November 2006


Dad and Bailey

Self-portrait of the day… 

 

Today we visited the Great Wall of China and the Hutong neighborhood of Beijing.  The tour group today was significantly larger than yesterday — twenty-odd folks versus just seven — and consisted of quite a gaggle of July Dragonflies.

We piled our group onto a tour bus and made our way to the Great Wall first, which is located about an hour or so north of Beijing.  Along the way, we discovered that all of Beijing driving, seemingly random and apparently (and frighteningly) chaotic to American eyes, is in fact governed by exactly three rules of the road: (1) Lane lines and traffic signals are merely suggestions, (2) If you can fit your car in that spot, do it, and (3) the biggest vehicle gets the right-of-way.  Imagine any bumper car rink and you have the general feel of Beijing traffic, only imagine it at 110 kilometers per hour.

Beijing is home to five different sections of the Great Wall, and to one of these sections Great Crowdwe went.  The Wall itself — which the Chinese actually called the Long Wall until Western travellers upgraded its status — is a monumental thing, snaking its way up and down ragged mountain crags from horizon to horizon.  Our particular section zig-zags its way up one mountain side, passing through four “check-points,” large stone fort-like structures that break up the enormity of the Wall into sections.  The top of the wall, along which we walked, is tough terrain: alternating stretches of flat and slippery rock inclines upwards of 70 degrees and wild staircases, with skinny steps whose depth changes from a few inches to a foot-and-a-half with little rhyme or reason.  The exertion of the hike is heightend by the weather — just a few degrees above freezing with biting wind — and the surroundings, namely, the ten thousand other tourists trying to climb the same insanely inclined stretch of wall.

Leaving the Wall is story in an of itself.  Last week China conducted a large international summit with African leaders.  Great WallThough officially concluded, several of the African diplomats were still in China siteseeing, and as luck would have it, some of these diplomats were visiting the Wall today as well.  On the upside, to keep the African officials safe, the Chinese army closed off an entire section of the Wall specifically for them.  Though this meant that we could walk on that section, it did mean that we were able to catch a few bits of snap-shot gold: massive stretches of well-preserve Great Wall with absolutely NO TOURISTS MILLING ABOUT.  Indeed, the entire Holt gaggle of travellers took a group photograph with miles and miles of pristeen and uninterupted Great Wall behind us.  According to our tour guide Mei, that photo is “priceless.”

CrowdOn the downside however, the Chinese army closed the only tunnel through which visitors to the wall could leave in order to allow the Africans a swift departure.  In essence, this meant that several thousand tired hikers were forced to wait outside a single tunnel possibly only 10 feet wide for a half hour before allowing them to pass through it.  The one thing that several thousand tired hikers do not posses, though, is patience, and so all several thousand hikers simply rushed into the 10-foot-wide tunnel at once.  I let you do the math on that, but the end result is that (1) Bailey and I got a lot more personal with several thousand Chinese tourists that we ever expected and (2) I have a profound new understanding of the “birth” experience that makes me even happier that we’re adopting Lili.

After the wall, we had a nice group lunch, did a little shopping, and ventured into that famous Beijing traffic.  Our terminal Franz Lunchstop was back in the heart of Beijing, a neighborhood called Hutong.  Ostensibly, the Hutong district is a tightly packed neighborhood of “courtyards,” clusters of buildings arranged around centralized open spaces.  The courtyards — all of them — are exceptionally old, uniformly gray, and and seemingly in a state of disrepair.  However, these are not Chinese slums, but are instead highly desirable plots for communal living, with each courtyard (often home to several different families) sharing common kitchens and bathrooms, working togther for the benefit of the group as a whole.  Indeed, everything about the Hutong is rich in Chinese history.  Much of the Hutong is several hundred years old, and were once home to generals and scholars of dynasties past; their grey color indicated the class of the occupants relative to the emperor and high-ranking government officials.  The courtyards are packed together, connected by a spaghetti mesh of alleyways too narrow for most cars.

Franz RickshawHence, to experience Hutong fully, we vacated the monster bus for a more intimate mode of conveyance: rickshaws.  Our tour group split into pairs, assembled themselves into rickshaws, which then raced single-file into the Hutong and break-neck speed.  Think of it as Mister Toad’s Wild Chinese Ride: a chain of thirteen or so orange-backed rickshaws zipping through alleyways as bemused Kowalski RickshawChinese locals watched.  The Hutong is home to many small businesses as well — local grocers, hole-in-the-wall eateries, fortune tellers and acupuncturists — and so we would race through alleys that would at one instant would be dark, lined with the ornate gate-like doors of residential courtyards, and then suddenly illuminated in the neon glow vendors and mystics. 

Deep in the heart of Hutong, our cavalcade of rickshaws stopped at a particular courtyard, were our entire group assembled in the home of Huting woman, to drink jasmine tea and share conversation in a room probably half the size of our hotel room.  She told us about the history of her home and her family, and answered our questions about Chinese holidays and schooling.  The meeting was brief — perhaps only a half-hour — but the friendliness of this woman, who brewed hot tea for 26 strangers she welcomed into her home, spoke volumes about the good nature and good heart of the people of the Hutong, and of the Chinese personality in general.  It was a touching end to a busy — but rewarding — day in Beijing.

Franz Great WallKowalski Great Wall Great Wall Walking Shoes Patty Great Wall  Here are some extra photos from the day: 1.  The Judi & Jerry at the Great Wall.  2. Travis & Bailey at the Great Wall.  3. ”These shoes are made for walking…” The shoes that climbed the Great Wall (Patty, Bailey, & Travis respectively).  4. Patty at the Great Wall.   (You can click on any photo that we post to see a larger image!).

