Day 5: pandas, pandas and more pandas!

I’m amazed at how easily XiXi has eased into things. When we have breaks at the hotel, she happily joins us wherever we are. Last night, after we packed, we sat and watched a little TV. XiXi was happy to put on her pajamas and snuggle in between us with the fleece throw I brought from home. She is such as sweet girl.

We started off the day with a Skype call home for a quick video call to introduce everyone. There were some video issues so we didn’t get to see the kiddos back home but they could see us and we could hear them saying “Hi” to XiXi. She was giggling and smiling the whole time. We got her to say “Hi Aidan, hi Liam, hi Finnley and hi Bill” pretty clearly!

Today was Panda Day! We’ve been waiting for this all week. The Panda base was about a 40 minute drive on the northwest side of the city past the 3rd ring. Chengdu is set up similarly to San Antonio with a “spoke and wheel” roadway system. San Antonio has two highway “rings” but Chengdu has three.

It was nice outside the city, still cold but the air quality was much better. The Panda base is very beautiful and lush with vegetation. It’s much more than just a “zoo” for pandas; it’s a breeding and research facility committed to preserving and increasing the number of pandas which currently totals about 2,000 worldwide.

The pandas were not in typical enclosures but in very expansive natural habitats. They are grouped by age so we saw older (5+ years) pandas, adolescent 2 year old pandas and the super cute baby pandas that had just been born in the fall.

We got to the baby pandas and saw UFC quality fighting between two of the babies:

Apparently, when fully grown the lose all energy. Look at this guy eating on his back:

XiXi was very excited to see one of the newest babies was named XiXi, too!

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While the park is lush with bamboo, our guide explained that the bamboo that grows here is not edible as it is too tough. Literally truckloads are brought in from other areas daily to keep the pandas fed.

After we saw all the groups of giant pandas we saw an area set aside for red pandas. I thought they looked more like large red raccoons than pandas but they were cute, too.

XiXi loved every minute of it. She seems to really enjoy nature and would frequently stop to point out birds and flowers along the way. She would pick flowers and smell them and share them with me. She put a few in her hair, too. Never once did she get whiney about how much walking we had to do.

After several hours of exploring the park, we had to head back to the city to pick up XiXi’s passport and adoption documents. We will need them to travel to Guangzhou and finalize her immigration at the consulate.

The part of the trip I have been dreading has come– it’s time for XiXi and I to travel alone to Guangzhou and Steve to return home. It’s not that I am scared to go alone but for the first time in the trip I am homesick. Steve is my home.

We have been so fortunate to have a TEAM of family and friends who made it possible for Steve to travel, too. The weekend we left for China, each of or kids had “weekend sleepovers” at their favorite places to help keep their minds off of our long trip. I think it was very helpful to have them “leave us” to go on their adventures rather than say sad goodbyes watching us leave. Big thanks to Aidan’s friend D’s mom, Steve’s sister and my mother for making it fun and taking the stress off us.

Steve’s best friend from high school, Bill, very generously took time off of work to come to San Antonio to take care of or children during the week while we are here. It is no small task to get our crew of three up, off to school, back home, fed and in bed on a daily basis–especially with all the drama they like to start.

We are so grateful to have such wonderful family and friends!!!

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Day 4: adoption finalization and lovely sights

We had a little later starting time this morning so we got to sleep in a bit and have a leisurely breakfast. XiXi was very happy with her new outfit and enjoyed showing off.

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We had the buffet breakfast here at the hotel and apparently XiXi has not had a buffet before. I took a plate and walked XiXi to each station and opened the lid to let her inspect the items, either nodding or shaking her head. She seemed to enjoy it and had some chinese noodles, bacon, eggs, fruit, yogurt and orange juice.

We went back to the civil affairs office to sign the documents and finalize the adoption. The three ladies from the orphanage were there again and they had a gift for us–a beautiful large stone carving that they said was called inkstone and was unique to the Panzhihua area. It’s very lovely and very heavy so Steve held it. They had it well wrapped and also placed inside a padded red and white nylon bag. I joked that it looked like he was transporting and organ donation.

