A bit about the Himsel Zoo Crew

We have been blessed to have four wonderful children that we affectionately call the "Zoo Crew". Our house if filled with alot of noise, moving parts, love and laughter. But it always felt like we were still missing someone at the table. Deb follows along with a number of advocacy sites for waiting children from China, but it wasn't until the fall of 2015 that we found our son. We were drawn to a photo of an adorable boy soon to "age out" of his orphanage in China. Deb knew almost immediately he was meant to be ours. Even though Chris took a little longer, it wasn't too long before we started down that adoption journey again. This has led us down another whirlwind paper chase to bring home our boy. We are so close to making the trip to China, and can't wait to make Matthew the newest Zoo Crew member.

Monday, June 6, 2016

And the countdown continues

So our biggest hurdle to cross at this point is our Consulate appt on Monday. This is critical to getting Matthew's visa to enter the US. Once that plane lands in Chicago, our boy will be a US citizen, but we have to get that visa, and a visa requires a passport, of which we still didn't have on Sunday morning.

Our plans for Sunday involved a visit to the Chen family Academy and then a trip to the toy market. I asked our guide before we left if she had received our passport but she had not yet. She said she knew it was on its way and hopefully it would be here in the afternoon when we returned from our sightseeing/shopping adventure. Given we are not used to Sunday fedex deliveries this made us very nervous, but our guide wasn't. This is one of those "we just need to trust" moments.

We had visited the Chen Academy before and we're looking forward to it. Unfortunately we didn't have very long there - long enough for us to purchase some of the hand crafted items they do there - we wanted to purchase some things for Matthew, that we had gotten the other kiddos when we were there - a calligraphy set, and a stamp with his Chinese and new name. We would have loved longer so we would walk through and enjoy the beautiful wood carving details and cultural educational information they have. But we only had a short stay. (I'll post a few photos later after I upload them from my camera)

On to the toy market which Chris and I were dreading. What could be worse than having two teenage-ish boys in a market of only toys? But we were pleasantly surprised - the boys contained themselves and there were other things, not just toys. And we got some killer deals on Lego sets. Now we just have to figure out how to get them home. Sshh, don't tell the little guys, it's their Christmas presents. Matthew was given about $50 from the orphanage and we told him he could use his money to buy something special to take home with him. He bought a beautiful small crystal stamp from the Chan Academy and had his full Chinese name engraved on it. And he wanted a watch. He had been begging for a watch, and when we hit that toy market he was on a mission. He drug Chris thru a maze of shops until he found the one. So our boy now has his watch and he's very happy.

As we were loading the bus to return to the hotel, Kelly our guide said she just got a text that a package was delivered for her at our hotel. She wasn't sure, but felt pretty good that it was Matthew's passport and notarized documents. We couldn't get to that hotel quick enough for me, but rest assured it was what we had been waiting for. And just in time, as we had to meet Kelly to prepare our consulate documents for tomorrow. When finished we decided to try an Irish pub called Paddy Fields that I had heard about on some of the travel blogs. This family wanted something close to American, something that didn't have remnants of unidentified animal parts. It was a great decision. Real hamburgers, a decent Reuben sandwich, hot wings, and a good Irish stout. We were content, and Matthew enjoyed his hamburger. Maybe he won't miss those chicken feet too much. We did put in a Skype call to wish our William a happy sixth birthday. MawMaw is doing her magic to make sure he has a good day and Aunt Nay is there as a special treat. Hard to be away from him on his big day but we'll celebrate both the boys' birthday when we are home. We also got in a little swimming before calling it a night - big day tomorrow.

Beautiful waterfall at our hotel

and all the koi

Sunday morning was an early start - early breakfast and meeting the three other families going with us to the Consulate. First we had to stop by the medical building to pick up the boys medical forms. Then off to the consulate. This is a new building from where we went in 2012 and it was quite nice. Not cramped and hot like the other one. It was spacious, with air and good bathrooms and after taking our group oath, we just waited our turn. It was pretty painless - Matthew turned 14 on Saturday so he was able to do his own fingerprinting. He was asked three questions:

1. Did he remember his birth parents? (No)
2. Did he know who we were? (Yes, his mama and baba)
3. Did he want to go to the US? (A firm YES)

And we were done. All paperwork was in order and tomorrow we can pick up his Visa and start our journey home. We leave late tomorrow for Hong Kong for a couple of days and then fly to Chicago on Friday. Whoo Hoo - we are ready to reunite the ZooCrew.

