Ken Hart (ken_of_ghastria) wrote,
Ken Hart

My China journal

Ken, Judy, and Jordana in China - note my cool Goodman Games T-shirtI kept a journal of our trip to China, mostly to record my thoughts on the way and our reactions in those first amazing days after being united with Jordana. The full entry will be visible after the jump on the Comments page. Now let's travel to the Far East and meet a baby!


Friday, November 2, 2007
On the Continental flight from Newark to Los Angeles (the first leg of our trip): In an odd coincidence, Judy and I sat next to a Chinese-American man, James, and his adorable 18-month-old daughter, Sophia. At first, we saw this as a great omen – fortuitous, even – because we felt we were getting a kind of preview of “life with Jordana.” Sophia giggled, she smiled, she said “ba-ba” to Judy, which James said was a signal that Sophia wanted Judy to pick her up, which she did. All was good.

James was a nice man and very much interested in our adoption tale. However, this was a five-and-a-half-hour flight, and Sophia just could not get comfortable in James’ lap after a while. She also went through three diapers in as many hours, and James didn’t have a backup outfit for her to wear after one of those diapers leaked.

In fact, James didn’t have a LOT of things. No toys, no books, no crayons, no binkie! Considering that it was such a long flight (a pittance compared to our forthcoming jaunt to Guangzhou), one might think that a parent would be better prepared to distract and/or entertain a fidgety toddler. But noooooo. Sophia spent the entire second half of the flight shrieking at the top of her little lungs because she couldn’t fall asleep. Poor thing. Poor me! I felt that I was falling into a black pit of despair because 1) I was dead tired and couldn’t think straight while a small child was shrieking three feet away from me, and 2) Was this what would happen when we brought Jordana home in two weeks? Judy assured me quietly, “No, because we will have toys for her...” – ingenious! – “...and we will rock her to sleep, which he has NOT been doing.”

Anyway, we made it to L.A. with our sanity barely intact – and just over six hours to kill before our 11:50 p.m. flight. Woo, cutting it close! We couldn’t even check our baggage (our enormously heavy baggage, Future Jordana) for another hour and a half, so we ate at The Daily Grill, home of the $12.95 cheeseburger. I also had two glasses of Sam Adams, my last taste of Western beer for two weeks. Not catastrophic, since I really like Tsingtao.

LAX is a sucky airport. After Judy and I got through security, I was convinced that there would be a food court – at least a Starbucks – where I could get coffee. Nope. Beyond security in the international terminal, the only concession area was a newsstand with snacks. No coffee. Grrrr..... Judy bought water, which was good (flights are dehydrating), but I fear the emergence of the Caffeine Headache Beast in a few hours. Thank goodness her sister convinced us to take Valium on the flight!

At Gate 110 with still three hours to go till departure, we sat, exhausted, and wondered what the bad smell in the terminal was. I dozed, Judy was cold. We eventually spotted the distinctive pink luggage tags provided by our adoption facilitator, US-Asian Affairs (USAA) on the carry-on bags of other couples arriving at the gate, but we lacked the energy to get up and say hi. However, a very nice couple – Anna and Paul – walked over after they spotted our tags. As it turns out, Anna and Judy had already traded e-mails on the Yahoo group, so it was cool to finally meet in person. Unlike us, Anna and Paul already have three kids – all boys – and they’re going to China to bring home their daughter, Sara. I immediately feel like Judy and I will become an honorary aunt and uncle, as well as becoming new parents.

I’m writing this as we sit onboard the China Southern Airlines flight, in our “premium economy” seats (a.k.a. business class), getting ready to begin the long journey. We have cool freebies, like slippers, eye masks, and toiletries! We pop our first Valium. The plane is actually leaving on time. In just 15 hours (ugh!) and one lost Saturday as we cross the International Date Line, we’ll be in China. Wow. We’re coming, Jordana! Now I must try to sleep....

Monday, November 5
I’m writing this on the flight from Guangzhou to Nanchang. I didn’t write anything yesterday because if I had tried, I would’ve collapsed on the notebook. Got maybe two hours of sleep on the flight from L.A. – I never sleep well on planes. And that’s even with it being a very quiet flight for the first few hours. After serving a meal at about 1 a.m. (L.A. time), they turned off the interior lights for a long time. Judy slept better than I did. Damn good flight, overall. The 15 hours seemed to pass much faster than the 5-1/2 hour flight to Los Angeles. I suspect that not having an 18-month-old girl shrieking in my ears had something to do with it.

