Friday, November 27, 2009

Update on Day Four

I've been able to add a few photos to Day Four. I tried to do more, but it just won't go anymore. :o( It keeps timing out...will try again later.

Day Five: Zhanjiang

Today we went to the beach on Donghai Island, a scenic ride of approximately an hour from Zhanjiang city. The children had a great time playing in the sand, collecting shells and sand, splashing in the water, riding a camel, taking four-wheeler rides, and then eating a picnic lunch on the beach. The camel was happy with the many banana peels from our lunches. We joked that he would sleep very well that night after all the trips up and down the beach with the children.

The sun was shining brightly and some of us underestimated the length of time we spent there, ending up a tad on the pink side. :o) On the way back to the hotel, some were dropped off at an antique and flea market. In the evening we visited a beautiful seaside park, and then went to dinner at the China Star, a moored boat-turned-restaurant. We are anxious for tomorrow, when we plan to take some of the students from ZJ SWI a park with us.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Day Four: Zhanjiang

This morning was a day we had all been anticipating. It felt so good to finally be at a place where we would be unloading a lot of our things. Many brought gifts for the children.

We got on the bus for a short ride to the orphanage. I couldn't believe that they took the buses down the narrow street of Nong 2 Lu, but we did. As we got off the bus, we heard music playing in the courtyard. We entered the gate, and there were the children waving flowers at us beneath a huge red banner that read "Welcome Home." We were immediately surrounded by people, who instantly grabbed our children's name tags looking for ones they recognized. I saw many tears, and hugs, and smiles. It was the most incredible thing I've ever witnessed. The most poignant was the group of foster moms--approximately twelve--who were eying the older girls. They came armed with photo albums, and several were reunited with "their" kids.

We were led to stools in the balloon- and brightly-decorated courtyard, in front of a huge stage, again with a banner welcoming the children home. Behind the stage, in front of the banner, were risers where many photos would be snapped. Again, photos would make this so much easier to explain. Perhaps other blogging parents are having better luck. Be sure to scroll down to look for the "Blogging Families" post for those links.

A woman in a lovely red dress was the hostess for the event, and she introduced Dir. Su, as well as SWI directors from miles around, including Dongguan, Maoming, Dianbai, and a few others I recognized but forget. I'm hoping they got a good impression of this wonderful event and will allow families to return with great ceremony as ours was allowed to. The student-aged children from the SWI danced and sang for us, and then several local children's groups also did so. They did a lion dance and then invited those that wanted to, to try.

Our oldest adoptee group member, Cory, gave a lovely, moving speech. Vickie also gave another speech and did a wonderful job as she received a donation from BLAS for ZKO. How wonderful! When the speeches were over, the children lined up to give their gifts to the director and children. Many things were given that the children will be able to use. In return, the director gave each of the children Zhanjiang pearls and a mother-of-pearl pendant, each with their Zhanjiang names inscribed on the back. It was so incredibly touching.

THEN it was time to go up to the eighth floor to see the babies. How fun. Some babies tolerated it, others not so much. Adam, a dad in our group, got a giggle and huge smiles out of his little one. The children looked wonderful, and we're so grateful to Amy, the director of the Open Arms room for her job in leading the aunties. She takes her job seriously, and when I expressed my gratitude to her, her tears overflowed. The language barrier was nonexistent--something I would witness over and over as the day wore on.

We went downstairs to the room off the courtyard, and they had a humongously long table set up for us for lunch. Along with local fare, they had vegetables, baskets of bananas and oranges, and yes, TURKEY wings and a pumpkin dish. They remembered that today was our Thanksgiving. They did not miss a single detail.

After lunch, we went out in the courtyard to play. Gloria had brought along a Thanksgiving poster/sticker activity. It was good she brought sixty of them, as everyone got in on it. All the kids mingled, helping one another decorate them. After the stickers were done, then the mayhem dad got plastered with the paper outlines of the sticker, by two of the little Zhanjiang boys. :o) Again language was not a barrier. We played jump rope and Dir. Su got in on turning the rope and even jumping. The man is amazing. Just amazing. Then it was time for tug-of-war, a three-legged race, and then a form of tag in which the children hold on to the shirt of the one in front of them, while the leader tries to keep an "it" child from catching the ones on the tail. It was a bit like crack-the-whip. We had such a great time. The children mingled freely with one another, and all the kids ran their legs off. The little ones on the tour were carried around by the older girls from the SWI. It was simply adorable to see them doted on. The afternoon wore on, and we stayed longer than scheduled, but it didn't seem to matter. The kids from the SWI were thrilled to have a day off school, and we look forward to spending Saturday with them.

After leaving, some families chose to go to a park, others with younger children elected to go back to the hotel.

It was one of the most incredible days. It was far more than I ever expected, and has nothing to do with the many cameras and newsies that were there to capture it. It was in the private moments with real people who share our love of our children: in the aunties who recognized the children--the ones who knew them by name, in the affirmation of their genuine goodness, generosity, and affection. What a day.

Day Three: Guangzhou

We got into Guangzhou and headed for the White Swan. We only had a few hours here on Shamian as we were to go to Zhanjiang the following afternoon. The following morning, families whose children were registered at the Civil Affairs office in Guangzhou were allowed in to view those files.

