This Time Last Year

Two years ago, I purchased this photo display from Pottery Barn. Disclaimer: I don’t shop Pottery Barn anymore and I pitch the catalogs in the recycle bin as soon as I get them. I don’t have anything against Pottery Barn – or Eddie Bauer, Lands End, Chaco (I do send my sandals in to be re-strapped), or the stack of catalogs I used to receive. Fortunately, after enough seasons of not purchasing from catalogs, they stop sending them to your house on such an annoyingly regular basis. I’m almost catalog-free. It’s amazing how much time a person can spend in a given day browsing through the catalogs, choosing items that are suddenly deemed necessary, justifying the purchases, and then placing the orders. I’m keenly aware these days of how much energy, money, and time I spend on fluffing my nest. I’m not judging. If you catalog shop, have at it. I’m just a person who is easily sucked in by consumerism, so I’m learning to dash in the other direction and be content with the fluff I’ve already purchased.

But I digress in a big way, so back to the photo display. I got it on sale and it holds twelve 8×10 photos. It’s one of my favorite purchases and I’m forever grateful that at the time I found it I hadn’t yet been convicted about my shopping habits. My intention was to change the photos out every couple of months, but it’s been almost a year since they’ve been replaced. I couldn’t bring myself to remove the China photos. It took a trip to Ghana to force them out of the frames. I’ve stacked the photos on the dining room table because I am still not sure what to do with them. So I’m posting a few here in honor of where we were this time last year.

The 2012 Dillon China Birthland tour group leaves this Tuesday. My friend Dana, who was in our travel group eleven years ago, is taking her daughter back this year. I’m so grateful that Callie will get to see her birth country and the orphanage where she lived for a year. I want her to see the people, hear the language, eat the food, and walk the streets of the country where she began her life. If I could say five things to every adoptive parent, the second thing would be this: Return with your child to their birth country at some point. For an adopted child, every piece of his or her story is crucial. If you are an adoptive parent, you should know that there will be a moment (probably two, three, or more) when you will be asked to fill in pieces of this story. I’m not saying that a birthland tour is the only way to do this, but it’s one of the best ways. Start saving now. It’s not cheap, but it’s a much better way to spend your money than, say, catalog shopping.

This time last year we were in Beijing, gearing up for the whirlwind two weeks of visiting the cities of Xi’an, Guiping, Guangzhou, and Guilin. That’s four different provinces in two weeks. Be impressed. I loved every minute and cherish every memory of our trip. Honestly, I’m a little envious of the group that leaves Tuesday. I would do it again, and in fact I’m planning a return trip with Alison after she graduates high school. Alison is ready to go back, but she made me promise one thing: no pig’s feet.

Through the Lens: A Photo Dilemma

I took 1,200 photos in China. That sounds absurd, I know, but be assured that I did not keep them all. It’s true that to get one good photo, it’s necessary to take about three or four (or in my case, five or six) of the same thing. Most of my photos were duplicates that were not “keepers,” so every few days I performed major deletions from my camera card. But while I was busy snapping furiously throughout the trip, I had the familiar thought that I was missing the moment because I was so intent on capturing it. A friend and I discussed this recently and both agreed that there are times when we look at our photos and can’t remember what was actually going on because we were looking at it “through the lens.”

That was probably the case at certain moments during our trip, but there were times when I was forced to put my camera down (in Alison’s orphanage where photos were not allowed), and at lunch with the orphanage director and staff (didn’t want to make them uncomfortable). I don’t seem to remember more about those experiences than any others, so maybe I was living the moment – just doing it behind the viewfinder. Still, when I see other people at events doing nothing but taking photos of their kids instead of jumping in and enjoying that moment with them, I see myself behind the lens. I do that same thing. I’m trying to learn the balance between documenting life and living it, but I suppose I’ll always try to do both. Now that we’re back, however, parts of the trip are fading from my memory, and so I am thankful that Colin, Erin, and I documented almost every moment with photos and tons of video. It’s amazing how quickly we forget, and I don’t want to lose a moment of the trip. I’ve uploaded a sampling of our photos here. Enjoy!

A Few Things I Don’t Like About Jet Lag

There is nothing quite like recovering from East Asia jet lag. It’s just…different. We’re better, but not quite back to normal. So here is what I don’t like about jet lag: (feel free to chime in if you’ve been there, done that)

1. Waking up in the middle of the night, feeling as if it morning, and being completely disoriented. The first night back, I walked to our bedroom doors that lead to the backyard thinking I was going to be looking out of my hotel room. I had no idea where I was in my own bedroom and it took me a while to figure it out. Yuck.

2. Fighting the afternoon nap. If you nap, it screws everything up. So for the first few days I cleaned the house, organized some closet drawers, ironed clothes, took things across town to the recycler, and basically was frantic to stay busy. Of course, I did it all in a strange fog, but things got done and I didn’t nap.

3. Feeling hungry at odd times. Everyone has no appetite at dinner, but we are starving at bedtime.

4. Trying to carry on conversations when all you can think about is crawling under the covers. During the day, when everyone else in this time zone is completely awake and able to function intelligently, I am struggling to finish sentences while I think about what it would feel like to lay my head on pillow.

