Thursday, December 28, 2006

China Wrap

China Wrap

Home Again! Landed in Albuquerque right at midnight, Tuesday, 12/26, and then got home at 1:00 am, just about four hours short of three weeks after we left, though I think you should get extra credit for crossing the international dateline. A few moments of panic when I couldn’t find the car and house keys in the secure niche I had put them in my backpack, but just about the time Susie said, Let ME Look, I found the little side pocket in the big pocket wherein they resided.

Had a great Christmas weekend in Las Vegas with daughters, Heidi and Mandi (well, great being with family; the sniffles I flew home with turned into an achy cold. Susie had some stomach distress, and both of us took a couple of nights to de-jetlag). One Vegas highlight was seeing an Ansel Adams display at the Bellagio’s Fine Art Gallery. And, Heidi brought home a Christmas meal prepared by Bellagio, turkey plus lots of fancy trimmings that we all enjoyed Christmas Eve day.

Note added: A most statistically unusual event happened. Heidi and Mandi independently each bought me the same pair of T-shirts -- "Hopelessly Overeducated" and "I'm sick of being my wife's arm candy" were the two inscriptions. Now, why would either one of them think that those were appropriate inscriptions, much less both inscriptions and both of them? They discovered this coincidence late Friday night and there were continuing whoops of laughter downstairs. I asked what was going on and Susie said you'll find out Christmas.

There were a few China things I wanted to talk about earlier, but didn’t get them in the blog postings at the time. So, I’ll post them now. But first, the reason for the trip: Malia XiaoFong Easterling, in this picture that I copied from Jeff and Valerie’s blog, at home in Colorado having Christmas fun. (Can you believe, I just had to add the word ‘blog’ to the Microsoft Word dictionary?)

Background Reading

In the Rio Grande library system, before we left, thanks to the miracle of search engines, I found a novel set in Hunan, the province Malia hails from, and took it with me to read. The title is, A Dictionary of Maquiao, written by Han Shaogong, translated by Julia Lovell. The book is organized loosely like a dictionary: the author lists words and terms used in the mountain village of Maquiao, usually in much different ways from elsewhere. The listing is sort of chronological, not alphabetical (in either English or Chinese, I gather). Each dictionary term is the launching point for tales about people and events in the village. The book's narrator is an “educated person,” sent to the village during the Cultural Revolution, now, later, reflecting back on his time there. The author was himself one such “educated person,” but I don’t know to what extent this book is autobiographical, though I would guess highly.

One example. A periodic chore is to chop firewood on the mountainsides and carry it back to the village. The idea is put forward by the educated youth is that if, once, you just leave the firewood where it is cut and let it dry out, then the next time you cut firewood, you again leave the freshly cut wood and carry out the dried wood which is now not so heavy. Etcetera. That’s an application of science. No, Uncle Luo says, “What d’you mean scientific? You mean lazy.” All those city machines like cars and trains were just thought up by “lazybones.” Science is not respected in Maquiao.

Most of the tales are much darker than this. Poverty, disease, and violence constitute much of the story of Maquiao in this telling. The Glossary reminds us that 30 million Chinese died during Mao's Great Leap Forward -- mostly rural peasants. At any rate, the book helped me get a feel for China - about the extent of the research I did - and I’m glad I came across it.


I frequently picked up the China Daily, China’s National English-Language newspaper. Its emphasis is on business and there were many stories pertaining to a large high-level US delegation being in the country for two days of dialog and other activities. Our Treasury Secretary led the group that included several other cabinet members and the head of the Federal Reserve. Also, George (41) and Barbara Bush were in the delegation. Don't know how much coverage this story got here.

Also, China has been marking the five-year anniversary of its admission into the World Trade Organization. Trade between the US and China has grown rapidly in those five years, on both sides – that is both our exports and our imports. Daily, there were stories about deals being made – Home Depot bought a chain of Chinese home supply stores, Wal-Mart is opening its 69th store in China, …. You might be interested to know that Wal-Mart has permitted its employees to unionize and one store now has its own Communist Party branch!

All this is particularly interesting to me now because my book club, the Last Thursday Book Club, recently read The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman. The book deals with globalization and primarily the growing roles of India and China in providing goods and services to the US, in some cases, but not all, replacing things that we might have done internally. Trade agreements as well as modern computing and telecommunications technology has enabled these developments. As a footnote, in Las Vegas I set up a computer for Heidi – Hewlett Packard computer from China, Canon printer from Vietnam.

