Saturday, July 25, 2009


This is a squat toilet. They are very common in China. This particular one was at the Panda Breeding in Center and was fairly clean (for a toilet). Most places we went would have only one Western-style toilet, in the handicap stall. (In preparation for the Beijing Olympics, bathrooms had to be equipped with handicap stalls.)
One of the recurring conversations everywhere we went was "Is there a Western toilet?" Eventually we all gave the squatties a try, whether through necessity or just because someone didn't feel like waiting for 10 people to use the one Western toilet.
The squatties are in a regular stall, and were actually kind of easy to use. But I won't go into detail about how. You can use your imagination.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Meals in China

ALL of our meals in China were wonderful, and not solely because the food was so good. As I've already said, our guides were wonderful, and they made our meals so enjoyable. They took care of everything. We simply sat down and waited for our food to come. The girls would sit at one round table and the grownups at another. Bing and our local guide would do all of the ordering and every meal had pork, chicken, beef, tofu and white rice. Sometimes there were dumplings and sometimes there were noodles. Bing did ask if anyone in the group liked spicy food, and Fred told her he did. As the trip progressed, the food got progressively spicier. And every now and then some French fries magically appeared at the kids tables. Bing was watching out for the kids as well.
Poor Bing even ended up helping us with a few meals when we were supposed to be "on our own." She helped us to order at a food court during free time, and when we ordered pizza at the hotel, she helped us secure a space where we could all eat it together.

This restaurant was outside the Teng Wang Pavilion in Nanchang. We were escorted to a private room, and we all sat at one large round table. At every meal there was a lazy susan in the middle of the table, and the food was served family style. Serving spoons and napkins were not readily available at every meal. We simply used our chopsticks to grab what we wanted off the dishes. Halfway through the trip we joked that if no one was sick by now, we weren't going to get sick because of all the germs exchanged during meals.

This was the meal served to us at the orphanage. We were assuming we would be hosting a lunch for the staff at a local restaurant, but instead they prepared this meal for us. There was corn on the cob (eaten with chopsticks), beans, and a delicious eggplant stuffed with pork. I don't usually care for eggplant, but this was very good. They also served an egg and tomato dish that we had at several restaurants as well. It was basically scrambled eggs with tomatoes, but it was yummy. My biggest worry with the orphanage meal was the raw fruit we were given. We didn't want to offend the orphanage personnel by refusing the fruit, so Rachel and I discreetly used a napkin under the table to wipe it off as best we could. We were worried about bacteria from the water used to wash the fruit. Fortunately we had no ill effects from it. We also were served watermelon, but didn't worry about that since it had a rind and we didn't have to worry about it having been washed.

This was a meal in Xi'an. Xi'an is famous for its dumplings, or jiaozi. And there wasn't a dumpling served that we didn't like. The bronze pot was soup, and they lit a fire under the pot to cook/heat the soup right at the table.
This was inside The Noodle King. It's a chain restaurant whose specialty is, surprise surprise, noodles. Bing said it's like a fast food restaurant, except they do serve you at the table. The food was good, but the rest rooms were not. And that's all I have to say about that.
These were called glass noodles. I believe they were a kind of rice noodle. The kids really liked them. Believe it or not, we were all pretty good at serving/eating noodles with chopsticks.
This was at the restaurant in Beijing where we went for Peking duck. During this early part of the trip, Rachel was not being very adventurous with what she ate. She was filling up on rice for quite a few meals. She did get braver when she realized they weren't going to serve us some of the more, shall we say, interesting foods we had seen on TV. She even tried some of the spicier foods we had later in the trip.

She did not, however, try the Peking duck. The duck wasn't bad. They wheeled it out and sliced it up at our table. You had to pick around the bones, though.

This was a cucumber dish that was very tasty.