We signed many documents and checked and double checked our information to make sure everything was exact and spelled properly. Anything that is incorrect may cause us problems at the consulate in Guangzhou.

We were just walking out when one of the ladies called over and handed XiXi a cell phone. They said her roommate wanted to talk to her one last time. This was unexpected and the call made XiXi very upset, more so than she was yesterday. I feel bad for the girl left behind as she is 14 and has aged out of any opportunity to be adopted (per Chinese law). I just hope she didn’t say anything to cause XiXi to have feelings of guilt. Needless to say, I was glad to leave.

After a break at the hotel, we got to visit and area called Wide and Narrow Alley, an ancient street that is pedestrian only, lined with shops, kiosks and eating places. We were told that the alleys date back several centuries but the facades were renovated in recent decades as much was destroyed by the Japanese during WWII.

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We stopped to listed to a trio of older performers, two men playing instruments and a woman who was singing the folk songs. When they finished, one of the men looked at XiXi and then at me and he smiled and gave me a thumbs up. Our guide says many people see XiXi now with a new life and consider her good luck, calling her the Phoenix.

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From there we went to People’s Park, a large and beautiful public park where people congregate to dance, play, drink tea and enjoy the outdoors. Today was especially busy as it was a holiday “the first day of Spring” per the Lunar calendar. It was a sunny day but still very cold. People of all ages “got down” and even had dance offs with each other. It was very entertaining. Everyone seemed happy and had smiles on their faces.

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In the evening we stayed close to the hotel but tried something different for dinner by going to Maan Coffee & Waffle House right next to the hotel. It was very Western and had a nice, relaxing vibe. True to their name, they had amazing looking waffles. They keep a prepared example of each menu item in a display case and you can just point to what you want. XiXi immediately picked the mixed berry waffles which had a very large Belgian style waffle with two large scoops of strawberry ice cream, two towers of whipped cream, whole strawberries and topped with many other types of berries. It was amazing to look at and almost too pretty to eat.

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But eat XiXi did and took down way more than I thought she would. Steve tried the Korean style Bulgogi burger and I had a mozzerella sandwich. It was delicious and a nice change of pace from the Chinese food we’ve had daily. Since it was our last night together in Chengdu, we decided to walk along the river before returning to the hotel.

Tomorrow is the exciting end to our time in Chengdu as we visit the Giant Panda Breeding and Research preserve. We hope to see some pandas up close!

Day 3: meeting our daughter

The time difference and our excitement conspired to keep us from sleeping the whole night. All I could think about was our meeting with Rowynn XiaoXi — would she like us, would she be scared, would she have a meltdown?

We had our breakfast and met our guide in the lobby and were taken to the civil affairs office a short drive away.

We walked up three long flights of stairs and across a long waiting room and then we caught sight of her and her nannies through a glass window.

We walked in and recognized her right away. She looked shy and nervous and only smiled when her nannies nudged her and spoke in Chinese to her. We had brought a soft, stuffed panda with a red bow and handed it to her to break the ice. I didn’t want to rush anything but they quickly urged her towards us while also directing all three of us to a small sofa. We got out the album we made for Rowynn XiaoXi with photos of our home and family. They had us walk through them while they translated to her. Rowynn XiaoXi pointed out each and spoke the Chinese words for brother, sister, grandmother, grandfather, aunt and cousin. She was smiling more on her own and hugged her panda close.

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The visit was quick today only requiring us to sign the temporary custody form. The first 24 hours are called the “harmonious period” in which we agree to spend time together and decide whether we wish to complete the adoption at the end of the 24 hours. We certainly didn’t feel the need for this but it is a mandatory part of the Chinese adoption process.

Before we left, we handed out small gifts to the nannies to express our appreciation of how well they have cared for her over the past four years. We also brought a large album we created that contains photos of all the families who have adopted over the past six months when adoptions from the Panzhihua orphanage were started. The nannies looked through page by page and shared with Rowynn. They were overjoyed to see their children looking happy in loving homes, so much so they were wiping tears from their eyes. It made me wipe tears from my eyes, as well.

