decree paperwork. The room was very hot and full of busy adoptive families and we were very glad to finally be holding our adoption decree certificates in their nice red folders and posing for a group photograph in the lobby. It was intriguing that the spot where pictures are taken has both a Chinese flag and an American flag on the wall. I’ve always assumed that people from other countries adopt Chinese orphans, too, but apparently the number of Americans is much higher and the inclusion of our flag in the picture spot is a gracious tip of the hat to that fact.

After our decrees were received, we piled back onto our bus and took a short trip to the Jiaxiu Pavilion, which sits on a huge rock in the middle of the Nanming River, the waterway that bisects Guiyang. The Pavilion was built in 1598 and its name, Jiaxiu, is a word that means “finest under heaven,” a compliment to the people of Guiyang. The Floating Jade Bridge connects the Pavilion to both shores and a beautiful, shaded walkway runs down the river’s edge.

You might wonder why adoptive parents take tours such a short time after their adoptions are finalized, rather than spending time alone as a family. While every family has the option to duck away into the hotel, rest, and focus on their new child, staying cloistered can quickly raise the tension level. You find yourself overanalyzing every sound or move your new child makes, and you can become discouraged fast if she isn’t responding or reacting like you’d hoped. Spending time with an entire group of adoptive parents helps you see your child and your family aren’t the only ones with adjustment issues and allows you to encourage one another.

On Wednesday, we made an attempt to visit a museum which features the history of the Miao people. The Miao are a large ethnic group officially recognized by the Chinese government and given greater autonomy to govern themselves. A high percentage of the Miao live in mountain regions of Guizhou Province, which includes Guiyang, where we are. Many of the children adopted from this region are of Miao descent. Janet and I were fortunate to receive a book of photographs taken by Peyton’s foster family. Several of the photos showed the children, including Peyton, in traditional Miao clothing. Unfortunately, on the day we went to the museum it was closed for renovations. We did, however, investigate a smaller wing which included a gift shop and a few unique, handcrafted goods for which the Miao are famous. In the picture above, Peyton seems to be wearing items like we saw.

Peyton appears to be adjusting to our family. We’re seeing more and more smiles and silly play, and hearing lots of giggling and laughing. She never stops moving, so it’s tough to catch the cute looks on film without the pictures turning blurry. We did catch the picture above at lunch at a Pizza Hut (of all things) we found a few blocks from our hotel. She loves pizza. In fact, we haven’t found many foods she doesn’t love. As we expected, she has chosen a favorite… not Mommy, not Daddy, not Taylor… but Jordan. She loves him already, looks for him when he leaves the hotel room, and runs to play with him or hold his hand when he returns. He’s eating it up.

Elijah’s having a little trouble adjusting to losing his solo spot in our attentions. When he sees Peyton take someone’s hand or sit next to that person, he tried to grab that person’s other hand or insert himself between them. He’s also been more deliberately disobedient than we’ve seen in the past. We keep reassuring him we still love him very much, giving him lots of time and affection, but it will take awhile for him to realize that he hasn’t been demoted or replaced.

Today, Thursday, we visited the Hongfu Temple on Qianling Mountain in the center of Qianling Park. It was founded by a single monk in 1672, and has since become the biggest Buddhist temple in Guizhou Province. The park includes a large manmade lake and over 1,000 acres of heavily forested, steep terrain. It is also home to over 1,000 macaques, small monkeys that roam aggressively up and down the paths looking for handouts from the pilgrims who come to visit. Guides regularly warn visitors to hide water bottles and food packages inside their purses and backpacks, because the monkeys will run up and steal them right off your body. We saw hundreds of the little critters, but none of them were brave enough to try to steal from the huge, bearded, American guy.

When we returned to the hotel mid afternoon, our family boarded one of the small elevators along with three other people. We pushed the button for the nineteenth floor. The elevator stopped on seventeen and suddenly the entire panel went dark. The lights didn’t go off, but everything else did. We looked for an alarm button, but there wasn’t one. We did see a phone number to call in the event of an emergency, but since our phones were off-network and in our room safe, we were out of luck. Fortunately, one of the other three riders turned out to be a desk clerk. She called for help on her phone and about ten minutes later the building engineers pried open the doors and released us. In that short span of time, however, the car heated up about ten degrees and we were all dripping.

