Thursday, June 12, 2008

Beijing - Day Two

(I know, I know, it's been waaaaay too long since we posted. I began this post on June 12,2008 and I am finally editing it today January 11, 2009. We have a friend, Lisa W., who reminds me of that fact every time I see her. Well Lisa, we will try to do better. When I started this trip recap the thought of trying to record all we saw and experienced during our 3 weeks in China became overwhelming. I really do want to record it for Paul William to have in the future. Here is attempt 2, maybe I can do it this time.)

Our second day in China again began with breakfast at the hotel and meeting Lifeng in the lobby. Lifeng served not only as our adoption facilitator for Cradle of Hope Adoption Center but also as our personal tour guide. Most of the time CHAC will have more than one family in China at a time, but as it worked out for us we were the only CHAC family there during June of 2007. That meant we had Lifeng all to ourselves. It was wonderful. Lifeng showed us all over Beijing in his personal vehicle and was a very informative tour guide. He knows Chinese history well.

We left the hotel and began driving north and west through Beijing. The road system there is incredible. We quickly came to realize that the lines painted on the roads in China are simply cosmetic, they serve no useful purpose that we could determine. Chinese drivers have a different sense of road rules than Americans. In China the right of way is yours if you can claim it. To do so simply make sure the front of your car is ahead of the car beside you and you can turn in front of the other driver. The other driver will yield. At one point we were only 200 yards from our exit on the right and we were in the far left lane of a 5 lane freeway. No problem, just start crossing lanes to the right making sure your car is ahead of the one to your right and you can make your exit! There were times when we simply could not watch what was going on as we drove. Traffic does not move as fast on Chinese freeways as our do here. The fastest speed is around 60 mph. The thing that is suprising however is that traffic never seems to slow down much or stop. There is some method to the madness that seems to work for them.

We were heading out to the Great Wall of China. Along the way we stopped at a Jade factory. Here we learned about Jade and watched as the artist carved it into beautiful shapes.

The terrain in and around Beijing is generally pretty flat. As we left Beijing you could see the mountains rising in the distance. After passing through some winding valleys there it was, the Great Wall of China. Until you see it yourself you really can't fathom what the Chinese were able to accomplish with it's construction. While standing on top looking down I asked Greg Jr. what he would have said if he came up the same mountain valley we just did on a horse with an army of men and saw the wall. His reply was, "I would turn around and tell my men to turn their horses around that we are going home!" It really would have been intimidating.

The section of the wall that we saw was at Badaling Pass. Here in the mountains I cannot imagine the effort it took to build the wall. I told Greg Jr. that I could imagine the President of the United States standing at a site like this with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and all the presidents of America's biggest construction companies telling them "I want a wall this tall and this wide built following these mountain ridges". I then imagine them all laughing at him and turning and walking away thinking, "the man has lost his mind!"

After our visit to the wall we stopped at a Friendship Store on the way back to Beijing. The Friendship store is a strange mix that could be compared to a cross between a Cracker Barrel and Stuckeys with a very Chinese flavor. The food was Chinese and good. We enjoyed our meal and wandered through the store for awhile before getting back on the road.

Upon returning to Beijing we visited a "Hutong" neighborhood. This area is representative of how the Chinese have lived for generations. We toured the area in bicycle rickshaws. Our tour guide was a young man not much older than Greg Jr. The guide enjoyed talking to Greg Jr. about American basketball and music. As it turns out the young man was a fan of the American artist "50 Cent". During our tour we stopped and visited a local kindergarten. We were able to wander through and see the classrooms and children. This must happen frequently because the teachers and students didn't seem to pay much attention to the fact we were there.

After the kindergarten visit we stopped and visited a local household. We met the lady that lived there and through our guide she told us about life in her home. It was very hot and we sat on stools in a small outdoor courtyard in the middle of her home. She served us tea and talked about Chinese households. She was very proud that her father knew and served with Chairman Mao. There were photos of both men on the wall in her house. Since I enjoy cooking I was very interested in seeing her kitchen. The woman even lit her stove for me to see how she cooks with a wok. I use the term "stove" loosely here. Here in the states we might call it a blast furnace. The amount of heat generated was amazing.

Our last stop on our Hutong tour was a local Free Market. The market was a large open air building where the local population shops for their daily groceries. Here in the states we might call it a Farmers Market. The market sold anything you could imagine. Fruits, vegetable, meat, fish, poultry and more. All of it VERY fresh. One aisle in the market was spices. The smell was incredible from all the spices mixing together. Greg Jr's. eyes immediately began to water and tear. We had to leave quickly before he was overcome.

We really enjoyed touring the Hutong neighborhood. It really gave us a great understanding of how the Chinese people lead their daily lives and how they have done so for hundreds of years.

