Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Safari on Wheels



One of the outings was a trip to the Zoo. The zoo has a driving and walking section. We did both in about 3 hours. It was very crowded because of the holiday. The driving part reflected the driving in China, accepted chaos.

Dragon Boat Cruise on the Pearl River



The pictures are from the boat cruise on the Pearl River. The boat, Dragon Boat, is a replica of an ancient Chinese boat that sailed to Sweden and sunk just 900 meters short (bummer). The boat cruises are very popular specially this week, the start of a week long holiday. The cruises sails down the river and turns right out by the White Swan. Some boats have large electronic billboards that are so bright that the light shines through our hotel room window at night.

We ordered pizza and ate it on the boat. After almost two weeks of Chinese food, pizza never tasted so good. About half of the families went on the cruise. Tomorrow, we visit a zoo.

Monday, September 29, 2008

We're coming home!!!

I know, promises, promises...we have failed to post the past two nights. We're sorry. It has been so nice here in Guangzhou, we end up taking walks around the little island after dinner and last night we went on a river cruise on the beautiful dragon boat. So by the time we make it back to the room, we are wiped out. Anyway, here's a little recap of the past few days:
We opted out of the tour to the Banyan Temple on Monday morning. Instead we visited the White Swan Play Room - its a big room here at the hotel that Mattel has outfitted with a ton of toys and games and even a flat screen with DVD player (that we couldn't get any sound out of unfortunately, though Ralph tried and tried). It is a nice little gathering place for families and an enclosed space for the kids to run around and get rid of some energy. The afternoon was the oath taking ceremony. It really is not much of a ceremony, but it is a celebration nonetheless, as it means we are done and we can go home. It means Joshua has his visa and he is ready to be an American citizen. We took a bus ride to the consulate and gathered in a big room to await the ceremony. They had to check our passports and Joshua's to make sure that we all matched the faces they were looking at in the little books. After about 45 minutes, a very nice gentleman came out and talked about how much he enjoys the adoption oath taking ceremonies - he has two Chinese daughters that were adopted as well and so it really is something near and dear to his heart. Then, he had us stand, raise our right hands and swear that all of the information that we provided on Joshua was correct to our knowledge. Once we said, "I do", he said congratulations and we were done. It is quite comical really, as one would expect a little more pomp and circumstance, but it is over in about 10 seconds. As with Makena, though, I found myself emotional once again at this little ceremony. Once we hear the congratulations, it is as if all of the time waiting, praying, hoping, etc., all comes to a magnificent end.
The river cruise last night was beautiful. It was a warm night, the boat was beautiful and the lights along the water were amazing. The Holt staff ordered us Papa John's pizza to eat on the boat and we were served hot tea. Makena had a great time playing with the older girls that are in our group. It was a very peaceful evening.
Today was a busy day. We visited the largest Safari Park (or zoo) in China. It was very crowded because people here are on holiday. We first went on a train ride that took us through animals that are roaming out in the open. The train went pretty fast and didn't stop, so we are hoping most of the pictures came out. We saw yaks, deer, bear, giraffes (one ended up running right along side of our train), hippos (which Makena had really wanted to see), elephants, zebras and more. After the train ride, we walked through the rest of the zoo. It was really cool to see the panda bears. We've seen panda bears before, but for some reason, to see them in China was different - its their home turf. Makena crashed after seeing the panda bears and we had forgotten to bring the stroller, so it was a bit of a tough walk to the bus, each of us holding a kid and a heavy backpack......we've really got to learn to plan better. Joshua just kind of took it all in. He likes being on the move and whenever we get ready to go anywhere, he will bring us his shoes and sit down for us to put them on. So he was a happy camper throughout the whole zoo experience.
When we got back to the hotel, I took the kids to the play room while Ralph went to the exit meeting - where they give us all of our departure information and some of Joshua's documents. We thought we would give the pool another try, so when Ralph got back, we got the kids in their suits and headed out. The pool here is great and there is beautiful landscaping all around. We were a little nervous how Joshua would do. Makena, of course, jumped right in and was swimming around like a little fish. Joshua cried at first, then he loved it! There is a little wading pool and when he stood up, the water came up to about mid-chest and he was fine with that. He was splashing around and wanted us to let go of him so he could walk around by himself.
Well, the battery is dying on the computer and Ralph already packed the power cords, so got to go. We'll see you all very soon! We'll post more at home!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Magical

