Day 10, August 18, 2014 Safari / Circus/ Subway

by Joy Portis on August 18, 2014

We made plans to visit a Safari (zoo) today and to stay for the circus at 7 so we had a slow morning around the hotel doing more homework, playing uno and relaxing since it is going to be a long night. At 11:30 we met John in the lobby and made our way to the Subway. It was busy today! We got on the first car and surprised John by serenading him with Happy Birthday. Of course that only added to the stares but John enjoyed it :-)IMG_5732

We had to get off at the next station and transfer to a different line. It was crowded and when the doors opened it was great shove to get in as others were coming out. The doors began to close and five of us were left standing on the platform as the train pulled away. IMG_5898I was planning on hopping on the next one and just keeping an eye out at each stop to see if they were on the platform, but John was mouthing to stay there and they would come back :-) About 15 minutes later we saw them exit across they way and before long they had made their way back to out platform. We made a plan this time making sure everyone knew the exit stop but when the doors opened it was not crowded and we were able to easily get on together. Eight stops later were were at our destination. The area has an amusement park, water park, safari, alligator park and circus with busses transporting you between the parks. It was like a mini Disney World. When we got our tickets we learned that the circus was at 5 instead of 7:30 so we didn’t have as much time as we had thought.

We had high hopes of getting to visit the newly born triplet pandas but they were no where to be seen, other than on bulletin boards and replaying tv segments. We enjoyed seeing the pandas who were mostly sleeping and sprawled out on a block of ice, and cute koala bears. There were many different tigers and they were active and fun to watch. The elephant and giraffe exhibits were much closer and interactive than ours at home so that was fun to see as well. After speed waking though the large zoo we finished up on a train safari ride. You can also drive your own vehicles through so it was an interesting mix of the wild animal safari in Georgia and a zoo train ride. By the time it was over our crew was hitting a wall. It was 4 and they had not had food side we led the hotel and it was HOT HOT HOT! WE didn’t have time to walk back to the AC restaurant we had seen at the back entrance so our only option was a fast food counter with limited options. Of course Samuel and Jim had no problem ordering, SK and Elizabeth had large ice cream cones and the rest of us stuck with crackers, peanuts, etc that I had in the back pack and we just got drinks.DSC_9878DSC_9849 DSC_9848 DSC_9887 DSC_9921 DSC_9952 DSC_9957 DSC_9977 DSC_9826 DSC_9831 DSC_9829 IMG_5895DSC_9958IMG_5798IMG_5790IMG_5894

We made our way toward the circus on crowded busses which felt a lot like Disney transportation. The circus had open seating with the exception of some VIP tickets so we found some open seats and sad down to enjoy the show. It was a wonderful and entertaining show filled with animals, motorcycles, amazing stunts and death defying acts and finished with an American being shot from a canon. It was a highlight of our trip thus far and we were thankful it ended up being an earlier show because we were tired out. We eventually made our way back to the bus and onto the subway. The majority of us were ready for a quick bite of dinner and bed. John ordered Papa John’s to be delivered to our room and he took SK, Samuel and Jim out to a local noodle restaurant. Once again our pizza order was not as expected but at that point we were so hungry and tired it didn’t matter. We ate and called it a day.DSC_0025 DSC_0002 DSC_0013

DSC_9621Today we headed out for a little culture and visited the Chen Family Temple. It is beautiful Cantonese style architecture, composed of six courtyards, nine main halls and nineteen buildings. It was built between 1890-1894 and the original function was to pay tribute the Chen’s ancestors, later, it was used as an academy.IMG_4017DSC_9622 DSC_9624 DSC_9625 DSC_9629 DSC_9637 DSC_9638 DSC_9639 DSC_9650 DSC_9653

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Visiting the Chen Family Temple 9 years ago

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It is now the Guangdong Folk Art Museum. Walking in the temple you see a lot if folk art and handicrafts, including enameling, embroidery, porcelain, lacquer work, paper cutting, watercolor and exquisite carvings. My personal favorite is watching the same local artist that was here 9 years ago create beautiful art work and scenes by using ink on the palm and side of his hand and fingers. It’s such a beautiful art to witness. Jim picked out a scene we purchased and Zoe chose a bookmark.