There are lots of pro and con arguments about all of this, good and bad aspects. Trade enables China to modernize in a big way, makes them a player on the world stage, perhaps makes them less of a threat. Millions of Chinese have been lifted out of “dollar a day” poverty, as one writer put it, but many people have gotten very rich, so there’s a bigger difference between top and bottom. China human rights, labor, and environmental conditions are seriously lacking.
Saw a Business Week cover story while we were there about Chinese labor conditions. Work for US firms has many regulations pertaining to pay and working conditions. That’s part of being a member of the World Trade Org. But, you – a Chinese contractor - can hire advisers to help you fake your way around inspections. But, then, you – the US firms – can take steps to counter that.

My impressions of three large Chinese cities, I’m including Hong Kong, are mixed. You can feel the excitement from all the new construction of towering, gleaming offices, banks, and apartments. And from the hustling young business men and women you see in the hotels and on the streets. But, the miles and miles of decrepit high-rise apartment houses are depressing. And you have to feel for the guys hustling big piles of scrap on bicycles and hand carts. My sense, though, is that increasing trade, despite glitches and real problems, will on balance benefit both/all trading partners. There’s no doubt that China and SE Asia is an increasingly important part of the world.

Well, enough heavy stuff. Let’s get back to being a tourist.


We were advised ahead of time not to drink tap water in China. Also, keep your mouth closed in the shower and don’t brush your teeth with tap water. There was also some advice to take several extra toothbrushes. I think the scenario was that if you could only rinse them in bottled water, they would tend quickly to get yucky with toothpaste, so toss them. Well, Susie took 26 toothbrushes for us, I believe. In case you’re planning to go to China, let me tell you: we didn’t need them. The hotels supplied a couple of water bottles daily and that generally sufficed for drinking and rinsing toothbrushes. They also supplied toothbrushes and it was easy to buy additional bottled water. Susie gave Mandi and Heidi each a bunch of toothbrushes, wonderful stocking-stuffers, by the way, labeled as being used only once by Yo Momma.


Hunan is known for spicy food – In Changsha, Ellen kept calling our little girls the “Spicy Girls” – but we didn’t find much, partly because our adult-sized spicy girls, Susie and Valerie, weren’t interested. The hotel has a buffet and we ate there the first night. Jeff was our most adventurous, he had snake which he had read was a Hunan specialty. Tasted OK, he said, but too many ribs in it to eat easily. The next night Susie and I went into another restaurant in the hotel. Menu had so many items like goose web, fish jaw, ostrich tendon, boarsblood ball, and cock’s comb that Susie didn't want to even consider the less exotic items, so we went elsewhere and ordered fried rice. We came back to that restaurant a few days later and Jeff and I each had some good spicy dishes made from conventional, by western standards, animal body parts and Susie and Valerie averted their eyes from the menu.


Jeff has a great description in their blog, so I’ll just refer you there. I tried to capture some of it in a picture. Here’s a mother with daughter in tow casually crossing several lanes of traffic -- buzzing buses, scooters, and cars. And they worry about how well a baby is bundled up inside a hotel lobby!


Great trip for a great purpose. Enjoyed creating this blog and hearing your responses. We're recuperating well and, as Susie said, it seems surreal just to think about where we've been and what we've done the last three weeks.


Rob and Susie, Jeff, Valerie, and Malia

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Greetings from Las Vegas

Made it back stateside -- to Las Vegas for Christmas weekend.

As we boarded bus taking us from White Swan Hotel to Guangzhou Airport, one guy sighed, "Good-by, China; hello drinks-on-ice." Everybody ready to get home, particularly new parents starting up life with their adopted daughters.

We flew from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, then changed planes for flight to LAX. All went pretty smoothly. Lots of empty seats on the long flight: Susie and I spread out over four seats. Jeff, Valerie, and Malia had two sets of three seats, each set with an aisle seat, and we were right behind them, so that made moving Malia around quite convenient. Flight had tail wind, so we arrived after about 12 hours, nearly an hour early.