We did break down and have McDonald's for a meal or two, but only because Bing wasn't available and we didn't seem capable on our own of deciding where and what to eat.
Coke/Pepsi and Sprite were available at every meal, as well as bottled water and beer. Many times, though the soda and water was served at room temperature. The Chinese don't like to drink cold things. They think it's healthier to drink warm/hot drinks.
All of our breakfasts were western-style buffets at whatever hotel we were at. Interestingly, there was banana bread, no nuts, at every single buffet. There was also an omelet station at each buffet. Sometimes we had trouble communicating that we wanted the eggs well done, though. If we didn't order them well done, they tended to be a bit undercooked.
After worrying about what the food would be like in China, and after some initial hesitation, Rachel really enjoyed the food there. She's eager to try to Kung Pao chicken here so she can compare it to what we had there. Fred and I aren't quite ready to have Chinese food again, though! Even though we didn't really get sick from anything in particular, I think everyone in our group had some sort of belly issue along the way.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

h1n1 virus

Everyone I talked to in the weeks leading up to our trip knows how worried I was that we would be in some way affected by the h1n1 virus during our stay in China. Now that we're home, I feel safer confessing how we were affected by it. I didn't really mention it during our trip because I didn't want to jinx anything! I can't help it; I'm a little superstitious.
During our flight to Beijing, we were very cautious. We used Clorox wipes to wipe down our tray tables and arm rests. We used hand sanitizer even after we washed our hands in the lavatories. I would even turn away from the aisle if someone lingered near our seats too long.
Once we landed in Beijing, we were instructed to stay in our seats until health inspectors came on board and took everyone's temperatures. They wore protective eye wear and masks and gloves, and they pointed an infrared thermometer at everyone's foreheads. It was very quick. It probably took less than 10 minutes for them to scan everyone on the plane. I did notice that when the woman who took our temperature was walking back up the aisle to leave, she was stopped by another inspector, who then pointed at a passenger. That passenger's temperature was taken again, and then the health inspectors left the plane.
We were then allowed to gather our things (unfortunately, we didn't realize Rachel's DS case and all her games were NOT in her carry-on, but that's another story for another time) and leave the plane. Walking towards immigration/customs there were several thermal scanners we went through, and at one checkpoint, Rachel was pulled aside into a curtained-off area. I was not allowed to go in with her, but I could see her the whole time. Other people were also being pulled aside. After they took her temperature again, they tried to turn her over to a Chinese woman who was standing next to me. That woman and I both laughed about it a little, and I tried to remember how to say in Chinese "She is my child," but I was flustered and couldn't get it out. Motioning did the job, and after we got her passport and papers back, we went through immigration. No problem there. Walking towards the train to get to the main terminal, Rachel was stopped again, but this time they only looked briefly at her carry-on bag.
We made it to our hotel and took it easy for the rest of the afternoon and the next day. The next night we had an orientation dinner with OCDF staff, and I was informed there that someone on our plane did test positive for h1n1. Fortunately, they were not within three rows of us, so we were not quarantined; however, we were required to take our temperature every day for three days, and we were given three kits, pictured above. The kits each included three masks, a thermometer and a bunch of literature written entirely in Chinese. Believe it or not, I did not panic or freak out.
The next morning we dutifully recorded our temperatures and gave them to our guide, Bing, who I assume then called them into the health official responsible for the district we were staying in. When we came back from our tours that day, I half expected to see people in hazmat suits waiting for us in the lobby, but that didn't happen. (That's what happens: folks in hazmat suits come to take you away to a quarantine hotel in an ambulance.)
During our stay in Beijing, there were some drunks staying on our floor, who we believe were from Kazakhstan or someplace like that. That night one of them tried to get in our room around 3 a.m. I heard the distinctive "beep beep beep" of an incorrect key being tried in our door, and since it was 3 a.m. and I was kind of out of it, I immediately thought it was the health department coming to take us away. I didn't open the door, mind you, but I did look under the door and through the peephole to try to determine if whoever it was was wearing hazmat gear. Only the next morning did I realize it was our drunk neighbors, who I believe were still up and drunk at 7 a.m.
Long story short, we took our temperatures for the three days, tried to avoid the thermal scanner in our government-run hotel lobby and expected to see the hazmat suits every day. On our last day in Beijing we turned our final temperatures in to Bing. She told us to keep the kits, that she had spoken to the health official and when she told them we were leaving that day for Xi'an, the health official basically said "bye-bye!" I think she was just happy to have us out of her district!
We did turn this around into a positive, though. We donated the three thermometers to Rachel's orphanage, along with our other donations. When I handed them the thermometers separately from the bigger donation, there were no questions asked. They just seemed genuinely happy to have them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