 

We headed out and on the way some decided to try the sugarcane juice being sold on the corner.  I wasn’t taking any chances.  No stomach issues so far and I don’t want to risk it unnecessarily :-)DSC_9657 DSC_9658 DSC_9659 DSC_9660

We loaded up in the van and headed over to LuiHua Lake Park. We visited here with Samuel 9 years ago on a free day and had sweet memories so we requested a return visit. Right as we entered the park a group of ladies were being taught a dance class. Our crew eagerly joined them in what turned out to be a salsa style dance. They all had fun and I got some great video :-)

 

DSC_9669 DSC_9691 DSC_9692 DSC_9696 DSC_9698We strolled through the park enjoying the beautiful gardens and shade. It’s HOT!!! I don’t ever remember sweating like I have here, literally being sopping wet. Carrying this big back pack doesn’t help. We enjoyed several other musicians throughout the park as well and a karaoke like set up under a tree where local musicians and singers took turns creating beautiful music together. We made it to the area of the park where they rent small boats and Samuel and I got in one and Sk got luckily enough to set sail with JC and Jim. The rest chose to hang out at the ping pong table and outdoor gym area. It was a fun 30 minutes slowly cruising the lake and trying to stay clear of JC who thought we were in bumper boats. After our ride we tried out the exercise equipment before making our way to the oak exit. On the way we passed a playground and small amusement park area. In an area surrounded by high rise after high rise it was an enjoyable time outside enjoying some beautiful scenery!

We returned to the hotel around lunch, had food in the room and then I took Jim and Samuel to the pool while John ventured out with SK and JC in search of a Nike store with a Chinese soccer jersey ( and tried fried octopus)…. ..John understands their love of soccer and jerseys. He plays soccer here and wears a jersey every day! A match made in heaven.DSC_9705 DSC_9714

 

Riding 9 years ago with my sweet Samuel
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Zoe and Elizabeth completed their ice water challenge, which was quite complicated due to ice being a rarity here in China. Can’t exactly run to the ice machine by the elevator. They eventually got room service to deliver some to the room and their mission was successfully completed. they worked on some school work and then eventually we all gathered around the pool annoying the breeze and fresh air.DSC_9787 DSC_9795DSC_9796DSC_9807 DSC_9802 IMG_4082

Trying fried octopus

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John returned around 5:30 to take us to one of his local favorite Cantonese restaurants. On the way we had to cross about 6 lanes of traffic. It has striped lines like a cross walk but clearly here you do not yield to pedestrians. There was no traffic light and it was a little frightening running across as such a large group. Thankfully we made it and enjoyed the safely of the sidewalk. We had a good laugh at Zoe as she tried to figure out this advertisement on the side of the building :-) She said “ what is she doing?” thinking it was a pregnant woman’s belly. She always provides us with comedic relief. Cole also had a minute of confusion figuring it out.DSC_9809 DSC_9813 DSC_9814 DSC_9815

We were a little unsure as we entered the restaurant with few diners and were taken to a table upstairs. We took John’s recommendations and ordered family style and everything he suggested was fabulous and was devoured by someone at the table……with the exception of milk tea. Even the pickiest of eaters were happy with the broccoli, spicy green beans, kung pow chicken, BBQ pork, etc. There were several photos of menu items I was thankful he did not suggest.DSC_9817 IMG_5715 IMG_5716 IMG_5717 IMG_5714 IMG_5713

We enjoyed a leisurely walk back including an impromptu dance party watching a street corner dancer jamming out to Michael Jackson. We made it safely back to the hotel and called it a day.

Day 8 August 16, Medical Clinic / Shamian Island

by Joy Portis on August 16, 2014

We had the closest thing to a normal nights sleep and got dressed and headed up to breakfast. This executive lounge knows how to serve breakfast! They served amazing coffee, many traditional Chinese food items (Jim and Samuel were in heaven), cheese, meats, mango, strawberry and vanilla fresh yogurt, pastries, breads, veggies, an omelet station and pancakes. After last nights dining experience I told everyone to fill up because who knew what we’d be having for lunch or dinner.

I arrived for breakfast as most were finishing up. Zoe left to run to the room before we were meeting in the lobby at 9:30. I ate quickly and then got into the elevator headed for the lobby. You have to have a room key to get the elevator to work, with the exception of the lobby. As I headed down from the 39th floor the doors opened on the 12th floor and Cole and the crew got in. The door closed and then opened again on the 11th floor and we were all shocked to see Zoe standing there. She had never made it to the room. She had been trying to get into room 1112 when our correct room was 1211. She even had video footage of a hotel employee trying to help her get into the room. Thankfully she did not burst into someone else’s room! That girl can not be left alone for a second :-)DSC_9459 DSC_9463 DSC_9467