Our departure time was 130 pm, China time (Did you know all of China is one time zone - Beijing's?). Malia slept the first couple of hours, then was awake for the duration. I don't think J, V, or I slept at all; Susie had a couple of short naps. Valerie spent a lot of time standing and walking with Malia -- think she (Malia) had a little tummy distress. (I'm typing this from Las Vegas library and didn't bring my camera, so unfortunately, can't attach any pictures. Later.)

We arrived in LA about 900am, Friday. Lots of uncertainty for Jeff and Valerie flying to Denver, but their flight did go eventually, after some mechanical delays. In Denver, though, their friend who was to pick them up was unable to get to the airport. So, it was a $100 cab ride home, but cab was able to handle the roads.

We were scheduled out of LAX at 300pm, so with that amount of layover time, we thought we might catch an earlier flight. Wrong! We hadn't figured on the Southwest Airlines check-in scene. Long lines, winding in and out of the terminal building, first to get boarding passes and baggage tags, then to send bags thtough x-ray, then to get ourselves through screening. Must have been the busiest travel day of the year -- Friday before Christmas! If we had tried to change flights, we would have had to work our way through another line, but with the crowds traveling, the chances of finding earlier seats available seemed pretty remote. So, we just congratulated ourselves for having reserved seats and not choosing to play the stand-by, fly-free game, and went with the flow. Daughter Mandi, as I'm sure most of you know, works for Southwest Airlines, so we have great sympathy for airline workers at times like these, and other times, too. Anyhow, we got checked in in about an hour and a half and had time for a leisurely lunch and chill-out period before the flight to Vegas.

Slight hitch on the other end as our baggage didn't get in to the terminal for about an hour after we landed, but it was great to see Heidi and get to her house around 600 pm. I think that was a mere 27 hours from the time we left the White Swan. Time for some Ambien-aided sleep.

Some wrap-up notes later.


Rob and Susie

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Guangzhou Wrap

Thursday, Dec. 21.

While in Changsha I vowed that I would try to get out into the countryside and see something other than big-city sights. So, I did some web-searching for Guangzhou area tours. Found a couple of tour agencies, but no phone numbers were listed. I asked the concierge if he could provide phone nos., but the firms identified on the websites apparently did not have telephones. However, after I explained what I wanted to do, the concierge pulled out a hotel flyer that identified several tours, one of which was the Lianhua (Lotus) Mountain half-day tour. This mountain features an ancient quarry, steep cliffs, and overhanging rocks. It’s also the site of the Lianhua Pagoda and a very large gold-coated Goddess of Mercy statue. On the trip to the Lotus Mt., it said, we ”will enjoy beautiful scenery of the countryside.” Just what we needed, so I scheduled this outing for Susie and me while Jeff, Valerie, and Malia went with the group to the zoo. (Is this any way for grandparents to act? you say. Well, they have to solo some time. Actually, they are already excellent parents. We haven't had to do much serious instructing at all.)

This was a private tour – driver Mr. Chong, our guide, Grace, and us. Grace was very knowledgeable, spoke English well, and knew her stuff. Took us a while to get out of the city because of traffic and there was only a short stretch through a rural area, but the mountain was well worth the visit.

Here’s the Goddess statue (about 135 ft. high, I’m converting from meters in my head) and that’s Grace and Susie in the foreground. I chose this picture because that red hat of Susie’s became famous all around the western Mediterranean on our cruise in ’05.

This mountain and this statue overlook the mouth of the Pearl River as it enters a sea whose name I didn’t catch and haven’t looked up, which in turn empties into the South China Sea.

Next it was on to the ancient quarry. If I got the story correctly, red sandstone from here was used over the centuries by various emperors for their palaces and government buildings. The quarry site now, called the Swallow Cliffs, for the birds that nest there, features high cliffs and a lovely garden beneath them. Here are a couple of shots.

We had to walk down a considerable staircase to reach the garden level and then back up (about a 40 min. round trip). Grace said I was the only foreigner she had guided to choose to make this descent. Susie said that was worth a good tip.

Adjacent to the Swallow Cliffs is this modern set of dwellings for the farmers who work the surrounding fields.

Coming back into town, I snapped this picture of a well-loaded motorcycle. I’ve seen bicycles similarly loaded. One person in our group mentioned seeing a bicycle carrying 300 pounds of water in large water-dispensing jugs.