After lunch, we were taken to the GZ airport where we caught a late afternoon flight to Zhanjiang. We'd been told the SWI staff likely wouldn't be there, but as soon as we stepped into the small airport (one conveyer belt), there they were: Dir. Su, Ms. Yi, Elsa. I continue to be amazed and grateful for their kindness and uncommon courtesy. Our group overwhelmed that small airport, and there weren't enough carts for all the luggage. :o) Although there are four flights in and out of this airport daily, most of their customers aren't loaded for bear like we were. We were then taken to the Crown Plaza hotel, where we'll be for the remainder of our stay.

Day Two

I continue to get network errors when attempting to upload pics. I'll try to describe what we did, but the photos could tell so much more.

We visited the CCAA and BLAS offices on Day Two. It was pretty amazing to witness actual matchings, as well as meet the woman who very well may have matched many of our children with our families. We were graciously welcomed again in a short ceremony, and after touring the offices, were given a cultural lesson in calligraphy. The children were each given an album of lovely papercuttings. They have been showered with many special mementos. Some they treasure now, and some are things they will do so when they are older.

After a lovely lunch at The Banana Leaf, it was time to head to the airport for our flight to Guangzhou. The children continue to have a good time together, and I see many longer-term friendships being formed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Homecoming Trip: Day One

There is so much to write....and I will try to catch up from Zhanjiang. It's been very frustrating to not have access to blogger. I had it for the first two days before the tour started, then nothing. :o( I have a connection now, albeit slow, but I hope to give you all a small taste of the wonderful time we're having. Please give me a bit to catch up. :D

Our first day together started the evening before at orientation, when we met our wonderful guides and were introduced as families to one another. It's so amazing to meet all these wonderful children with a common heritage. All families were given "Happy Bags" containing small gifts for the children, BLAS tshirts, nametags, etc.

After a breakfast at o'dark-thirty, we headed for a special welcoming ceremony (more about that below!) by BLAS then on to the Great Wall and Summer Palace in two buses: red and blue. The older children have been grouped together, and the younger ones, likewise. I'm hearing reports that the children are enjoying each other and I can attest to that from watching on our bus. Lots of Rock/Paper/Scissors being played as we are schlepped.

We had a lovely day for touring Beijing. The weather was not too cold (that's relative, I know...but it was certainly more tolerable than my visit to the GW in '04) and the sun was shining. Some of the children, especially the younger ones, began fading fast as the afternoon wore on, so instead of taking in the Summer Palace in the evening, and then a later dinner, some families chose to take taxis back to the hotel. We're finding the stamina is varied, and we really need to watch how much we push the little ones. All in all though, they are doing amazingly well, and seem to roll with the punches, catching naps where ever they can.

We were met with great fanfare by BLAS and the CCAA. CCTV was even there to record our reception. Along with Zhanjiang, there is another Homecoming Group (Hongzhou, IIRC) also being welcomed. CCAA Director Liu was there along with his Vice-Directors. It was pretty amazing. All the children were given commemorative crystal paperweights of the GW, stuffed pandas, and a special welcoming letter from Dir. Liu. Our own wonderful Vickie Bennett also addressed the gathering and did an amazing job, which we all knew she would. She works tirelessly.

CCTV posted our trip on the news twice that day, and several parents were recognized in the airport from having given interviews with CCAA. If that was not enough, a story about our tour was featured in the China Daily, one of China's most read newspapers. This was all so unexpected, and a little overwhelming. I will post links as soon as I can get them.

I'm having a difficult time uploading photos, so I will post this update, and attempt more photos later when we may have an easier time doing so. Today we're off to meet the kids....CAN'T WAIT! :o) Thanks for following us, Val for ZKO

UPDATE: here's the link to the CCTV piece (not in English)

Director Liu of the CCAA (!!!!)
Debbie and Elizabeth at Badaling section of the Great Wall

Val, Sophie & Ava

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Blogging the Trip!

Here will be the blogroll of those families who will be blogging:

ZJ Homecoming Itinerary

We are excitedly packing and planning. Only a few more days remain before most of us will be taking off for Beijing. Here is our itinerary, if you'd like to see where we'll be on which particular day of the trip.

Date Itinerary
Nov. 22nd Evening Orientation meeting at the hotel around 7pm
Nov. 23rd Morning Welcome ceremony at Ministry of Civil Affairs;

Tour to the Great Wall afterwards

Afternoon Visit Summer Palace after lunch
Evening Dinner at the hotel
Nov. 24th Morning Visit CCAA and BLAS, kids take culture lessons, then have lunch nearby
Afternoon Go to Guangzhou by plane
Evening Transfer to the hotel and take a rest
Nov. 25th Morning Visit Provincial Adoption Registration Center and check files
Afternoon Go to Zhanjiang by flight after lunch and shopping on Shamian Island
Evening Traditional local dinner after arrival, then check in at the hotel
Nov. 26th Morning Welcoming ceremony at Zhanjiang CWI and lunch in the orphanage
Afternoon Learn to play local games and play with older children from the orphanage;

Visit Cunjin Park afterwards

Nov. 27th Morning Drive through countryside and along the ocean to the East Sea Island (Donghai Island) and walk and play freely by the seaside.
Afternoon Back to the hotel and take a rest
Evening Take Zhanjiang city tour, Haiwan Bridge and China-Macau Friendship Park, dinner at the ocean liner restaurant
Nov. 28th Morning Visit Huguangyan National Scenic Spot (the older children from the orphanage come along for this fun)
Afternoon Go to orphanage to meet foster families or shop freely in the city
Evening Farewell dinner
Nov. 29th Fly to Guangzhou or other destination