So I think we’re past the worst of it. Some people say that it takes as many days to recover as time zones you passed through. We went through 10 time zones, so that means we are halfway home. I guess I’ll know that we’re fully back when Kyle and I stop dreaming about China every night.

The Red Couch Ten Years Later

As promised, here is Alison once again on the Red Couch. She is just as she was ten years ago – happy to be surrounded by the other little girls and very content to sit and be photographed. But yet, she is different than she was ten years ago. That’s an obvious statement, but when I look at this image, the years flash by and I see the little baby growing into a young woman far too quickly. Ten years is both short, and very long. I am a different person than I was then – we all are – yet it seems like not so long ago that Alison was bald and sleepy and quiet. She is now a little girl with a full head of hair, always on the go, and talking, talking, talking (lots of silliness and long stories). Every now and then, I long for just a few moments with that little baby. It’s not because I don’t love the big-girl Alison, but because I realize how fast it all sped by me and how much I allowed myself to miss. I know that this is a normal feeling because I longed for those moments with Colin and Erin when they were this age. It was a time of their childhood when I suddenly realized that the child was fading away, and the young man or woman was about to take the place. There are beautiful moments with adolescents and teenagers (yes, you heard me right), but we can’t go back in time. The days of holding Alison in my arms while I read a book to her, rocking her to sleep at night, and carrying her across the parking lot on my back are over. I’ll be honest, some days I grumbled about these things, especially if it was a hot day and the asphalt was radiating heat, or if I was busy and didn’t have time to lift her up as she stood at my feet with her arms outstretched. Now, I’d take back those moments without blinking. But they are gone. So it serves as a reminder to me that someday very soon she will be hurrying out the door with the car keys in hand, or holed up in her room for the evening to text, facebook, and talk on the phone. She won’t be so excited to accompany us to the movie theater or laugh at our jokes. Now that we are back from China, I am even more aware of this: the days are long, but the years are short. So I’m making the most of the days as I listen to the silly stories, or watch her play with her sweet lab puppy. I’m enjoying that she still loves to go to the movies with me and help me with crafts and in the kitchen. She still likes to play crazy water games instead of soak in the sun by the side of the pool, and there are some days when she is little girl enough to forget to brush her teeth or make sure her clothes match. But it’s racing by, so I’m learning to live in the beautiful moments of today. So of course I’m taking her to the movies today (Kung Fu Panda 2) and letting her help make the whole wheat macaroni and cheese for dinner. And we’re both going to ignore the jet lag. It’s part of the adventure, right?

Stepping Into North Korea…Without Erin

Chances are, if you suffer from migraines, it would be no surprise that by the end of a very tiring three-week trip you would get one. Erin did. As we were walking to catch the bus for the DMZ tour, she saw a spot out of the corner of her eye. This means a migraine is coming on. She had left her migraine medicine back in the hotel room, so she and Kyle hurried back to get it while Colin, Alison and I headed on to the tour office. The bus was scheduled to leave at 8:50 a.m., and when we arrived it was 8:20. I talked to the tour guide to let her know that we might not be going, and she kindly informed me that the tour fee is non-refundable. We were going to pay either way, and it isn’t cheap. I called the hotel and rang the room. Kyle had decided to stay back with Erin. The moment before he picked up the phone, however, she told him that the spot had gone away and she thought she would be fine. So they hurried to the meeting place. After scurrying around to find each other, we boarded the bus about a minute before it was pulling out. That could be the end of the story of the migraine, but it isn’t. The migraine returned and Erin ending up sitting either on the bus or in the gift shop at the Joint Security Area while we visited Camp Bonifas and the DMZ. She missed stepping into North Korea and she threw up in the parking lot of the restaurant where the tour group ate before heading back to Seoul. I suppose every trip has its moments, and this was definitely one of them.

Heading into the DMZ was eerie. Erin waited at the Joint Security Area where it was safe with South Korean and American soldiers nearby. The moment we passed into the DMZ, everything seemed strangely still. There has been no development and no management of the area so it was a thick forest on either side as we drove toward the line that divides North and South Korea. There were three checkpoints (Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie), and when we stopped the bus to get out, we were given very strict and specific instructions: form two lines, do NOT take photos until given permission, do NOT wave or make any arm gestures. We were told earlier that if we were wearing a shirt with any American symbols on it – a flag, USA, eagle – we would have to put tape over it. Also, we were not allowed to wear faded jeans with holes in them or sleeveless shirts because if we looked “ragged” the North Koreans would photograph us and use it as propaganda to convince the people that those outside the country were poor and unable to take care of themselves. Also, we had to wear shoes with backs on them in case there was an emergency and we had to run. Really? Yes, really. As we waited inside the Reunion Building (it was built in 1998 to allow families to reunite after crossing the border from North Korea, but it has never been used because no one is allowed to cross the border), our guide told us that we would be unable to go into the MAC (Military Armistice Conference) Building. This building is shared by North and South Korea…sort of. If the North Koreans are in it, then they lock the door from the inside. A tour group never knows if it will be open and we were very disappointed that we would be unable to enter. This is where you actually get to step across the border into North Korea. When we came through the back of the Reunion Building, the door was open, and the guide was pleasantly surprised that we would get to go in.