Grace said a big change is coming: motorcycles will be banned in Guangzhou next year. Part of the reason is traffic and safety. Part of the reason is that this is popular mode of transportation for purse-snatchers and the like. That will make a big difference, but could increase the amount of car traffic. Guangzhou is also in process of expanding its subway system. Grace says, that it's not well used, though, because of cost. You can ride air-conditioned bus anywhere now for 25 cents, US. Half that for non-air-conditioned bus.

Well, that’s it for now. I plan another posting on some loose ends and observations, maybe even some corrections, after we get back. It’s been good to get comments from many of you.

Thanks, Cheers, and Merry Christmas!

Rob and Susie

Guangzhou 3

It’s Thursday afternoon and we leave the hotel at 700 am tomorrow, so I’m going to post a quick summary of the last three days’ activities – mostly via pictures.

Tuesday, Dec. 19.

Today the group took off on a half-day city tour. Three stops: The Six Banyan (Buddhist) Temple, The Chan Clan Academy, and a province-owned arts and crafts shop.

Here’s the 190-ft. tall Flowery Pagoda at the temple site. From the outside it looks to be nine stories tall, but in reality there are 17 stories – as Jeff and I can attest because we climbed it. The doorways keep getting lower and lower as you climb.

There are several other buildings at the temple, including this one with three Buddha statues inside. You can see two of them here and at the lower right is a monk performing a blessing ceremony for the little girls. We figured this wouldn’t turn them into Buddhists and couldn’t hurt.

The Chen Clan Academy was formerly a residence for members of the Chen family who came to Guangzhou on business, built around 1890. It’s quite large, like you see in movies such as The Last Emperor, if I recall correctly, with many rooms (actually, 19, the brochure says) grouped around many courtyards. Since 1959 it’s been a folk art museum. Outside, the roofs are lined with figures and other carvings, as in this picture.

We spent quite a bit of our allotted time in the gift shop, so didn’t see all the craft exhibits, but here’s a hard-working fellow who caught my eye. A stone carving, I believe, displayed on a piece of wood.

Next, at the shopping stop, I didn’t take any pictures, but back on Shamian Island, near the hotel, I got a picture of Susie and her favorite salesperson, Sukie.

Also, time for a Malia picture. Bet you can see that she’s changed over the 10 days since she arrived. She's chattering and smiling a lot more as she's gotten used to us. Does a pretty darn good job of waving hello or bye-bye, too.

Wednesday, Dec. 20, was a pretty quiet day. Shamian Island developed as a headquarters for various European nations -- consulates and other government and business interests, so you can see the European influence in the architecture. Here’s one of many examples.

The US Consulate used to be here on the island (I think it’s now the Polish Consulate, well-guarded, though), which is a big reason the White Swan Hotel became adoption central, but US offices have moved elsewhere. The kids are there right now (Th. Pm) getting Malia’s visa and taking an oath – of responsibility, I guess. Security is tight, so they were not allowed to take cameras or grandparents.

The only outing on Wednesday was a cab ride – pretty adventuresome – to a shopping mall specializing in pearls, jade, and other jewelry. We continued our international food journey by eating at a Japanese restaurant in the hotel.

Incidentally, you have to be careful of the fashion police when you’re out and about. Several times, in both cities, women – sales clerks, passersby on the street, people in the elevator … have admonished Valerie to keep Malia well covered – no bare leg showing between sock tops and pant leg bottoms, for example. Make sure that blanket stays securely around her. Etc. Just before we left for pearl market we met a guy (American) in the elevator who said he’d been chastised in the market for wearing shorts and a t-shirt – ugly American! So, Jeff and I wore long pants.


Rob and Susie

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Guangzhou 2

Monday, December 18

I was out at daybreak again with the exercise/meditaters. Here’s a picture of one group.

First order of business on Monday was for Susie to call Kay Collins and wish her a Happy Birthday on Sunday afternoon, still her birthday, in Albuquerque. After that we headed for a market area, just across the canal from our hotel. We thought it would be a general market, but this was all foodstuffs, all dried-foodstuffs sorts of things – grains, nuts, flakes, bundles (dried seaweed?), etc. and there were dozens of booths all selling apparently the same things – large bags, barrels, and crates of it. We didn’t see much buying going on, but deliveries were being made.