During the flight, I pretty much zipped through a parenting book by “the Baby Whisperer,” one of those all-powerful British nannies. Some pretty good advice – I recommend it. Judy killed some time by watching her latest Charmed disc from Netflix on the portable DVD player we bought last week. But she finished it. Now she has nothing left to watch except for the Buffy Season Three discs we packed. I also hope to get her to give The Matrix a second chance.

Finally, we arrived in Guangzhou. About a half-hour before landing, we shared a “Holy shit, we’re in China!” moment. We walked off the plane with Anna and Paul, who had sat behind us. Both Paul and I made the mistake of photographing the customs checkpoint for posterity. A Chinese security officer told us kindly to delete the photos, and he stood over us as we did so. Wow, 30 seconds in China and I’m already on the government’s watch list!

As we had been promised, we were met by US-Asian Affairs’ China team as soon as we retrieved our luggage. For the first time, we met most of the other adopting families. This has been the most enjoyable part of the trip so far – meeting these other folks who are going through the same wild experience as us. Some of the families already have kids back home, while for others like us and Suzanne and Aaron (traveling with Aaron’s mom), this will be Baby No. 1.

Also fun is finding some local connections among the couples. Even though 14 of the 18 families are from California, Suzanne used to live in Long Island, and Kate and John (here from Chicago) used to live on the Upper West Side in NYC. In fact, Judy said to me later, “They look familiar – they look like a couple that was in our first group meeting in Little Neck [back in June 2005] and I remember that there was another couple that was using US-Asian Affairs!” “Well,” I said, “Kate told me she used to live on the Upper West Side…” And Judy was right! It was them! I’m always amazed that she remembers details like that. Just like she’s amazed that I can remember every single episode from five seasons of Angel. Different wiring!

We continued chatting with folks as Norman Yu and the China team guided us to a bus for the trip to downtown Guangzhou and the China Hotel (a Marriott!). We got a verbal intro from Norman and then Martin during the ride. Guangzhou looks kind of like I expected – lots of gray roads and highways. The classic image of Chinese people on bicycles has given way to Chinese people in cars. Martin said that Guangzhou has about 10 million people and about 1 million cars – and growing.

The China Hotel – very nice! Although I had pathetically been trying to learn a few key Mandarin phrases, the hotel staff speaks fluent English, as does (naturally) the USAA team. (I later asked Grace of USAA when she started learning English. She replied the 3rd grade – it’s mandatory – and now many schools offer it starting in the 1st grade.)

At the hotel’s hospitality suite, we all chatted among ourselves while Norman and the team got our rooms organized and explained the itinerary for the next couple of days. Eight families – including Judy and me – would leave for Nanchang early the next morning. Ugh. This is right after our long, exhausting flight. (Nothing is too good for our Jordana! And don’t think we won’t remind you of this in years to come, my young padawan!)

Two big waves of emotion among everyone: “Wow, we’re here…” and “Damn, I’m tired.” At this point, Judy and I looked like we had spent a week with Courtney Love. It had been about 30 hours since we left New Jersey. We made arrangements with the China team to meet back in the lobby at 10:30, two hours later. Judy and I were the last to get our room assignment. But the lights in our hotel room wouldn’t go on! So we went back downstairs and asked for another room. Yet in the second room, none of the lights came on, either!

What’s going on here? I was tired and Judy needed to use the bathroom badly. Judy called the front desk and explained, “We’ve been schlepping our bags up and down!” “Um, honey,” I said softly, “’Schlepping’ won’t translate too well.” She went downstairs again. Were we dumb? Was there a special trick to get the power on? Yes! They explained to Judy that you needed to stick your hotel card in a slot in the wall to turn on the room’s power. Judy said, “Well, we don’t have that back in the U.S.! You’d think somebody would have mentioned this during the two years before we got here!” True! (Apparently, a few of the other families also called the front desk and asked, “Why doesn’t my room work?”)

Still, by the time we got that resolved and the rest of our bags were finally brought to our room, we didn’t have time to shower before our 10:30 rendezvous. So back on a bus we went and we headed to what Norman called one of the best restaurants in Guangzhou, the South Sea Fishing Village. (It’s oddly located in a fancy type of mall that runs around the outer wall of a huge sports arena.) We’re greeted by a welcoming committee of a half-dozen women at the door, and that seems to be their only job: saying hi and bye to customers! That seems like an easy job. What are the benefits like?