After our Hutong tour Lifeng took us to a theatre to see the Chinese Acrobats. If you ever have a chance to see them, do so! They will amaze you with what they do. During many parts of their act you will find yourself saying "that's not possible, a human being cannot do that!"

We returned to our hotel to shower and relax until supper. While waiting I walked to the window and looked out.

From the window in our hotel room we could see a beautifully landscaped area below. Protruding from the ground were large greenhouse type windows. My curiosity was running high. I left the room and walked around to the back of the hotel to find out what these things were. I couldn't find any way to get to the area I wanted to see but found a set of entry doors and inside I could see the top of an escalator going down to . . ?

I went through the door and stepped on the escalator. As I went down what I saw was not what I expected. I don't really know what I expected to see at that point but it definitely was NOT a full size ice skating rink! That's right, an ice skating rink in the middle of an underground shopping mall. A VERY nice mall at that. As nice a mall as any I had ever seen. The mall had all the retailers you would expect to see at any nice mall in this country. I also found a Pizza Hut in the mall.

After returning to the room with this information we quickly concluded pizza was what we wanted for supper. The meal was very good. While sitting there eating it was hard to believe we were not back at home.

Our second day in China was wonderful. We had seen and experienced more than we could have imagined in only 2 days. It was hard to believe we had over 2 1/2 weeks left in China.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Beijing - Day One

A note about some of the pictures above. The May 2008 edition of National Geographic magazine was a special issue devoted entirely to China. There is a photo in the magazine showing the new CCTV building and the China World Trade tower. In the photo you can see the Traders Hotel where we stayed in Beijing.

The breakfast buffet at the Trader's Hotel is pretty amazing. Anything you want from traditional American to Asian. After a quick breakfast we met Lifeng in the lobby to begin our first day of siteseeing.

Lifeng drove us through Beijing to a parking lot near Tiananmen Square. We walked down the street and descended a set of stairs to a pedestrian tunnel that went under the street. When we turned the corner to ascend the stairs to the other side we encountered the first of many beggars we would see in China. A young man not much older then Greg Jr. was sitting in the middle of the floor with his crutches and prosthetic leg lying beside him. He was dressed in rags and begging for money. We had not even been in China barely 12 hours.

We ascended the stairs and found ourselves standing across the street from the huge expanse of Tiananmen Square. Lifeng led us into the square. Lifeng would stop us by saying "you hold here". We were to hear those words many times during the next 3 weeks. Lifeng would then begin to explain what we were seeing and the history behind it. He was very good at it. He knows his country well.

Tiananmen Square is bordered on one side the the Great Hall of the People, another side by the National Museum, another by Chairman Mao's tomb and the last by the Tiananmen Gate to the Forbidden City. We crossed the square quickly. At the time I wondered why Lifeng seemed to be leading us on a forced march through Beijing. I would know why in a few hours.

Upon crossing to the other side of the square we went through another underground tunnel to emerge in front of the Tiananmen Gate to the Forbidden City. We entered throught the Emporers Gate and again Lifeng said "you hold here". While he was purchasing our tickets to the city we were approached by the second beggar of the morning. This man appeared to be 30 or 40 years old. He was dressed in rags and tears were streaming from his face as he begged for money. Mary Louise and I immediately looked at each other and the significance of the moment was amazing. The man was clutching the lower portion of his right arm just at the point where it ended below his elbow. Exactly like Paul William. If we had any doubts about why we had just flown half way around the world they were shattered in that instant.

The Forbidden City is amazing. (I hate that I keep using that word but I have a hard time coming up with another one.) Lifeng told us that if a child were taken to one room in the Forbidden City each day of their life from the day they were born that by the time they had been shown each room they would be over 27 years old. Many of the buildings were covered by scaffolding and being renovated in preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics. We saw the largest single stone carving in China. The stone was carved 50 miles from the Forbidden City. To move it they built a road and dug wells all along the length of the road. When winter came the took water from the wells and flooded the road. Once frozen they then slid the carving to the Forbidden City on a 50 mile long ice road. By the time we finally reached the other end of the City I understood why Lifeng seemed to be in such a hurry. If he had not kept us moving we might have been there for days. We were so far from where we parked that it took a 15 minute cab right to get back.

Next we visited a silk factory. We were shown how silk is made from cocoon to final product. We even participated a little.