Monday afternoon was picture-taking time. An adopting parent from another group had contacted Jeff about taking some pictures, professionally, so we met with him in the riverside park. We took the opportunity for a candid shot of Malia and the Easterling grandparents.

Oh, I don’t think I mentioned this before. It’s one of Susie’s favorite China-related stories: When I was a student at Oklahoma State University, a few years ago, I got a call one day asking if I might want to join the Chinese Student Association. Easter-LING – get it? So far, no one here has asked me if I have a Chinese heritage.

Following our own picture-taking session was the traditional “red couch” pictures in the White Swan lobby. Every adopting group gathers for single-family pictures, then a group shot. Here are the 10 little girls in our group – Malia on the left of the picture, on the red couch, looking toward Momma. (I have a cropped version of this, but couldn't get Blogger to accept it. This gives you a little more sense of the scene, though.) After 10 days of acclimating the girls to new people and surroundings, this had the potential of being trauma-inducing, but our group of young ladies handled it quite well. But, if you were in the crowd of parents and families, trying to elbow in for a clear shot, it was tougher.

After this was over, the whole group walked a couple of blocks and had a nice dinner at a Thai restaurant.

Tomorrow a city tour. Stay tuned.

Also, we’d love to hear from you via e-mail or blog comments.


Rob and Susie

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Dec. 16

We left the Dolton Hotel in Changsha about 11:00am. Packing, long bus ride to airport, luggage lugging and check-in, passport and security checks, airport waiting room, crowded flight, more luggage-lugging, then another long bus ride to hotel in Guangzhou made for a long day, but the 18 little girls and their traveling parties handled it pretty doggone well – even better than that. Then we opened our room curtains to this stunning view -- wow. This is the Pearl River, fourth largest (longest?) river in China. Lots of river traffic – barges, ferries, then, later, party, dinner, and touring boats. Also, after dark, a light show with spotlights projecting from numerous spots on both sides of the river.

The White Swan Hotel is on the banks of Shamian Island, an island created, if I heard the story correctly, when various foreign interests settled this part of the city, then cut a canal to create the island. At one time the American Consulate was here, which made this the adoption headquarters hotel. The last bit of paperwork is to get Malia’s US visa from the consulate.

Guangshou was formerly known as Canton (pre-1949) and has a population of 10 million people – largest city in south China. Will tell you more about the city as we learn more.

Dec. 17.

I went out for a walk about daybreak. There’s a riverside park next to the hotel and a lot of people were out for their morning exercise/meditation. Fascinating. That’s a practice we should adopt. I was tempted to join a group with an instructor, but I held back. Did a few leg stretches, though, just to get in the spirit.

Speaking of spirit, I saw a church across the street from the hotel and Susie and I went back to attend the service at 930am. The church is called the Shamian Chapel of Guangdong Christianity (Guangdong is the province we’re in) and is Church of Christ affiliated. Even though you don’t understand the language, the ritual and hymns are familiar enough, particularly the music, that the experience is meaningful.

The congregational hymns were To God Be the Glory, Trust and Obey, and one I’ve forgotten, all sung with enthusiasm. The church was full, I’d guess around 250 people, and a large proportion was young, so that was exciting. Just the opposite from what we had observed in New Zealand, if that’s a meaningful comparison. The choir sang Amazing Grace and that gave me a lump in my throat. The offertory was O Come, Immanuel, done impressively by the church pianist. It all made for a nice and memorable experience.

The preacher was a personable young man. He acknowledged the non-Chinese in the congregation and said a word (English) of welcome and invited us to later Bible study that was in English and Chinese. The sermon was on the Submission of Mary. The Chinese rendition of Mary is pretty close to Malia, so we could identify with that.

Sunday afternoon we lunched at one of the local legends: Lucy’s, with an international menu. Our international selections: cheeseburger, French fries, quesadilla, burritos, mashed potatoes, and spring rolls. Also did a little shopping and strolling. Here’s a statue – one of many in the area – of three generations of Chinese women:

I think all Chinese adoptions come through Guangzhou and many or most stay at the White Swan (below), so the hotel is full of adopting families and kids. And, the nearby shops are designed to cater to this clientele, too.