I meant to post last night, but fell asleep while Ralph was uploading photos, so here I am this morning remembering what a great day yesterday was and knowing that today will be even better. Ralph is out for a run with another dad and the kids are sleeping soundly. Yesterday, things just clicked - not sure how to explain what that means, other than maybe Joshua feels comfortable knowing we are his forever family now. Joshua is interacting more with Makena, he is playing with us and smiling and laughing more and the things that used to bother him and make him cry seem to be a little easier on him now. Our favorite part of the day has become right after the kids have had a bath and before they go to bed. We sit Joshua in bed with us and Makena and read some books. He loves to play with the books while we read and last night he was rolling around the bed, rolling all over the Makena (to her, "Hey!") and opening and closing all of the books. They both fell asleep easily after a busy day and I looked out our window at the amazing view - all of the lights, the boats the night sky - and just smiled at the wonder of it all. It had been a magical day.
We have more of a busy schedule here and yesterday was an early morning. We went across the street to a little store where they take the kids Visa photos. After that it was a short walk to the medical clinic to get Joshua checked out. They have a special section of the clinic just for adoptive families and we recognized some of the doctors that checked out Makena when we were here last. There was some paperwork to be filled out and then the fun began. There are three separate areas the kids go through - the ear, nose and throat check, the height, weight and temperature check and the general medical check. Joshua didn't really like the tongue depressor in his mouth or the ear check, but he did great with pretty much everything else. Some of the kids just screamed, which I think unnerved him more than anything. He came out with a clean bill of health and then we were back to the hotel for a paperwork meeting with Holt. Ralph stayed with the kids while I went to the meeting. He is such a great dad. Watching him with the kids is the most amazing thing. He is so relaxed and comfortable and he cracks them both up.
At the paperwork meeting, Holt went over all of the documents that we need for the consulate step by step (Holt is an incredible agency) and we placed everything that they need into a pink folder which the Holt reps will take over this morning. It is always a relief knowing that we brought all of the correct documents and have everything that we need for the appointment. One missing thing or something filled out incorrectly could really throw everything off, but we were all set.
Holt actually has an office in the hotel and it is a really cool set up. They have an area where you can drop items off for use by other families if it is something you didn't use or don't need - things like formula, cereal, clothes, strollers, diapers, etc. In turn, you can also take anything that you need. They have photos of adoptive families and children all over the place and they have these great photos of Harry and Bertha Holt (who founded the agency) back in the 40's or 50's with the children they brought back from Korea. I'll see if I can get a photo of some of them and post them here - to me, it is just really amazing to think that this is what really paved the way for International adoption and what it is today.
Went for a quick bite of lunch after the meeting - there is a little restaurant called Lucy's here that serves quite a bit of American fare. The kids had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches - Joshua actually spit out most of his. I guess we may have finally found something that he doesn't like! But the french fries that they came with were a big hit! Aahh, a chip off the old block!
After lunch we stopped at one of the stores to pick up traditional Chinese outfits for the kids. Makena picked out a beautiful dress and we bought a little pantsuit for Joshua. They looked so darn adorable!! We had the famous red couch photo in the afternoon - not sure how that got started, but all families take a group photo on the red couches that are on the 2nd floor seating area of the hotel. It is quite a feat getting all of the kids to sit there while everyone takes photos. This time, they had a professional photographer taking a picture too (the same guy from the little store that took the visa photos) - felt a little sorry for him trying to get photos as all of the parents were crowded around trying to get their pictures too.
The kids were done after that and we came back for a nice long nap. Had dinner (Lucy's again - we really miss American food) with some of the other families in the group and afterwards the kids played in a courtyard area. It was just so fun to see all of the kids running around (well, Joshua waddles more than runs at this point) playing together and having a great time. We have met some really wonderful families here. Will and Debbie are from Arizona and they are bringing home their daughter Emily, who is just a week older than Joshua. Amazing story - I had met them when I took Makena to Legoland when we were on a business trip a few years ago. They said they were starting the process to adopt from China through Holt. We exchanged numbers, but lost them and got in touch earlier this year again through Holt. When we got back in touch, we had both just received our referrals and have ended up traveling at the same time to bring our kids home. Steve and Bev are from Hawaii and are bringing home their son Caleb, who is 2 1/2. Turns out their room is right across the hall from ours. Ralph and Steve were the early birds who went out for a run at 6am. Both such wonderful couples that we hope we will stay in touch with.
We stopped at one of the stores on the way back from dinner to try and find another outfit for Joshua - still trying to find things to fit his little waist. One thing we have found - there are way more girls clothes than boys clothes available here. Shopping here with Ralph is hilarious. The workers just love him. I'll find something I want to buy and ask the price, then Ralph suddenly appears and starts to bargain ("too much, too much!", he'll say) You never pay the first price they give you here - you can always bargain. We ended up getting an outfit for Joshua and Bev got an outfit for Caleb for 60 yuan, which is about $8 total for two outfits. Not bad, I think.
Makena likes to pat Joshua on the head. Joshua likes to be flipped upside-down. Makena loves using her Chinese words ("Ni hao - hello, Zhai jin - goodbye, and xie xie - thank you"). Joshua laughs when we play, "I'm going to get you" and chase him down. Our kids are beautiful and amazing children of God and we are so blessed to be their parents.
Well, sorry for my long, long posts - by now you can likely tell the difference between when Ralph writes - very brief and to the point, and when I write - probably way more detail than you are all interested in knowing. But thanks for reading and following us on our journey. We are almost home! Will post again tonight.....before I fall asleep :)