We loaded up and headed out to Jim’s medical appointment. It is in a much bigger and nicer location and building that when we came with Samuel 9 years ago. John said the consulate has also moved locations. Much about this town has changed! It looks much more metropolitan yet with poverty and old China in the alleys. On the way we passed a van of other adoptive families! As we entered the building there was a wine vending machine, never seen one of those before! DSC_9508The clinic was much nicer than before and it was a sweet time of talking to other adoptive families and seeing them with their children. We met families with America World, WACAP, Lifeline and Great Wall. Several sweet faces I recognized from waiting children lists and New Day’s facebook page. I could have stayed there all day. Jim had his vision tested. He could obviously see the contrast in colors because he could trace the numbers but he could not say them. John said he should be familiar with american numbers so he felt Jim must not like math…. we shall see. He had a general check up, blood drawn for TB and then 3 vaccines. He was tough!DSC_9470 DSC_9474 DSC_9477 DSC_9482 DSC_9484 DSC_9490 DSC_9496 DSC_9499 DSC_9501

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Samuel’s experience was a little more traumatic 9 years ago.  Poor sweet baby!

John took us to an area where we could see the arena they built for the Chinese Games. It was surrounded by high-rises! We walked past the museum and library but it really just felt like a bunch of big buildings. There was a big observation tower/ needle that you could pay to go up in, it has observation decks and the tallest drop ride in the world as well as little carts that travel along a track rotating in a circle allowing you to see the skyline. While I had several kids wanting to try, this mama ( especially after being married to a product lawyer for almost 15 years) was not feeling confident in the safely regulations here. We continued to walk along the courtyard and John wanted to show us a large fountain that does light shows but once we got there it had a tin wall around it and was just cement. Again, lots of useless and empty construction. We had seen enough! We decided to head out for some traditional Chinese gifts. On the way back to the van Cole spotted what looked to be a Chinese version of Propel in a window. HE got his drink and the kids tried some ice cream. As we walked on a group of about 5 young adults came sprinting over to have their photo taken with us. Before we could walk much further two more groups approached. We finally made it back to the van and enjoyed the AC….. it feels like Alabama here! HOT and humid! We are dripping!DSC_9515 DSC_9517 DSC_9518 DSC_9523 DSC_9526 DSC_9527 DSC_9529 DSC_9535

We headed on to Shamian Island to stretch our legs and do some shopping. Shamian Island reminds me a lot of Savannah or New Orleans. Old architecture mixed with beautiful gardens = a beautiful stroll. The Island was filled with couples having their wedding photos made and Zoe was in heaven seeing all of their beautiful dresses. We had quite a few people ask to have their photos taken with us here as well. We Had quite a bit of luck shopping and then we decided to have lunch at Lucy’s. It’s not the greatest but it is American food so the kids easily found something to eat. I’m pretty picky about my meats so I stuck with a cheese quesadillia. I’m probably going to gain 15 lbs on this trip eating cheese pizza, cheese quesadillias, pancakes, etc ). I’ll be ready for a big steak when we get home! DSC_9541 DSC_9542 DSC_9547 DSC_9549 DSC_9551 DSC_9552 DSC_9557 DSC_9558 DSC_9562 DSC_9563 DSC_9566 DSC_9569 DSC_9572EPV1210

Samuel 9 years ago after shopping on the island :-)DSC_9573 DSC_9574 DSC_9575 DSC_9579 IMG_5487 DSC_9616 DSC_9610 DSC_9591 DSC_9587EPV1187

Recreating photo from 9 years ago :-)DSC_9582IMG_4007 IMG_5490 IMG_5535

With John as our guide we took the subway back to our hotel. It was fun to experience another mode of transportation here in China. So far we traveled by planes, train, vans, taxis, and subway! John was surprised it was not more crowded for a Saturday afternoon but we were thankful! We made it safely back to the hotel and had a few snacks in the lounge. From the window you can see inside a huge stadium. They were preparing for a soccer match so Jon Cole was excited. We left him to watch what he could from the lounge and we returned to our room ready to call it a day!IMG_5558 IMG_5565 IMG_5575

Clearly in this Province or at least the city of Guangzhou they find time to play. Beside the arena there are quite a few sports courts, tennis courts, basketball courts, and soccer fields, all of which have been occupied almost every time I look out of the window.