In a special room, we had a dim sum brunch where Norman introduced the China team and asked everyone in the families to introduce themselves and say where they came from and the name of the child they were adopting. It was very cool and very comforting to hear the others speak. Judy and I realized that we’re definitely going to be closer to some of these people than others, but we’re now all related – not only new parents, but new aunts and uncles to everyone else’s child.

During the brunch, Norman said that all the families going to Nanchang had to have our bags ready for transport by 5 p.m. and any bags we wanted to remain in Guangzhou (for our return six days later) by 6 p.m. He then said that after brunch, we’d be taken to a popular mall for an hour’s worth of buying and window-shopping. This is really the only time we’ve gotten annoyed: Besides the mall trip being unnecessary (it’s located across the street from the Garden Hotel, which is where we’ll be spending all of next week), we hadn’t been given any opportunity to change currency. Most stores don’t take U.S. credit cards, and we didn’t want to use our cards anyway, considering how much money we had been nervously carrying around in our money belts. Also it gave us almost no time afterward to shower and to rearrange our luggage before the 5 p.m. pickup. It’s kind of an unspoken understanding that China wants you to spend a lot of money, but still....

As it turned out, by the time we got back to our room (after predictably buying nothing in the so-so mall), we realized that we had done a good job of selecting what we needed for the trip and that Judy, as always, had done a magnificent job of packing. It didn’t make sense to rearrange our stuff. If USAA had to pay more for getting our overweight bags on the flight to Nanchang, so be it. We then showered, and there was much rejoicing. (Huzzah!) I nearly fell asleep while shaving. The day(s) were rapidly catching up to both of us. At the earlier recommendation of Norman, we decided to get foot massages in the hotel’s spa, as the 21 hours of flying had caused our feet to swell to Elephant Man proportions. It was amazing. The “foot” massages consisted of 70 minutes of backrub, neck rub, leg soaking and rub, and arm and leg massage – essentially a full body massage with clothes on (and a great one) for just $20 apiece! (While the exchange rate may suck against the Euro right now, the dollar is doing well against the Yuan.) I fell asleep during my foot rub and snored. How do you say “I’m mortified” in Mandarin? It’s not in the Berlitz book.

By this point, we were really tired. We decided to simply order room service around 6:30 and call it a night, forgoing the pleasure of “Blade 3” on Cinemax. (Already saw it, of course – it’s bad, but worth watching for Ryan Reynolds, who is hysterical as Hannibal King.) Against our hopes, we spent our last night as a wild, swinging, child-free couple too exhausted to move. Bring on the baby!

We got up at 5 a.m. for a quick 5:30 buffet before joining the rest of the Jiangxi families for our flight. (Actually, Judy had been up since 3:30. I had woken up at midnight and went through the whole emotional gamut from anxiety to excitement before dozing again.)

Back at Guangzhou Airport – lots of photos, lots of excitement. We were going to see our children, who were about to leave (with their caretakers) on a 5-hour bus ride to the civil office in Nanchang – the first trip these kids likely have ever taken.

So here we are now on the 90-minute flight to Nanchang. And hey, there are commercials on the monitors! Every damn minute of the trip! Many of them feature Americans, and you can’t help but wonder how the omnipresent image of Americans in advertising affects both America’s image abroad and other countries’ image of what constitutes beauty and success.

OK, we’re off the plane. Nanchang – we’re here! In Jiangxi province, where Jordana was born (Suichuan township, to be precise). We met Sissi (see-see) of USAA, who gave a funny prep on the days ahead. I won’t call it a pep talk because she – in a humorous way – described a horrible week ahead. “Your baby will cry and cry and cry.” “She won’t want anything to do with you.” “She’ll be constipated and she probably won’t want to eat or drink.” Fun! But we all knew that she just wanted us to be prepared for a rough couple of days. These babies are going to be terrified!

We got to our room; we’re all staying on the 11th floor of the Gloria Grand Hotel. And there’s a crib! Wow. Really wow. In a few hours, a baby will be in there. At noon, we joined Anna and Paul for lunch. Sissi was already in the lobby – with updated photos of the babies! The only photos we had of Jordana were taken when she was 5 months old – four months ago! But these were taken just a week or two earlier. Sissi showed us the photos and asked which one was ours. “That’s her!” I exclaimed. “That’s her furrowed brow!” Sure enough, there was Xianchun/Jordana, looking a little bigger and with more hair, but still with the worried brow and the so-large eyes. She’s beautiful! And we’re being completely objective about this!