On Monday, July 13, we visited the Teng Wang Pavilion in Nanchang. (We had also been here when we adopted Rachel ten years ago.) It was hot. I probably don't have to keep repeating that. I can just say it was very hot every day we were in China.
Every level of the Teng Wang Pavilion has shopping. So we were able to pick up some small things. It seemed a little different from 1999. I remember in '99 there was a man painting names on scrolls and we had gotten one for Rachel. Every letter of her name was a different object, like a palm tree or a butterfly. The one from '99 faded, so I was hoping to get her another one. Oh well. I did manage to buy a very overpriced fan for myself. Just a fold-up hand fan, and I paid 40 yuan for it, or about $6. The girl had originally asked about 80 yuan for it, and I was hot and just wanted a fan, so I didn't really care that I spent too much.

There are only six girls in this picture because one of our families had two orphanages to visit, so they didn't meet back up with us until Monday night.
View from the top of the tower. There are gardens on the grounds as well.
The girls walking across a stone foot bridge in the garden. After leaving here, we walked to a nice restaurant and were seated in a private room. Our local guide ordered for us, and once again everything was very good. Walking to the restaurant, I saw something at a stand that I really wanted to buy, but we had to keep up with the guide. I thought we'd be stopping back by that way when we left the restaurant, but we didn't. Lesson learned; when you see something you want in China, buy it!
Our hotel in Nanchang was very nice. It was the Galactic Peace International Hotel. This is the bathroom. There is a glass wall between the tub and the toilet, but the shower area near the window is completely open, and it had one of those big shower heads in the ceiling, too. We kept saying we wouldn't mind having a bathroom like this at home; however, I'd want a lip of some kind near the shower area, because every time we took a shower, the water came the whole way to the glass door near the toilet.
At some of the airports we flew into and out of in China we would ride a bus from the terminal to the plane and walk up the steps to the plane. It reminded me of flying to Orlando one time when I was 15 or so and I was on crutches and had to hop down the steps of the plane on one foot. This is Rachel and our guide, Bing, in front of our plane in Nanchang. We flew from Nanchang to Shanghai.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Xi'an Day 2, Terra-Cotta Warriors

We began our second day in Xi'an with a trip to the Terra-Cotta Warriors. I'd been anxious to see this since I first heard about it years ago. And it did not disappoint.
This is the entrance to pit number 1. There are currently 3 pits, all still being excavated, with a total of 7,000 clay soldiers and thousands more not yet unearthed. The Terra-Cotta Warriors were first discovered in March of 1974 by local farmers drilling a series of wells in search of water. A cool surprise we had during our visit was that the farmer who first discovered the army was in the museum signing books. He does not allow his picture to be taken, but we did buy a book with his autograph.

This is a picture of "the hospital," where they assemble the unearthed soldiers, piece by piece. They do not add manufactured parts to complete a soldier. If a part is never found, that's the way the soldiers stay. That's why in some pictures you'll see some with missing heads, hands, etc.

The Terra-Cotta Warriors are from the Qin Dynasty, and the pits were in later years set on fire and collapsed.

Originally the soldiers were holding weapons, such as archery tools. If I remember correctly, the weapons were looted thousands of years ago.

