At the age of 37, I have finally decided what to be when I grow up. As a mother to two fabulous and complex boys who struggle with diagnoses like Asperger syndrome, sensory processing disorder, and dyspraxia we are used to daily routines that involve therapy, patience, and compromise. When we decided to add another child to our family, our hearts led us to Winnie, and she just happens to have Down syndrome. Follow our journey as we continue to learn and work through these needs. Sometimes we live one day at a time and sometimes we live hour to hour. Welcome!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Where Dad guest blogs and shares Dad thoughts and Winnie pics (and boring Dad pics)

The world hungers for news of Winnie.  This is known.  In addition, many of you have wondered, does Chris exist?  Is he literate?  If not, could he perhaps hire someone in China to take dictation of his blog post so that all the burden of blogging does not fall upon Stephanie, whom Winnie does not let out of her sight?  

The answers to these questions is as follows: (i) yes, I exist (!), I'm nearly sure of it; (ii) I like to think I'm literate, but I'm intimidated by the quality of Stephanie's blogging and Winnie's cuteness (can I live up to these standards?); and (iii) in Guangzhou, I'm sure I could find some random person on the street to take English dictation, in Wuhan, er, prolly not.  

So, let's get going with some random Dad-style observations, and I'll sprinkle in the only thing y'all really care about, which is liberal Winnie pics and anecdotes.  

First, let me say, that 15.5 hours (Chicago to Hong Kong) is a heck of a long flight.  I did not envy the people connecting to Brisbane.  I watched an entire season of a TV show.  I watched a movie.  I finished one book and started Donna Tartt's superb (really) new one, The Goldfinch.  I slept some.  We'll see how all these things work out with Winnie.  Something to look forward to.

We stayed overnight in HK (super breakfast buffet - breakfast is apparently the thing in China).  We took a reasonable size plane from HK to Wuhan.  This involved getting on a bus totally packed to the gills with Chinese travelers (actually I think many of them were Americans returning home to visit, though that's just from looking at their passports and my later observations about how the citizens of Wuhan dress, which was more formal than these people).  One thing:  Chinese travelers seem to be wild about switching seats.  Once it became clear that the flight wasn't full, there was a very complicated reshuffling of people on the plane that went on for no less than 10 minutes.  Several people moved more than once.  Perhaps there was some sort of cool kids group that everyone wanted to be with that kept shifting.  I am not sure.  

From the beginning, Wuhan looked, uh, a bit bleak.  Soviet-style airport.  Unsmiling uniformed guards. Low, sooty sky.  No commercial presence in the airport at all.  

Our guide wasn't there (we laser learned that she lives in Hunan - the bridge was out(!) on the train tracks between there and Wuhan), but we were met by our driver.  Nice guy.  Never made out his name.  Spoke not a lick of English.  He drove a "JAC" van.  China appears to have the widest automobile variety in the world.  All the US, Euro, Japanese and Korean brands, many, many other (Chinese?) brands I've never seen.  We drove to Wuhan in silence (at least 45 minutes to the hotel).  

In addition to the building projects I expected, there are some huge landscaping projects in China.  This hedgerow went on for, say, 10 miles.  I take it there was some unscenic stuff behind the rows.  

Driving in Wuhan itself was hella stressful on me, and I wasn't actually driving.  Absolute cacophony of horns. Pedestrians darting about, scooters everywhere, cars stopped in the road, cars cutting across lanes. [Here are the rules for scooters in Wuhan (___________).]   I do like the timers on the lights.  

I ended up walking around in Wuhan a fair amount.  I learned to cross the street, at some ongoing peril.  I saw no Westerners anywhere on the street or in any store (saw several at a Western restaurant across town and two at our hotel).  That said, the residents of Wuhan did not react with interest to our presence (I was the largest human in Wuhan based on my observation - Stephanie was the tallest woman and the only blonde person).  No one met our gaze or took obvious note of us, prior to getting Winnie (or in my case, being on the streets without her - being without Winnie is not an option for Stephanie).

Once we got Winnie, we did get some more looks in the street and in the store.  Some of these were pleasant, some a bit sneery. I'll not speculate on why our presence with Winnie might make people unhappy, but she, like both of her wai pos (grandmothers) has the gift for meeting and talking to random people.  Anyone who will meet her gaze is a target for her nuclear-level cuteness.  We had a lovely afternoon at East Lake Park (best experience we had in Wuhan), and she made friends with two random old guys.  Winnie pushed the stroller the ENTIRE time (almost 2 hours), and at one point, one of these dudes jokingly suggested that Winnie should run into his friend with her stroller.  

Our hotel in Wuhan (Poly Hotel) was nice, as were the staff, but, as Stephanie has described in her stir-fry pizza post, we had continuing difficulty getting our point across.  We ended up taking some pictures of items on the breakfast buffet for later room service ordering, though (i) neither item, when it came, was the same as what was served at breakfast, and, (ii) in the case of the noodles, it was never the same thing twice.  

