Monday, December 10, 2007

Epilogue: Jaime's Canadian life begins ...

Time for one last post before we sign off from this blog ! Thanks to everyone who have followed our progressed and helped to welcome Jaime vicariously through the internet :)

After a loving reception at the airport, where severals members of our extended family greeted Jaime with all the love and warmth of a Canadian hearth, we brought her home. Her first trip in our ageing minivan ... her first time on the 417 ... her first time falling asleep in the worn car seat than has cradled each of our other kids before her. In the video below, Melissa carried Jaime into the house, past the full-sized mural on the front door, and up the stairs. Of course, all attempts at keeping her asleep failed ... :)

So much has happened since that first night ... from ear piercings to baby's first cold ... from her first taste of birthday cake to her first touch of snow ... from welcome-home parties to the mundane-yet-happy life in our home. Just yesterday, we took a family picture in front of a Christmas tree, for Christmas cards. There she is, in David's arms, looking like she's always been a part of this family. And truly, as strange as it may sound, it really feels like she has.

This blog was a chronicle of our journey from three kids to four ... it was the story of how we spent so much to go to China and came home so much richer. For this, our last post, we'll leave you with a shot from a photoshoot with Dale Hogan. Welcome home, little one !

Friday, September 21, 2007

Welcome Home, Little One

Well, we made it! The trip back was great. We were on a much larger and newer plane (Boeing 777), and even had a couple of empty seats, so both Emily and Jaime stretched out and went to sleep. Jaime slept almost the entire time for the flight from Beijing to Toronto, and although she was awake from Toronto to Ottawa, she was in a great mood and spent part of the trip entertaining the Air Canada flight attendants. Another passenger (with a snazzy camera) even snapped some shots of her and promised to email them to us !

She feel asleep in the van on the way home, and we thought she might transfer right to her crib, but no way. There was too much partying to be done! After a bath, a meal, and much attention from her fascinated brothers, she's starting to settle in now for her first night at home.

Welcome home, Little One ! Finally ... it's been a long time coming.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Heading home !

Well, this is it ... we're all packed up, and we're about to check out of the hotel. We should be getting into Ottawa shortly after 10pm tonight. See you soon !

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

News from China, Day 10 - Shopping

Today we shopped until we dropped. Jaime hung in there really well, at times watching the haggling from the MEC backpack, at other times riding around in the stroller. We also visited a silk "factory", although there wasn't much "factory" to it and it was more like a silk "historical demo" and "shopping outlet". We learned some amazing stuff about the silkworms and how the Chinese harvest silk from their cocoons. The red bag of white eggie things in the bottom of the picture are the cocoons, which get boiled (to soften them) and then hooked up the machine, which pulls the silk from them.

We went walking in the evening and found a really cool artsy district along one of the side streets. They had mini North-American style wine bars, cool T-shirt stores, and even one quaint little pizzeria which served freshly-ground North-American style coffee ! We splurged and ate a cheese lovers' while David sipped a Columbian.

We were asked in one of the comments what Jaime's favourite foods are ... Well, she's been drinking her Nestle bottles steadily, and has made it clear that she prefers them hot to lukewarm. Nestle is the brand of formula that the orphanage was giving her, so we've stuck with that for now so that she has something familiar. She's also been eating watermelon at breakfast, although it's not clear if she really likes it or not. When we eat at traditional Chinese restaurants, we give her some of the scrambled-egg dishes, which she devours. And Melissa bought some North-American style baby food in the grocery store, and Jaime has loved the carrots and the mixed fruit. She's completely nonplussed about rice congee (watery rice porridge), for which we can't blame her.

We were also asked if Emily could contribute to the blog, so here are some of her thoughts ...

Dad : What's your favourite thing about China ?
Emily : It would probably be the shopping that we did yesterday.
Dad : Why ?
Emily : Because we bought some nice dresses and some hats for the boys.
Dad : What's the thing you miss most about home ?
Emily : The trampoline, and the boys.
Dad : What's your favourite thing about your baby sister ?
Emily : That she makes dinosaur noises. Like, she kind of does a "rahh, rahh" sound.
Dad : What's your favourite food here in China ?
Emily : Well, I've had a lot of the watermelon, umm, it would probably be the meatballs that they serve out at the place where we went not yesterday, but the day before. [ed: she means the pork balls in sauce]
Dad : What would you say if you could say something to everyone back home ?
Emily : I would say "I miss you" probably, and, ummm, hey boys, I'm home !