Group Picture

Around Shamian Island

Medical Exam

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What a beautiful view!

I'm sorry that we haven't posted in a few days. We had a bit of a tough few days in Shenyang, but now we are in Guangzhou, our last stop before heading home and we are so happy to be here! With not much to do in the hotel in Shenyang and nowhere to really go, we were all going a bit stir-crazy in the hotel room. Thank goodness it was a nice big room. We have been so excited to come to Guangzhou, however, because we remember how beautiful it is and how great it would be to be out and about here.
It was a bit of a long day - we left for the airport at 7:30am. We had one last breakfast at the hotel restaurant - we think they were all happy to see us go. No more visits from the messy Gonzales four. John, our escort, helped us through check-in and security. We ended up on the same flight as another adoptive family coming from further north, so no complaints here about how early we had to start our day - theirs started about 2 hours earlier.
Joshua's first airplane ride was almost 4 hours long. He was antsy for while, but again, if he is eating something, he is good to go. They brought lunch and luckily it was something Makena and he would both eat. He had a roll in his hand the entire flight. I did decide to change him in the bathroom at one point - those little fold-down changing tables are really small! But we made do and he did great. Makena watched her DVD player - Pocahontas is her new favorite movie. The flight was a little bumpy and me being the nervous flyer I am, I was a little stressed. What made it worse was when the stewardesses stood in the aisles and began saying something in Chinese that started with counting - thanks goodness for Ni Hao Kai-Lan, the Chinese cartoon that we watch back home where we have learned how to say "1, 2, 3!" All of the sudden, everyone on the plane put their arms up in the air and started waving them. In a split second, I thought that the stewardesses were saying that we were going down and that whatever she was having everyone do was some kind of life-saving measure that we couldn't understand. Turns out, they were having everyone do in-flight exercises. Ralph thought this was hilarious. Me, not so much.
We made it to Guangzhou and have a room with a beautiful view looking out over the water. We feel so much more relaxed and comfortable. As Ralph said, it feels as if we have returned to the mother ship. We have a room with a beautiful view looking out over the water and the kids even seem more happy here.
Joshua's personality is really beginning to show - he is quiet and shy with others, but he has a smile to die for and is laughing more and more. Today while Makena and Ralph were playing in the pool, I was letting walk around and when I would open my arms to have him come to me, he was actually happily walking toward my arms and grabbing onto me, which is a big step. He smiles and laughs at our hugs and kisses. And when we are playing around with Makena, he watches and tries to get in on the action too. Makena still misses home, but she had a good time today in the pool and actually just running along the sidewalks.
Tomorrow morning we go for Joshua's visa photo and medical check-up. We also have a meeting with our agency rep to go over all of the visa paperwork. Our agency rep, Catherine, was here when we came through on Makena's adoption, so it was neat to see her again and for her to see Makena.
I promise that we will post more often until we head home. We can't believe that we are just about 4 days from coming home! We are so thankful that so far, we have been blessed with good health, a smooth process and safe travels. Thank you for your continued prayers! Well, everyone is asleep now, so I'm headed there myself.