The photo of the North Korean and South Korean soldiers standing perpendicular to one another (the North Korean soldier is in the heavy, drab green uniform) shows the MAC building on the left. Earlier, all the rules had sounded a little dramatic, but once I saw the North Korean soldiers coming around the corner, I didn’t question anything. The raised section of cement in front of the North Korean soldier is the dividing line. A table in the building is also the dividing line, and you can’t step too close to the South Korean soldier – which Kyle did so the guide had to reprimand him. I did snap a quick photo of he and Colin. Notice Colin sporting the same shades as the very serious and unsmiling soldier (and notice the soldier’s clenched fists, which is the way they all stood).

If you look carefully at the outdoor photograph, you can see a North Korean soldier standing at the top of the steps of the Panmungak building on the North Korean side watching us through binoculars. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being there and the tension that exists. American soldiers are also stationed here, and so there is an American flag in the MAC building. It is now a plastic flag because a North Korean soldier made a point of polishing his shoes with it once. We were given all this information and I’m still thinking it through. You can hear the sadness and anger in the voices of the South Koreans when they talk about North Korea. They want reunification, but they are deeply hurt by the North Koreans hatred of them. It’s very complicated. The other photos are taken from a vantage point where you can see North Korea across the Inchon River. We bought a bottle of North Korean brandy in the JSA store and will leave it unopened until reunification. I’m sorry to say I think it may be sitting unopened for a very long time…but I hope not. On the way back to Seoul, a North Korean defector answered questions. That’s a story for another post since this one is already far too long.

We came back to the hotel around 3 p.m., rested, then enjoyed an Italian dinner and shopping on our last evening before heading home. Erin was able to join us after sleeping off her migraine. What a strange day. I guess the next time I blog we will be back in Tulsa and I promise my posts will be shorter. I have many other photos to share and more stories about our trip. You can continue to read the blog if you’re not too tired of hearing about China. I will eventually transition to other subjects, but I’ll be thinking about this trip for quite a while.

Goodnight from East Asia. It’s been an incredible adventure. Life should be full of these.


This has been our first full day in Seoul. Kyle was here in January and couldn’t say enough good things about it, but I had never given visiting much thought. I had many other places on my travel wish list, and the opportunity to stop over for three days at the end of our China adventure seemed like nothing more than a relaxing way to end the trip. I had no idea we would all be so enamored with it.

We began the day visiting Eastern Social Welfare Agency, which is the agency Dillon works with to place babies from Korea. Dillon also supports the many other services that Eastern provides to children and families in Korea. We tagged along with an adult adoptee group that has returned to Korea to learn about their birth country. It is a group of five young adult adoptees from all over the country who were placed by Dillon when they were babies. It was so much fun to spend the day with them. We also had an opportunity to be with families who have traveled here to receive their babies. They had that dazed and blissful look on their faces that we had on ours nine and a half years ago. We spent some time with the director of Eastern, Dr. Kim, and then accompanied the adoptees to a tea-making ceremony and painting class. From there, we hurried back to the hotel to change into nicer clothes for a dinner with Dr. Kim. It was a traditional Korean restaurant where we sat on the floor and were served a seven-course meal (it may have been more than seven course, but I lost count). The food was amazing –kimchi, bean paste soup, root salad, pork, shrimp, cold noodles – to name only a few courses. It was unlike anything we had in China (or in the U.S.) We loved the food and didn’t even mind sitting on the floor!

Tomorrow we visit the DMZ. I’m hoping to have good photos, but there are only certain places and moments where photos are allowed. Should be interesting.

We’re tired, but enjoying memories of a wonderful day. Tomorrow is our last full day of this amazing trip. It’s hard to believe. It’s flown by, but it also feels like months since we have been home. There is so much to think about and process. I’m ready to get home, but also not quite ready to end the adventure. All good things must come to a close, however, so tomorrow will be our closing day. We’re going to squeeze everything out of it that we can.

Goodnight from Seoul.

Cooking in Yangshuo and an Unplanned Stop

I have a very good excuse for not blogging last night. First, I’ll chronicle yesterday. We started early with a cooking class at the Yangshuo Cooking school in Chaolong Village, which is on the outskirts of Yongshuo. The school, although owned by an Australian woman, is real Chinese cuisine. Surprisingly, this was one of Colin’s favorite activities of our trip. Who knew? Our menu was three dishes made from scratch: stir-fried water spinach with garlic, stir-fried pork with vegetables (red pepper, carrots, and onions), egg-wrapped dumplings, a favorite snack of the village children (we used duck eggs and pork for filling), and steamed chicken with mushrooms. The prep and stir-fry took about an hour – each of us had our own wok and cooking area – and then we each enjoyed our created dishes. Delicious! We were all quite impressed with ourselves. It was hot and I’d like to say we are getting used to the heat and humidity, but it’s the kind that takes your breath away. Of course, we were sipping hot tea the entire time we were cooking. Tea is the anytime, everywhere drink. I’ve uploaded photos from our cooking adventure, as well as a few from around the village.

