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Adventures In Adoption, or, The Changsha Cha-Cha

We had a pretty early wake-up call on Sunday morning. In order to fight our way out of Beijing traffic to the airport, we had to leave the hotel at 6:15. Jerry once again met us in the lobby and made sure we got checked out OK. Mr. Crankypants met us with his usual scowl, and we jumped into the car and headed to the airport in the just-breaking dawn. Now, I’m not a morning person (I know, shocking, right?). so it took me about 20 minutes or so to tune in to the conversation that Jerry was having with Kevin (also? I’m so glad the ride to the airport took almost an hour so I got to hear all the good stuff).

Jerry began telling us about the Chinese saying “You are thousands of miles apart but you come together because you have yuan between you. You face each other but you don’t know each other because you don’t have YUAN between you.” We knew a bit about this; after all, we had been sporting our red thread bracelets for quite a while (the Chinese adoption community is big on the “Red Thread” proverb, which is basically what Jerry was telling us about). What we didn’t know, however, is just how deeply the concept of “yuan” is embedded in Chinese culture. If you have yuan, you become a family, friends, classmates, colleagues, and neighbors. Some Chinese like to say that a relationship has to be cultivated for at least 500 years before it blossoms. This saying shows their appreciation for the relationship because it is not easy to wait for 500 years.

What Jerry told us is that we are connected to him through our yuan. He believes we were destined to meet, and because of that, we’re connected for life. When I said before that we consider him part of our family, I absolutely meant it, and we have become his family, too. I will never cease to be amazed at how quickly complete strangers can come together and form lifelong relationships. I absolutely buy into the concept of yuan.

By this time, we were pulling into the airport. We got out, Mr. Crankypants unloaded our luggage (and what’s that??? A SMILE??? AND a HANDSHAKE??? Hmmm. Maybe not so cranky after all….), and Jerry escorted us into the insanely busy Beijing airport. After some impressive haggling with the airline agent to reduce our baggage fee (we were over the allowed weight since we were traveling with three bags, and there were only two of us), we headed to Customs (in China you get it coming and going). We said goodbye to Jerry, and we promised to call him when we got back to town in a couple of weeks; sadly, he wouldn’t be our guide on our return trip as he was already booked with another group. We promised to meet up with him when we could, though. I was surprisingly sad to say goodbye to him, and I’m sure it had to do with the fact that we were now on our own. I’ve been to plenty of foreign places, but nothing even comes close to being a westerner in China. I absolutely love the country and its people, but it’s a bit overwhelming in the beginning. Plus, it was very sad to say goodbye to our friend, even for a little while.

We made our way to the HUGE security line (have I mentioned that there are 19 million people in Beijing???) and eventually we were called up to the officer. After thoroughly examining our documents, we were waved on to the metal detectors and pat-down people. Let me tell you this, too: I never minded AT ALL being frisked at airport security while in China. They were efficient and respectful, and if the TSA could manage to pull that off we’d be way better for it. And that’s all I have to say about that. Once through, we found our way to our gate. It quickly became apparent that we would have to be bussed to the aircraft. If you’ve ever flown out of Miami to the Bahamas or the Caribbean, then you have some idea of what I’m talking about, except it’s WAY more confusing. They don’t call you by group number or anything else, and because it’s the culture, there’s a whole lot of pushing and shoving, both to board the bus AND to board the plane. Once we were finally aboard, we realized we were definitely the only gringos. The other thing we noticed was that China Southern airlines is NICE. Really, really, really nice. We settled in, and in no time we were backing up and hitting the taxi way.

They don’t so much enforce the whole “stay seated with your seatbelt securely fastened” rule aboard China Southern, as there were people milling around the aisles up until about 10 seconds before takeoff, and again as soon as we were airborne. It was really fun to watch the little old men who had obviously never flown before as the peeked out the windows, and as we flew over the Yangtze River (which makes the Mississippi River look like a puddle, incidentally), almost the entire plane got up and crossed over the aisle to see out the other side. People were piled on top of each other just so they could catch a glimpse of the HUGE river below. Thankfully, it was time for meal service, so everybody settled back down. Oh, and you heard right: MEAL SERVICE. On a two hour flight. In coach. Also? It was really tasty. Take that, American Airlines. There was one other thing that was a bit different about our flight: About 20 minutes before landing, a the video screens dropped and a calisthenics program began. All of a sudden the entire plane full of people started doing chair aerobics. The subtitles were *awesome*, too. Apparently, one’s chi can become unbalanced during air travel, and the lovely ladies of China Southern were there to help restore it. I was torn between REALLY wanting to shoot video and stretching along with everybody. I chose stretching, and you know what? I felt spectacular afterward. They’re definitely on to something.

We landed in Changsha not long after lunch was served, and it was time for my very first experience with the squatty potty. While Kevin waited for our luggage, I scouted out the bathrooms. I really don’t know what I was so nervous about, with the possible exception of the small chance I would lose my balance, because it was absolutely no big deal. I will say that I’m glad I was prepared for it, but it was a piece of cake. By the time I was done, Kevin had our bags and we made our way toward the exit (you have to have your bag claim tickets verified by an agent before you can leave the airport with any claimed luggage). Waiting just on the other side was Ashley, who would be our guide for this leg of our journey.