As I said, the pits are still being excavated, and there were workers there during our visit.

This tour was one of the highlights of the trip for me. How many times in your life will you have the opportunity to visit two wonders of the world in a period of a couple days? Even though it was very hot this day, I think we all enjoyed seeing the clay soldiers and learning about how they were built (it took 37 years!) and how they were discovered in 1974. Interestingly enough, the farmer was not compensated for his discovery in any way, even though he lost his farm land.
If you ever get to China, go see the Terra-Cotta Warriors. Truly amazing.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Xi'an Day 1

After arriving in Xi'an via the overnight train, we checked into our hotel and took much-needed showers before heading to a Muslim temple. It was hot, and we decided not to climb to the top. But the grounds were very pretty.

We did a little shopping near the temple, and Rachel tried her hand at bartering. Most stalls and some shops we visited expect you to barter. Our guides told us to try to get sellers to a third of their original price. Rachel was pretty successful at doing this. I was proud of her. In this picture we were buying a package of chopsticks. I forget what the price was, but it wasn't much.
After the temple we went to an art institute where we learned about different art styles found in China, such as papercutting and paintings done by farmers. The girls then had a calligraphy lesson and we did a little shopping. There was a painting there of two children that I fell in love with, but just couldn't justify spending a couple hundred dollars for a painting that I didn't have any room for in my home.

For lunch we were treated to dumplings, or jiaozi, a specialty of Xi'an. Some of the dumplings were shaped like pandas, some like flowers. They were pretty and delicious! Most of our meals in China were served family style. The kids (8 girls) would be at one round table, and the grownups, (9), would be at another. Each table had a lazy susan on it, and the guides took care of ordering food for us. There were many selections placed on the lazy susan, and you helped yourself to whatever you wanted. Rice and some kind of soup was served at every meal. The flower shaped dumplings at this lunch had some kind of peanut filling. Most of the time the dumplings had pork in them. Sometimes there were mushrooms inside, too.

Coming up in the next post....the Terracotta Warriers!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Orphanage Visit

We just finished our visit at the Ningdu Social Welfare Institute. Upon pulling up to the entrance, firecrackers were set off to welcome us, and there were red signs welcoming Ning Wen Ling back. Unfortunately, we did not have the camcorder going so we missed getting the fireworks on video. The first thing we did was review Rachel's file. One surprise in it. Most of the papers are things we already have. They had three copies of a certificate of some kind dated 2/12/99. Rachel's birthday is 2/10. We'll have to have it translated, but I think they said it was the certificate signed by the person who brought her to the orphanage. The best part is it includes a newborn picture of Rachel, and since there were three copies, they actually ripped one out of the file and gave it to us. Rachel had asked us before what she looked like when she was born, and now we have a picture to show her! Priceless.

The current director, Ms. Cai, is getting ready to retire next year, and the new director was the one we dealt with the most. I have to get his name from our guide. But both were there, as well as the doctor, who has been there since July of '99. I recognized her from some of the pictures we received when we got Rachel.

We gave them the photo album I made, and they all took their time looking at it. They seemed to really enjoy it. After exchanging gifts, we drove to Rachel's finding location. It's an old building that will most likely be torn down in the next couple of years. Ten years ago the area was a village, but it is now more of a suburb of Ningdu, and was about a 20 minute drive from the orphanage. I haven't decided if I want to post those pictures here, or if they should stay private for Rachel. I will say that Rachel was fine and didn't really seem affected by the location. She was more affected by the heat. :) I will say there were a lot of people around, and that made me happy.

After that we drove to Cui Wei Mountain, a famous mountain in Ningdu, and I know a lot of adoptive families with kids from Ningdu get a picture of Cui Wei. It was beautiful, and I'm posting a couple pictures of it. It was a heck of a climb, though, in 100 degree heat! I wasn't prepared to climb a mountain. I was still dressed in capris and sandals, and Rachel had on a dress and flip flops. The one picture of Rachel has the city of Ningdu in the background. The view was gorgeous. I am really happy we had a chance to see Cui Wei Mountain.

