Thursday, February 28, 2013

This Morning's Walk

A good friend here in Suzhou talks a lot about how friends and family "back home" in the US want to know what day-to-day life is like for her family in China.  Feeling inspired by that, I took several pictures of my walk from where I put EBean on the bus in the morning to the Xing Hai Subway station a few blocks from our apartment.  

There are so many sights and sounds that could be found in any city in the world...taxis, commuters, Starbucks, construction, and yet it all has a China twist to it.

Here is what I encountered on my way to the subway today...


More construction

Street cleaners, gardeners and maintenance workers are everywhere.  They are easy to spot in their uniforms and the workers are given the same section of town to work - every day.

Lots of e-bikes (electric bikes) and I love to watch friends chatting with each other at the light, like these two, or even better, as they are driving down the e-bike lane.

Morning commuters.

In case I didn't think there was enough, more construction.

Another morning commuter on the free green bicycles that can be found around town.  You pay a deposit for a card and choose a bike at a "pick-up" station and drive to another station to return the bike.

Suzhou was/is known as the Venice of the East because of all the waterways and canals in town.  This one is filling with sludge partly because of the construction.

If you turn 180 degrees from the view of the canal (above), you'll find this...a portable building where the rest of the canal used to be.  These temporary red-roofed buildings are where the construction workers live.  The buildings are pretty common in this part of China.

Construction materials, with our apartment compound off in the distance to the right.

Hungry and need some "fast food"?  This woman can help you.  She has her portable food stand and can cook up something hot and very fast for you to eat on your way to work.

She's pouring out a very thin batter, almost like a crepe or pancake and the customer can choose the fillings.

Some car decorations, perhaps to bring good luck & fortune or to celebrate a wedding?

Thirsty anyone?  Please note that the gentleman is loading his e-bike with the water jugs.

What is that in the distance?  A mirage, nope, just one of the three Starbucks within a 4-block radius of our apartment.  I don't drink coffee and I could have cared less about Starbucks before moving overseas.  But since I arrived, I have been enjoying mochas sand I find it very ironic that when we move return to the US that it will be Starbucks that pleasantly reminds me of China.

Just in case you need more than a coffee, there is a Subway across the street.

This path did not exist when we moved because the city was building its first subway line directly underneath.  The subway is open now and above ground construction is finished...for now.

And, a block away from the first Starbucks is the second store at the central subway station.

The Chinese love KFC here, I do not and I will stop there.  I wouldn't want to be impolite.

I love this Coke ad in the subway.  The little girl in a traditional Chinese dress is handing the man in the dragon dance costume a coke.  So cute!

And finally I reach the subway only to be reminded that the voice on the speaker reminds me of The Count from Sesame Street.  I was heading in the direction of Mudu (pronounced moo-doo) and it really does sound like The Count, "ah, ah, ah"!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Adoption Step 10

There are actually approximately a bajillion steps to completing an international adoption, but I saw a really great diagram (see below) posted in a Facebook group that I belong to.  The diagram sums up the process in 15 steps.

As of two weeks ago, we had completed step 9 and today our adoption agency's in-country representative walked all of our paperwork into the U.S. Consulate's office in Guangzhou (step 10) and hopefully within 2 weeks we will be through step 11. We're almost there!

(I would love to give credit to the person who designed this diagram!  If anyone discovers the source, I will post it here.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Another Step Forward! (Adoption Update)

In the midst of all of the Chinese New Year celebrations, we made some more progress of the adoption paperwork.

Just a quick recap...on Dec. 21, 2012, we received "the call".  We found out that our match with our daughter had been approved by China and we could move forward with finalizing the adoption.  

The next step was to submit our paperwork to US immigration to have our daughter approved to immigrate to the United States.  This form is called the I800.  At the beginning of the adoption process, and before we could submit any paperwork to China, we had received I800a approval, which is to bring an orphan to the US, but now we need approval to bring a specific orphan to the US, our daughter. 

Our US immigration officer had agreed that because of our daughter's medical condition, that her case would be a priority.  We were so happy to hear this!  I waited as patiently as I could for almost 2 weeks and finally decided to contact my agency for an update before the week of Chinese New Year.  

I woke up to great news on Saturday, Feb 8th.  Our I800 had been approved on Wednesday, Feb. 6th and was now on it's way to the National Visa Center (NVC) to apply for an immigration visa.  It should have arrived on Tuesday, Feb. 12th and hopefully we will have a quick turnaround time. 

We also had a nice note from our immigration officer, wishing us all the best and safe travels.  If you want to read more about our immigration officer, she was featured in a piece on the Today Show!

The remaining steps we have are:

1) NVC approval-US visa for our daughter to return to the US
2) Immigration & Visa forms to be forwarded to the US consulate's office in Guangzhou
3) Article 5 issued by the consulate's office in Guangzhou (which means all of our paperwork is in order, generally takes 2 weeks)
4) China issues our Travel Approval (TA) and we can travel to make the adoption final!!

Wahoo!! I800 has been approved!