While we waited to be rescued, I mentally catalogued our options. I remembered we still four nearly full water bottles in our backpacks. As a parent, I also thought, “If worse comes to worse, and we’re stuck here long and one of us has to go to the bathroom, we could use an empty bottle and everyone could turn their backs.” (I realize the absurdity of that thought now, but it’s what crossed my mind at the time.) When we got back to the room, I shared my thoughts with Janet and the “bigs” (Taylor and Jordan). Taylor responded, “Great, Dad! I was contemplating my premature death when the elevator crashed to the basement, and you were thinking about where we would have to pee.” I guess we all have different ways of dealing with adversity.

Tomorrow, we board a plane to Guangzhou, where we have appointments spaced out over several days before we receive a visa for Peyton to return. We’ll post more if time allows.

Day 4: Gotcha Girl

This is the third post in our 2016 Adoption Trip series. Days One and Two were spent in Beijing. Day Three was spent primarily traveling from Beijing to Guiyang and settling into our new digs in preparation for the real event, meeting our new daughter Peyton. Day Four was the big day.

The three families in our sub-group met in the lobby and boarded a bus. (Our overall group of six families split up after Beijing and will meet again in Guangzhou.) All sixteen of us, (eight children and eight adults, including a couple who came along to help one adoptive family), were quietly and anxiously anticipating what was about to happen. We arrived at the Guiyang Adoption Center and made ourselves at home on sofas in the lobby. We weren’t the only families being introduced to their kids that day. We estimate that at least ten families came and went.

About thirty minutes after we arrived, two Chinese women and a German woman walked into the room holding the hands of a six-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl. For a few seconds we didn’t recognize Peyton, because she had more hair than we’d seen in the pictures. But a closer look told us she was our little girl. She walked quietly over to us without any fussing or resistance and stood right in front of us, checking us out, as if to say, “Not sure I approve.”

After giving her a few minutes to get used to us, Janet gently scooped her up and sat down on a sofa with her. She didn’t make a peep, but she did back away whenever I got too close. (I think I resemble the monster that Chinese parents tell their kids will get them, if they don’t go to bed on time.) But even though she seemed mostly unruffled by the new people, she still didn’t seem happy. She had a sad, resigned, almost stoic, look on her face for the rest of the day, far too serious for a two-and-a-half-year-old.

One person who wasn’t stoic was Elijah. He was quite unsure of what to do next. We’d talked about his new sister and he’d even promised to share his toys with her, but now that the moment had arrived, he wasn’t sure what to do with her. At times, he looked a little pensive, almost like he was thinking, “OK, we’ve seen her. Can we go now?”

At other times, he was quite curious, stretching to look around us and watch her, as if to say, “I think we can make this work. As long as she does what I say, doesn’t KEEP my toys for more than thirty seconds when I loan them to her, and doesn’t think she can take my place on Mom’s lap anytime she wants, this might prove to be a beneficial partnership.”

And then, there were a couple of touching moments, where Elijah seemed to sense Peyton’s sadness and reached out in a very un-big-brother-like way to comfort her with a gentle touch. We don’t know how much, if anything, he remembers from his own adoption experience, but we do know he has a soft, compassionate heart underneath his mischief-making and “boy-ness.”

After several hours of paperwork, we were able to take a family photograph at the Guiyang Adoption Center entrance, leave the Adoption Center and make our way to a park with an underground Walmart, where we stocked up on essentials like extra diapers, snacks Peyton would like, (which we’ve discovered is every snack), and other things that would make staying close to our hotel room for a couple of days more comfortable. We spent the rest of the evening on our own as a family and ended the day with a big surprise, as Peyton came out of her shell and began to play with the other kids, smiling and giggling.

Earlier in the day, we left the Guiyang Adoption Center through a big lobby with huge, two-story-high paintings on either end. As we stood in the lobby waiting for our bus, I looked up at one of the paintings and realized it was a image of the Old Testament story of Moses, specifically the part of the story when his mother puts him into a reed basket and he is discovered by the daughter of an Egyptian Pharaoh.

