We're baaaaccccccckkkkkkkk!

We had a wonderful time "crashing the adoption party" in Changsha.  It was great to see my sister and her family and to be a part of all the festivities when the new families were created.  We met and made several new friends and discovered that one of my journal recipients was in the adoption group ......... talk about a small world!

To get to Changsha we had to first take the train to Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning provence.  Darin, from the Foreign Affairs Office here at LIT accompanied us there.  It was a real comfort to have him along as there are no English signs at the train stations and all the overhead announcements are made in Chinese (I'm starting to pick up a little, but at this point it is VERY LITTLE)   We arrived in Shenyang at 10:00 and went to the provencial education office with Darin to pick up all of the teachers Foreign Experts Certificates.  I chose to remain outside at the gates with Julie and Charlie.  There were several policemen around and other people milling about.  Soon we had struck up conversations with a lot of the people.  Two of the men milling about were employees of one of the universities in Shenyang, when they found out I taught at LIT, they tried to lure me away and come teach at their school.....fat chance, LIT has been very good to us and I'm not going anywhere else.  After obtaining the certificates it was time to eat.  I'd spotted a McDonalds close by and knew the girls would really appreciate a Happy Meal.  So off we went.  It was Darin's first trip to McDonalds (you know it is really too bad that the Chinese people's view of western food is limited to McDonalds....... it's no wonder they all "hate" our food.)  We let the girls play for a half hour or so and then headed to the airport.  Darin was really surprised there was no "charge" for the girls to play as all the playgrounds here in China (Jinzhou at least) have charges to let you use them. (I guess when you stop and think about it we have charges for our parks and playgrounds, we just call them taxes).

We arrived at the airport waayyyyyyyyy to early and were not allowed to check in.  There was no place to sit and it wasn't the most comfortable of situations.  I finally located some stairs that only went to an unused office and we parked there.  Julie and Charlie amused themselves by jumping in all the tiles on the floor and skipping around.  One of the airport security men came over and was trying to enquire as to what we were doing, so I just showed him our tickets with the flight time on them and he was satisfied and left us alone.  Finally our flight was posted with a paper sign above the check-in window and we were the first in line.  After checking in we went upstairs to the gate area.  Shenyang's population is probably close to 5 million, but their airport has only two gates,  the train is definately the preferred mode of transportation around here.  We still had about an hour or so until we were scheduled to leave so I bought some ice cream for the girls and they had a little party.  Our flight was called and we got in line to board the plane, found our seats and prepared for take off.  The jet (a McDonald Douglas MD 83 I believe) taxied to the runway and instead of reving up at the start of the runway we kind of lumbered down it.  I knew something was wrong, pretty soon we were taxing back to the runway.  They made an announcement in Chinese and broken English.  Mechanical problems!  Oh great!  We were served drinks and they hoped to have the problem fixed soon.  After about 20 minutes I saw buses arrive on the tarmac.  Yup, we deplaned and headed back to the gate waiting area.  I was a little panicked, but then I saw an American with a Chinese friend and I asked him what was going on.  He told me they hoped to have the plane fixed and we'd leave by 5:30.  I knew the last train back to Jinzhou left at 6:00 so that was cutting it a little close, but if I had to spend the night in Shenyang in a hotel, so be it.  We'd figure it out somehow.  At 5:15 we were instructed to re-board the plane and at 5:30 we took off.  We arrived in Changsha at 9:30 and caught a taxi to the hotel.

I was just heading over to the reception area of the Grand Sun (a wonderful 5 star hotel) when I spotted Mark, my brother-in-law walking toward us.  He took us upstairs to their rooms and the cousins were re-united.  After all the hugs and kisses and catching up was done, one of the first things I did was give the girls a long soak in the bathtub.  Here we have a tub, but no drain plug and the tub is kind of yucky so we just shower.  After cleaning them up it was my turn for a LONG shower.  Linde and her family were still on Central Time, so we all turned in for the night.