We then went back to the orphanage where lunch was prepared for us. The food was all very good, especially a pork-stuffed fried eggplant. They were a little insistent we eat some fruit, so after carefully wiping it off with tissues Rachel and I had a couple bites of fruit. (We took some pepto as soon as we got back in the van) They offered Fred some kind of alcohol, but he declined, which was probably a good thing, because many toasts were made. The new director is the only one who had alcohol, and it was acceptable for us to toast with Sprite.

After lunch we went outside to take pictures, and then we were on our way back to the hotel. Fireworks were again set off for our departure. Rachel felt pretty special, having firecrackers set off just for her. We are now relaxing and waiting for our friend Xiaoting to show us around Ningdu.

Finally in Ningdu!

After a two-hour flight (on which they served a hot lunch....when was the last time that happened in the U.S?), followed by a 4+ hour drive, we finally arrived in Ningdu! What a beautiful drive it was. There was a LOT of construction along the drive, but there were way more rice fields and lotus fields, not to mention huge mountains. Our local guide, Alicia, noticed me pointing out the water buffalo and when we saw one standing alongside the rode, the driver pulled over so I could take pictures. The locals got a kick out of that.

Tomorrow morning someone from the orphanage will meet us and our guide in the lobby and we will head to the orphanage where we will be able to review Rachel's file, see the babies, ask questions, give our gifts, host a lunch and most importantly meet the person who found Rachel and brought her to the orphanage. I have to remember to bring tissues.

The best part of today was finally meeting me email friend Xiaoting. We no sooner got to our room when she rang our bell and we greeted each other with a big hug. Tomorrow after we are finished at the orphanage, we plan to meet up with Xiaoting again so she can show us Ningdu. We will probably to go Cui Wei Mountain. Then we will have dinner together. I can't say how happy I am that we have a friend in Rachel's hometown.

The internet connection here is slow, but at least we have it. If I have time tomorrow or Sunday I will try to post a few pictures, but since I am relying on the kindness of a friend to do my updates, I won't do too many. (Thanks again, Dave!)

Thursday, July 9, 2009


I haven't had much time to post. This tour really keeps us running, but we are seeing a lot of things. Tomorrow we fly to Nanchang and then are driving to Ningdu. I doubt that we will have internet service in Ningdu. So I probably won't be able to update again until Sunday night at the earliest. I still need to post about our days in Xi'an (wonderful!) and yesterday in Chengdu. Chengdu is a beautiful city, and our guide is the sweetest girl, whose name is Swallow, a translation of her Chinese name. Driving in from the airport yesterday she expressed her gratitude at our visiting her city, saying the tourism industry suffered greatly after last year's earthquake. She told us a few stories of the earthquake and got very emotional. Our group is planning to take up a collection for her to distribute to victims of the earthquake.

Today we finally got to see the pandas! SO much fun. The toddler pandas were very playful. Swallow and Bing said we were very lucky the weather cooled off, because when it's hot all the pandas do is lay around. They were a lot of fun to watch. Rachel and I both got our picture taken with I believe a teenage panda. There are no babies at the preserve right now; just toddlers, teenagers and adults. I don't think the toddlers make good picture subjects, so they place a teenager on a bench and keep feeding him/her apples and it sits there happily eating while we were able to pet it and have pictures taken. No touching their ears or bellies, though, because they are very ticklish there. Rachel also got her picture taken with a red panda. She was able to actually hold the red panda, who was also eating at the time. The preserve itself is beautiful. The walkways are all lined with bamboo which drapes over the walkways. All in all the panda trip was a big hit.

