Bailey & Travis, Temple of HeavenSelf-portrait of the day…

Ahhhh, luxury.  Today, instead of the usual up and moving by 8:30 AM, we only had to be ready today at nine o’clock.  Today’s itinerary consisted of two events: orientation, and a tour of central Beijing.

Orientation is the meeting wherein we are changed from giddy tourists into panicky pre-parents.  Our Holt representative, a funny Brit called Les, walked us through aspects of China and Chinese adoption, and then briefed us on what to expect in the next few days ahead: the baby hand-off, the documentation and passport process, the works.  Among the details, when tomorrow we first meet Lili, we will have the unexpected honor of meeting her foster mom, since it is she who will be bringing little Lili to our hotel room. 

We’re so excited at the chance to meet the woman who has cared for Lili during her first seven months, and to thank her for giving us our little wild-haired, big-eyed beautiful Chinese daughter.  We’re also very anxious about this first meeting for all the same reasons: Lili is giving up the only mom she’s ever known for her new, strange smelling, funny talking, blue-eyed parents, while her foster mom is giving up the gorgeous little child she’s come to call Mei Mei, or little sister.  Its going to be an emotional meeting, one at which no eye is going to be dry.

The first half of the orientation ended with a pop quiz: one by one, Les projected a single new picture of the soon-to-be American daughters, challenging families to find their child based on only their referral pictures.  One by one, pictures of beautiful little girls appeared on the screen; one by one, the entire audience of adoptive parents oohed and aahed the precious children; and one by one, parents sheepishly announced that they didn’t know whose child it was.

Execpt for Lili.  The minute her picture popped on the screen, Travis said “That’s Lili” and Bailey said “That’s mine!” and in fact several other families shouted “That’s Bailey’s.”  Not even eight months old, and she’s already famous.  (Famous among tens, at least!)

The highlight of orientation, though, was the red book.  As the pop quiz ended and parents began to wonder about the new picture of their kid, Les handed to each family an ornately embroidered, red silk book.  Inside our book, on the first page, was a picture of China superimposed with a picture of each of the children we had just seen, a wonderful “group portrait” of all of our new daughters.

But the second page took our breath away: four new pictures of Lili!  Four new pictures of our little ladybug, dressed warmly in a yellow sweater and knitted jumper, standing (standing!) in her crib or playing with a toy.  Bailey was so excited to see the new pictures that she literally bounced around the hallway, squealing “I got new pictures! I got new pictures!” with unbridled glee.

The third page included an updated personality profile, indicating her feeding preferences (soy milk, apple sauce, and bananas), favorite activities (playing with toys, watching TV commercials, and listening to music), and how to comfort her when she cries (hold her tight).  No problem there.  It also says that she’s shy and sometimes scared of strangers, and that her foster mother calls her by the pet name of Mei Mei.

After the red book, we reassembled for a concluding orientation meeting and lunch, but that was more or less immaterial: parents simply shared red books with each other, sharing the joy of meeting their daughters again, if only in pictures and words.

Temple of heavenWith euphoria in the air, our group piled onto a tour bus to visit two last sites of Beijing.  The first was the Temple of Heaven, which many locals view as the true symbol of Beijing.  The Temple complex Temple manitself, a sprawling tree-line park punctuated with Ming and Ching dynasty buildings, is the place to go to see Chinese citizen practicing martial arts in the quads, playing musical instruments and singing Chinese songs, knitting and talking and enjoying the history of their home.  The central feature of the grounds is the Temple itself, a circular, three-tiered building peainted in reds and greens, decorated with dragons and phoenixes gilded in gold.  The massive building, several stories tall and several hundred feet in diameter, stands atop a three-tiered circular platform, carved from marble and decorated with dragon water spouts and banisters depicting the Temple Musicrising phoenix.

The grounds also include a number of smaller temple buildings.  One of these consists of two square buildings and a circular temple enclosed in a tall elliptical wall.  The outer wall is in fact an “echo wall,” at which folks standing at one end of complex can talk and have their voice carried by echo to the complete other side of the complex.

If the Temple of Heaven is the symbol of Beijing, then Tienamen Square is symbole of China itself.  The Square is just that: a massive square block of tiled walkway arranged around patriotic symbols of the New China.  Flanked on all sides of the square are official buildings – the state museum, the head of government – while inside the square itself are massive monuments to Mao Tse-Tung (?) and the People’s Revolution – massive statues of Chairman Mao flanked by Chinese workers; the Chairman’s mausoleum, a massive stone obelisk declaring China’s longevity.

We arrived as the sun was setting low in the sky with the haze of fog and smog thick around us.  The effect was other-worldly: a massive plaza receeding into mist, with the hint of the massive statues or obelisk or government buildings rising on the horizon.  As we circumnavigated the plaza, the sun set, and one by one floodlights and spotlights activated, illuminating the plaza in a warm gold glow.  Just as dusk descended, thousands of Chinese citizens appears as if from nowhere into the plaza to watch the lighting of the monuments in general and the massive portrait of Chairman Mao at the extreme northern end of the complex in particular.  Although we are unfamiliar with the particulars of Chinese history, completely ignorant of the Chinese language, and frightenly naïve in the way of Chinese custom, it was clear to us standing in Tienamen Square at dusk that the Chinese are deeply proud of their past and forward looking to the future.  As it reads on the Chinese characters next to Mao’s portrait, Longevity: China forever.

To conclude the evening, we returned to the hotel and quickly packed our belongings for tomorrow’s flight to the Guizhou province, and set out for a final night in Beijing.  We wondered down Snack Street, a massive culinary street fair specializing in anything edible – staples like beef and fish together with the more exotic (and downright disgusting) choices: cockroaches, scorpians, sparrows, sea horses, snake, squid, you name it.  We also ambled through the pedestrian shopping district, moving alternatively from massive plazas flanked by designer department stores to tiny alleys lined with red lanterns and street vendors peddling postcards, jade trinkets, Chinese masks, and bootleg Rolexes.

At last we returned to the hotel, exhausted physically but energized emotionally and spiritually.  Soon we’ll pull up the covers and try to sleep, knowing that we’ll be with Lili in less than twenty-four hours.

We can’t wait!