After we finished our lunch, we climbed on the bus for a two-hour ride back to Guilin to catch our flight to Beijing. No surprises – the plane was delayed by about 40 minutes. We were still due to get in to Beijing about 8:45 p.m., which was late, but acceptable. Our flight to Seoul was scheduled to leave at noon the next day. All was going fine as our plane cruised toward Beijing, and then a flight attendant made an announcement in Chinese. Our first hint of trouble should have been the collective response of the Chinese: they began to talk excitedly, laugh, and rustle around in their seats. The English version came next. We were being diverted to Zhengzhou because of bad weather in Beijing. And that was it. We would land in about 20 minutes, and they said they hoped we had enjoyed our flight. We wondered whether we would get another flight out tonight to Beijing once the weather cleared, or maybe we would be spending the night in the Zhengzhou airport. Hopefully it was modern and comfortable. When we landed on a strip surrounded by rice paddy, a wee bit of panic set in. There were no city lights anywhere that we could see. This was not good. We immediately called our Beijing guide, Vivian, who was supposed to meet us at the airport, and she did confirm that there was bad weather in Beijing, but said that it was clearing. We sat on the tarmac for about two hours with Rebecca making several calls to Vivian and handing the phone to the flight attendant so Vivian could find out what was going on. All the planes had been diverted from Beijing, so we were waiting in line to take off from Zhengzhou. We were relieved not to be staying there. Later, Vivian informed us that the city is the capital of Henan province – a very “traditional” Chinese province (translated, poor and backward). “Probably good you didn’t go there,” Vivian said.

We got into Beijing about 1 a.m. and to our hotel a little before 3 a.m. But we made our flight to Seoul today and we are so very glad to be here. We’re finishing the trip with a little family time in a nice hotel suite, complete with a kitchen and washer/dryer. Such luxury! We have several activities planned here, including a trip to the DMZ (the border of North and South Korea) on Friday. Tomorrow we will visit Eastern Social Welfare Agency where we will meet up with a group of Korean adoptees and tour the agency. We’ll also attend a tea-making ceremony and painting class tomorrow. By the end of the trip we should be experts on tea and art!

Seoul is very westernized, and so we enjoyed pizza and scones tonight. I’m actually tired of rice, which is something I never imagined. Everyone is still doing well. Tired, but glad to be saying….

Goodnight from Seoul.

Down the River to Yangshou

It’s Monday afternoon, and we are at the Green Lotus Hotel in Yangshuo, Guilin. We took a cruise down the Li River this morning. I’ve attached a few photos, but it’s hard to capture the beauty on a digital image. It was a three-hour cruise, and Kyle and I stood on the deck most of the time taking it all in. Villagers and fishermen were dotted across the shore as we cruised by. My photos are taken from a distance, but they do give some perspective of the countryside that we saw along the way.

We arrived in Yangshuo around noon and walked through the markets, although it was hot and sticky (this seems to be a recurring theme), and then visited a local farmer’s house. Alison and the girls were able to start the process of making tofu (see photo of Alison). I’m not sure what this machine is called, but you place soy beans and water into one part of it and then crank it to produce the foamy white tofu “milk.” We toured the farmer’s house and small field behind. The flat screen television inside the house gave me pause, but then the family charges tourists to visit the home, which is entrepreneurial but it did make me feel a little voyeuristic. Of course, it didn’t help that I was snapping dozens of photos. I never did see the husband, and our tour guide informed us that he had never seen him and didn’t know if he was still living or had died. These are the kinds of questions that are not asked, so I didn’t. As Americans, I think we are used to getting very personal very quickly, but in China certain topics are considered too private to discuss with people you just met. I did see a grave marker at the top of the field, so it could be that she is a widow. She was so gracious, and the house was clean and well-organized, so she probably lives alone. Just kidding, men. On the way back, we saw women working in a rice paddy and we stopped to take more photos. I’m amazed how the women work in the heat and never look miserable. We’re walking around doing the tourist thing and sweating through our clothes. Very humbling.

After the farmer’s house, we then checked into this wonderful hotel with soft beds. We’ve been sleeping on traditional Chinese hard mattresses, but in this hotel, we can sink into the bed. Small luxuries. Our dinner was in the hotel restaurant, where they served us western Chinese food, which consisted of sweet and sour chicken, lo mein, beef with broccoli, etc. Unfortunately, the Chinese don’t do western Chinese food well. I was hoping for some pumpkin stem, local rice noodles, congee…not so much the pig’s feet, but we’ve gotten spoiled to the fresh and local fare.

Tomorrow morning we will attend Chinese cooking classes, then pack up to fly back to Beijing. That will end our “touring” part of this trip. We will then fly to Seoul on Wednesday, but no tour guides and no buses. Not that I’m complaining, but it will be a little slower-paced and give us a chance to catch our breath before heading home.

So, goodnight from Yangshou Town, Guangxi Province.

Back in Guangxi Province: Do You Have a Price for that Puppy in the Window?