Again I woke about midnight, 2am, 3am and finally got out of bed around 6. I checked emails and had a response from the JW Marriott in response to a complaint I had sent in the day before. I had explained how we had chosen their hotel ( which we will also stay in while in Beijing) because we felt certain we knew what to expect as far as quality, we had chosen the executive suite level because it offered breakfast as well as drinks and snacks throughout the day and the hotel was also supposed to have spa, workout and pool facilities. We arrived to find they weren’t serving breakfast yet in the executive lounge, none of the spa, pool workout facilities were open yet and the biggest frustration was not being able to easily exchange our money at the hotel because they didn’t have that license yet. None of this was stated at the time of booking, or anywhere on their sight. We had a very nice email from the manage offering to comp a night and allow everyone to eat breakfast in the restaurant on the lobby level of the hotel. He wanted to personally check us out and left his phone number, etc. It was really sweet. Several of the girls and JC got ready and went down for breakfast. They came back saying how fabulous it was and how the manager kept making sure they were ok and he was really wanting Cole to come have breakfast, he even called to the room when the kids said he wasn’t coming. They returned to the room to get our luggage and head down just as our phone rang. It was Rosary saying we had a 2 hour delay. Cole decided he and the boys would go eat after all. While there, Elizabeth realized her retainers ( not even 2 weeks old) had been carried away on her plate. The manager looked for about 30 minutes and finally four them after digging through the garbage. He brought them out to Elizabeth on a plate and she was so excited, without even thinking she grabbed them and plopped them in her mouth…..NASTY!!!! We immediately went and scrubbed both the retainers and her mouth down :-)

We just relaxed in the room waiting on time to pass. Finally at 11 we headed down and loaded up for the airport. The manager walked us our and was so friendly. He is from the Netherlands and is married to a Chinese woman who lives in Shanghai with their two sons. That is where the international school is and they travel on holidays to see each other. He wasn’t used to seeing many large families like ours and thought I was kidding when I said there were more at home.  We also got a photo with our sweet friend who had escorted us to the bank and Pizza hut!  He was so good to us and wanted to know when we would return. IMG_5360 IMG_5373 IMG_5688 IMG_5689 IMG_5692

As we drove to the airport we continued to laugh at the complete disorganization of traffic, how there is no road rage and few accidents yet it’s crazy! There are really no rules for the motorbikes and they drive in all lanes in all directions. On the same roadway to the airport we passed tractors, mopeds, bikes, trucks, busses, construction vehicles, walkers, carts…. all seamlessly weaving in and out of one another.

We arrived at the airport, which is under construction and looks like it will be growing 4-5 times in size. We got checked in easily, said goodbye to Rosary and made our way through security. Cole & Zoe had quite a pat down.

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We had about an hour to spare but we noticed the sign eventually said delayed. We were able to figure out there was a gate change and moved accordingly. It was a little iffy for quite a while and we were not sure if we would be on out way to Guangzhou or not. After about 3 additional hours we finally boarded and we were each compensated 100 yuan for our delay. The kids are excited to have some additional shopping money!IMG_5418 IMG_5421 IMG_5426 IMG_5429 IMG_5430

The flight was rough at times and I seriously thought I might have a panic attack. Zoe on the other hand LOVES turbulence and thought it was “fun”! I was so thankful when we finally hit the runway and pulled into our gate.IMG_5435 IMG_5439

They each ate 3 boxes of our chicken and rice!

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Our luggage all arrived and John was waiting for us and escorted us to our ride. We have been traveling in a minivan but this time we had a full charter bus just for out family! It was nice to spread out. Before we could leave the airport we saw 2 wrecks. Motorbikes/ mopeds, etc were banned here several years ago according to John. Traffic is still insane, just petty much all vehicles and apparently not as good of drivers in this area!IMG_5453

We made it to our hotel, the Westin, and as usual Cole did not like the room arrangement. We’ve learned never to go unpack in the first room. We always send Cole up and get his approval first before we even attempt to go up. He eventually was pleased, we took out luggage upstairs and then headed out to try and find something to eat. John thought there was a pizza place in the mall across the street but as we got closer he realized it was now a 7/11. Cole was not feeling McDonalds, I really was just ready to go to bed, all options were going to close at 10 ( less then an hour) so as we walked and saw few safe options we went with McD’s. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the recent scandal in the news concerning bad meat and veggies in China, but I have and therefore I stuck with fries. John helped us all order and then reorder what was missed the first time and when we had all finished we walked back to the hotel, unpacked and called it a night. Looking forward to seeing Guangzhou tomorrow!DSC_9447 DSC_9448 DSC_9451 DSC_9458 IMG_5454 IMG_5456 IMG_5457 IMG_5471DSC_9455

Everyone enjoys a good happy meal toy!

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It was nice to have a slow morning with nothing on the agenda. Our guide has to return today to LuoNing to get our final paperwork to be able to leave Jim’s birth province but we do not have to be present. She will bring our paperwork to us at the hotel.