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When they finished with the book it was time to say goodbye and Rowynn XiaoXi wiped silent tears from her eyes. The nannies clamored around her all speaking in Chinese at once trying to reassure her. Not wanting to overwhelm, I knelt quietly and held and stroked her hand. After a couple of minutes, we left the room and she held my hand.

We returned to our hotel and began quiet interaction. We brought art supplies, puzzles, a Barbie, Legos, games and other small items. Steve also brought his “A game” of humor which got her giggling. She quickly got out the art supplies and started drawing; she was writing Chinese characters and colored a rainbow. Then she started drawing people. When she was done, she pointed to each person– she had drawn mama, baba, two big brothers, a sister and herself. She wrote in Chinese across the top which our guide later translated as “my family life”. She has clearly been well prepared.

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Later in the evening, our guide picked us up and we took a taxi to have Sichuan “hot pot” and to see the Chinese opera. Both are very culturally important here and we wanted Rowynn XiaoXi to experience it.

Hot pot is an experience where a boiling pot is set into the middle of the table and a seasoned broth is brought to a boil. The staff begin bring plates of different meats and vegetables for those at the table to add to the broth to remove with a ladle and eat when done. The traditional hot pot is very spicy, even numbing so they brought a divided boiling pot with spicy broth on one side and mild on the other. Rowynn XiaoXi preferred the mild and really enjoyed the experience. We learned it was not her first time and she was a pro fishing out the items she wanted. Steve and I tried both and enjoyed the spicy very much until Steve had a worried look on his face. He had missed the part about the numbing peppers and though he was having a reaction to the food. Our guide assured him it was the Sichaun peppercorn and would wear off in a minute. Thankfully he was enjoying a Chinese beer, too.

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Time was running short so we hustled out of the restaurant and walked a block to the opera which was just getting ready to begin. Our guide got us great seats close to the stage and to a fire pit of smoldering embers. This was needed because the opera is in a covered outdoor stage and the temperatures were in the 30s.

The opera is not like a western opera. There are many different elements of the performance including ancient musical instruments, puppet show, hand shadows, operatic singing in traditional costumes, a comedic act and the big finale–the face changing masks and fire breathers. Rowynn XiaoXi was completed engaged with the whole hour and a half show–smiling, laughing, clapping. It was an amazing experience and I’m so glad we went.

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I was so amazed with our girl, she was so good, so well behaved and just went along with everything.

We arrived back at the hotel at 9:30 and got ready for bedtime. She was much more relaxed and smiling a lot. She asked for a shower and welcomed my assistance in washing her hair. She put on her new PJs and giggled as she climbed into bed. I kissed my hand and placed it on her forehead. She fell asleep quickly and didn’t stir all night.

We can’t wait for the 24 hour harmonious period to be over — this girl is amazing!

Day 2: checking out Chengdu

We gave sleeping in a good try but were wide awake at 6a. I wish I could do that at home!

I have to say “thank you, China” for consumerism. I was able to score my morning beverage of preference, and for only 48ยข!


We enjoyed our buffet breakfast downstairs and headed back up to our room in hopes of catching the SuperBowl. Steve had been looking up every possible way to watch while we are in China, including downloading the NFL app and paying to stream it. I said “why not check the TV” and sure enough, a station was showing the game at 7:30a. Steve was thrilled.


They didn’t show any of the US commercials (my favorite part), so we will have to look around online for those.

Sadly, our team didn’t win but we picked ourselves up and went to explore Chengdu on foot. We headed north across the river to Tianfu Square, about a mile away.

Along the way we stopped for photo ops with ornamental statues.

It was damp and cold but it was fun. When we got to the square, we saw lots of families enjoying the large public space. It think it would be even more lovely in the spring because there were many fountains and water features not operating. The square itself is surrounded by many high end stores. And, a McDonald’s (no thanks).

No public square is complete without a monument to Chairman Mao.