Our travel schedule is crazy. We were in Guangxi province two days ago when we visited the town where Alison was born. Then we traveled to Guangdong province, and now we’ve come back down to Guangxi. This time we’re in Guilin. We’re feeling quite twilight zone-ish. All the kids are holding up well. We got up early this morning and headed for the airport, where of course our flight was delayed. No big deal. We’re used to it. Then we met our new guide (this is #4), Sam, at the airport. He drove us to lunch, then to the Reed Flute cave (see colorful photo), then to the local university for art lessons, then to Elephant Mountain, then to the hotel (a Sheraton!), then to dinner. Can you say…TIRED!? We don’t know if we’re coming or going. But I think we’re going. Tomorrow we check out of the hotel at 8:30 a.m. and take a cruise up the Li River, and we will visit the home of a local farmer, then check into a very humble resort. No frills, but it is supposed to be beautiful where we are going.

I wish I could write more eloquent and thoughtful posts, but by the time I sit down at my computer every evening, my brain is mush.

The photos above are of the Reed Flute Cave, the art lesson, the girls and Sam at Elephant Mountain. And the last photo was taken at the restaurant where we ate dinner. Yes, they do eat those. No, we did not have any at our meal.

Goodnight from Guilin

What Day Is It?

Okay, we’ve officially become the travelers who no longer know what day it is, and we’re having trouble remembering where we’re headed next. I do know that we’ve been in Guangzhou for two wonderful days. It’s been relaxing. We took the Pearl River Cruise last night, did Tai Chi this morning, shopped this afternoon, had a full body massage, and dinner without the kids. The shopping excursion to the Nike Factory Store was an adventure. We took Bob (the uncle of one of the girls), and headed out in a cab to an address written in Chinese by the concierge. Colin, Erin and I –  with Bob in tow –  got into the cab and were just a few miles down the road when the rain came. What does that mean in China? Well, first, you have to find a place nearby that sells umbrellas (the supermarket), then tried to locate the umbrellas which involves much dramatic gesturing, then find the cashier two floors up, then purchase the umbrellas and go back down three floors. After Bob has purchased a pair of shoes (an hour later), you then try to hail a cab…in the rain. People will cut in front of you to steal your cab, and some cab drivers will flat out refuse to take you. We managed to flag down a reluctant cab, but unfortunately the driver decided to take us the long way. What should have been a 15 yuan fare turned into a 33 yuan fare. I did my best to fuss at him for taking us a route that hiked up the cab fare, but there was a language barrier so I could have been saying almost anything as far as he was concerned. He stared at me with ambivalence. It was an adventure, we told each other, but we were drenched and cranky. The massage came at the exact right time. Unfortunately, Kyle’s masseuse got a phone call about 40 minutes into it and began to scream and cry and left the room. And that was it for him. We were so worried about her, but we never found out what horrible news she got. To say the least, it’s been an interesting day. I think it’s Saturday.

I’ve uploaded photos from the River Cruise, the Market, the park where we did Tai Chi, and our travel group in front of the medical clinic where we had the babies examined for travel to the U.S. 10 years ago.

Tomorrow, we fly to Guilin in the morning and will see the famous limestone mountains. We’ll be there two days. Don’t ask me what day we’ll leave for Beijing. Maybe Tuesday? I’ll keep you posted, I hope. Who knows what Internet access will be down south.

Goodnight from Guangzhou.

Photos from Guiping

We’re back in civilization and high-speed Internet. Thanks Juli for handling the posting while I was in no-man’s land.

The photos above are from Guiping. It was an amazing 24 hours and the pictures don’t do it justice, but here they are anyway. In order, they are:  Alison with the orphanage director, Alison at the finding location, and photos from the market. And yes, they sell puppies in the market. If you ask about it, your Chinese guide will tell you that they are being sold as pets. Right.

Tonight, we enjoyed a cruise down the Pearl River in Guangzhou. Tomorrow, we are doing Tai Chi in the park here in Guangzhou, then having a parent’s night out tomorrow evening with a Chinese medicine massage and dinner out. Very nice. Once again, it’s hot and humid and the air is a wee bit dirty (although your Chinese guide will tell you that it is mist), so we’re all ripe. Alison seems to be taking everything in, but taking nothing too seriously which is fine by me. She’s having fun with the other two girls and they’re making great memories. Someday, she will probably long to know everything about her birth city and we’ll have photos, videos and incredible stories to share with one another.

Goodnight from the city formerly known as Canton…now Guangzhou.

Back in Nanning

We’re back in Nanning after the most amazing day. We got up this morning and had a traditional Chinese breakfast (dim sum, steamed buns, rice noodles…the usual), and then met an orphanage worker in the hotel lobby. She led the way to the orphanage, where the director and assistant director met us at the entrance. Here is an interesting twist to the story: we weren’t sure who the director would be – whether it would be the man we met ten years ago, or someone new. As it turns out, the orphanage has a new director – a woman who used to be the accountant. For almost ten years I have thought that the woman who handed Alison to us was her nanny. She was teary that evening and so that was my assumption. But she was the accountant and is now the director. She remembered Alison, and remembered handing her to us. I have a photo that Kyle took of the three of us. Once again, photos will have to come later. The Internet here is glitchy (what’s new?).