As I finish this, it’s 1:45. At 2:00, the group will head out for the civil office and within an hour, our daughter – all crying, shrieking, confused, constipated 16 pounds of her – will be in our arms. Have I mentioned that I’ve never changed a diaper?

Tuesday, November 6
Twenty-four hours makes a big difference. Just ask Jack Bauer. Or me and Judy. We have a daughter: Jordana Lily Xianchun Hart, and she’s adorable. It’s 1:25 p.m. as I start writing this, and Jordana is going down for her second nap of the day. Her first nap was several hours ago on my chest as I wore the Baby Bjorn, a fabulous invention that rivals the Guinness widget for ingenuity. Yesterday we traveled by bus to the civil office – it was what the adoption agencies call “Gotcha Day.” When we arrived, the caregivers were all sitting on one side of the big room – with the babies – and we sat on the other side, looking at them from a distance. “Is that one ours?”

Grace and Sissi said we’d be called up one family at a time, our identities would be checked, and the caregivers would hand us the babies. (It was at this moment that I began to appreciate how difficult this day must be for the caregivers. They’re usually very young women, and they’ve been taking care of these children pretty much from the day they were found, feeding them, playing with them, and showing them love ... knowing all the while they may hand them over to a couple of strangers in a few months.)

All of us took photos of each other as each baby was introduced to her new family. We were staring and rejoicing in each other’s big moment. Paul and Anna were to get their daughter just before us, and Paul said he’d take photos of us using our camera. (Paul, poor guy, was so excited that his hands shook, so a few of the photos came out blurry.) Judy and I held each other’s hand; she was having such a hard time catching her breath that she wished she hadn’t left her asthma inhaler back at the hotel.

And suddenly, with no fanfare, the moment was upon us. The caregiver placed Long Xianchun into Judy’s hands, and Jordana Lily Xianchun Hart was here. Amazingly, neither of us cried – I think we were too stunned. Bing, you’re parents!

Jordana didn’t cry, but she was clearly confused. We stroked her and patted her back. I kept saying, “Guai, guai,” which I think means “Good, good” – the one useful thing we learned from the father on that flight to L.A. After a couple of minutes, though, Jordana seemed to be working herself up toward a cry – and we gave her the dumb little rattle that we got from The Land of Nod after they messed up our toy-chest order several months earlier. All of Jordana’s fear disappeared as she grabbed the noisy colorful thing and began shaking it. (Thank you, Marnie, for suggesting that Judy pack that thing.)

It was such an odd feeling. I was a daddy! Judy was a mommy! And we were holding a 9-month-old child and telling her as best we could that we would love her and take care of her for the rest of our lives.

Although Xianchun’s main caregiver didn’t make the trip to Nanchang, another young woman who had obviously cared for her did. She smiled at Jordana as I held her. She playfully tugged on her toes and said something soothing. We thanked her as best we could (she didn’t speak English), but saying “shie shie” seemed woefully inadequate. As the caregiver left, she waved at the baby and her eyes moistened. Judy started crying then, because we knew how much that woman had cared for our baby.

(By the way, we later learned that the character “chun” in Xianchun means “pure,” which suggests that the caregivers wanted this baby to grow up pure. As Judy said, “So that means no sex!” Isn’t that the dad’s line?)

On the way back to the Gloria, Sissi gave us a primer on feeding our new children. Jiangxi babies, like Jiangxi people in general, like everything hot, including their formula – not room temperature hot, but HOT hot. Also, the formula was super-thick, mixed with rice cereal – almost like porridge – and she gave us instructions on how to mix it. Meanwhile, we kept talking to Jordana, occasionally mixing in her Chinese name, and told her how much she’d be loved and cared for.

Most of the babies were surprisingly quiet – not much crying at all, unlike Sissi’s worst-case scenario. We returned to our room and we took turns holding her and soothing her. She looked fearful and confused, and she put two fingers in her mouth to soothe herself. (We both knew it was a great thing that Jordana already knew how to do this.)