We were also asked to branch into multi media ... and post a video ! So here is the clip from the moments before we got Jaime, literally 120 seconds before we were holding her. All the babies were carried in by orphanage workers, and although we didn't know it as we were filming, Jaime was the sixth one in (note that two and three are being carried by one person, so Jaime's with the fifth adult, carrying a white plastic bag). Just try to imagine the energy and anticipation in the room !

Tomorrow is our last full day in China ... we'll be home soon !

News from China, Day 9 - Doctor's Appointment

Today Jaime visited the doctor ! Melissa took her to a local clinic on the bus with many of the parents. Went they got there, a cluster of four nurses dressed in blue stripped her down and took all the biometrics, and then a very nice man named Dr. Zhao listened to her heart and lungs. He declared her to be in perfect health (except for a slight redness in the back of her throat from her cold), and filled out all the appropriate paperwork for Canadian Immigration.

While all this was going on, David and Emily went wandering around downtown Beijing, browsing the shops for CDs, musical instruments, tea sets, and GoreTex jackets. No one was hit by any cars, which was a small miracle. The driving is quite different than Canada ... to quote one of the members of our group, the lines on the road are merely a suggestion, and the red octagonal signs are stoptional as well. Anything with 2 or 3 wheels seems exempt from traffic laws, as are tour buses. We saw our tour bus driver pull the manoeuvre of the century ... a U-turn from the far right-hand lane on a busy 8-lane divided street through an intersection with a red light and between clusters of pedestrians crossing the street. We almost applauded. He's a great driver, and he would have lost all his demerit points long ago in Ontario.

We got a little tricycle rickshaw tour of the off-the-beaten-path parts of Beijing, a Kutong neighbourhood. Our driver was a guy named Kong (but his first name was neither King nor Donkey) who spoke excellent English and explained the finer points of the architecture as we passed by. He certainly earned his pay that day, hauling all four of us in his rickshaw. At least one of us, and we won't say who, is not that light to begin with, and so poor Kong had to stop for a drink of water halfway.

The day ended with a trip to an acrobatics show. Words fail at this point. Acrobatics seems like the wrong word, but we're not sure what the right word would be. It was like nothing we've ever seen before. It made America's Got Talent look like a joke (which, come to think of it, it does to itself already without any help, so that's not saying much). The performers at this show were kids, some as young as 6 or 7, up to teenagers. They did absolutely unbelieveable things to ambient dance music, to which words don't do justice. We saw a 7 year old little guy do a headstand on a ladder which was balancing on a tight rope - no joke! We saw 8 people on a single bicycle, and as if that wasn't enough, 4 more hopped on for a total of twelve ! We saw two little girls, one up in the air on the foot of the other, spinning a total of eight umbrellas between them ! We weren't allowed to take pictures, otherwise we would have devoted an entire blog post to it ... it was simply stunning. Jaime took it all in at first, and then lost interested toward the end.

Aside from missing the boys back home, we are having a great time. Actually, a nice Tim Horton's coffee would go down really well too. Tomorrow we are attacking the silk and pearl markets, in hopes of finding deals on, well, silk and pearls. And maybe some electronics too. Stay tuned, only two more days in Beijing !

Sunday, September 16, 2007

News from China, Day 8 - The Great Wall

Apparently when Nixon came down from climbing the Great Wall of China in 1972, his remark was "The Great Wall is a great wall". We're not sure we can capture it quite so eloquently here, but nevertheless today was spent at the Great Wall of China.

What an experience ! First of all, we had no idea it would be so packed ! There must have been a hundred thousand people, mostly Chinese, on this particular section of the wall at Badaling. At times, especially near the top tower visible just over Melissa's head in the picture, we slowed to a mere shuffle, packed into a solid mass of fluid humanity. If anyone had been claustrophobic, they wouldn't have lasted long.

The other thing that struck us were the number of elderly Chinese doing the climb. It wasn't a simple stroll by any means ... we had to stop to catch our breath many times over the 45 minute hike, and we're (relatively) young and healthy. And yet we saw several people easily over seventy years old, with canes, booting it up the steep inclines. Any many of the vendors, who do sections of the climb back and forth several times an hour as they walk alongside potential buyers, were easily over sixty!