But we have one more shopping/sightseeing we get to do today. We headed to Shamian Island for the afternoon. This was so reminiscent of our trip in 2012 because we stayed on the island on that trip. Lynné, you will pleased to know that Lucy's is still there. Many of the shops were different but we found one store that was very familiar, Although it was in a different location. Chris remembered the owner and asked is she had been located across the street 4 yrs ago. She was surprised and delighted to tell us yes. Chris told her we had bought luggage and strollers from her in 2012 and she was so pleased he remembered her, that she gave him a few free gifts and of course, the "good deal" prices. The day was fun and nostalgic to be back on the island, but I have to admit - I liked the weather in February a lot more than today's weather. We had a successful day - a stop at Lucy's, lots of souvenir purchases, lots of photos, and Starbucks.

a dragon ceremony to celebrate the opening of a school.

The traditional Shamian Island photo

On the bus home we had been talking to a couple of other families about our Irish pub experience. They were excited about it so we all planned to have dinner together. We very much enjoyed our time with Judy & Kelly and their two sweet girls, and Niki and Cactus and their adorable little boy. A great evening. Tomorrow we'll have to do some creative packing to get all of our treasures ready for the trip to Hong Kong and eventually home. But tonight I'll rest easy knowing all the paperwork is done plus we had some adult conversation to end this trip.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Another first for Matthew

These past two days we've been able to take a breather without being on the crazy train. We started our day off Friday with a shopping trip with other families from our agency, primarily to go the pearl market. It brought back memories as it was the same place we shopped 4 yrs years ago. We saw some beautiful fresh water pearls, and also shopped for jade and embroidered items. As we left the Pearl market, Kelly wanted to walk us through the local wholesale market. We remembered that from 2012 too - lots of turtles, birds, cats, and dogs along with herbs, dried sea horses, live scorpions and a whole lot of things we had no idea what they were. Sometimes you had wonder - pet or dinner? Definitely got a feel for the culture. We headed back to the hotel with lots of bags, and soaking wet from the heat. Kelly was taking a family for an orphanage visit that afternoon so we had time for ourselves.

Breakfast buddies

Pretty interesting what you can buy from street vendors

And that gave us time for Matthew to have another "first". While we were walking through the market we found a place to buy swimsuits and goggles. Matthew's eyes lit up when he saw the goggles, so we decided to go ahead and buy him a suit and see if we could get him in the pool. Well that didn't take too much persuasion. He was definitely afraid that it was over his head, but once I assured him I wouldn't let him drown and that he could touch if he stayed down at the shallow end, he started venturing himself. Before long he was putting his head under water, chasing Andrew (mostly hanging onto the edge of the pool, but he was getting braver), and competing with Andrew to see who could hold their breath under water the longest. Most of the time Matthew won that one. He certainly conquered his fear of the pool - I couldn't get him out. What started as an hour or so in the pool drug out to nearly 3 hrs. The boys were having a blast playing and every time I tried to get them to come out, one of them would jump back in for "just another couple minutes".

Finally we were able to get out once I promised they could go again tomorrow. Our boy who was afraid of swimming, certainly grew fins on Friday. It made for a late dinner for us, but so worth the joy of seeing him enjoying the pool and watching him and Andrew play together. We decided to try the Italian restaurant for dinner which was pretty good, but as we were heading back to the hotel, it started to rain. And within seconds, it was a major monsoon storm. We found shelter under the eves of one of the store fronts and we're hoping to wait it out. But it refused to quit and we knew we were just going to get drenched. Along came a girl with a backpack filled with umbrellas to sell - boy, talk about using the situation to her advantage. It was genius. I think everyone of us under the eves bought an umbrella from her - and I bought two. Even with the umbrellas, we still got our shoes drenched walking the 5 minutes from the restaurant to the hotel - it was a rain like I've never experience before. And wet shoes do not dry out in Guangzhou. Let's be honest - nothing wet dries out in Guangzhou. We washed out a few clothes 2 days ago and they are still wet and will probably never dry out. Ick!