Tuesday was baby day, after eating a ton of bacon (I haven't seen any here in Jinzhou) we went back up to the rooms to await the arrival.  It was wonderful to share the excitement with all the "to-be" families.  It brought back so many great memories.  One of the other women who had accompanied a family and I went downstairs to wait outside the lobby for the babies to arrive.  The families all had to remain upstairs.  I was the first to spot them.  The first group had three babies and we started snapping pictures as soon as they were getting out of the cars. We went in the lobby and took more pictures as they came through the doors and beat them to the lifts and rode up with them snapping pictures the whole way.  I got to see three families be created.  We were all crying with them, oh it was such a wonderful thing.  I headed back to the lobby with my niece Rachel to wait for the next group of babies.  Again ole eagle eyes was the first to spot the new arrival.  It was Hannah (she was supposed to arrive last.)  Same drill, I started taking pictures the minute she got out of the car.  She started crying in the lobby and cried all the way up the lift.  Daphanie (CCAI's Changsha representative) presented her to LInde and our family suddenly became larger.  Hannah cried and cried for about 2 hours the first day.  Linde discovered the play area would bring smiles to Hannah and from then on we spent a lot of time out there.  Hannah is 22 months old but the size 12 month clothes that Linde brought for her are a little large.  She is a very petite little thing.  All of the babies appeared to be in pretty good health, although they were all small for their age.  That night Linde and Hannah were exhausted so Mark and I took the rest of the kids to the hotel's Chinese restaurant to eat.  Eating at a 5 star hotel is definately more expensive than eating here on the LIT campus or even in one of the restaurants close by.  All three of us typically eat for about 6 yuan, unless we get the expensive soft drinks then the price is around 10 yuan.  At the hotel one soft drink was 10 yuan. Our meal that night was over 260 yuan.  By western standards for a 5 star hotel meal it was still very cheap ($31.00) and we had several dishes, but I guess I'm becoming more acclimated to the country and culture than I thought.  I think comparing staying in a 5 star hotel to life in China is kind of like comparing staying in Las Vegas to life in America.  Yes you get a glimpse but it is no where near the same.

The next day was a free day for the families so that morning we took a walk.  I think Linde was amazed that first I suggested it and second how well I cope with walking in the traffic.  The day before while the families had gone to the notaries office, the girls and I stayed at the hotel to let Charlie finish a much needed nap.  After she'd gotten up we went and did a little exploring on our own, so the walk we took with the Sneeds wasn't anything new for us.  I discovered a couple of markets close by and bought "suckies" for the kids.  I think these are Caleb's favorite Chinese food.  Suckies are these little sweet gelatin blobs for children.  I don't know what they are really called, but the way you eat them it to open the package and kinds of suck them down, hence the name, suckies.

Thursday Ellen and another CCAI representative took us to one of the large department stores in Changsha.  The children's things were located on the 3rd floor.  We spent an hour there checking things out.  They also had a children's play area.  For 10 yuan each the children could go in here and play.  Linde and all the children played in here for the hour as there wasn't really anything we needed from the store.  After an hour up here we all went down to the first floor where the grocery type items are located.  Linde and I watched one of the babies while her dad and big brother went in there to shop.  (The dad and brother came to China to get the baby, while mom and the other children remained at home. Dad was really nice and let me hold his daughter when ever I was around.)  We went back to the hotel and Linde, Hannha, Charlie and I all took naps.  Later that night Hannah had another "melt down" so I took all the kids to supper while Mark and Linde tried to console her.  The poor little thing was really missing her aunties from the orphanage.  All things considered, Hannah did remarkable well and I think will adjust beautifully to her new life, but it is just a little harder for the older babies and children to separate from their orphanage life.

We had to leave Friday, but that's another story!!!