We slowly woke up and got showered. Some watched TV, some played on their computers, others did schoolwork and Cole was able to work some from the room. We went up to the lounge for coffee and tea and enjoyed a few rounds of UNO along with lots of laughs. It was a sweet time of just playing together, talking and laughing.

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When our guide dropped us off yesterday she mentioned an 8 story mall that had the girls salivating. We had asked if there was anything fun to do nearby, like bowling, skating, basket ball gym, etc but Rosary said there was not. She said the Chinese do not know how to play or relax, they are all about working and making more and more money. It was interesting to learn the schedule for students: Elementary students go from 7:30-10:15, have a break for nap and lunch and then return at 2 and end between 4 and 5. Middle schoolers have to be at school by 6:30 where they run for an hour and then have reading time until class begins at 8. They break from 12-2 and class does not let out until 7:30! High School is the same schedule but they do not let out until 10 pm…. then they all still have homework!!!!! There really is no time for fun! As we are beginning another crazy school year, this puts our school schedule into perspective!

About 2 pm we decided we needed to venture out and the lady working in the lounge at the hotel thought we’d enjoy the mall too so she hailed us 2 cabs and before we could really get a plan together she announced they were waiting for us downstairs. I hopped in the first one with the boys and Cole was getting into the second with the girls. As soon as we shut the door our driver took off, I assumed he knew where we were headed. As we entered the busy roads I asked the boys if they could see the other taxi….no where in sight.IMG_5379 I then realize I have the money pouch with all of the money we have had exchanged! We began to get a little nervous especially since we can only communicate on our phones where there is free wifi. After about 15 minutes he says something which I do not understand but I assume he’s asking where we are going. Thankfully I had the address Rosary had written down the day before still in my bag. He shook his head and pointed to a tall building ahead. I only hoped Cole’s driver knew where they were headed too. We were let out on a corner across a busy street from the mall. We paid and our driver drove off. We stood on the busy corner trying to avid being run over by the motorbikes and trying to spot our crew in the taxi’s passing by while also trying to look across the busy intersection to the adjacent corners/ roads to see if spotted a group of 3 caucasians and one African causing a scene trying to bay their driver :-) We had one Chinese woman very excited to talk with us and she talked 90 to nothing. Thankfully I was letting Jim handle her while I kept looking. She kept telling me what a kind heart I have. I thing she and Jim must have had the same conversation over and over because she talked for about 15 minutes. At one point she tried to talk to Samuel & Jon Cole and Jon Cole started making sounds that I did not recognize back to her. I whipped my head around giving him the eye thinking he was just mocking her and pretending to speak Chinese… I scared him with my glare and he stepped back and said “what? I told her I don’t understand” ….. apparently he’s picking up on the language much faster than me :-)

I decided we’d walk up to the next corner, cross over and check on that side of the street. We weaved in and out of cars, walkers, motorbikes, scooters and eventually made it to the sidewalk in front of the mall. No sign of them anywhere! There was a KFC, Haagen Daz and Starbucks on the corner so I was walking around all of them trying to connect to the wifi while the boys kept watch. I was not having any luck connecting and right as we were about to give up and just go inside trusting that they would figure something out , we heard the sweet sound of familiar voices coming out of the mall! Reunited and it felt so good!!!!

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They had convinced the driver that they were giving him much more money that what their fare was. The ride cost 20 Yuan, which is equal to a little over $3 yet they gave hime a $20 because that was the smallest they had. So thankful it wasn’t me! We ended up separating for an hour so the girls could shop and they boys were going for food. We met back up and we were all ready for a snack. Cole and JC and eaten Subway and Jim and Samuel had wanted noodles but apparently it turned into a long process of making a choice of noodles, needing to get in a separate line to pay, etc and they thought they would be late meeting us so they just left. Cole and most of the kids were getting ice cream at Dairy Queen and SK and I browsed a yummy smelling french pastry shop next door. We selected some goodies to have for breakfast the next day.

We explored a little longer together as a family and we were quite a sight to see as evidenced by the stares we got everywhere, photos taken non discretely again and more stares and pointing. Zoe has decided she no longer wants to be famous.

We exited the mall ready to grab a cab and the crowd had multiplied by 1000! It was jam packed! As we waked to the corner there was a crowd of people sitting on the wall in front of a fountain and as we passed by a grandmother held her grandson in the air as he peed into the crowd through his split crotch pants. There was no trying to be discrete… right into the crowd. The kids were a little shocked but had a good laugh. As we made it tho the corner and I realized how busy traffic had become and how every cab passing by was already full, I was beginning to worry if we would be able to make it back to the hotel. Not having a way to communicate is not fun! We decided to cross over to the other side of the street where our cab let us off. After a few minutes a cab pulled over letting a couple out and the boys and I hopped in hoping Cole and the girls would not be far behind! This time we made sure we both had money!