Then began the longest hour of my life. Jordana started crying, and Judy followed Sissi’s instructions in making the formula with the rice cereal. But it wasn’t thick enough and it flowed through the humongous, pearl-sized hole in the nipple like a stream. Jordana was NOT happy. We then took off the several layers of clothing (a standard in China, regardless of the weather) and tried putting on one of her new outfits. But as new parents, we were a little clumsy, and Jordana’s head and limbs were getting stuck in the clothes. She went into full Three Mile Island meltdown, and we didn’t know yet what her cries meant. Was she hungry? Sad? Scared? All of the above? What do we do? It was that feeling of helplessness and despair that affects most first-time parents, but knowing about it and experiencing it are two different things. I felt horribly unqualified for the responsibilities before me – I was the George W. Bush of parenting.

But one thing we realized is that Jordana mostly wanted to be held, to be reassured that these strange-looking newcomers would take care of her needs and that we weren’t going anywhere.

When we all met for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant around 5:30, she was a little better. Grace and Sissi helped us prepare a thick bottle of formula, and we fed her a couple of local favorites for the kids: steamed egg and canjee (a rice porridge), served hot, of course. She loved it. (We had learned that these babies had been eating some real food – egg, rice, bananas, pork – from the time they were 4 months old.) She calmed down quite a bit, and we even got a smile or two out of her.

Jordana was understandably exhausted after her long day (and we weren’t far behind). We put her to bed in the hotel crib around 7:50, and she tossed and cooed for about a half-hour before conking out – and she snored! Big time. Judy and I found this hysterical. But the biggest achievement is that we survived our first day as parents, and it ended on a positive, promising note.

That continued throughout the next day, Tuesday, as Jordana’s trust in us grew visibly on an hourly basis. It was an incredible experience this morning as this adorable child fell asleep to the sound of my heartbeat as I carried her around in the Baby Bjorn. We had spent the morning making three trips, all designed to finalize the adoption. Jordana is now officially our daughter! (Yes, although we got her yesterday, it wasn’t “real” until today. Did we misplace the receipt?)

And she stared up at me with eyes that wanted love and reassurance, and she smiled. By the time we finished lunch, Judy and I felt that we were about 90% there with the bonding – in just 24 hours! Jordana even stopped crying when we changed her diaper. It’s like she believed us when we told her it was OK. Somehow that made it through the language barrier. And I have fallen head over heels for this little girl, and so has Judy. Right now, after yesterday’s hour of fear, there seems nothing more natural in the world than taking care of Jordana, our daughter.

Thursday, November 8
The last couple of nights have been rougher because Jordana has a head cold, and she’s been coughing a lot and sneezing up big greenish gobs. Judy and I realized we had made the full transition to parenthood when we showed no hesitation about yanking snot out of Jordana’s nose with our bare fingers. (Parenthood can be disgusting!) Most of the babies have colds, in fact. Whether it’s because of the stress, something that they picked up in the orphanage, or something on us that their systems weren’t used to, I don’t know. Of course, it may also have something to do with us not wrapping Jordana up in a gazillion layers of clothes on a sunny 70-degree day, in spite of what Grace and Sissi told us Western know-it-alls. Chinese babies wear a LOT of clothes year-round, and they sweat constantly – but that’s supposedly normal for them. (Hmm, sweating in damp clothes … maybe that’s why they get sick!)

Anyway, Jordana has been unhappy and her eating has been a little off, except in the mornings when she’s ravenous.

Last night, Sissi and Grace called a pediatrician to the hotel to examine the sick babies. (I can’t say enough about how great Sissi and Grace have been, dropping everything to help us with health tips, shopping, translation, and even info about the local beer … well, OK, that was just for me. We’re deeply indebted to them.) The pediatrician checked out Jordana, who was very brave except when he looked into her ears with the cold metal scope. He laid her down on the bed, and Jordana gripped my finger and stared at me the whole time, and I told her it was OK, and she stopped crying. The doctor told us that yes, she had congestion in her chest, so he gave us instructions on using the cold medicine that Sissi helped us pick out in Wal-Mart yesterday (yes, the Nanchang Wal-Mart – that’s a story for another time) and gave us a prescription for an antibiotic that Sissi, bless her, went out and got filled for us a couple of hours later. The total cost for this house call and the prescription: 220 Yuan, about $18. I like China!