Guangzhou

Bath Time

More of Shenyang



These pictures were taken around the hotel. For a city of 7.2 million people, there seems to be a sense of community. The local laundry, bike shop and pastry shop gives this urban area a small town feel.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One week down, one week to go

Well, its been fun settling in as a family of four.  It has been quite a whirlwind since meeting Joshua.  The day after we went back to the office where we met him and there was a lot of hurrying up and waiting.  It took almost 4 hours, but we finally got everything done to finalize the adoption (its official, he's a Gonzales now!) and to get his passport.  The kids were so good, but I know it was hard on them.  Thank goodness for the DVD player!  We ran into the family who had been there the day before and had a chance to talk with them.  What a difference in their daughter - she looked so relaxed and somehow so calm and comfortable knowing that she is now part of a family.
Joshua is becoming more and more comfortable with us each day and he is responding with smiles and sometimes laughter, which is so beautiful.  We have learned that he has quite a temper and a good set of lungs, and together, that makes for some crazy times.  Makena is so sensitive and for a few days, it would really upset her when he cried, so we would have both of them crying.  We are working on that.  Joshua really does not like it when things are taken away from him and we are working on that as well.  
We were so happy that we were able to visit the orphanage yesterday.  As one of the photos show, some of the older boys who were playing outside, ran up to us and said, "Jia Bai! Jia Bai!". They were so excited to see him.  We could tell that the nannies who took care of him were so loving and good with the children.  It was so incredible to meet them and to be able to see where he stayed for the first 20 months of his life.  When we left, it made me sad that we didn't have the same opportunity to see Makena's orphanage and be able to offer her the photos and experiences that we have with Joshua.
We have a few free days before we leave on Saturday for Guangzhou.  Not sure what we will do - maybe venture out to do a little shopping or try to find a park.  Its hard for Makena as there is not a lot to do here and she misses home.  It will be easier in Guangzhou as there are several parks nearby the hotel and more kids to play with.  And we will have more options for food - here, we are pretty much on hotel food and while it is good, we are ready for something new and different.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Shenyang Social (Children) Welfare Institution.


We visited the orphanged today which is in Wangniu Village about an hours drive from the hotel.  The orphange and grounds are very clean.  A new building is also being built to replace the current building.


Around Shenyang

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A couple of pics of Shenyang which shows that it is very urban.  Lots of building going up.  Most of the industry have moved away from the city and into the surrounding area.  The city is very dense but the country side is about 40 minutes away.  Walking and driving appears is chaotic by western standards. However, there are very few accidents.  Drivers try to resolve fender benders by themselves first.  The police get involved if they can't.  There appears to be 3 levels, road, scooter and bike lane and walking lane.  Cars drive on all 3 levels and in all directions.  And everyone seems to be okay with this.  Pedestrains do not have right of way.

The statue of Chairman Mao is very close to the hotel.  In the morning the locals run, in-line skate and practice what appears to be the Chinese version of "line dancing".  Music is played over on speaker attached to a cart. 