I remember thinking, “How strange for a country that is officially secular to have a biblical painting in a government buildings.” I even poked one of the other adoptive dads and pointed it out to him and he acted equally puzzled. I walked out without giving it a second thought.

Then, out of the blue today, it occurred to me that Moses was taken into the home of Pharoah’s daughter and raised by her, much like an adopted child is taken into a new family and raised by them. I’m not sure why that didn’t click at the time. I suspect that calls my credibility as a pastor into question. But in hindsight, it’s a really fascinating choice to grace the hall where family after family departs for new lives with children who, moments before, were orphans and now are not.

Day 2: Wall Wonders

Our second day in Beijing and its surroundings featured a visit to the Great Wall, the best known landmark of China. Taylor and Jordan were excited to experience what they’d only seen in pictures and video from our last adoption trip. We had about ninety minutes to venture up, but it took much less for Janet and me to realize that our thigh muscles were woefully inadequate for the task of keeping up. We and Elijah, who bravely soldiered up the nearly vertical steps himself and only faltered when it came time to go back down, made it to the first tower, several hundred feet above the parking lot. The teenage twosome made it well past a third tower before turning back. The picture below was taken by them to give perspective to the vertical distance they traveled. The flat paved area in the lower left of the picture is where we started.

After our long drive out and back and our stamina-testing climb, the entire adoption travel group stopped for a too-large Chinese dinner at a nearby jade factory. As you can see, we had a wide variety of interesting dishes to try… the pictures shows only the first half that were delivered. Most were delicious, but a few were challenging. (At one meal, we had a discussion with our guide about the relative merits of donkey burgers versus the usual beef. She assured us that donkey was good, but expensive. Fortunately, no donkey was available.)

After our dinner, we made a stop at the Olympic Pavilion which was built by the Chinese especially for the 2008 Summer Olympics. We got to see the Bird Nest Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies were held. It’s a huge, uniquely-styled building. (To give some scale, you can see Taylor in the lower right corner of the picture. Notice she is taller than everyone else in the picture, which makes her and her older brother objects of some curiosity here.) We also saw the Water Cube, the oddly-textured, blue-colored building, which has the appearance of being “wet,” where most of the swimming and diving events were held.

I was particularly fascinated by the medals wall. It bears a faint resemblance to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC, which is a series of polished stone panels bearing the names of soldiers who died in that conflict. The Olympic medals wall is a series of stone panels bearing the names of every athlete who won a medal at the 2008 Games. Next to each name is a circular indentation colored to match the medal. I took a picture of the panel which bears swimmer Michael Phelps’ name six times, once for each of six Olympic golds he won. He won two more, but I couldn’t get them all into one photograph. Our guide pointed him out and commented on what a great competitor he was.

We enjoyed the history and sights of the past two days. It gave us a chance to recover from jet lag and to get to know our fellow travelers, so that we’re better prepared to tackle what comes next, bringing our little girl into our family. This morning, Sunday, we boarded a plane from Beijing to Guiyang, a city in mountainous, south central China. Elijah wasn’t super happy to be back on a plane, but he made the best of it by buckling his best friend, Daniel Bear, into the seat with him.

When we arrived, we were met by the guide who will walk us through the actual adoption meetings. He took us to the Novotel Hotel, which will be our residence for the next five days while we meet with officials, sign paperwork, and get to know Peyton. Due to a very mild mix-up with respect to room assignments, the hotel graciously upgraded each of the three families in our Guiyang travel group ended to suite-like rooms with fantastic 120-degree views of downtown Guiyang. (The kids were actually impressed, despite the conclusion you might get from the picture below.)

Tomorrow is the big day. At 2:00 pm, Monday, which is 11:00 pm, Sunday, for all of our family and friends on the West Coast of the US, we will walk into a room at the Guizhou Civil Affairs Office and meet Peyton for the first time. From that moment, she will be our daughter. What a crazy thing. If you’re still awake then, we’d greatly appreciate your prayers, especially for peace for her as her life is turned upside down. We’ll tell you how it’s going as soon as time allows. Until then, we are grateful to all of you for everything you’ve done to make this possible.