The first thing we noticed is that Ashley looks almost *exactly* like someone we know (and no, I’m not going to say who). He didn’t have a sign with our names on it, but we KNEW he was our guide, and we gravitated straight to him. Sure enough, we were right. He got us out to a van, loaded our bags, and we started the drive into Changsha. On the way, Kevin was checking his iPad for our hotel confirmation, and Ashley was immediately smitten. He asked if he could play with it, and of course Kevin let him. Kevin was also cracking (lame) jokes the whole time, and he really tickled Ashley when he said that the national bird of China must be the crane (we were passing through a particularly developing part of the city, and the skyline was filled with construction cranes). It took Ashely a full minute, but he finally got the joke and let out a huge laugh. He told us that the American sense of humor is wonderful, and that he tries so hard to joke like that, too. By the time we got to the hotel, we knew we had stuck gold with our guide yet again; sure enough, by the end of our time in Changsha, Ashely would become part of our family, just as Jerry had.

We pulled up to the Dolton, Ashley got us all squared away with the front desk, and he went with us to our room to make sure we had everything we needed. He stuck around long enough to explain what we could expect the next day; there was a lot to go over so we would know what to expect when we got to the Civil Affairs office. He told us what paperwork we needed to bring (mostly just our passports and one or two other forms), and how the morning would go. Then he said he’d see us the next morning around 10:00 and he left. Oh, great. Now we had the whole afternoon to get ourselves all worked up.

We set out to explore the hotel and decide on which of its restaurants we were going to try for dinner, and I had my first experience with the Chinese escalator. The Dolton is a pretty big hotel, and there are quite a few shops and restaurants spread out over a couple of floors. We hopped on the deceptively slow-moving escalator to head up, and as soon as we did, that thing took *off*. It was CRAZY fast. As soon as we stepped off, it slowed back down. It turns out that this is an energy-saving measure, and it’s pretty frickin’ cool. I felt like a little kid; I just wanted to ride that escalator all day. We had to decide on dinner, though, so we started checking out the menus of the various restaurants.

Nothing on the Chinese menu seemed very appealing to me that night, so we headed back downstairs to the western-style dinner buffet. After cruising through the room and seeing the various options, I chose to order off the menu. I wasn’t quite in the mood for anything as exotic as I was seeing (this turned out to be a mistake. Just like ordering Chinese food in America is not the real deal, neither is ordering western-style food in China. I learned my lesson once and for all in Changsha). As soon as we ordered, though, I began to feel absolutely awful. Our drinks hadn’t even made it to the table, but I didn’t think there was anyway I could wait around for them. Kevin, being the amazing man that he is, sent me back up to the room and promised to sort everything out.

He made it up to the room about 10 minutes after I did, and he had a waiter in tow. Kevin had somehow figured out how to communicate the fact that we wanted our dinner wrapped up and taken to our room, and Jason (his Americanized name, obviously) had complied. Kevin gave him a hefty tip, which is frowned upon in China, but he had gone so far out of his way to help us that Kev felt compelled. Jason thanked us in broken English, shook his hand, told me to feel better, and then I tried to eat dinner. Before anybody jumps to the (incorrect) assumption that food or water was the root of my illness, let me just say that I think that stress and exhaustion had finally caught up with me. After I ate a few bites of food, I took a Benadryl and fell into drug-induced slumber, which was exactly what I needed.

We woke up super early the next morning and hit up the breakfast buffet. Then we wore holes in the hotel room floor with our pacing. We checked and rechecked the baby essentials we had packed in my backpack. We double and triple checked our paperwork and our passports. We made sure Kevin had a toy truck tucked in his pocket. FINALLY it was time to meet Ashley downstairs in the lobby. I was super happy to see that Dean the Doorman was manning the front doors of the hotel; he’s sort of a legend for parents who’ve adopted from Hunan province. He has a ridiculously huge smile, he’s very tall, and his mannerisms are beyond exaggerated. He also has a special affinity for babies and the couples who adopt them. You can’t help but smile when you see Dean. I took this as a good sign of how the day would go.

The next time I post, it will be the story of the moment we became a family (my best friend’s son calls their family of three a Three Family, and that’s how I think of us, now too). Up until now, I haven’t talked a whole lot about what we were actually feeling, and truth be told, from the minute we touched down in Beijing until the moment we got in the car that day, we hadn’t had a whole lot of time to feel anything; we’d been too busy or too tired. Now, though, it all came crashing over me in a huge wave. If you’ve seen the documentary “Wo Ai Ni, Mommy”, then you probably remember the moment when Donna Sadowsky was about to leave her hotel room. She took a huge breath and teared up. That’s exactly how I felt, and exactly what I did.

The morning had seemed surreal, and I remember trying to take in every single moment of the drive over to Civil Affairs. I remember being fascinated by the fruit stands and the dumpling vendors, and then….nothing. Everything was kind of a gray blur for the next ten minutes. The only thing I can recall is that I had to pee. BAD. For someone who prides herself on an ironclad memory, I honestly cannot tell you what thoughts were swirling around in my head. We made it to the Civil Affairs building, and Ashley let us out while he found a parking place. Kevin and I just stood there completely paralyzed. I had seen pictures and video of this building, and I knew exactly where we were going, so by the time Ashley came back, I was chomping at the bit to hit the button for the third floor on the elevator. Then the doors opened, we stepped out, and there was….nobody. Seriously. Nobody was there. The place was empty. And I still had to pee.

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