And now, SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST: Today is Malia’s first birthday. The two CCAI hosts here brought Malia a birthday cake. Very thoughtful and greatly appreciated. Malia and we enjoyed it quite a lot.

As Susie said, What a difference a year makes! Malia was found outside a government office building a year ago tomorrow. She was taken to the orphanage and doctors there estimated that she had been born the day before. Now, she’s on her way to grow up in a loving home in Colorado. Wow!

Well, enough for now. There are some tours and lots of free time scheduled the next four days, so we’ll be in touch.


Rob and Susie

Changsha Wrap

Dec. 15

Went out front of the hotel at 730 am to check the weather and noticed that in a plaza in front of the adjacent building there were a large number of people dancing. Went closer and heard music, haunting Chinese music, and saw that indeed there were around 40 people dancing, or doing exercises. It was enchanting. Some of the dancers were in pairs, some alone. The couples were doing a very stately, formal sort of dancing, ballroom style. A fast number was played and some danced accordingly; others continued their slow-dancing. I was fascinated. As I went back in the hotel I met our CCAI hostess, Ellen, in the lobby and asked her about it. She said it’s a group that does this every morning on the way to work. Susie and I went out the next morning, Saturday, and they were dancing again. Here’s a picture.

Saving Dolphins

Front page China Daily picture showed this picture of the world’s tallest man. He’s 7’ 9” tall. He was called on to lend a hand (attached to a very long arm) to remove some life-threatening objects from the stomachs of two dolphins in an aquatic park. The vets and their instruments had not been able to do the extraction.

Dec. 16.

Today, Saturday, is travel day – to Guangzhou. Took a short walk in the morning and came across this building, called the VIP Tower. Actually, the building sort of came across me – it angles out over the sidewalk. Must be exciting to look out of the upper floors.

On the way to the airport I wildly shot some pictures out the bus window. We saw some open territory – gardens, rice paddies, and single-(extended)family dwellings. After six days in the heart of a very large city, it was great to see some greenspace and elbowroom. Pardon the window glare, but I hope you’re excited, too.

Last, but not least, as we leave Changsha, here’s a shot of our CCAI host, Ellen. Ellen was an English major. She said working for CCAI was the perfect job – daily using the language and interacting with all sorts of accents and different usages. She told us that when she went to a university, just a few years ago, about half of the applicants were accepted. Now, with a push on for education, 80-90% are accepted. Ten years ago, when, I think, her sister applied, about 10% got in. So, you can see the trend (she didn’t say it, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that the numbers of applicants have been increasing, too, not just the percent accepted). Oh, also, if I understood correctly, her family could have two children even under the one-child family rule, because she and her sister were six years apart in age.

In a book in our hotel room Susie read that one concern when the one-child rule was in effect, was that the single children would be spoiled, lazy and pampered. Instead, they’ve turned out to be overachievers – as the above university statistics would suggest. If the young men and women you see around the hotel are any example, I would concur. They have the air of being very serious and industrious about what they’re doing. In fact, it seems like you see very few middle-aged businessmen or –women – not nearly the fraction I think I see among the traveling professionals in the US.
Well, enough social comment. On to Guangzhou!


Rob and Susie

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Embroidery and Chairman Mao

Dec. 14 – More Exploring Changsha

A group excursion the morning of Dec. 14 took us to an embroidery factory. Many examples of impressively large, complex, and beautiful silk embroidery. Here are a few examples. Some of the largest pieces took one person eight years, eight hours/day, of work! Chairman Mao, below, is embroidery, not a photo or a painting. When you look up close you see hundred of stitches running in seemingly random directions to create the impression you see.

After we got back to the hotel, the Easterling family ventured out on a walking excursion to KFC – about a 15 min. walk. (A couple of people wrote us about our previous reports on Outback, McDonald’s, and Monday Night Football and wondered if we were really in China. Now we can add KFC to our exotic dining-out list.) Nice lady brought us an illustrated menu so we could point at the items we wanted.

Turned out to be a big Chairman Mao day. This province, Hunan, is his home province. The guidebook I read before we left mentioned the Quingshui Tang, a park containing Mao’s former home in Changsha and the first local Communist Party offices. The Hunan branch of the CPC was created in 1921 and Mao Zedong was appointed secretary. After lunch, I headed for Quingshui Tang while the rest returned to the hotel.