Of course, then came the hard part of giving the medication to Jordana. Unfortunately, this task has often fallen to Judy, primarily because she’s tougher than I am. I would get anxious and throw my hands up in panic if I couldn’t get my child to take medicine. Judy not only loves Jordana as much as I do, she has experience at this (from being an aunt) and she’s made of sterner stuff than me. “Fight me all you want,” she told a wriggling Jordana, “but I’m squirting this medication down your throat!” Still, Jordana’s struggles against us the last two days have been rough, and I might have given up halfway, saying, “Well, at least I got some of it in.” Judy hangs tough, and it’s all the more amazing because she feels Jordana’s anguish just like I do, maybe more so. It makes me appreciate her all the more.

In the past two days, we’ve visited two parks in Nanchang and gotten a primer in Chinese history and Taoism from Sissi. Jordana rode in the Baby Bjorn on my chest, which is an amazing sensation. There’s an instant closeness – an emotional connection that’s reinforced each time she looks up at me.

She was really excited by the different sights and sounds in the parks (oddly, few birds), but she had a big meltdown at the end of the 25-minute bus ride to and from the second destination, Elephant Lake Park. Yeah, she hasn’t been feeling well, but more than that, we realize that Jordana likes to keep things moving. Too long a time in one place and she gets cranky – which means the flight back to L.A. will be hell. On the plus side, she’s an incredibly solid sleeper. She fell asleep in the Baby Bjorn as we strolled through the loud, aforementioned Wal-Mart.

A couple of quick notes: Despite the lack of sleep and the rising stress over Jordana’s cold, Judy and I have been handling things well and not getting on each other’s nerves, at least for the most part. As stressful as things have been at times, it’s nothing compared to what another couple has been going through. Kate and John’s new daughter, Cornelia (“Neely”), developed a 105-degree fever and had to be taken to the hospital on Tuesday morning to start twice-daily IV treatments in her forehead. Very scary. Getting an IV makes it sound even worse, but IV treatments are the equivalent of getting a shot, apparently. Cornelia has needed six treatments so far, but they seem to have worked. Her fever is down quite a bit, and she seems like a happy baby. But Kate and John gave a sobering description of the Nanchang hospital. From a tech/equipment perspective, they said it was like traveling back to the 1940s. No complaints about the staff, who apparently were great, but the level of the equipment was way behind what we’re used to in the States. [Update: Neely has completely recovered, and she's having plenty of fun with Kate, John, and her new brother.]

Saturday, November 10
I’m falling behind on my notes, mostly because we’re damn tired! Between waking up at every squawk and cry from the nearby crib, my internal clock still hasn’t adjusted and I’ve been waking up at 4 a.m. or so. Judy is beat, too, and we both think we’re catching colds, along with every other member of the Jiangxi families. Yesterday was probably the best day with Jordana so far. Her own cold is diminishing – due in part to Judy’s awesome ability to squirt cold medicine and antibiotics into Jordana’s mouth while she’s sleeping! – and she smiles at us a lot now, unless we’re pointing a camera at her. When that happens, she puts on the sad, confused face that we first fell in love with.

However, while Sissi conducted us on a tour of an outdoor museum dedicated to legendary local artist Zhuda, I got a great photo of Jordana’s smiling face. We bought a book that reprinted some of Zhuda’s works as a keepsake and a tie to Jordana’s homeland. Sissi also gave us a sheet describing the township where Jordana was found – Suichuan – and which includes little factoids such as that her hometown is famous for making fans.

We said goodbye to Nanchang and (finally!) the Gloria Grand Hotel and boarded the bus to the airport for the flight back to Guangzhou. Goodbye, Sissi! Thanks!

After arriving, I started making “Survivor” jokes with some of the others, like Kate and Debra: “We have to keep the tribal alliances intact! We can’t let anyone get picked off by one of the Guangdong tribe!” And you know something? I was only half-joking. Judy and I forged great friendships with many of these people. We shared in each other’s joy, we supported each other while the babies were sick, we shared cold medicine, we helped each other with luggage at the airport … it was great. I hadn’t expected to make lifelong friends on this trip, but I think we did.

Jordana was a trooper on the flight. She napped during takeoff and landing, and we made sure she drank water and ate Cheerios near both ends of the trip so that she’d swallow and her ears would adjust to the pressure change. [Update: As it ultimately turned out, Jordana was great on all three flights! She actually slept for most of the flight back to L.A. – it was a pretty mellow flight overall, nothing like the hell I had envisioned for two years. She’s a good baby.]

We rode on the bus through hazy, crowded Guangzhou and arrived at the Garden Hotel. Now this is a five-star hotel! Very glitzy and golden, with a waterfall and garden next to the restaurant. [Update: But oddly no freakin’ drawers in the rooms! What the hell…? We had to live out of our suitcases for the next week.]

