Friday, April 26, 2019

Day 16 - Headed Home! (Friday)

Day 16 - Headed Home! (Friday) 

We left our hotel dark and early at 6am and headed to Guangzhou’s humongous airport!  We got to ride on an Airbus A380-800, the worlds largest and most spacious passenger airplane (a full double decker).

As we were preparing for takeoff, Brittney had some liquid drip on her from above and Jonathan momentarily convinced her that she was sitting beneath the upstairs bathroom and someone had just flushed 😂 

Our flight to Beijing went smooth but then it took a full two hours to transfer over to our flight to Dallas.  We had a smooth trip home with plenty of movies, naps, and snacks.  Once we landed in Dallas, Mia became a US citizen!!  We went through a few extra steps at customs and immigration (taken to the “back room” 😳) and everything went smooth and fast. 

We were super blessed on our way home to travel through DFW because tons of Jonathan’s side of the family (14 of the 16 cousins) had a pizza party with us in the international terminal for about two hours!!! It was a blast and a blessing :)

Now we’re boarding our final flight home to Louisville and thrilled to see more family and lots of friends tonight and in the days ahead :)

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Day 15 - Our Final Full Day in China (Thursday)

Day 15 - Our Final Full Day in China (Thursday)

Our final full day in China!  We started the day with a walk back over across the street (actually under it through tunnels) to Liuhua Lake Park.   It was packed during the cool morning hours with literally thousands of people walking, dancing to Tai Chi, singing songs, and play games (cards, badminton, checkers, and ping pong).  After our stroll about the park we returned back to the hotel to get our...VISA!!!

Since Mia is a Chinese citizen until she lands in the US she needed a US visa for entry.  We also received our Hague adoption certificate along with all of our finalized immigration paperwork!  What a joyful finish to a year full of paperwork!!

We decided that for a late lunch we’d return to the Muslim Noodle place.  We noticed a museum next door and discovered that in 1983 while they were digging a new hotel foundation they discovered a 2,100+ year old Emperor tomb buried underground (Museum of the Nanyue King).  While it doesn’t match the pyramids for size, it’s importance is significant in China.  We enjoyed climbing down into the tomb where the emperor, 15 dedicated-until-death-employees, and lots of valuables were buried ( ). 

The day flew by which was nice because we are so eager to get home!!  We also ventured next door to a mini mall where we bartered our a few last minute deals on souvenirs and luggage before we started packing back up.   Brittney the super-packer got us packed away in no time! We had to finish our China trip with a seventh day at the pool!  It was another warm day so the water felt nice.  

We had one last get together with our sweet AWAA (American World Adoption Association) friends with an excursion to McDonalds for grape and chocolate ice cream cones.  We capped it off with some exchanging of photos, sweet prayers, and sad goodbyes.  What a trip it has been together!!

We made some video calls back home to Lydia and Alia as well as for Mia back to her foster mom and then we bedded down for the night.  One more sleep and we’re on our way home!! God is so good!!!

Day 14 - Safari Park (Wednesday)

Day 14 - Safari Park (Wednesday)

Since we had the full day free we decided to replace the typical 1/2 trip to the Chen family temple (a cultural tourism site we did in 2014) with a full day trip to the Chimelong Safari Park.  It was a bit over an hour to drive there and once we arrived we got some maps because the place seemed to be the size of Sea World or a Disney park.  

We began with a tram Safari, which ended up being our favorite stop.  The tram speedily drove through a path (that doubled with private cars coming through) into various sections of wildlife...lions and tigers and bears, oh my!  The park is nice for viewing because in some sections the animals come right up to the vehicles with no barriers (antelope type animals, giraffes, & ostriches) at all.  In other sections the predators are clearly visible with no fences and only a moat separating us (I thought bears can swim 😳).  In all sections the animals are numerous and have lots of space for roaming around.

After the tram Safari we wandered onto a path that we thought was short with a few simple dinosaur and animal exhibits.  Instead the path was over an hour long and some of the dinosaurs were so lifesize and realistic that kids were crying.  Everywhere we wandered was full of surprises and the exhibited animals were beautiful to see! I must add that Jurassic World was the only English speaking movie on tv the night before so this area of the park really came to life for Mia and Sophia! 😂 #parentsoftheyear

We kept being overwhelmed by the size and openness of the animals’ living spaces.   You can get so close to almost all of the animals in a really special way.  A few of the animals (elephants and giraffes at least) can be fed by hand for $5, so Sophia had the  opportunity (Mia preferred not to) to feed a giraffe by hand.  These gentle giants swooped in quick and licked the branch right out of Sophia’s hands very speedily!

