We made it to China. Jordan enjoyed his first air travel ever, even though we hit him hard on his rookie experience. After a marathon flight of fourteen hours from Los Angeles to Guangzhou, a three-hour layover, and a two-and-a-half hour flight from Guangzhou to Beijing, we landed very tired and ready to go to bed. We were met by our awesome guide Eve, who escorted us to the Lido Hotel, checked us into our rooms, pointed out the best nearby restaurants and stores, and sent us to sleep. We were snoring by 7:30 pm on Thursday, June 9, which was 2:30 am the same day back home in San Diego, and we didn’t come out until breakfast eleven hours later.
Today, we took a couple of tours with most of the families who make up our adoption travel group. Our first stop was Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, home of the emperors of China for almost seven centuries. Both are impressive, but the Forbidden City has an additional air of mystery to it. As you walk through ring after ring of walled compounds, filled with buildings decorated by ornate handcrafted paintings and carvings, you wonder what it would have been like to live inside.
A few of the leftover “residents” are downright spooky… at least until you catch one of your teenagers standing next to them and realize they look a lot alike. After touring the Forbidden City, we headed to the Summer Palace, the place where the emperors moved to escape the heat at this time of year. It’s less ornate and less complicated and it sits on the shore of a huge beautiful lake. Some of its temples are built into rocky hillsides, which adds to the mystique.
The crowds were large, but many people left when a sudden thunderstorm brought a downpour and hail. After waiting out the cloudburst and then hiking several miles along the shoreline, we came to the Stone Boat, a strange edifice that’s a copy of a wooden boat that burned in 1860. On a previous visit, I was told that the original wooden boat never sailed (and clearly the stone one can’t). Instead, it was a place where emperors’ concubines got to “experience” boating without ever leaving the shore. I don’t know that this story is true. I do know that this is the closest Taylor will ever get to being a concubine as long as I’m alive.
We opted not to walk back to the Summer Palace gate. Instead, we chose to hop aboard a dragon boat. It’s the season of the Dragon Boat Festival, so it seemed appropriate. The origin of festival is not completely certain, but the best known variant holds that it commemorates the death of the poet and minister Qu Yuan (340–278 BC) of the ancient state of Chu. When Qu’s king decided to ally himself with the increasingly powerful state of Qin, Qu was accused of treason and banished for opposing the alliance. During exile, he wrote poetry. Twenty-eight years later, Qin captured Ying, the Chu capital. In despair, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River. Locals who admired Qu raced out in boats in a failed attempt to save him. This is said to be the origin of dragon boat races. When Qu’s body could not be found, the would-be rescuers dropped balls of sticky rice in the river so fish would eat them instead of his body. Today, sticky balls of rice are the treat most identified with the festival.
The funniest part of the day occurred just before we boarded the dragon boat. Just like the last time Janet and I were in China, an artist singled me out of the crowd and began to draw my picture on a ceramic plate with a black marker. The last time this happened, the resemblance between the picture and me was disturbingly close. (You can see the pictures and read the story in our 2014 Adoption Trip journal.) This time, my new painter friend turned me into weird Dragon Kevin, complete with claws and a long, scaly tail. I’d like to believe it was the season that inspired him and not the way I looked today.
Our guide helped me negotiate the price and after the purchase was complete, the artist grabbed Jordan and began to use the same pen to write Chinese characters, tattoo-like, on Jordan’s arm. When he finished and walked away, we asked Eve what the characters said. She read it, laughed out loud, and explained, “It says, ‘Am I handsome? I love you, beautiful woman!'” Apparently, our artist friend was helping Jordan get over his shyness and meet an eligible, young Chinese woman without ever having to say a word. Jordan, of course, was a little mortified. His horror increased every time yet another Chinese woman or man glanced at his arm, stopped, looked again more closely, and then walked away laughing. You can see his tattoo and his attitude below after several of these encounters.
Although we’re glad to be able to see some fascinating things while we recover from our jet lag and get ready for the big day, we’re kept saying all day long, “We’re ready. Let’s go pick up Peyton.” Only a few more days to go until we meet her for the very first time. We’re looking forward to introducing her to you. Thanks again for your prayers, gifts, and encouragement. Stay tuned for more updates from halfway around the globe.