The park includes a large (40 ft.) aluminum statue of Mao and the building that served as party offices and home for Mr. and (the second) Mrs. Zedong back in 1921.

The sky behind Mao is about as blue as we saw here all week, and just looks that way because the camera focus is up. At street level, the view is more smoggy, as in the other picture. This was the mildest, sunniest day we’ve seen here in Changsha.

This large building in the park, which I think is a museum, looked pretty imposing, so I decided not to go in.

My next goal was the Xiangjiang River and the Juzizhou Bridge across it (these are the names in the map provided by the hotel; my US guidebook had other names). Turned out to be quite a walk (all told I was out about 2.5 hrs., so probably about six miles total walking). Of course, this is one of the rivers Mao swam. You’re looking at about half of the river in this picture because that far bank is an island.
Saw lots of interesting people and street scenes on my trek, but tried not to gawk and didn’t take pictures. Nevertheless, here’s a shot of the back end of a heavily loaded bicycle. The proprietor is trying to tie things on more securely.

Friday is going to be a rest day and packing day. Saturday we fly to Guangzhou.
Rob and Susie

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dec. 11 "Gotcha Day"

"Gotcha Day" went very well. Cold day, light drizzle. Took a 20-min. bus ride to government building arriving about 10:00am. The ten families in our group all gather in a waiting room. Then, names are called one by one and they bring the girls out to their parents. Lots of emotion, as you might imagine. Quite a thrill for all involved.

I was running Jeff's video camera, so don't have snapshot right at handoff, but here's one of the first pictures -- Malia and mama, Valerie. The little girls were all bundled up in snowsuits and winter hats, so you can't see much of Malia. (It is quite chilly here, just above freezing. The little girls had been brought from their orphanage, about 4 hours away, last night, I believe. Their nannies did not come with them, so that kept that possible element of trauma out of the exchange. I'm just playing amateur child psychologist -- don't pay me any attention.)

Malia is very cute and was quiet, alert, and interested in surroundings throughout the whole process. Just as perfect as a grandchild is supposed to be.

Back to the
hotel for family bonding. Here's Malia and proud papa, Jeff. She was laughing and gurgling, playing with toys, and seems quite content. For more pix, click on Jeff and Valerie's blog.

In early afternoon I went with our hosts and designated family members on a short walk to a grocery store to pick up some supplies. Something useful I could do. (There's one other set of grandparents and one accompanying grandmother in our group. Also some families with older siblings along. One Georgia family, husband and wife are both dentists, has three daughters, ages 11 to 15, or so, along, so now they have four daughters.) Malia refused bottle that J&V brought, so one thing I got was a Chinese baby bottle -- I guess there's a difference?

Oh, in contrast to our transfer experience, one person in the grocery store group mentioned talking to another couple in our hotel, working with a different adoption agency, who had gone to pick up their child and she wasn't there. Hope that gets resolved quickly and satisfactorily.

Just to back up a bit, our trip from Hong Kong Sunday pm went pretty well. It's interesting, though, that going from Hong Kong to "Old China" requires getting your passport stamped and going through Customs. Somehow, we didn't get all the blank forms passed out on the plane, so in the Changsha airport we kept encountering checkpoints staffed by men in army-looking uniforms who would turn us back to get the form we needed. Eventually, we and our luggage made it through.

On the bus our CCAI hostess, Ellen, extended nice welcoming comments saying how happy she was that these girls will have the chance to be raised by two loving parents in a great new environment and how happy these little girls are going to make their new families.

Trip in to town was interesting trafficwise. All sorts of bicycles and motorbikes configured to haul huge bundles and cargo on the back. Even a few hand-pulled carts. All competing with buses and cars for turn lanes, merging, and intersections. After Hong Kong, it was interesting to see the single-family dwellings, too.

Changsha is the capital of the Hunan Province. Its population is about 5 million. We'll do some touring and exploring this week. Here's a picture of our hotel.

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More later.

Rob and Susie

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Hong Kong

Dec. 8

We got to Hong Kong about dark, after 15 hours from Los Angeles. The whole trip was in daylight -- a circle route - up along mainland US coast, Canada, Alaska, then arcing down parallel to Siberia, N. China coast, then, I think, N island of Japan and on down to HK. Most of the way was cloud-covered, but one time I happened to raise window shade and look out and I could see snow-covered land and large river running through it. Japan, I think, but I couldn't get TV screen to show current position to be sure.