In contrast to the herbivore giraffes were the carnivorous white tigers of which there were many.  The map showed a “jumping tiger” display that got our attention...and you know what they do? They get tigers jumping with chicken on clothesline much like gator parks do in Florida.  It was crazy to watch tigers leap and climb poles with ease.  They are massive and intimidating predators!

Pandas!!  We chose to speed through the park because of the heat and humidity, but in 4.5 hours we covered a large part of it.  One of our favorite parts was the panda park exhibit.  This safari park is famous for having the only triplet pandas birthed in captivity and altogether they had about 12-15 pandas it seemed.  There were a few pandas paired up but for the most part each one had its own area complete with toys, swings, and two ice patches (think about how an AC unit can freeze over) for them to lay on.  Most of the pandas were pretty lazily resting but a few were fun to watch eat and move around. Pandas are such beautiful creatures and it was a blessing to see so many all at once in their home country.  

We finished off our safari trip with a short aerial gondola trip back to the entry point.  The girls get a kick out of seeing Brittney a bit afraid of the heights but she took it like a champ.  They each picked out some special souvenirs and Mia’s favorite was a stuffed white tiger.

Each day gets better.  Less frowns, more smiles.  Less guarded, more relaxed.  Spontaneous hand-holds, affectionate glances, and more words.  We are thankful for how God is growing us all together with Mia each day.  Her sweet smile and laughs are such a blessing to our hearts.

We had the joy of rush hour traffic on the way home.  This particular driver is a bit intense to say the least.  Chinese driving is a constant game of chicken, Nascar style.  The goal seems to be found in seeing whoever can cut off the most people in line wherever there is a turn or merger of lanes.  Let’s just say they are petty good at it, often coming within inches of each other and using their horn more frequently than a marching band. Their horn usage is an art form.  They have “pedestrian warning” honks, “I’m not slowing down” honks, “I hate you” honks, “I’m honking because everyone else is” honks, and many other less than polite versions of the honk.  Our particular driver seemed on the verge of having a heart attack with the aggressiveness of his driving, but we survived lol! Brittney May have had a heart attack herself had we not arrived back at the hotel just in time to kiss the ground! 

Once we returned back we finished off with some noodles and chillax-ed in our room!  One more full day to go!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Day 13 - Consulate Appointment (Tuesday)

Day 13 - Consulate Appointment (Tuesday)

We all woke up a bit earlier than usual at 6am and made it down to the breakfast buffet by 6:30ish to ensure we were ready for our 7:30am trip to the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou.  Our agency paired up with the families from Holt International for a large bus rental and traveled together.  All US visas in China are processed here and in 2017 they granted almost 2,000 adoption visas to immigrating US citizens (adopted kids).  

Once we arrived we went

to the medical records building nearby where we received our official results from Saturday’s testing.  We took these results along with our visa application package to wait in line for about an hour with about 11 other adoptive families.  Many Chinese citizens and a few U.S. citizens were in line also waiting to enter for their own visa applications or citizenship issues.

The US Consulate building is about the size of a football field and three stories tall.  The entire compound is even larger with some pretty intense security features.   I’ve been told that the entire consulate building was shipped/flown in from the US brick by brick for concerns of security issues.  Once we passed through security (like an airport except you can’t bring any cellphone, smart watch, computer, bag, etc. in with you) we proceeded directly to the second floor, window 8 where we checked in and received our order of service for our appointment.  Think social security office but with every window having a prison-like security window with microphone and speaker.  

A leader from the consulate gave us a few instructions on what we’d receive on Thursday...our child’s Chinese passport w/US visa, a packet of information for their immediate citizenship upon arrival in the US, and a Hague Convention adoption certificate.  We then were given an oath about the accuracy of our statements and were seated to await our turn.  When it was our turn we paid the final visa fees, signed a final form or two, and gave some more fingerprints.  A pretty simple and quick finish to a 10.5 month process!  Thankfully all went well and on Thursday we should receive Mia’s Chinese passport back with a US visa that allows her to enter into the US where she’ll immediately change into a US citizen!
One of the most interesting parts of the time in the consulate is watching all of the adoptive kids interact.  Of the 12 kids I think only Mia and one other girl were 11 years old and the rest were between 2-5 years old.  The young ones were an interesting mix of playing together (sometimes sharing, sometimes competing) for the the kids all had different stories of their upbringings and needs but they were similar in having some families filled with amazing love!  It was truly a blessing to see children being loved so well in spite of their differences and needs.  So beautiful.