It was wonderful to spend time with my sister and the hotel was almost like a little taste of home (but the beds were hard as rocks.......my foam here in Jinzhou has made a world of difference in sleeping.)  Parting was tearful and my daughters told me on more than one occasion they wanted to go back to the US with Aunt Linda.....even when I told them they would have to go without me.  Of course two minutes after we were in the taxi on the way to the airport they had completely forgotten about it and were fine, but the actual act of leaving was hard.  Still all in all it was a wonderful trip!


The Trip Home.......what a trip it was!

I thought our flight left at 11:40 which meant if we left the hotel at 9:30 when the group left to go touring we'd make it to the airport at 10:15 to 10:30.  Perfect timing right......wrong.  At 9:00 as we were all preparing to go downstairs, I double checked our tickets.  Guess what, the flight left at 10:40.  No time for messy good byes, we still had enough time but we needed to get going right now.  We went to the lobby and the asst. mgr called for a car.  I guess it was the hotel's private taxi, it was not a usual red taxi like you see everywhere, but rather it was a black car without the usual taxi meter.  A quick good bye was said and hugs were exchanged.  We got into the car and I just lost it.  My daughters were asking what was wrong and "do you miss Nanny?" I just told them yes and Julie told me she missed Aunt Linda too.  The girls are a great comfort and in a few minutes we were all composed and ready for our jaunt to the airport. 

When we arrived Changsha it was fairly late and the taxi ride was rather fast, however this morning there was a great deal of traffic and the pace was much slower.  As we went through one of the toll gates there were several police who were randomly pulling people over, and yes our car was one of them.  Our driver took some papers from the glove box and gave them to the police, then he took some papers from his wallet and again gave them to the police.  There was much dialog between the two and of course I could not understand a word of it.  Several cars were pulled over while we were there and they all left well before we were allowed to go.  The police went back and forth several times and then suddenly we were allowed to go as well.  I never did figure out what had happened.  We would be cutting it very close.

We arrived at the airport and I just got in a line.  There were several check-in lines and no paper signs telling what line was for what.  I finally took out our tickets and asked the lady in front of us (by pointing at the tickets, then pointing at the sign with a questioning look) if we were in the correct line.  She told us we were.  After checking our bags (all 115 pounds of them) I went over to the "tax stamp" line and paid the airport tax.  We then went through security and while there I heard our flight called.  We were one of the last passengers to board and I noticed on the tickets under the word seat was "NSS"  I assumed it meant no assigned seat and I was right.  Needless to say there were not 3 seats together anywhere.  I immediately enlisted the flight attendant's help as there was no way I would be separated from my daughters (as if they would let me, nor would the people who had to sit with them be very happy either)  The flight attendant made a couple of people move so the three of us could sit together.  We buckled up and took off without incident.

We had a 30 minute layover in Beijing.  Most people got off the plane, but we stayed on.  I wasn't going through the seat thing again.  We then took off for Shenyang.  It too was an uneventful flight.  Upon landing in Shenyang we followed the crowd and ended up in the baggage claim area where we got our suit cases.  I pulled them behind me with instructions to the girls to remain close.  We were one of the last one's to leave the airport.  Just outside is a fenced off area where I stopped to get my wallet out of my back pack.  In here I had instructions written in Chinese.  Things like "please take me to the train station," "I would like to buy 2 soft seat tickets in the T245 train to Jinzhou,"  and "could you please take my bags to the T245 train."  I'd just pulled out my cheat sheet with the information and was going to walk over to where the taxi's were, when I was approached by a man who looked at my card and said "I take you there."  I asked him in Chinese how much and he told me 80 yuan.  This was a fair price (I knew from the trip to the airport with Darin,) so I said ok.  He took off across the parking lot with one of my suitcases and was walking at a very fast pace.  The girls couldn't keep up so I was a short distance behind him.  He had my suitcase already in the trunk of the taxi (a regular red taxi) and I had just gotten to the car when every policeman at the Shenyang airport surrounded us.