Our driver was uncertain about the location of our new hotel but after getting out of the traffic jam we eventually made it. We headed up to the lounge for a snack and about 15 minutes later Cole and the girls walked in! We were very lucky! You really have no idea how many people I’m talking about and how few cabs! Their taxi driver felt like he had rock stars in the car with him. While he was driving he kept taking selfies with the girls in the background and sending them to his friends :-) I was so thankful to be back in my hotel room! We got packed up and ready to meet Rosary in the lobby at 8:30 in the morning!IMG_5374 IMG_5370 IMG_5375 IMG_5371

 

Cole falling prey to the delirium

 

Zoe teasing Jim wile listening to music

 

We got ready and met Rosary downstairs at 9:30. We headed back to the civil affairs builting to sign final papers after our 24hr period together indicating our desire to still adopt Jim.  We signed and stamped our fingerprints and then he was officially our son!  We were all smiles as they announced this! We had a short oath ceremony, grabbed our certificate and then we loaded up and headed out for the 3 hour drive to the LouNing Orphanage in LouYang.

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We laughed and laughed at this photo catching the fly that landed on Zoe’s nose!

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It was a ride filled with great contrast and we asked many question about the culture, government, economic state, etc. Zoe started our car conversation off by announcing she had a question and then asked “ Does the government recognize gay marriages?” … not exactly the first question I was expecting, but none the less we learned that they are not recognized. That girl keeps us on our toes. There are HUGE buildings everywhere, but most are empty. Its crazy. On the entire 3 hour drive there would be beautiful fields and then so out of place, in the middle of nowhere, would be a huge clump of high rise buildings. The government pretty much owns all the land. When you purchase it you have residential property for 70 years and commercial for 50 and then it returns to the government and you must repurchase. It’s insane. Nay of these buildings and even towns are called ghost towns because so many are sitting empty. No one ca afford to live in them. As we got close to the area Jim is from it became more and more rural but again, a high rise would appear out nowhere. There were also many “cave” homes dug out of the side of the hillside. The can not afford land/ homes so they dig into the hillside and carve out a home. Many open right onto the interstate as development has plowed through their communities and farming land. The tiering of the farming land was so beautiful! It was a sweet ride just soaking in as much as possible.DSC_9118 DSC_9120 DSC_9121 DSC_9128 DSC_9132 DSC_9135IMG_5270IMG_5267 DSC_9136When we arrived in LuoNing the homes looked very rural but this large road system plowed right through the middle. Rosary said many have lost their lives refusing to leave since they had no where else to go. We drove a short distance and turned onto a small side turn road that ran alongside a wall that led to the orphanage. There was an older man and little boy in the street and the driver honked as we passed and turned into the gates. Some of the children were looking out the window and many I recognized from hosting. We quickly went inside, put our bags down, met the director who was showering us with snacks and water and then they led us to a lunch the staff had prepared for our family, guide and driver. It was delicious. Shockingly all of my children, even their pickiest of eaters, enjoyed the meal! When we were finishing up lunch I asked if Jim’s grandparents were going to be able to make it since they lived an hour away and Rosary said yes that they were already here. Jim then said that it had been his grandfather and nephew who we had honked at on the drive in. We were all shocked and ready to go spend time with them!

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As we were walking from the dining hall back into the building we passed a man and woman who looked confused. We were surprised when they spoke very clear English and asked what was going on. They had no idea Jim was leaving today. They run the organization CEO Foundation, and I recognized their voices as those helping translate the times we had been able to Skype with Jim. We made quick introductions and then they invited us to come visit them on the 4th floor before we left; however, as we continued to walk and talk they ended up joining us for the entire time we were there, translating, comforting all involved, and getting a better understanding themselves of our deep love and inviting the extended family back to communicate through Skype with us. It was really a whirlwind! Rosary said we would only be there an hour, I needed to put my gifts together, hand out those I had brought to children whose parents are anxious to bring them home, take lots of photos and when I look up I realize all of Jims family is sitting on the couch. I went and sad beside Jim’s grandmother and we shared a sweet embrace sharing our mutual love of the same child but also knowing the loss and pain but also love and gain about to take place. It was really too much to process and we were trying to take photos, my camera was not cooperating and I was trying to hold off the ugly cry until at least after the photo. Christina Chua and her brother, Joesph Chua,the founders of the CEO Foundation were invaluable in comforting us all, assuring Jim and his extended family that this was not an end but an increase in love and a growing of a family, not the cutting off. Praying we all have a joyous reunion in Heaven one day, if not before!