After our Consulate appointment we journeyed back to the hotel and regrouped before exploring and looking for a special noodle shop.  Unfortunately we couldn’t take any photos at the Consulate appointment but when we returned we were able to catch a photo with Han, our adoption guide in 2014.  He is so sweet and it was great catching up with him, but he lamented the drastic downturn in the quantity of Chinese adoptions too :( 

Our first adventure around the corner to the left resulted in finding a fancy restaurant (Macau Restaurant) but not the one we had been told about.  We returned to the hotel and wandered to the right this time, and just about when were ready to give up, we found it!  The famed Muslim Noodle house of Guangzhou, China lol.  

It was a tiny hole-in-the-wall type establishment that was packed out.  We had to grab our own menus, write down our own orders, and grab our own drinks but it was worth the wait!  For about 1/5 the price of the hotel Chinese restaurant we had a tasty and delicious meal!  We all had some variants of noodles and loved the experience.  Brittney and Jonathan actually used their chopsticks more than native Mia, who is now a full-fledged fork-convert Bhaha.

After a tasty lunch we wandered across the street from our hotel through a mini maze of tunnels to a lake park.  The park had a lot of construction going on, but it was both busy and beautiful.  The kids and adults both enjoyed a special exercise-playground of plyometric equipment.  It was a lot of fun and we saw people of all ages using it to stay fit.  Plus it was sandwiched between the 10+ ping pong tables and 4 badminton courts that were constantly in use!

After our 5k in the park we had a bit of hotel room rest before heading to the pool (for maybe the 6th day altogether!) and finished with a Dominoes dinner.  Thankfully there were no traumatizing experiences at the pool (see day 12) but there were plenty of lap swimmers getting their fitness time in.  It was a great day of bonding and an accomplishment of our main appointment in Guangzhou!  Tomorrow (Wednesday) we have nothing important planned...except a highly-anticipated trip to Safari Park!!

Day 12 - Medical Results Day (Monday)

Day 12 - Medical Results Day (Monday)

Monday seemed like a slow, quiet day with no official appointments...but we were waiting for a phone call.  Part of Saturday’s medical exam wasn’t just immunizations, but also a medical clearance to return home.  If the medical exam has concerning results, our return home could easily be delayed by over a week...

So we went to Baiyun (White Cloud) Mountain to spend the morning and occupy our minds while we waited for the important phone call!  It was so sweet to see our girls wear their “Jei Jei” (older sister) and “Mei Mei” (younger sister) T-shirt’s that they had selected and bought on Shamian island.  They love each other and aren’t ashamed to hide it!  They definitely turned a lot of heads and started a lot of conversations with their shirts and hand holding throughout the day!

Our guide Helen highly recommended that we use the cable gondola to the top since it was a long way.  We were easily convinced to shell out the $5 fee and speed up our trip to the top.  Although the mountain isn’t a ski slope (Guangzhou feels like a Florida type of climate) it was a long, gradual climb.  We enjoyed the 15 minute speedy ride and the beautiful views...although as Brittney has grown in age, so also has a fear of heights developed (trivia tidbit: Brittney did bungee jump in her teenage years though!).  Mia got quite the giggles each time the gondola shook and Brittney shrieked lol

After reaching the top of the mountain we enjoyed the views of Guangzhou (population = 20+ million we were told).  Although it was possible to visit a parrot paradise, KFC, bungee jump, ride sleds, take a golf cart down, or visit an amusement park on the way down we just enjoyed the roadside walk (there are stairs and trails another 2+km ascent to an even higher peak).  Our walk down probably took an hour and was a good workout (the temperatures have been in the 80s and very humid) but it is impressive to see how many Chinese folks hike and exercise on the mountain.

While we descended our guide received the phone call...and the good news!! Our medical exam revealed no issues requiring a travel delay so we still get to fly home on Friday!!  Thank you Jesus!

When we returned home from White Cloud Mountain we decided to visit the Starbucks (in our hotel, more expensive than in the US though!) for a few treats & 7-11 (next door to our hotel) for some future snacks.

We took a trip to the swimming pool for a fun finish to the day.  The girls love swimming!  They do so great playing together in the pool.  It’s such a joy to watch them splash and interact every day.