We have been asked a lot of questions about the time frame and what will do when we return to the US for her surgery.  And, we really don't know.  We have many decisions about where we will stay, how long we will be in the US, if Jamie will stay the whole time or have to return to China for work, what LBean will do for her schooling.  If anything, moving to China and wading through the paperwork and uncertainty of an adoption, has taken my Type A personality and worn off the rough edges.  I would classify myself as a Type A-Reformed.  It will all fall into place as it should!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Surviving our first Chinese New Year "In Country"

We're not quite 24 hours into the official start of Chinese New Year (last year we were in the Philippines) and we seem to be surviving!  We celebrated with friends and feasted on jiaozi (dumplings) and mini-oranges.  Although, I think the biggest hit was the Kraft Mac & Cheese, Ranch dressing, and Girl Scout cookies I pulled out from my import "vault".

A line of dumplings ready to be boiled.

My new Chinese lantern made out of felt.

Just a few fireworks going off between the
apartment buildings across the street.

A low-flying firework in the distance.
At midnight the real spectacle began.  It woke up EBean & LBean and it took a little convincing that it was actually pretty neat to watch.  

I am pretty sure that these fireworks were being shot off from the top of this apartment building in our complex.

A few more fireworks in the distance...

And just so everyone can experience the sights & sounds, I thought I'd share a few videos.  Any sparkles or flashes in the distance are just more fireworks!  A friend that experienced the fireworks last year described it as feeling like the city was under attack and in a war zone.  I have to imagine that it must be pretty true.

Wishing you a happy & prosperous Year of the Snake!

Friday, February 8, 2013

2013 Year of the Snake

Chinese New Year is almost upon us again.  The Year of the Dragon is ending and the Year of Snake will begin.  To read more about what Chinese New Year (CNY) is and about last year's festivities click here!

Apparently those born in the year of the snake will be thoughtful and wise and to approach problems rationally and logically, seldom instinctively.  They are clever and men of few words from their birth. They do well in business, but they can be stingy. 

We have already enjoyed several festivities.  EBean's school held a charity drive and CNY activities a few weeks ago.  We pulled up to school and were greeted with dragon dancers and drums & cybals.  It was hard not to get excited!

Around the school there were several stations with activities and food for the children to enjoy.  Our first stop was for cotton candy, which EBean devoured while we watched the drum & cymbal and dragon dance performances.

A little video of the drum & cymbal performance
a dragon dance at EBean's school:

EBean passed on the dumpling making and traditional paper cutting, but she did make a craft and homemade playdoh.  We also paused for a cupcake break (not a traditional Chinese food!)  We bought some paperwhite narcissus bulbs to take home and I grabbed some dumplings & spring rolls to go -- yummy!

Yes, she has her coat on inside.  Like most
Chinese buildings, businesses, and schools,
they are not fully heated or the windows are
left open for fresh air.

Snakes (and other animals) made of reeds.
Jamie has already had his annual CNY dinner at work.  Because Jamie was traveling to the US, we were only able to attend one dinner this year.  Like last year, he had to get up in front of all 800 or so people and give a short welcome...or so he thought.  Instead, he had to participate in a talent competition!  It's unclear whether the email discussing the plans for the talent competition never reached Jamie's inbox or if he overlooked this small detail, but Jamie did well under pressure.  He followed the lead of the that went before him and chose to whistle a tune.

Jamie with his Human Resources manager,
as he is discovering there is a talent competition.
Jamie's great performance, even under pressure!

Jamie's boss, with his lovely assistant (his daughter),
performing his "talent", which was folding and attempting
to fly a paper airplane through his daughter's arms.

There was a wide range of entertainment, but only one Michael Jackson song this year.  Gangnam style ruled this year as well as the Hope School children performed.

LBean also had a CNY performance at her school.  The children worked very hard and each age-group performed songs and dances.  LBean wore her qipao (Chinese dress).

LBean is in the middle, with the navy cardigan on.

I think we can make it official now, LBean has conquered
her fear of being on stage!

LBean's school CNY party was yesterday.  She celebrated by making red paper lanterns and red envelopes and playing the classic US school game, Heads Up 7 Up.

Carefully cutting out her paper lantern.
LBean with her thumbs up because she had been chosen
by a classmate.  The hard part is figuring out who had tapped
her on the shoulder!

We are not traveling for Chinese New Year, so while the largest human migration in the world is taking place around us, we'll be nestled up in our apartment.  We are excited and a bit worried about the number of fireworks that will be going off around the clock for several days.  At least we should have a good view of them from our 27th floor apartment!  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What's That? Wednesday: The Chinese Practice of Cupping

Lighting the glass cup on fire.
Recently I had my first "cupping" experience.  It's not as scandalous as it sounds!  Cupping is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and sometimes is done in conjunction with acupuncture, like Jamie's experience.

Cupping is when glass or bamboo cups are heated on the inside and put on the target area or acupuncture point.  The heat creates suction and pulls the skin.  I heard someone explain that it feels like a vacuum cleaner hose pulling on your skin.  I would agree with that, but Jamie would not (at least when it comes to his feet).  

Getting ready to re-light the glass cup.
The belief is cupping pulls out the toxins that have built up in that part of the body and improves circulation.  Depending on where the cups are placed, and for how long, they can leave a red bruise.  Shortly after we moved to China, I remember seeing a young woman on an escalator with several red, round bruises on her back.  I was shocked and immediately thought they must be a result of domestic violence, but after I calmed down I realized that the bruises were there on purpose.

My friend's cupping.

My feet being cupped.  And, thanks to the
massage therapist for waiting for my
friend to take my picture!

Now that I know the bruises are not from anything sinister, I will be voluntarily having cupping done too!