Winnie really liked the fried rice, which was pretty close to its US analog, except for some mystery ham-ish thing that was included only in the non-breakfast version.  In truth, I may never be able to eat fried rice again.  We really struggled with the food.  In the US, we don't go near MacDo.  Here, it was a welcome oasis, 5-6 hard trafficky blocks from our hotel.  They saw me coming and took out the picture menu.  It worked out.  Except it turns out that, irony of ironies, MacDonald's is what made me sick both times I ate there (figured it out the second time).  That's what I get, I guess, but honestly, the restaurant scene in Wuhan isn't super welcoming for shy Westerners.  I ate a lot of PB&J from Carrefour, the French department store a few blocks from our hotel.  Without them, I think I would have been very, very hungry (I'd say started, but I have some reserves).  

Anyhow, Wuhan was big, sprawling (it turns out to be three historical cities now clumped together into one).  When we asked our cab driver to go to Aloha Cafe or Grill or whatever, he freaked out.  It was a long way.  The cab fare was like $6 US.  Cabs and groceries are cheap in Wuhan, though hotel food not so much.  

The scale of construction is beyond anything I had ever seen.  30+ story buildings going up in identical clumps of 15.  At any given time, there were 20+ cranes in our field of vision.  It's a big city, Chicago-sized (which is good for about 10th largest in China), but both the density and the sprawl have no American analog.  

All of the adoption and orphanage officials we met were very pleasant and helpful.  We visited the "Civil Affairs Office" three times.  It was a nondescript building, with a nondescript interior (somewhat poorly lit), but with a children's play area and an inexplicable big screen TV and set of couches in the waiting area.  There are a lot of government offices in Wuhan, and some of them are really nice from the outside, but it definitely seemed to me that commerce was turning the wheels in Wuhan, not the state.  

While we were in Wuhan, it rained a few days and other days there was a pretty heavy haze, blurring into overcast.  The sun was vaguely visible through the clouds only on a couple of occasions.  People in Wuhan dressed pretty formally, completely Western.  Lots of blazers and wool.  It was 60-70 Farenheit while we were there.  I was the only person in a short-sleeved shirt.  Our guide was worried about me catching cold.  

So, if you can't tell, we were pretty glad to get out of Wuhan.  Much to our surprise, after a 90 minute drive (traffic), we pulled up to what must have been a completely different airport terminal (Stephanie was convinced it was a completely different airport).  Super nice and modern.  I've heard that China Southern is a government airline (And Dragonair, which we flew from Hong Kong, certainly is not), so maybe that's why they get the nice terminal gates.  Dunno, but it was already a relief not to go back to the Great Leap Forward Era terminal we had flown into.  

We were concerned that Winnie might have a problem with the plane (and I'm pretty sure she understands exactly what is going on, and that she is leaving everything she's ever known behind), but other than being super-hyper (no nap, sensory overload), pushing every button 100 times, making me open and shut the shade until we made her stop, she seemed to enjoy it.  On both our flight from HK to Wuhan and Wuhan to Guangzhou (each about 90 minutes), they served hot food, by the way.  Mama got up to go to the bathroom and Winnie freaked out a bit, but other than Winnie making friends with the rows in the front, back and side of ours, everything else was pretty uneventful.    

Our guide picked us up in his Cadillac sedan, playing American music (Winnie, we learned on the trip, is a big fan of Gangnam Style and Lady Gaga - she knows the Psi dance, and seems to have made up her own dance for the Gaga songs). Together with this level of Americanness, Guangzhou looks like, well, America. There's a certain Vegas element to our hotel and the surrounding area, but in general, people just seem much more laid back here.  There is very little horn honking.  It is warmer in GZ for sure, but there are a lot more T-shirts, jeans, young people.  Also, the actual sun shines here, which is a relief.  

We do not have a lot of appointments in GZ.  We had her medical exam this morning, and our consulate appointment is Tuesday.  Other than that, we are on our own.  At the medical exam, she did great, very professional (the staff there is really good), though she still acts like her arm has been permanently damaged by the blood draw.  Prior to that, no lie, staff from the clinic rushed to get their camera to take pictures of her for their brochure.  This will be in addition to the pictures of her that are plastered all over the orphanage.  We are so lucky to have this sweet, smart little girl.  She is just electric.  


  1. Loved this post! Our dd is from Wuhan also, and you pretty much described it. Too bad you didn't get to Aloha Diner - the best place in town - for dinner. LOTS of Westerners - especially Americans there. Winnie is precious - congratulations!

  2. Great did describe everything well..I am sure you will be glad to be home this week. You all are in my thoughts and prayers...saw Karen and Rodney in church is my birthday...Karen sent me this post!!! Blessings for a safe and much better trip home!!!

  3. hi, I wasn't sure how to contact you. I am hopefully moving to Erin Tn soon and I want to start the adoption process of a little girl with down syndrome very soon. I would love to get to know you and hear more about your experience. could you e-mail me?