Unfortunately our pool time was interrupted briefly...a 80ish lady on a cane hobbled up to the pool.  She promptly removed her gown to reveal, not a bathing suit, but highly disturbing underwear selection that she was ready to swim in.  Try explaining that to your kids!  Thankfully the lifeguard kicked her out of the pool to her dismay and our relief.  Things Jonathan wishes he could forget.  We live in a crazy world. No photos take or attached.

We finished the evening with a fancy Chinese Dinner in our hotel with our AWAA (American World Adoption Association) friends from Virginia.  It was a great dinner with some sweet adoptive friends and we all wandered over for a late night snack at McDs with their curbside walkthrough grape frozen yogurt and chocolate-covered waffle cones too!  Tomorrow’s a big day with our early morning trip to the US Consulate!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Day 11 - Shopping & River Cruise - Easter Sunday!!

Day 11 - Shopping & River Cruise - Easter Sunday!!

So today was a down day that was filled with activities as we wait for medical exam reports and our consulate appointment.  In order to make the waiting time go by quickly as well as to enjoy our visit to China we usually get to go on excursions on our down days.  Today’s visits included some special wholesale & touristy shopping as well as an evening cruise on the Pearl River!

While at breakfast we decided on doing a short Easter devotional reminder about Jesus from John 20:31.  Although God had communicated his love through the Bible and the prophets over the years, Jesus’ coming was the fulfillment of His love so that we might believe and have life.  After Jesus’ resurrection he appeared to give evidence of His love so that His disciples and others would believe and receive His love forever.

Adoption has some similarities to Jesus’ coming and future return. John 14:18 explains "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”  As we’ve progressed through the adoption process we’ve been writing and sending pictures of our love to the US and China so that the news might eventually reach our daughter Mia that she is chosen for and loved by a forever family.  When we finally appeared to her, it was further evidence that we are who we say we are and that our love for her is real.  Now she is with us forever, we get to continue to evidence our love for her forever!  What a Resurrection Sunday joy to be adopting on Easter!

After breakfast, our first stop was to a six story huge mall full of wholesale jewelry and specially shops.  Shop after shop was full of individual items like pearls, jade, amber, turquoise, diamonds, embroidery and more!  We spent most of our visit at a pearl shop.  The variety and quantity of the selection was amazing.  Think Hobby Lobby of pearls all packed in one jewelry store.  After you pick out the string of pearls you desire, they transfer the pearls to a string for your bracelet or necklace, tying each pearl off with some impressive craftsmanship and speed.  They also make beautiful dangling earrings with any spare pearls from your string.  Pretty incredible!

After the mall shopping we ventured to Shamain Island.  The architecture and landscaping is reminiscent of its British colonial heritage. We greatly enjoyed a Christian 
owned shop where we purchased most of our souvenirs. She had quite the selection and was so kind to give special deals to adoptive families. She also gives a percentage of what she earns to charity for orphans. How could we not support her??? She even said “God Bless You” as we left, which is not a phrase you hear often here. Brittney felt a special connection to her especially when Amy gave her a bracelet after making a purchase. Brittney plans to wear the bracelet to remember to pray for Amy, the owner of the shop. Being a Christian in a communist country is hard and she needs our prayers. 

We went back to our hotel room with the hopes of a nap because of a late night ahead, but as all parents know, sometimes our kids are not so cooperative.  So naptime turned into not-naptime. Haha!

Pearl River Cruise! We’ve been looking forward to this!  We started out on the first floor and ate our pizza before heading to the roof for some beautiful views.  The Pearl River runs through Guangzhou (a city of 20 million!!) and skyscrapers line the banks with amazing color changing LED lighting.  One set of about 10 buildings has coordinated lights that together looks like a TV screen of sorts.  The coolest part was the final turnaround point where the tallest TV tower in the world is, with an amazing light show surrounding it!

Our Easter journey to see lights on river was a great reminder of the even greater, more magnificent and captivating Light of the World that we have in Jesus.  With Him as our Lord and Savior we get to join Him in radiating His great love to the dark world around us!

We got the best Easter Gift to finish our day!  Mia called us “Mommy” and “Daddy” for the first time!  She said “I love my family” too!  Mia is a very shy girl, especially in public, so every word she utters is a big step out away from fear and anxiety.  After our River Cruise Sophia and her were being silly and in her joyous relaxation she talked a ton to us.  What a gift it was to hear our daughter verbally love us back on Easter Sunday!