The driver gave one of the policemen his keys and the officer got into the drivers seat, started the car, pushed in the clutch and ran through the gears.  There was much conversation going on, but again I didn't understand any of it.  One of the other policemen took my suitcase out of the trunk and another took mine from me, while a plain closed police man (who was smiling and very pleasant looking) showed me his badge and gestured for me to follow them.  I didn't think we'd done anything wrong and because of the pleasant expression on all of the officers when looking at me, so I wasn't really too worried.  We were taken to the police area at the airport and the officer in street clothing began talking to me in Chinese.  I took my sunglasses off so they could see my face better and let them see what I was trying to give as my most puzzled expression.  Finally I just said "Megwa"  (this is incorrect spelling but that's what it sounds like)  which means American in Chinese.  "Ah's" were said by the entire room and the officer said something and one of them left.  I was asked to please sit down which I did, then I gestured to use a telephone.  I was going to call Leanne and get her to translate for me.  I was shown a telephone, but when I tried to use it I got a message in English that I had to first dial 0.  I tried redialing with a 0 but was unable to make the call.  I said "Jinzhou" and they let me know I couldn't call long distance on that phone....."oh great I thought, what am I going to do now?"  Pretty soon another man joined us who spoke a tiny bit of English and he asked me "what happened"  I told him I didn't know, I flew in from Changsha, got off the plane, collected my luggage, stopped to take out a card with Chinese directions written on it (then I pulled out the card, which was taken from me and looked at by everyone) and was approached by that man and told he could take me to the train station.  He then asked me how much had I been quoted.  I told him 80 yuan and we took off and now I'm here.  Could he please tell me what is going on?  The man didn't understand my question, but everyone still had pleasant easygoing looks so although I was concerned, I really wasn't frightened. 

The head officer then took out a blank form and asked me to write my name on it, so I did.  He then wrote several lines in Chinese and I was asked to sign it and could I please produce my passport.  I signed it, they looked at my passport signature and photo and began looking for the number which I pointed out to them.  They wrote down the number and handed it back to me.  They then gestured for me to leave.  I said Si Shen with a questioning tone (goodbye?)  and they just said it back to me.  The head officer escorted me outside and in sign language gesturing told me to wait here, the English speaking man would be back with a taxi.  The officers loaded my suitcases in the taxi and off we went.  On our way out, the taxi driver told me he could drive me to Jinzhou for 700 yuan and we'd be there by 6:00 (which is when the train left for Jinzhou).  I told him to "do it."  Let me tell you it was the best $80.00 I've ever spent.  I didn't have to wait at the train station for 2.5 hours with two little girls, I didn't have to lug my suitcases up and down two flights of stairs to get them to the train (no elevators or escalators at the train station, nor were there any ramps to wheel you luggage on either) I didn't have to horse two heavy suitcases on the train and stow them.  I just rode in the car.  I kept repeating the Chinese saying "poor at home, rich on the road"  I figured shoot I was still on the road and I could be rich.  We got home right at 6:00 just like the driver said we would.  He gave me his business card and told me if I ever needed another ride home from Shenyang, to just call him.  He brought my suitcases in the guest house and was off. 

I prepared a light supper for all of us since it was late (6:30) and the dining hall had already closed.  None of the other foreign teachers were here, I assumed they were all out together.  At 8:45 everyone came home and told me they were just on their way to meet me at the train station.  Leanne told me Darin was there.  She tried to call him on his cellular but wasn't able to reach him.  I told them of our tail and Leanne said she'd call the driver the next day and try to figure out what had happened.  Darin arrived shortly thereafter and saw that we'd already made it back.  I thanked him for trying to help us anyway.

The next day Leanne did call the driver and as it turns out, it was like I'd figured.  The taxi driver who'd approached us was the one in trouble, apparently he did not have the correct licenses to pick up passengers at the airport.  Leanne told me he'd been fined and what I'd signed was just a statement saying what had happened and I was not in any kind of trouble.  Our adventure was over!

Hmmmmmm National Day (which is really national week) is coming up and I'm trying to convince the rest of the foreign teachers we need to go somewhere........... More adventures!!!