Saturday was a free day for us, and we took advantage of it. We went to the local market for some snacks and drinks, and came back just before the thunderstorms started. That gave us time to play some Uno and Tensie (a dice game). And Mama won again! Matthew seems to enjoy playing games, but definitely wants his time on QQ. That may be a hard habit to reel in when we get home, but for now I'm letting him have some time in the evenings. Once the weather broke, I couldn't keep my boys from that pool. Matthew was begging to go swimming again, so I'm certain his fear of swimming is long gone. We'll have to get him in swimming lessons when we get home before he forgets how much fun he's had.

Tomorrow we'll get to do some sightseeing and shopping. And fingers crossed that Matthew's passport shows up. It's not here yet and that's got me nervous.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A quick trip to Guilin

So this morning we had a pretty good breakfast before meeting our guide to take Matthew for his medical exam and immunization. Our guide, Kelly, was busy with other families so she had her sister Lily take us. Lily's English is not as strong as Kelly's but we quickly learned she was a force to be reckoned with. 

Before we headed to the clinic, Lily had Kelly on the phone sharing the newest development. Kelly shared that she was just notified that Matthew had to return to his home city to apply for his passport. That we needed to catch a 1:00 bullet train to Guilin for a 3 hr train ride in order to get his passport applied for and processed for our consulate appointment on Monday. What???

A ton of questions came flying out. What about his medical? Why do we have to do this? Why didn't we know this before we left his province? How much extra is this going to cost us? (Since we had already bought two sets of plane tickets I was not looking forward to adding round trip bullet train tickets). Do we all need to go?

The first question was easy - yes, we'll still do his exam but we are going to try to expedite it. Why not, every thing else in this process has had to be expedited, why does this not surprise me. This is where Lily's fierceness came out. After arriving at the medical clinic she kicked it into high gear. There are a number of "stations" you visit in order to complete the exam and she raced us through them all. She was like a little tornado racing from exam room to exam room determining which ones we needed to do when. She cut in when doctors were talking to ask that they see us now, because we had to catch that train. She convinced other families to let us go first, and at the end, she was one persuasive force. Matthew had to have three immunization shots as part of his exam. The clinic insists you stay for 30 minutes after the shots before they let you leave. We didn't have 30 minutes so she told them all to sit and for me to go with her to convince the doctor we needed to leave now. We went flying into a room where she spoke to the doctor and asked him to sign our release (at least that's what I thought she was asking for). He said no very clearly. She responded with a firm "yes" as she pointed on the form where he needed to sign. He again shook his head no. Lily was taking none of that. She was relentless and after a few more exchanges he signed off and we were on our way. We were in such a dash, we didn't have any time to take any photos. 

Kelly met us in the lobby and explained more of what happened. I had used Red Thread to send a photo album to Matthew after we had received our LOA. I had asked Ann to rush it since at that time there was still a slim possibility we might have a May 23 gotcha day. Apparently when it was delivered to Matthew, Ann told them our gotcha day was May 23. The orphanage hadn't been told that so they panicked (instead of verifying it) and started his passport paperwork, not knowing that it was only good for 10 days. So Matthew's thumb prints expired before they issued his passport, and he needed to return to Guilin to reapply and do his thumb prints. 

We decided that only Chris and Matthew would go, and Andrew and I would stay back. There was limited seats available on the train and Kelly had no idea if they would even be able to get tickets. So off they dashed to the train station and we returned to the hotel.  Chris described what Kelly did next as being the "tiger woman". They got to the station with only about 20 minutes to spare, and there was a long line to buy the tickets. Kelly told us later she tried to buy them online but it wouldn't let her so she had to get them there. She kept trying to talk to those in line asking to let Chris cut in front of them. Finally she  found someone who agreed to take Chris' passport up to the window and buy their tickets for them. There were only "standing room" tickets as the seats were all sold, but they were getting on that train. and apparently there was only one ticket left.  Again, Kelly turned on her tiger fierceness and convinced them to sell her 2 tickets. I am certainly glad to have both Kelly and Lily working on our side during this, but almost feel sorry for those that were on the receiving end. They both are determined individuals who know how to make things happen, and we are thankful for all that they did for us.