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The Director wanted a group photo with all that were at the orphanage. Many children here have living relatives and at different breaks/ holidays they leave to spend time with them as they are able. Thankfully many of Jim’s friends were there! We had brought some gifts for Bill, the other precious one we hosted last summer but we were told he had been returned to his grandparents after they refused to release him for adoption. I have no idea what that means for him and I pray he is provided for and able to get an education. Most of China does not allow the adoption of social orphans, thus why most orphans are abandoned. This area is one of just a few, due to extreme poverty, that does allow it. I had hoped he could remain where he could be fed and educated but if his grandparents are able to care for him then that by far is the best option. While I’m clearly an adoption advocate, I also believe it should be a last resort. If there is a way to love, educate, provide for and raise up leaders in their birth countries then that is always the best option! That is why I am so passionate about what Lifesong for orphans does in all the countries they work in, the way WIPHAN serves in Zambia, and so many others. After talking with the CEO Foundation I feel like that is their desire and I felt really good about their work there and their future plans. They opened in 2011, they want to minister to whole family units, they are spearheading the “ Family Anew Foster Care Program” , they are working on a library, have a dance and art room, school room, teach music,etc. Again, its’ not a family but for those stuck in-between, it’s a good environment. The 4th floor rooms are all named after fruits of the spirit and the directors were not shy in making their faith clear to us. Their goal is stated “ We aim to demonstrate ‘Love in Action’ towards the underprivileged, the hurt and the poor”. So thankful for the love and care this organization and Jim’s grandparents have poured into him. He has been well loved and that will continue!

We toured all the rooms, took photos, sang “ Head shoulders, knees and toes” with sweet Esther about 20 times, listened to Jim play the piano, and then rode the elevator down for what was a quick sweep into the van for our final goodbye. I had to grab my bags and by the time I came out they were all in the car, Jim was crying and upset along with most everyone in the van, his grandmother was crying and of course I was too! We embraced again and then closed the van door and drove away. The sound of crying slowly drifted to silence as we made the somber ride back to the hotel. Watching the scenery pass by and processing all that we had just experienced left me exhausted and about ready to kill a few kid who don’t understand that you don’t have to use such a loud voice when we are all crammed in a van together in close proximity. Jim, Samuel and Elizabeth bonded on the back row over Temple Run and snacks and before long we made it to the hotel. We went upstairs for a few snacks, got some video of the kids being silly and then decided to check out the restaurant downstairs for a safe dining experience. Sadly there was no menu for ordering, it was all a buffet, a HUGE buffet, but since it wasn’t cheap and we were not really that hungry we passed. We tried the bar menu but it was not appetizing. We ended up ordering pizza and soup from room service but by the time it arrived Cole was too tired to eat so the rest of us ate and then we all crawled into bed physically and emotionally drained.

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Day 4, August 12, 2014

by Joy Portis on August 12, 2014

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My anticipation of Jim’s arrival kept me awake till around 1 am. We had a wake up call set for 7:30 and although I had taken Lunesta I still woke at 5am. I decided to try and take a hot bath and spend some time in prayer. I quietly got dressed by flashlight because the modern room we’re in has glass windows separating the bathroom from the bedroom. The shades that come down are very cool but when the bathroom lights are on it allows a good bit of light into the room and I didn’t want to wake the girls. I slipped out with my computer to the lounge area upstairs for some coffee and to check emails and try to update the blog.

It was peaceful watching the town below come alive but the view was reduced by all of the smog. Electricity is produced by coal and considering the city of ZhengZhou is over 10 million, that equals a lot of smog! Many people on the planes, trains and in town wear masks. We’ve even seen a few designer ones that are colorful and adorned with rhinestones.

One by one the girls began to join me in the lounge for coffee! By then I was on my second or third cup and between the coffee, sleep deprivation and excitement we ended up with some silly selfies!DSC_8830 DSC_8833 DSC_8834 IMG_5142 IMG_5146 IMG_5150 IMG_5186

At 9 am we met Rosary in the lobby and headed to the Civil Affairs building. Jim had not arrived yet. Soon after we arrived a group from CCAI arrived with their children. They had gotten their children the day before and were back for their official 24hr signing of papers stating they wanted to finalize the adoption and then participated in a short oath ceremony. We enjoyed talking to several of the families and learning about their children and their families. When we adopted Samuel we traveled with a group of America World Adoption Agency families and it was a sweet time getting to experience growing our families together. It was nice having a support system and we enjoyed the fellowship and thanks to social media we are able to keep in contact with most of our group. It seems like just yesterday we were here! Time is passing too quickly! We are a month short of it being 9 years… crazy!DSC_8838 DSC_8840 DSC_8841 DSC_8842 DSC_8844 DSC_8851 DSC_8855 DSC_8857 DSC_8858