The section of town, Holland, is modeled after Amsterdam.  The buildings appear to be mostly abandoned and may be in the process of being "renewed".  The developer is serving an 18 year sentence.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Holding our son

video
We didn't sleep much last night and this morning I was a nervous wreck.  Ralph and Makena were my calm.  We left the hotel at 9am for a short drive to an office located in an old hotel.  We went up to the 6th floor where another family had just met their daughter and were signing paperwork.  As we watched them, their daughter, about 12 years old with what looked like some burn scarring on her head and part of her face, began sobbing and wiping away her tears.  The new father said to their escort that he wasn't sure whether his daughter was scared or happy.  The escort said that she likely had so many different emotions and that this is a very unforgettable day for her.  I lost it.  It was at that very moment that I realized the importance of children in orphanages, especially older children, to feel wanted, to feel part of a real family, to feel that someone loves them.  We thanked God for bringing that family and that young, sweet girl together.
And we thank God for bringing us Joshua, Jia Bai as we are calling him for a few days until he gets used to us and his surroundings.  When the orphanage director walked in, we were just sitting in chairs at the back of the small room, unprepared with cameras or video.  We knew the second they came in that it was Joshua, so we scrambled to get our camera out and record the moment. She brought him over and I tried to take him.  He was very unsure, though not crying.  The director put him down to stand and Makena immediately hugged and kissed him.  She is the best big sister.  She has been so, so sweet with him.  The director brought the photo album that we had sent and had prayed that he had received, so we were so happy.  That means he had a chance to see us, even if only in photos, before today.
It took some time for him to hold on to us as we were holding him.  At first, his arms just hung to the side.  Feeling that little hand grasp onto you is the greatest moment.  Watching daddy (or baba in chinese) with his little boy is pretty spectacular, too.  Daddy has already been able to make Joshua smile and giggle a little.  We brought several toys for him, but his favorite quickly became the little plastic bowl of cheerios.  He LOVES them!  
We went from the 6th floor to the 4th floor to check and recheck the accuracy of the paperwork the office had prepared then went to the 3rd floor to take a family photo.  This photo was just us and Joshua, so Makena stood back with the girl taking the photo and she took a photo with one of our cameras as well.  She is quite the little photographer!  Makena made a little friend in that crowded office - a little boy who looked about 2 1/2 who was absolutely fascinated with her.  It seems there are no language barriers with little ones, they got along well without even saying a word.
Then it was back to the 6th floor to take a photo with the orphanage director and to ask questions about Joshua.  After that, we came back to the hotel and have been hanging out here ever since.  John, our escort, came up and had us sign more papers.  Once he left, we ordered room service and Joshua loved the beef and noodles that he and daddy shared.  Makena was exhausted at that point, so we put both of them down for a nap and they fell asleep quickly and easily.  I took a little nap with them while Ralph ventured out for Wal-Mart to pick up some water, juice and a few other essentials.  Tomorrow, 8am, it is back to the same hotel/office we were at today to sign more paperwork.  After that we have free days until we leave for Guangzhou on Friday.  We did find out that we get to visit the orphanage on Wednesday - it is about an hour away and it is rare that families get to visit, so we are so excited.  I'm afraid, though, that I am going to want to bring all of the kids home.
Shenyang City is quite a trip - the real China, I have been saying.  We'll have to post some video of the traffic here.  We still cannot get over how crazy it is and we laugh everytime we are out in it.  Pedestrians do not have the right of way, so cars are going wherever and whenever they want with people walking and on bicycles and mopeds just moving around them.  Cars drive on the sidewalk when they see fit, the traffic circle is more like a free for all - complete chaos to us, perfectly normal for them.  Yet, you see no accidents, no road rage, no finger pointing or yelling. Their honking (which is rampant) is a "hey, I'm right here" rather than a "Get out of my way!"  
Well, we are off to find the kids play room that they have here at the hotel.  Then off to dinner and back for Joshua's first bath.  Love and miss you all!

On to Shenyang


Day 3 - Traveling to Shenyang, Liaoning
Shenyang is a city of 7.2 million people, approximately 500 miles northeast of Beijing.  It was where the soccer matches were played during the Olympics.  There is a pretty remarkable difference between the two cities.  Shenyang is smoggier.  Reminds me of LA during a first stage smog alert. McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks are all over.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Red Folder Day!