Forbidden City Self Portrait(Self Portrait of the Day)

 

We just arrived after a very long day out in Beijing.  What an absolutely amazing city.  But let me back up to get you up to speed…

We left Rapid City on Tuesday, and the toughest part of our day was at the security check-point in our little town.  After being searched and questioned for 45 minutes, we, and all of our belongings were finally let through.  Thankfully we had arrived 2 hours early, so we still made our flight to Salt Lake City.  Once there I overheard a few people discussing some things about China, and what I thought was adoption.  Well, low and behold, the two ladies whom I had overheard talking just happened to be from the on-line group of adoptive parents that I had joined last year.  Everyone in this group had their dossiers sent to China the same month we did, so there was always the possibility that we would meet.  Well, we did…In Salt Lake City!  They were flying to LAX to catch the very same flight that we were taking to get to China.  Our dossier group is called the July Dragonflies, and the two ladies, Susan and Tiffany have been people whom I have talk to on-line, but never met in person.  Wow, who could have believed that we would be meeting up in the US?

Flight to ChinaWe flew China Southern Airlines to China.  The 15 hour flight left LAX at 11:50PM on Tuesday.  We chose to sit in the “Premium Economy” seats, which provided us a bit more room.  Good thing because with Travis being so tall, his knees always touch the seat in front of him in the “steerage” section.  We slept (or attempted to sleep) much of the flight which was good because we were already exhausted from being up all day travelling to LA.  Once in China, we had a 3 hour layover in Guangzhou before hopping in yet another plane to get to Beijing.  Although we thought we would have some good time to relax in Customsthe airport, that idea became moot because we had to make our way through customs…a 2 1/2 hour process.  Eventually we made it to Beijing and our hotel.  After eating a nice dinner, we all hit the sack early to get some good rest before a jam-packed day.

Forbidden CityToday we headed out after a nice breakfast to the Forbidden City.  It is absolutely HUGE!!!  It is a series of large ornate courtyards that connect to ever more, ever larger, ever more ornate courtyards.  According to our tour guide, the tour normally takes about 1.5 hours.  Our tour took 3 hours, and we still were not finished with all of the places we wanted to visit, or take all of the photos we wanted to take.  Oh, there just is not enough time!  This was alsoToilet the place where I had my first with Chinese toilets…or should I say holes in the ground!  You can figure out what to do from the picture.  after the Forbidden City, we headed on over to the Summer Palace.  This place is even bigger than the Firbidden City…4 times bigger!  The Palace is best described as a huge outdoor art gallery.  While there we had some Emporer Jerrymemorable “tourist” photos taken…the men became emperors with concubines!  We all walked away from that experience laughing, the men walked away with huge smiles.  We finished the day by attending an amazing KungFu show.Emperor Travis  All I can say is WOW!  I wish we could have taken pictures to share.  Tomorrow we are off to the Great Wall!  Hope everyone is doing well.  Tyler, thanks for saying “hi.”  Say hello to eveyone at school for me!

After waaaaaaaaay too many hours on flights out to China, we finally arrived safely in Beijing.  As can be imagined, we are all very tired and looking forward to getting some sleep.  I will update the blog tomorrow with more information and pictures.  Gotta go, we really need some rest…in a bed!

Jet PlaneSing it with us folks…

We’re leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when we’ll be back again…

After two years of not-so-patiently waiting, months of frustration and delays, then a travel announcement put into hyper-drive, we can finally say that we are leaving today.  I just cannot believe that we are actually on our way to China today.  For those who are interested, I posted our itinerary under the links section to the right (or you could just click on the word itinerary if you like).  We will be traveling for about two whole days before we arrive in Beijing on Thursday. 

For those of you who have been following our journey for the past few months, yes…we will be posting updates to the site while we are in China (so you can stop the e-mail and phone calls “warning” us what will happen if we don’t!).  We would love to hear from you while we are over there, so post comments if you get a chance.  Time to go…on a jet plane…

 

Dearest Liliana,

We are on our way little one!  Be patient, we will be there soon.
~Love Always,   Mommy…

Numeral 1

I just finished dancing around the room singing, “It’s just one day now…it’s just one day now…we leave in one day now…on a plane in one day now…going to China in one day now…it’s just one day now…”  Sort of a Snoopy dance kind of thing…I am just so excited!!!  OK now, back to reality.

Travis told me yesterday while we were finishing up the packing of our bag that he probably won’t be able to sleep much for the next few nights.  Just way too much excitement, mixed in with a bit of nervousness.  Fortunately for both of us, I happened to have a couple sleeping pills.  We both slept like little babies (you gotta do what you gotta do!).  We were able to get our bag packed yesterday.  Both of our checked bags (our’s and Lili’s) weigh 40 pounds a piece.  So we still have room to breathe since we are 4 pounds under the 44 pound limit for in-country travel in China.  Woohoo!!!!!!!!!  Boy does it feel great to have that done.

Today marks our “1 – 1″ day.  One day before we depart for the Far East, and exactly one week before we finally get to hold our sweet little Liliana in our arms.  This is very surreal.  I cannot believe that this is actually going to happen.  Still, we have so much to do today and tomorrow before we leave.  Oh well… “It’s just one day now!”

 

Dearest Liliana,

Can you believe it, we are finally going to become a family in just one week.  I realize that you don’t even know what is about to happen to you, but allo of our lives are about to change forever.  So what will you be doing this last week with your foster family?  Will you go to a park to play?  Will your foster mother do something for you to make this last week with you extra special?  I do not know what you are doing now, but I hope that some day soon you will realize how much we love you.  We are coming to get you little one…in just one week!  Blowing you kisses…        ~Love Always,   Mommy…

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