Kelly told Chris that they had a guide hired to pick him up at the Guilin station and take them to the passport office where the orphanage director would be there with all the paperwork ready except for Matthew's thumb print. So they went through security with only minutes to spare before the train left, and took their spot in the area between two cars (standing room). And Chris said there was no air conditioning there, so it was a bit miserable. Luckily, after the first stop there were some seats that opened up and the train personnel came and took Chris and Matthew to the open seats for the rest of the trip. 

scenery coming into Guilin  

More of the countryside in Guillin

Arriving in Guilin, Chris said as they got off the train, Matthew grabbed his hand and said very loudly, "Baba, let's go". Chris said it was like Matthew wanted everyone there to know he had his dad with him. They rushed to get to the passport office and did meet up with the orphanage director and Matthew's caretaker Mr Wu. Matthew was excited to see Mr. Wu again and started talking his ear off. Best Chris could tell, he was telling him all about us and that he liked his new family. Paperwork finished, they had some time before the return train time, so the orphanage folks drive them around the city alittle, showed Chris where the orphanage was located, and then took them out to dinner. It was a great dinner and a great time for Chris to learn more about Matthew's orphanage. And for them to learn more about us. Mr. Wu, who has worked at the orphanage for 16 years, has been with Matthew for the nearly 14 yrs he's been there. So he is very attached to him and seemed to be interested in learning more about his new family. And also seemed pleased to know that Chris' brother is a little person too, along with his sister-in-law and our niece. He is very happy for Matthew but it is hard to see him leave. He hopes he will stay in touch and send photos and updates to them.

Matthew & Mr. Wu

Chris, Matthew and the orphanage director

So it was another 3 hr bullet train ride back to Guangzhou. A very long day for my guys, but what a blessing for us to have the many pictures Chris was able to take of Matthew and his orphanage director and caretaker. And Chris was able to experience a little bit of Matthew's city.  Although a very intense day, it ended up having a lot of good come from it. Now we're hoping that's the end of our last minute changes and unknowns. We'd like for the rest of this trip to be uneventful and go as planned please, starting with us receiving Matthew's passport before we have to leave for the consulate appointment on Monday. Fingers crossed. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Guangzhou bound

When we arrived in Beijing we found out that our consulate appointment was a day earlier than all of our plans were made around.  As I said earlier, with this being expedited, we had to do things a bit out of order.  Our agency however went ahead and purchased our plane tickets assuming our appointment would be 6/7 or later.  Well, we got our appointment set for 6/6, which means in order for Matthew to get his medical exam and his TB testing done before the appointment we have to leave for Guangzhou today.  This also meant we had to buy another set of airline tickets for the flight - no change fees, no exchanges, just purchasing another full set of tickets.  I was not happy to say the least, but it is what it is.

Because our stay in Nanning is shortened, we don't have the opportunity to visit Matthew's city, Guilin, and we don't have time to do any sightseeing in Nanning. Given the heat index here, I'm pretty sure we are all thankful that we aren't out touring the parks or hiking through some nature preserve. But we did worry we weren't getting a good feel for Matthew's province.  So we did a little googling to see what our options were and asked Glen if we could visit the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities, since our flight wasn't until late tonight. He thought it was a good idea - a great way to learn about the province, and we would have plenty of time.  So that's what we did. And given the air conditioner in our hotel room was not working, we thought the museum might be cooler than just staying at the hotel.

on the way to the museum we passed by the stadium that Matthew competed in last week.

At the museum we learned that there are a lot of similarities between Matthew's province, Guangxi, and the other kiddos' province, Guizhou. Both have a lot of minorities represented, and the museum showed quite a bit of the cultural differences between the groups. It was fascinating to see the different clothing and traditions.  We saw a unique style of embroidery that is reflective of the province. It helped us to better understand one of the gifts we received from the orphanage - an embroidered satchel. Glen was filled with information and was thoughtful to highlight things that were specific to Guilin., Matthew's city.  We learned...