Day 2 in China and I think we are officially adjusted to the time.  We tried to stay up until our normal bedtimes last night, but pretty much crashed at 7pm.  Makena was wide awake at 4am, so we ended up watching a little High School Musical 2 to pass the time until breakfast.  She took a morning nap and fell asleep when we were out walking around at 8pm and I think she will wake up at her normal time tomorrow.  She is such a trooper and a great little traveler.
Today was the Holt orientation where they go over everything from a background in adoption from China, to Chinese culture to our schedules over the next two weeks.  We met the 19 other families that are here adopting at the same time through Holt.  It still amazes me the instant bond you feel with other adoptive families - difficult to explain, but it is there.  We are all taking off tomorrow to fly to 5 different provinces to meet our children, then will see each other again in Guangzhou.  We stay in province for about 5 days then Guangzhou is where we have the Visa appointments.  Makena made friends with the daughters, age 6 & 7, of two of the families and she is loving playing with the big girls.  She loves the fact that she doesn't have to sit in a car seat here.  She was able to sit next to "her girls" on the bus and was in heaven! 
The best part of orientation, as we learned with Makena's adoption, is the Red Folder.  It is a beautiful, wonderful update on our child.  Before handing them out, they put each child's updated photo on the presentation screen and then ask, "who does this little one belong to?"  Kind of a fun game to see if parents can recognize them in a more recent photo.  We knew Joshua right away - he hasn't changed much since the initial photo we received.  We could spot those big beautiful brown eyes anywhere.  As soon as his picture popped up on the screen, Makena said, "that's my baby brother!"  She is sooo ready to be big sister.
After the orientation, we had a group lunch and then took a tour of Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven.  Last time that we were here, we were so in awe of everything and it was all so overwhelming.  This time, it seems we can really take it all in and appreciate it a little more. There is really so much beauty in this place, in their traditions and customs, in their people.  
So we arrive in province tomorrow afternoon and we meet Joshua at 9am Monday morning.  I cannot even put into words how excited and ready we are.  Monday can not come fast enough!  
Well, off to bed - could be our last good sleep for while!!!!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Day 1 China

Just a couple of pics from our trip over and our first day in Beijing. The city has really changed. The airport is very impressive and prodigiously clean. More evident, this time, is the amount of security at the airport, toll plazas and shopping areas. We are staying a couple of blocks from Tianemen Square and the Forbidden City. We did manage to cross the street and found a Dairy Queen and Starbucks.


Arrive in Inchon Airport, Seoul

Just a quick note to let everyone know, we are at the Inchon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea. The flight from LAX to Inchon was long but everything went well. Makena slept for a couple of hours. In-flight entertainment -- what a wonderful concept. We have a four hour layover then off to Beijing for about a 2 hour flight. I stuck my media reader in my checked luggage, so I couldn't post any pics.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Countdown

So here we are, just a few short hours from boarding the plane and yes, we are still packing. We are actually pretty close to being ready, just a few things we still need to run out and get to fill up those suitcases. We can't believe it is time to go bring our Joshua home! Seems like it has taken FOREVER to get here and now we are just 4 days from holding and hugging and kissing our sweet little boy, our son.
Ralph, bless him, put this blog together this week and when we were trying to decide what to call it, "7-passenger van" came up. Sounds odd, I know, but after finding out we had a son, we started looking at Eurovans. You know, those goofy-looking Volkswagon vans that they don't even make anymore. Well, we are so excited about our growing family, it just made us realize how much we would love to fill up a 7-passenger van! So, hence the name of the blog. Ohana, the title on the blog is Hawaiian for "Family". You know how much we love Hawaii and living Aloha, so Ohana is just what we are.
Mommy and Makena just returned from a mani/pedi session and Makena was treated like a princess there, so she was so excited. She has been talking about Joshua all day and I know she just cannot wait to meet him. We know there will be trials and tribulations with their relationship, but I hope they ultimately form that deep sibling bond of love that Ralph and I both have with our brothers and sisters.
God has truly blessed us, beyond what we could have ever imagined, with two beautiful children and an incredible family and group of friends whose love and support we have relied upon for weeks, months, years, decades.... Thank you so much!
We look forward to sharing this experience with you and hope you enjoy checking out photos and hearing our ramblings of what's happening in China! Now let's go bring Joshua home!!!!!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Our Family

Our family.....
Ralph, Linda and Makena.
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