She and the assistant director took us to a very nice conference room with a huge table and three platters filled with watermelon and other local fruits. They gave us Alison’s  file to look through. There was no new information, although they had recorded her birthday wrong. It was correct in the finding ad and in all the other paperwork. That caused a slight scare for a moment that perhaps we have been celebrating her birthday a month early all these years, but we haven’t. She was born November 11, and then brought to the orphanage on November 12. The note that was with her when she was found gives her birthdate also. She was found at the east end of Yujian Bridge, in front of the traffic police station. Someone knew where to leave her so that she would be found quickly. We took photos at the finding place, and everyone (except for Alison) got pretty choked up. She took it in stride, as if every child has a finding location.

After we left the Yujian Bridge, we drove to the original orphanage location, which is on a very rural back street in Guiping. Up and down the street we could see into the homes where large Mao portraits hung and families were seated around tables eating noodles for lunch. Then, we traveled from the old orphanage to a local market. The sights and smells were incredible, as they always are in the street markets. We saw the pig’s feet for sale spread across a table. If anyone had shown me those the day earlier and told me I would be having them for dinner, I would have denied the possibility. But our time here is full of surprises, and so I never say never.

We drove back to Nanning, and are enjoying a quiet evening ordering room service and swimming. We are staying in the Majestic Hotel, which is the hotel we stayed in when we adopted Alison. Everything looks familiar, and I am really missing our travel group. When we came into our room tonight after checking in, there was a crib beside the bed. They had assumed since we were an adoptive family, that meant we were receiving a baby. It gave me chills to walk in the room and see the crib. So many memories flooded across. I can remember where each family was on our floor. I remember Grace toddling down the hallway, the family meetings we had in front of the elevator, and the grand stairway in the lobby where we had a group photo made. I remember walking from the hotel to a shopping mall with Lisa and Allie, Dana working hard to find a way to get Callie to eat, Sadie wearing her white lace hat, Janice repeating Sarah’s name over and over so she would learn it, Jamie smiling at her new sister, Todd swinging Chloe up in the air, Colin trying to get Kaili to smile. We told the orphanage director that all the girls are happy and healthy, and that made her smile.

And as a last note about Guiping and Nanning. I think I have never been in hotter places in my life. I thought Tulsa had heat and humidity, but nothing compared to this. So, goodnight from the sweat factory – Guangxi Province.

Getting to Guiping – Her Hometown

Welcome to southern China. Our flight was delayed this morning because a group of domestic tourists were angry that their flight was cancelled so they protested by forming a blockade to the buses that were supposed to transport passengers to the plane. The most interesting thing about the tourist protest was that they ordered food from a cart and were sitting down and enjoying a meal while they held the buses hostage. Only in China.

We finally flew out of Xi’an 40 minutes late. We arrived in Nanning – the capital city of Guangxi province and met our guide, Cindy, before loading on a bus for the four-hour drive to Guiping. The bus lost tread on a tire about an hour into the trip, so we spent another half hour waiting at a truck stop for the tire to be repaired. We did buy some local snacks in the truck stop. Not exactly Love’s, but interesting.

Guiping has very little hint of Western culture. We feel as though we are tucked into China and experiencing the real thing. We shopped at a local supermarket this evening and stocked up on items for Alison’s orphanage, which we’ll visit tomorrow. We bought diapers, play-dough (this was a new concept for our guide), soccer balls, clothing, legos, and some super-sized matchbox cars. The orphanage director will come pick us up at 9:45 in the morning, and we will visit the Guiping Social Welfare Institute, Alison’s finding location, and then have lunch with the director and other “notables” from the orphanage. It’s a very formal lunch and protocol is important, so we’ll all be on our best behavior.

I wanted to post a photo of  Alison eating pig’s feet, but for some reason uploading photos on the blog seems to be almost impossible from China. Maybe better luck tomorrow night. Actually, she only nibbled an edge of a pig’s foot, but she posed well for the camera. The pig’s feet were delicious (really!), and our traditional Chinese meal in Guiping also included cooked pumpkin stalks, a corn drink, egg dumplings, rice, noodles, chicken, beef, and peanuts! We’ve decided we do love the local food.

We’re all looking forward to visiting the orphanage and seeing more of the city tomorrow. Here’s some perspective: Guiping is a very small “village” in China – only 500,000 people!

So…goodnight from the village of Guiping.

To Guiping

We’ve been running for three days – up early and not back to the hotel room until late evening. We’ve seen amazing things (Terra Cotta Warriors, City Wall in Xi’an, Summer Palace in Beijing, Acrobatic Show, Panda Exhibit in Beijing) and I have loads of photos. But I’m sitting in the hotel lobby in Xi’an and it’s 6 a.m. and I’m using my IPad to catch the Wifi and write a quick post. So no photos yet. We are catching a plane to Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi and then taking a four-hour bus ride to Alison’s birth city of Guiping. This is where we see the real China.