One thing we’ve noticed is that the city is very invested in bringing in the beauty of nature wherever possible. The streets are lined with trees, plantings and flower boxes that are clearly well maintained.
We also noted there was not a lot of exhaust fumes or vehicle noise in spite of the volume of traffic. A great majority of the vehicles seem electric.

On the way back we stopped into several shops and a nice mall. On the top two floors is a Carrefours, described best as a cross between Target and Walmart. I had been hoping to find Chinese New Year decorations and I was not disappointed. If only I had more luggage space. Steve thinks I may have a “problem”. I don’t care!

We made our way back to the hotel and finished the day low key and prepared for our big day tomorrow. We heard that XiaoXi’s train trip is actually more like 12 hours overnight in a sleeper car. I hope sweet girl isn’t too anxious and can get some sleep.

Time for bed–only about 10 more hours before we meet our girl!

Location:Renmin South Road 2nd Section,Chengdu,China

Location:Renmin South Road 2nd Section,Chengdu,China

 

Day 1(ish): travel to Chengdu

We left Saturday morning at the crack of dawn and arrived in Chengdu late in the evening Sunday. We had 19 hours of flight time and 3 hours on the ground in between. Our long haul leg from San Francisco to Chengdu was on the new Boeing Dreamliner. It was a nice plane and a great crew which made a 14 hour flight way more pleasant.
 


Our guide, Laura, met us at the airport and took us to our hotel. It was already night time here so we didn’t get to see a lot but what we did see looks modern and lovely. Laura told us that XiaoXi has been very excited about our meeting all week. Everyday at lunch she asks her nannies about her mama and baba. We’re excited, too!
 
 Even though it was late when we finally got checked in, we decided to walk around the area. Everything is well lit, clean and feels very safe. Our hotel is right on the banks of the Jinjiang river. Laura told us that if we cross the river and walk for about 15 minutes, we can easily get to the city center. We are looking forward to exploring on Monday (our free day before we meet XiaoXi on Tuesday morning).
 


There is a 7-11 down the block and we were able to get a couple of liters of water and about four sodas for $3.00. We got to bed around midnight local time and hope we can get some good rest and get adjusted to the 14 hour time difference!
 
 
 – Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Renmin South Road 2nd Section,Chengdu,China

Right back soon

We finally got our travel approval document to go meet and adopt Xiao Xi. And, we will get to complete the adoption before Chinese New Year! We are very excited at the Gaines residence.

Like last time, we will try to blog every day of our trip so stay tuned we will be right back!

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Bumps in the road

We look at her photos every day hoping to get the call to travel. These last few weeks we have experienced bumps in the road with our paperwork and the last steps have taken longer than they should. A computer system glitch has held up the hard copy of our travel approval. As of today, it still hasn’t happened. So while we know we are approved, we cannot schedule our consulate appointment until our agency receives the hard copy.

Chinese New Year is approaching we have fewer and fewer chances to schedule an appointment before the holiday. Basically, adoption processes cease after 2/12 and do not start up again until 3/2. What should have been a January adoption trip may well turn into a March trip. We are simply running out of time.

It’s disappointing for us and we think it must be distressing for Rowynn XiaoXi, too. She was told she had a family back in November. These photos and video were taken at the end of December. I am sad to think she is wondering where we are and why we are taking so long. I am sad that she is the last of the girls her age in the orphanage. I am sad that this may be causing her anxiety as she tries to prepare herself for a change that she probably can’t fully conceive of.

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We will just keep hoping and praying that things will be resolved and we get the call to travel.

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Puzzle update:
A generous donor stepped in and sponsored the remaining 25 pieces to finish the puzzle! Thank you so much for helping us raise $3,590 towards our goal of $5,500 for the orphanage donation. It helps tremendously and we are so blessed to have amazing friends and family who walk alongside us in this journey.

I wish I could show the complete puzzle but we found that we were short two pieces. We’re waiting for the seller to send out a replacement and we will finally be able to get this glued, labeled and framed!

You can still sponsor a piece! Some generous donors made donations above the pieces they sponsored to help the puzzle fundraiser to grow even further. These donations make a difference for us, for Rowynn and for the children left behind.

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