After the silk factory tour we walked a few blocks to one of Lifeng's favorite restaraunts. The restaraunt was called the Beijing Noodle Shop. Mary Louise said that when we walked in and sat down she finally felt she was in China. We were the only people in the restaraunt that were not Chinese. The food was excellent. Everytime someone entered the entire staff would shout something in unison. I finally asked Lifeng what they were shouting and he told us they were simply shouting out 3, 5, 2 or however many people had just walked in the door. Not what we expected!3

After lunch we visited the Temple of Heaven. Here the Emporer came to ask the gods for a good harvest each year. The complex was very large and again required a lot of walking. There were many people visiting the Temple of Heaven complex. The Chinese people really seem to enjoy being outside participating in some activity. There were people playing cards, playing mahjong, dancing and exercising.

After touring the Temple of Heaven Lifeng drove us back to the hotel. We were finished for the day and relaxed in the hotel after dinner.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Travel Day

Mary Louise's brother Jim picked us up at 8:30 am June 8, 2007 and drove us to the airport. We checked in and proceeded to the TSA checkpoint. Greg and Greg Jr. passed right through but Mary Louise was pulled aside for "further screening". As those of you who know her can attest she very much comes across as the "terrorist" type. We then went out on the concourse and settled down to have a little breakfast and wait on our flight.

Our flight to Detroit was delayed an hour by weather but we were told we would make our connection to Tokyo.

Mary Louise does not like to fly. REALLY does not like to fly. In fact she would rather pull her own teeth! Unfortunately for her the plane we were on to Detroit was one of the rather small 50 seat commuters. The weather was bad and the flight was very turbulent. The flight attendant actually unstrapped from her jump seat and made her way down the isle to check on Mary Louise before the wheels on the plane were even up. I'm sure she broke some FAA regulation in doing so. I reassured the flight attendant that she would be ok and we settled in for our ride to Detroit.

We did make our connection in Detroit. We had just minutes to spare and grabbed a quick bite to eat while sitting at the gate waiting to board the Tokyo flight.

Once airborne we settled in and watched several movies and tried to rest and sleep as much as possible. We were lucky in that we were able to reserve seats with a bulkhead in front of us so we had plenty of leg room and could even prop our feet up. The flight was uneventful, just VERY long. Over 12 hours.

By the time we landed in Tokyo Mary Louise was a seasoned air traveler and she even looked out the window while we taxied to the gate. Once again it was get off one plane and go directly to the next. When we arrived at the departure gate the plane was already boarding. After the 12 hour flight to Tokyo we were looking forward to the "short" 5 hour flight to Beijing.

We landed in Beijing at 9:30 pm on June 9, 2007 China time. It was now 8:30 am back at home. We had been traveling for 24 hours.

Once on the ground we quickly and easily made our way through baggage claim and immigration and out into the airport. Our guide/faclilitator Lifeng was waiting to greet us. He showed us out to the parking garage to his car. I will never forget walking out of that airport. The heat, smoke, smog, and exhaust fumes would knock you down. You could see, smell, taste and feel it. It was overpowering.

The ride into downtown Beijing was great. Lifeng drove us the 30 minute ride to the Trader's Hotel. We checked in and made plans to meet Lifeng in the lobby the next morning for our first day of siteseeing.

We then went to our room. Greg Jr. and Dad ordered room service and Mary Louise went directly to bed. After eating and showering Greg Jr. and Dad quickly followed Mom's lead. We were very tired but very excited to finally be in China.

One year ago . . .

Throughout life there are many significant dates that we come to remember. Some good, others not so good. Most mark some event. A birth, a death, marriage etc.

June the 9th will always be burned into our memories. In fact most of the entire month of June will be as well. One year ago today, June 9, 2007 the Ogle family arrived in China. The day marked the beginning of a 3 week period that changed our lives and our family forever.

The past 12 months have been an amazing adventure for our family. The changes from those first few days in China to where we are today are hard to describe or imagine. Friends told us (warned us) that there would be difficult times, and there were. We prepared as well as we could and planned for the worst and as it turns out we think we got the best.

We finally settled into a routine that seems as normal as any routine can be with a lively 3 year old in the house. Many of the issues we had with Paul William are now resolved. Eating and sleeping are much improved. His language is as good as any child his age. (Maybe even better than some.) He is happy and thriving, and so are we!

Last week we had our one year follow up with our social worker. This was our last visit with her. She will send one final report to our agency who will forward it to the China Center for Adoption Affairs (CCAA).

At times we look at Paul William and shake our heads in disbelief. They REALLY let us be his mom and dad! WOW! How did we get so lucky? People still tell us what a lucky little boy he is, but just as any adoptive parent will tell you, NO, we are the lucky ones.

Part of the reason for this blog has not only been to share our journey to Paul William but to also create a journal so that he will have a record of our lives coming together. Over the next few days we will be posting some of the pictures from our time in China and doing a little recap of what we did, where we traveled and what we saw.

We hope you will enjoy it!

The Ogle family