Our social worker who was with us when we received Alison is with us on this trip. I’m so glad she is here. We’ll visit the orphanage and have a very formal lunch with the orphanage director and others. We’ll toast Alison, and exchange gifts, and then we will visit Alison’s finding place – a bridge at the edge of the city. I think she is ready. I guess I am. I am hoping to post her referral photo, a photo of her from this year, and a note that says this little baby is happy and growing up with a family in the United States where she is being taken care of and loved. So much to think about today.

I hope there is access to WiFi when we are in Guiping. We’re not sure what it will be like there. The adventure continues!


Dragon Boat Festival continues today. It’s a three-day festival that began on Saturday, and almost everyone is on holiday, which means we said goodbye to our personal space (not the last time we will do this in China)
when we visited the Forbidden City today . The palace was built in 1406 and was the home to several Chinese emperors over the course of several dynasties – the Ming to the Qing. It is beautiful, enormous and has a fascinating history – like China.

In the afternoon we took a risk-shaw tour through the old section of Beijing and visited a local family’s traditional home – with a center courtyard and living spaces and kitchen on the outer edges.The day was filled with activity, but one image stands out: Alison, Jasmine, and Sariah walking arm in arm down the streets of Beijing. For the first time that she can remember, Alison is surrounded by people and new friends who look like her. It’s beautiful to see her in the culture where she was born and I am so happy that she has returned to experience it. But when I look at her I only see Alison, despite the Chinese features. When I took a photo of her with our guide, Vivian, I had a momentary realization that there is a Chinese woman out there somewhere who has no idea that her daughter will be returning to her hometown in the next few days. Perhaps we will even pass this woman on the streets of Guiping. Alison has a family here in China. It is a sobering realization, but I wonder if she will feel it as deeply as I do. For now, she is simply happy to have new friends and be the center of attention for three weeks.

We check out of our hotel tomorrow morning and board the night train at around 9 p.m. I won’t be able to post until we are in Xi’an in two days. Until then, goodnight from Beijing.

Climbing the Wall: We Are Heroes Now

Today, we became heroes – at least according to Chairman Mao. “You are not a hero until you climb The Great Wall.” So we did. We took the left side of the wall at Badaling this time. In 2001 we took the right side. Guess what? The left side is shorter, but steeper, so we are considering ourselves superheroes.

Alison has been anticipating her Great Wall climb for years and she discovered today that, yes, you actually CLIMB up – and then back down. The incline in certain areas on the way up was so steep that we could almost touch the ground with our arms. We made it up, along with Bob, our new friend who is 65 years old and is the real superhero. He didn’t have to make the climb. The rest of his family didn’t do it. But he was determined. After congratulating ourselves, we snapped a few photos and headed back down. About halfway to the bottom, one set of stairs reminded me of a recurring nightmare where I am forced to navigate down straight down an impossibly steep staircase that has emerged from nowhere. In my dream, I always chicken out and mercifully wake up. At The Great Wall, I climbed down that impossibly steep staircase and felt victorious.

Badaling was the first section of The Great Wall opened to the public, and so it has remained one of the most popular tourist attractions. It was crowded with all ages, dressed in every form of footwear – high heels to high-top Nikes. It was hot, but not humid – a perfect day for climbing. Alison made it to the top after so many years of hearing about it. I think she felt she had missed out on the best parts of China in 2001. We are changing that on this trip.

I’m still trying to find the Facebook workaround. Hopefully I can circumvent whatever Chinese block there is. If I’m successful, I’ll really be a superhero.

Until tomorrow, goodnight from Beijing.

Everything is for the Children

Technology frustrations abound! An aside from the wonderful day we have had: China has blocked facebook and twitter, and the free WiFi in the lobby is a bit sketchy. If my writing seems choppy and full of typos, grammatical errors, or nonsensical sentences, blame it on the stress of trying to compose before the ten-minute mark is up (it kicks me off or slows waaaay down about every ten minutes). I need to learn more patience, so I’ll consider this another life lesson in…waiting.

I’ve always wanted to spend a wedding anniversary in an exotic location. So here we are, celebrating 22 years tonight in Beijing, China. It was a perfect day to remember our wedding. How could we have imagined when we were standing before family and friends what kinds of interesting roads we would walk down in two decades of marriage? It’s been quite a journey so far, and one of those roads has brought us to China with our three children.

We started our day at the CCCWA (China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption). This is the centralized adoption placing authority for the People’s Republic of China, and more importantly for our purposes, the people who matched Alison with our family. Someone sat in an office and looked at her photo and information, and decided that she would be paired with our dossier. She became our daughter through that mysterious red thread that binds together child and family in one moment, yet exists as a connection that has always been there. Alison was always destined to be our daughter, yet the CCCWA was the instrument that was used to complete this bond. Finally, we were able to see the offices were matches are made, and as the photo above shows, that matching process involves LOTS of paperwork. The files above are dossiers. Dillon files are always blue, so you can see a few Dillon family dossiers in the pile.

Bridges of Love Adoption Service hosts the families that come over to adopt children, and their offices are located in the CCCWA building. They were gracious hosts to us today, and arranged for the girls to do calligraphy lessons while they were visiting CCCWA/Bridges of Love. Parents were invited to participate and I quickly determined that I am pathetically challenged in the brush stroke/Chinese calligraphy department. Alison, as it turns out, is pretty good at it. The girls also received panda bears and t-shirts from Bridges of Love.