At any rate, we bused into the downtown Kowloon section of HK to find it, somewhat surprisingly, all decked out in Christmas displays and christmas carols playing over loudspeakers.

Hong Kong, which the British turned over to China in 1997, may belong to China, but is still separate in many ways. They've got their own curency and their own electrical connections (I brought adapter plugs based on what instructions said China required, but didn't notice Hong Kong had a separate listing and plug design -- housekeeping fixed me up, though.) Our tour guide (Sat. pm) kept referring to "when you go to China." In Hong Kong they drive British-style, on the left; in (real) China, at least in Changsha which is all we've seen of the rest of the country, they drive on right.

When China took over, our guide said he moved to Toronto -- for three weeks; came back because it was too cold there. He says he sees little effect of political change. Said Hong Kong residents care more about their economic health -- how much their property is worth -- than governing political systems, and of course Hong Kong's government and economic system is adapted to their history and different from that of mainland China. The treaty with the British assured this autonomy. 'One country, two systems' is the slogan. Biggest economic disruption in his memory was the SARS outbreak around 2001.

HK is very densely populated: 7M people in 472 sq. miles. So, there are high-rise apartment buildings everywhere, some luxurious, some shabby. Guide, his wife, and mother-in-law live in 521 sq. ft. apartment; he doesn't have a car -- too expensive and inconvenient. Around US$1200/month to register and park a car. Gas costs US$7.50/gal. About one in 20 residents have a car. Mass transit carries about 11M riders a day.

Saturday, Dec. 9

Geographically, HK starts on the north with the New Territories, then below that, Kowloon, both on the mainland. Then, across Victoria Harbor to HK Island. We walked through downtown Kowloon absorbing sights and sounds -- everybody wants to sell you a suit or at least some nice shirts -- then the Kowloon side of the harbor. Very hazy day so HK skyscrapers didn't stand out very well. Not sure the mix of haze and smog. It's a very busy harbor with ferries, commercial boats, and other vessels criss-crossing.

Next was a dim sum lunch for the whole group followed by bus tour. We got full deal. Started at Victoria peak, about 1300 ft. high on HK Island. On the way up we passed the "last Chinese house on the island" belonging, our guide said, to his grandfather -- but don't knock on the door, he's out of town.

At the top, we went up in the unusual building below to look down at the city through the haze. (I'm finding it's not easy moving pictures around in Blogger, so I can't cut and paste where I want. One time I deleted one picture and they all disappeared, and there doesn't seem to be an "undo" way to get them back.)

Next stop was Aberdeen, on S. side of island. This is a fishing village and a lot of the residents are boat people -- their boat is their home. We took a sampan (floating taxi) tour around the area where these boats are located. What was a village is now the site of many high-rise apartments.

Last tour stop was a market -- mostly clothes, arts, and crafts. By this time it was dark and we were dragging -- not much in a shopping mood. Did get to hear a drum and bagpipe band march by, so Britannia still rules, so to speak.

So, that was our day in Hong Kong. It's truly an international city, so we don't feel yet that we're in China. Sad to say, after about six hours of touring, we were so beat we just dragged ourselves across the street to eat at Outback(!) There will be time for real adventures in dining later.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Monday, Dec. 4.

All systems are go. We tested our sleeping pill last night. Getting ready for that 15 hr. flight. We have one last shot to take Wednesday morning, finish packing, then leave early Th. morning for LAX then Hong Kong.

Got the final travel packet today. Here's our itinerary:

Dec. 7 - depart

Dec. 8 - arr. Hong Kong, Regal Kowloon Hotel

Dec. 9 - Hong Kong tour

Dec. 10 - fly to Changsha, Dolton Hotel

Dec. 11 - "Gotcha Day" -- Receive Malia!

Dec. 12-15 - Changsha: paperwork, getting acquainted, touring

Dec. 16 - fly to Guangzhou , White Swan Hotel

Dec. 17-21 - Guangzhou: paperwork, physical exam, touring

Dec. 22 - return: fly to Hong Kong, then LAX

We'll keep you posted. Watch this (blog)spot!

Susie and Rob