Tomorrow will be a LONG day. The flight from Chengdu to Nanchang is about 2 hours, and I believe our drive to Ningdu will be 4 to 5 hours. This will be the emotional part of the trip, and I don't know how much I'll actually post here. We'll see how it goes. Once home I will post all my pictures and type an email to post to the Ningdu Yahoo group. Later today we plan to have all the girls sit down together and think of questions they want to ask their orphanages. Rachel hasn't really talked much about this part of the trip. I think she is excited to meet our email friend Xiaoting, though.

FYI, Facebook is now blocked here in China, so I am unable to update my Facebook page. :-( We are not anywhere near the rioting up in the northwestern part of China. So please don't worry about that. If anything affects us at this point, it will be heavy rains. It is typhoon season here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Last day Beijing

Our last day in Beijing was quite busy. In fact, I'm having trouble remembering in what order we did things! So things might be out of order.

We started off at a school for special needs adults; however, since it was Sunday no students were there. The girls did have an opportunity to do some paper cutting and make a card in their art room. We were also able to purchase some of the cards and things the students made. In the courtyard we had a chance to do activities that they do, like kicking a shuttlecock (think hackeysack), spinning a special piece of material on a stick and playing with a true Chinese yoyo.

We then went to tour a hutong via rickshaw and visit with a woman in her home. This was one of the highlights for me so far. Her home was very humble, and they guide said she could probably sell it for a lot of money, but the woman said she is happy and content there and won't move. She lives on a courtyard with two other families. The three men are brothers. The courtyard held a small garden where they were growing pumpkins, peppers, among other things. They had a small fish pond and pigeons. The husband of the woman we met raises pigeons competitively. The children can play in the courtyard, and it kind of reminded me of where we live, on a cul-de-sac with two other families who are pretty close.

We went to Tianenmen Square, and it was HOT. After taking pictures in front of Chairman Mao's picture, we went to the southern end of the square to fly kites. It was hot, but the girls had fun. A storm rolled in and we got caught in the rain. We had seen the storm clouds coming our way, but the wind seemed to come out of nowhere. We were drenched, but tried to laugh it off. We went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner, which was followed by the Chinese acrobats.

The train ride from Beijing to Xi'an was something else. Again we got caught in the rain, and we had to work our way through throngs of people. Bing, our guide, had told us not to worry about being polite and to be pushy if we have to. A lot of the other passengers are from the country, and they just push their way through. Rachel was in front of me, as was one of the other girls in our group whose parents were a little behind me. I just grabbed both girls' arms and wouldn't let go, and we all made it through. It was a little stressful, but interesting and I'm glad we got to experience it. The train itself was fairly comfortable, though I know some people who read my blog wouldn't have enjoyed it as much as I did. The bathrooms left a little to be desired. Little to no toilet paper, didn't flush well and didn't stay clean long at all. Our compartment was clean, with four bunks. In my compartment it was Rachel and me, and another mom and her daughter, Myriam and Amber. Fred, Bill (Myriam's husband), Bing and Maureen (the only grandmother on the trip) stayed in a compartment next to us. Families of 4 had compartments to themselves, and the rest of us were split up two moms/two daughters to a compartment, and then Fred's odd compartment. Rachel fell asleep pretty much as soon as we pulled out at 9:20 p.m. I didn't sleep well at all, and I got up for good at 5 a.m. and watched out the window almost the rest of the way, until 8:00. The countryside was beautiful. Lots of mountains and farmland. Fields were along the mountains growing mostly corn and sunflowers. There were a lot of graves right in the fields, with big headstones. Bing said they can bury family members in the fields at no cost, and they will have a fengshui expert come in to tell them the bet way to face the body. We also saw ancient caves in the mountainsides where people used to live. There were a lot of sights I tried to take pictures of but at 75 mph, I think they're all blurry.

We leave Xi'an tomorrow morning to fly to Chengdu. I'll try to update with Xi'an pictures soon. They keep us pretty busy! But I think we have some downtime either tomorrow after we arrive or Thursday after we see the pandas.