We went from there to a tea ceremony, then to paint Opera Masks at the Beijing Art Heritage Museum, then to a hot pot dinner and our anniversary celebration. Kyle surprised me with a cake, and the restaurant gave us a few small gifts and made a party out of it. I’m running out of WiFi minutes so I need to close. I’ve left out a thousand amazing details about this day, but the memories of it will stay with me (I filled up my camera card with photos and videos to make sure of it).

Please pass the word along about the blog. You can subscribe to receive the RSS feed above. I’m locked out of facebook here in China, so I can’t post links to the blog, but assuming that the WiFi holds out, I’ll keep posting on the blog.

Goodnight from Beijing!

We’re Back in Beijing!

We made it to Beijing a mere 27 hours after we left home in Tulsa. I was doing fine until I looked out the plane window and saw the smog and the city beneath it. All I could think about was how much our lives have changed since the day we flew Alison out of Beijing and home to Tulsa. I had to rustle through my backpack to find tissues and I sniffed and wiped away tears as the city came into view. I’m sure the Chinese man sitting next to me wondered why I was so sad to be landing in Beijing. Not sad; just incredibly happy and blessed to be able to return with our daughter. She is excited to be here and seems unfazed by the fact that the Chinese speak to her in Mandarin, even though she is traveling with four very Caucasian people.

We’re exhausted, but have been trekking around the city all afternoon trying to stay awake. Alison will be measured by a tailor at 6 p.m. tonight for a traditional Chinese dress. She will get to choose the fabric, and it will be fitted to her perfectly. It’s a gift from Dillon (our adoption agency), and Alison couldn’t be more excited. She’s all about dressing up, so having a dress made just for her is a perfect beginning to the trip. It will take about three days to make, and will be ready for us when we leave on Monday evening to take the overnight train to Xi’an.

I always wanted to spend my wedding anniversary somewhere exotic. Tomorrow Kyle and I will celebrate 22 years of marriage here in Beijing with our three children. I can’t imagine anything better.

Alison’s Birth Country: We’re Almost There

Colin, Erin, and Lisa – November, 2001

I am writing this on the plane, over the ocean headed to Seoul Korea, and then on to Beijing. I have slept for the past six hours in various positions: head resting on the tray table, curled in a fetal position, stretched out with a neck pillow and head bobbing forward. Colin hasn’t moved for the past few hours. Erin is up now, watching Modern Family on her laptop. Kyle is sitting straight up sleeping, and Alison is rolled in a ball beside me looking completely uncomfortable but she is also completely asleep. Her legs will probably be numb when she wakes up.

I remember a flight very different from this almost ten years ago. Instead of college-aged kids, we had elementary school-aged children. Colin and Erin were nine and ten years old. They were traveling with us because we wanted to meet Alison and receive her into our family together. Kyle and I traveling to China to adopt her without her siblings just didn’t seem right. We flew China Air on a “double-decker” plane with very few passengers. The kids were able to stretch out on the floor after we gave them a dose of Benadryl. That seems odd now. I suppose we were concerned that they wouldn’t sleep. Of course they would have slept. Kids sleep when they are tired. At age 45, I know this now. At age 35, I guess I wasn’t so sure. On that China Air flight, we experienced the aroma of cigarette smoke on landing and take-off. The pilots never smoked during flight – perhaps the more challenging aspects of piloting a plane necessitated a calming cigarette. I remember little about the flight. In fact, I remember only highlighted moments of that trip – and even some of the photos leave me wondering where they were taken and what we were doing. I didn’t journal because I was too preoccupied with receiving our baby and getting to know her. It would have been a wonderful time, however, to record those thoughts, experiences, places, and people that we encountered on the trip.

I am realizing that life passes quickly, and moments are easily forgotten. I always vow to do better and take more photos and write down what will later become memories. But I’m lazy. So here I begin a journal on our first moments of the trip. Unlike 10 years ago, I have more technical methods of writing. In addition to a pen and journal, I have an IPad. At night, this is my preferred way of reflecting on the day. My dear friend Jan gave me a beautiful journal. In fact, she gave one to everyone in the family and  I will use mine when we’re out and about during the day, something I did not do ten years ago. I was carrying a baby and completely overwhelmed by the complicated, beautiful, and fascinating place where our daughter was born.

We took Alison out of her birth country at dusk on a Wednesday evening in November, 2001. We will return to China with her on a Wednesday morning in June, 2011 – in about five hours. The significance of this is not small. She is now ten years old, becoming a young lady, and fully and completely westernized. Most importantly, she is a part of our family. She is a Tresch.

So the five of us return together for Alison, but also for us. We need to come back to remember those fourteen days when we our family became complete. We need the realization of how time has passed, how we have grown – together and separately. We need to reminder that when life gets confusing and begins to swirl around us, we have a family that has been put together by God. He has given us a treasured blessing in one another. It’s easy to forget, but this time, we return to China to remember.