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.