The Great Wall itself is 6,400 km long, in severals sections. The location that we were at is called Badaling. The "climb" was not to "get up" to the Great Wall, it was to "get up" the mountain "on" the Great Wall. The Wall was entirely paving stones and bricks, at times laid into flights of stairs, and at other times just a steep (maybe 30 degree ?) flat incline. We decided we wanted to make it to "the top", which meant to make it up through three watchtowers to the highest point in the area.

The watchtowers were formerly occupied by the Emperor's soldiers and bonfire beacons, but now have been annexed by the Free Market and its many street vendors. Guys playing Auld Lang Syne on Chinese flutes, or engraving your name on a genuine "I climbed the Great Wall" certificate, or selling Red Army knock-off uniform caps or 2008 Olympics T-shirts. The bricks of the Wall are covered, just covered, with graffiti etched into the stone in Chinese characters.

Jaime rode up the whole way asleep in the MEC backpack carrier. She woke up when we stopped for an ice cream treat when we got back to our starting point. Overall, she was very content, and mostly oblivious to the history of her native land which surrounded us. Jaime, Emily and David have been watching the Rugby World Cup in the hotel. Tomorrow she has her doctor's appointment, where hopefully she will get a clean bill of health and will be ready for Canada !

Saturday, September 15, 2007

News from China, Day 7 - Summer Palace

Ahh, recuperated. Today was a nice, easy pace. Jaime was back to her normal happy self, and so everyone's feeling better.

We loaded Jaime up in the MEC backpack carrier and headed off for the Emperor's Summer Palace. She seemed quite comfortable in it, and eventually slumped over and had a nice long nap, much to the amusement of the locals. The shot to the left was taken in the magnificent lobby of our hotel, the Oriental Culture Hotel. It's a fantastic spot, with marble floors, high ceilings, but no ability to change $US in Yen on Saturdays :)

The Summer Palace is hard to sum up ... it's a couple hundred acres of ancient architecture, jam packed with tour buses and knock-off product vendors, on the shore of a man-made lake. If you get bored of looking at tile roofs and lotus plants, you can saunter over and pick up a Rolex watch for about $8. One of our group (a PolySci prof) bought a watch with the solemn picture of Chairman Mao on it ... complete with a Red Star for the second hand, and a waving arm on Mao.

We learned first-hand about counterfeit Renminbi (Yuan) today, as David fell victim to a neat little money scam that gave him a $14 souvenir that he didn't intend to buy, a piece of paper that looks like currency but isn't quite. It happened as we stopped to buy a fake Gucci handbag from a woman ... yes, we got fake money from the purchase of a fake handbag. After a price of 80¥ was negotiated, David handed over his last 100¥ bill. The woman refused to take it, showing him that it was slightly torn, so David had to take the money back and walk away from the sale. What he didn't realize was that she had deftly swapped his bill with a "torn" (but counterfeit) one from her bag, and so he was walking away not only without a Gucci bag, but also without his 100¥ (about CDN$14). Apparently counterfeit Renminbi is a real problem here. The woman in the picture to the left is not the one who pulled the scam on us, but worked with her. The picture was taken before we figured out we had been scammed, or the smiles might not have been so broad. If you plan on travelling to China, make sure you learn up on how to detect the counterfeits here !

The day ended with a scrumptious dinner at the Chinese restaurant next to the hotel. Vivian, our guide, ordered dish after dish of delicious food as we drank Coke and Chinese lager. They kept arriving on the rotary tray in the middle of the table, and we poked at them clumsily with chopsticks. The eggplant dish would have to be considered the favourite, although the pork meatballs were probably a close second. Jaime tried most of them, and downed a fair bit even in spite of her already-full belly of rice cereal.

Back at the hotel, Melissa gave Jaime a bottle while David and Emily swam in the hotel pool. Then we went to bed early (9 pm) and everyone, including Jaime, had a solid night's sleep. The next day we head off to the Great Wall of China !

Friday, September 14, 2007

News from China, Day 6 - Test Flight

Well, not much of a blog post for today ... the reason ? Sheer exhaustion. We flew from Chongqing to Beijing today, a mere 2.5 hour flight (which was delayed due to "air plane delay"). But even a short flight was quite the chore, and when we finally got to bed around midnight, we were spent. In our minds, it had been a test flight for how the 13.5 hour version would go in a few more days. Unfortunately, Jaime wasn't pleased with the pilot's takeoff, and registered her displeasure with the entire crew. So we slept in today and didn't have time to post, so we leave you with a shot of mom and baby. Enjoy !