  • Guilin is a popular tourist location for those living in China, as it is known for its scenery (and being higher in the mountains it is much cooler there)
  • Guilin is known for some of the clearest water in their rivers, and taking a river cruise to experience it is a familiar vacation outing
  • there is a famous painting depicting the reflection of the mountains in the river. It's even on the back of the 20 RMB bill
  • Guangxi province is known for the brass drum. We saw the largest one in the world at the museum.
  • we learned of a unique fishing technique used by some of the minority groups. They quietly float on a bamboo raft, accompanied by trained cormorant, a type of water bird, that they tie a cloth around its neck to restrict it from swallowing the bigger fish. They float out and let the bird catch the fish, then bring back the cormorant and have it spit up the large fish.  Apparently it's a dying art in China, but very intriguing.  I'm going to read up on this one.
  • we saw beautiful Xiuqiu which are embroidered silk balls, which are a symbol of love and happiness, and learned of the tradition of using the ball during a couples courting. The girl decorates the ball with symbols for each of the 12 months, and adds trinkets and decorations that represent her interests.  She will throw a Xiuqiu to a young man she admires to let him know that he is welcome to pursue her. 
entrance to the museum

my boys in front of the largest brass drum

A display of those beautiful silk balls.  I need to see if we have a better photo of them

details on the top of a drum. We learned that the Zhuang minority honors the frog.

We are so glad we took this time to learn about Guangxi. We now have a better appreciation of where Matthew is from, and a desire to come back and visit Guilin in the future.

After our time at the museum, Glen took us to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. All through the day he has taken time to talk with Matthew, answer his questions, help him to ask us questions, and in general being very kind and attentive to him. I think Glen developed a soft spot for our boy.  The lunch was some of the best we've had - like Guizhou, Guangxi is known for its spicy foods.  Glen and our driver joined us, and Glen used the time to answer Matthew's questions. He had questions about flying, his school, how many computers we have, and a bunch more. Glen did share with us that Matthew asked if he could sit next to mama on the plane and maybe I could hold his hand if he is afraid. Didn't take me long to say "you bet".

After going back to the hotel to pack up and wait for our time to leave for the airport, we started our journey to Guangzhou. We had to leave for the airport earlier than usual because we needed to avoid the 5-5:30 traffic mess leaving the city. That means we get to spend a lot more time at the airport. Glen helped us navigate ticketing, and he spent a bit of time talking to Matthew before he was ready to leave. Then we were on our own to wait it out. I'm not sure I've been in any hotter place than the Nanning airport - they have large glass windows letting the sun beat down on you at the gate, the humidity is almost unbearable, and the air so thick it hurts to breath.  Chris of course made us all feel better when he checked Guangzhou's weather and shared that it was even hotter there.  Fingers crossed our hotel room's air is working.

Glen and Matthew

As we boarded and got in our seats, I was reminded of the little things we "just know" because we fly so often, that were unknowns for Matthew.  I watched as he was intrigued with the overhead lighting and fans.  The tray table was next. Having to tell him about how his ears might feel as we took off and landed, reminding him that he can't put down the tray table until we are in the air, watching him as he wanted to look out the window on take off but was a bit worried about being afraid of heights.  Everything was new to him, but he handled it like a champ. Of course, he couldn't wait until he could have have my iPad to play with.  It was a short trip, and before long we were on our decent.  Matthew's ears definitely bothered him this time, but he was more worried about being hungry. He told me a number of times how hungry he was, and not for those crackers and tea the plane tried to feed us - he wanted real food.  And after claiming our baggage and meeting our guide, he told her he was hungry too.  I'm pretty sure he thought i wasn't understanding him so he would try someone who spoke his language. But he got the same answer - we'll get food at the hotel.  

The hotel is great but we really only cared about two things - did the air work and could we still get room service?  The answer to both is a big YES! The cool air never felt so good as it did in that room. 

While waiting for our food to arrive I let Matthew have some QQ time. He was very excited to show me a bunch of photos of him that someone at the orphanage sent him.  Each one he got, he would shout out 'Mama' and run to show me.  We save the, all to the phone, as those are precious memories for him that I want to make sure we don't lose.  This boy's life is changing so fast for him, that having the comfort of his past will hopefully help him with what is to come.  

Tomorrow we tackle the medical exam and TB test. I think I'll wait until breakfast to tell him he's probably going to have to get some shots.  Why spoil an otherwise awesome day with that news.