Debra later made the great point, “I’m glad we went to Nanchang first.” Yep, I was in complete agreement. Nanchang felt more "authentically" China, as opposed to the metropolis of Guangzhou. For all of Nanchang’s grime and lack of glamour, it felt real. Guangzhou is a big, business-focused city, with all of the pros and cons. There’s a 7/11 every other block (really!), there are plenty of modern amenities, there are lots of homeless people – in other words, Guangzhou looks like a lot of other cities.

Monday, November 12
Continuing on the Guangzhou topic – After being here for a couple of days, we all just want to GO HOME. We’re tired, sleep-deprived, sick, and homesick. We want to bring our babies home and sleep in our own beds, not the Fred Flintstone beds of China’s hotels. Alas, another four nights to go. Thank goodness we haven’t had to spend all two weeks here – nothing against Guangzhou per se, but it would’ve made the desire to go home ever stronger. I’m not sure how the Guangdong families haven’t gone stir crazy.

For the most part, our activities here – organized now by Norman and Martin – are limited to signing papers, eating, shopping ... and more shopping. I’m all for picking up mementos for ourselves and Jordana, but it’s getting monotonous. At least Nanchang had a grimy character, even if more people stared at us there. (Most Chinese, especially those not in the bigger, tourist-friendly areas, don’t know about the adoption issue and the vast number of girls in orphanages. So we drew a lot of attention in Nanchang when we went to the supermarket with Jordana.)

Over the past two days, we’ve had the best time yet with Jordana. She smiles at us all the time (except when a camera is pointed at her) and it’s delightful. But the classic “Jordana frown” still pops up often and makes us laugh.

The last update from the orphanage had mentioned that Jordana was a “quiet” baby, even though she likes to play. I think we see that now. She doesn’t cry much at all, and she seems to take most things in stride.

Tuesday, November 13
Although she’s been saying “mama” and “dada” and a bunch of other noises interchangeably for a few days – normal for her age – yesterday afternoon around 4:15, Jordana specifically said “Dada” while she was playing with me. I almost cried.

The last few nights haven’t been easy, though. Both Judy and I have officially caught Jordana’s cold. Between that and Jordana’s “night terrors” or nightmares (thrashing and crying in her sleep), we haven’t gotten a lot of rest. It’s been rougher for Judy, who has a bad cough. She has tried mightily to repress it in the middle of the night, but that’s nearly impossible to do. And in the hotel room, there’s nowhere for her to go to avoid rousing Jordana and me.

Besides the homesickness, USAA’s scheduling here in Guangzhou leaves a lot to be desired. In Nanchang, Grace and Sissi always tried to make sure there was time in the afternoon for the babies to nap and that any evening activities ended on the early side. So far in Guangzhou, with Norman and Martin calling the shots, the babies’ sleep time (and the parents’ wish to avoid insanity) hasn’t been a high priority.

Yesterday, the babies got the physical examination, and Jordana was again a brave, stoic baby as she was prodded, poked, and weighed. (She’s the William Wallace of babies! “Freedom!”) She even giggled when she was measured. Her weight is 16.8 pounds at 9 months – about what the official records said a month or so ago, but boy, can this kid eat! She’s liked everything we’ve given her so far, including the Gerber foods, real banana, eggs, canjee, rice, etc.

The only sign that Jordana might have been a little stressed out by her exam was when she vomited on my hand 15 minutes later. Yummy. Still, her afternoon nap – and that of the other kids – was practically nonexistent, and while I’m guessing Norman may not have had any control over the timing of the exams, it did mean that the bus ride back to the hotel was the Baby Meltdown Ride of the Damned. Most of the overtired girls shrieked and howled as the bus, now stuck in afternoon rush-hour traffic, crawled back to the Garden Hotel. It was like watching the “Cavemen” TV series with Celine Dion wailing in the background with the volume up to 11. Make ... the hurting ... stop.... What about Jordana? She dozed in Judy’s arms, oblivious to the kiddie cacophony. What a girl.

We weren’t out of the woods yet. USAA had dinner plans for us at 6:30, but many of the parents opted out, choosing to soothe their exhausted kids. Judy and I went to the restaurant, since Jordana was OK, though cranky. Grace and Sarah of the China team took turns feeding Jordana rice and fish, while Judy and I ate. Or tried to eat. Martin had ordered some food that defied description, and certainly defied my throat. The chicken dish was impossible to eat – I was pulling bone shards out of my mouth with every attempted chew. How do people eat this?

It was about 8:30 when we got back to our room, and Jordana was WAY overtired. When we tried to put her down, she screamed like a banshee. We let it go on for several minutes, and then we went back to the crib to try to calm her. Judy held her for a while – Jordana was crying real tears, so she was clearly upset – and then put her back down. The crying resumed immediately! Next came the silly sight of Judy rubbing Jordana's back while I mumbled “Shh-shh-shh … shh-shh-shh” for 15 minutes. All this time, Jordana cried and flew her freak flag (i.e., she waves her sock monkey in the air in the minutes before she conks out – it’s pretty funny, usually). Finally, we said to each other, “She’s overtired. We have to let her cry it out.” We retreated to the bathroom – where else could we get out of her sight? – and listened to a god-awful, gut-wrenching series of cries from the depths of Jordana’s little body. It was a damn long 10 minutes before she finally fell asleep. Judy and I were just numb.

This was probably the lowest point for me. I certainly didn’t hold it against Jordana – she’s been through a lot – but part of me wanted to scream, “Go to sleep, damn it!” Judy asked me if I was having second thoughts about what we had done. “No, of course not,” I said instantly. I love Jordana, and it’s not her fault her life has been so chaotic and she didn’t get an afternoon nap – but my brain was fried from lack of sleep and the head cold. The previous couple of days had shown us the joys of parenthood, and now we were getting a look at the flip side. Imagine drinking Guinness for several days and then being force-fed Budweiser.

On the plus side, Jordana then slept for 10 hours straight. Granted, she still had nightmares and we still woke up a lot, but hey, it was progress. Judy and I made a few mental notes like, “OK, we shouldn’t have put her to bed so soon after getting back. She was hyper-stimulated so we should’ve read a book to her or did some other calming things first.” That’s what the Baby Whisperer would have said!

And this morning, I’m flying solo. Well, “solo” plus baby. Today, USAA has scheduled several hours of paperwork so Norman asked one representative of each family to come to a conference room at 9 a.m. Although I’m the writer, we decided it made sense for Judy to handle it. That left me by myself with the baby and Jordana’s morning nap – assuming she didn’t scream her head off.

It’s actually gone well. After Judy left, Jordana and I played in the room for another half-hour. Then, taking the lesson from last night, I ratcheted things down. I read to her, rocked her, and held her until her little sleepy head started sliding toward the crook of my arm. I drew the curtains and turned on the Lullabies playlist on the iPod speakers (good call, Judy). Jordana is no dummy – in fact, her big, Daddy-like forehead means she’s clever, according to Grace – and she recognized these signs as the start of nap time. She began crying in the crib. I rubbed her belly for a few minutes. She was definitely sleepy. I carefully retreated to the bathroom and waited out the three minutes of howling, followed by her deep, heavy breathing. Mission accomplished. She slept for about 1 hour, 20 minutes – much longer than yesterday – and still no poopie diaper! Yay me!

When Judy came back to the room shortly after 12, the now-awake Jordana looked up and raised her little hand in delight toward Mommy. Then it was Judy’s turn to almost cry.


That’s the end of the journal. Although there were a few more days to go, it seemed that we had reached the turning point. After those first tentative days, Jordana now clearly trusted us and loved us. She woke up smiling each morning, just as she does now. And on top of that, I just didn’t have the energy to write more! I was able to get the blog post up the next day, thanks to Kate and John’s laptop (first time in my life I used a Mac).

Final tips:
  • Buy lots of bottled water. The tap water in China is no good, and the hotel will only give you a couple of bottles for free.
  • Don’t get into a cab unless you have a card from the hotel that describes in Chinese where you want to go and where you’re coming back to.
  • Do not order hamburgers from room service. We did this in Nanchang and regretted it. Whatever that meat was, it didn’t taste like cow meat. If you have a hankering for a burger, yield to the Dark Side and find McDonald’s.
  • Every now and then, stop what you’re doing, look around, and say, “Holy shit, I’m in China.” Appreciate the moment.
It was a wild, exhausting, exhilarating trip. One day, maybe when Jordana is 9 or 10 years old, we’ll return to China as a family when we’re all better able to appreciate the land of Jordana’s birth.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it.
Tags: china, jordana


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