 

The kids were watching the window looking for the van Jim would arrive in. They began shouting that he was here and we all ran out to greet him. I’m sure we scared him the way we all attacked the car and him but I was a little taken aback by his hesitant hug and his smile was not as intense as I was expecting. He kept looking back and seemed uncertain. Joe, one of the chaperones from the hosting program and an orphanage employee had brought him and then I heard them mention his mom. Then I turned to see an unfamiliar woman getting out of the car. I was not expecting her and I was overwhelmed with so many emotions not only for myself but also trying to process how both she and Jim must be feeling. I hugged her and we took a photo with Jim together and then I lost it. I could not stop crying. Cole asked if we could have some time with her and Jim to ask some questions and get a better understanding of their history. I could not participate! I was in ugly face cry mode and took a water outside along with a handful of tissue and had a good cry and tried to get myself together before returning inside. When I returned from my walk they were finishing up and Cole assured me it was a good conversation. Jim’s birth father passed away when he was an infant. His mom had remarried when Jim was young and had created a new home and family with her new husband and Jim had gone to live with his Paternal grandparents. Sadly he has not had a relationship with his mom. She pretty much seemed completely detached but did light up when she talked about his biological dad and how tall, kind and compassionate he was. I can not imagine the confusion and emotions he was processing having to travel with her for hours in a car the day before and then overnight before coming to meet us at at the Civil Affairs building. I pray it was a time of healing for them both and that will remain my prayer! Again, adoption is a beautiful thing but it comes with great loss and pain! Just as our spiritual adoption cost our Heavenly Father great pain and suffering though the sacrifice of his one and only Son, the process of adoption always includes the same. He is our only home in taking the mess of our lives and turning them into something beautiful for HIs glory… beauty from ashes! Praise Him!

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I think the conversation they had was comforting for Jim as well. When they fished he was back to the playful and happy Jim we knew last summer. He was playful with all the kids and even seems to be more of a daddy’s boy. He went and sat beside Cole and copied his exact sitting stance :-) He took charge helping his mom understand how to sign the paperwork & I gave her photos of Jim and our family from last summer and she seemed at ease. It was really important for us to know that the “story” we had been told about his past was confirmed by his mom. It was important for us to know she had a clear understanding of what adoption is and what she was signing. There are way too many cases of deceit in international adoption and as an adoptive parent it’s our responsibility to ask questions, listen to previous adoptive families who have lived/are living nightmares because their adoption were unethical and agencies just flat out lied and do as much as we can to make sure the information we have lines up. So while I was not expecting to see her, it was such a blessing!

Cole and I took our “official” photo with Jim that will be on the certificate we get when we return tomorrow after the 24 hour trial period. Jim and Cole are radiant and I have my big puffy ugly cry remnant eyes.

We returned to the hotel, Jim showered and changed clothes and we decided to head out for lunch. We were about to start out when I realized we still had not exchanged any of our money. I sent Cole back into the hotel but since they have only been open 3 weeks they are not set up yet to exchange money. We were getting directions from one of the guys on staff at the hotel and then he told us he’d show us. We thought he was just going to walk us around to the sidewalk and point us in the right direction but he kept walking with us. On the was we saw our first accident. A car and moped had collided. The car kept going and the scraped up woman and her crushed moped were still in the middle of the rode. Our escort checked on her and she just seemed to have surface scratched and I’m sure will be sure but there continued to remain in the middle of the road and the security guard sinning on the sidewalk never even walked over. We finally made it to the bank and with only two tellers it took about 30 minutes before we we called. Cole was going to exchange $300 in travelers checks. She was typing on her computer then turned a calculator around showing there would be a $22.50 service charge to exchange! We needed money so we said ok, but thought that was quite a rip off but when you don’t speak the language we just said ok. A few minutes passed as she typed some more and then she said she had made a mistake, it was $2.25…. much better. Our escort then continued on with us to show us the local shopping center with lots of stores as well as many Chinese restaurants. Not having a guide with us to recommend food options we decided to continue on downstairs to the Pizza Hut. It was a unique menu but it had photos and English descriptions so we felt confident we could order ourselves. Samuel and Jim chose their rice dish and then we attempted to communicate our pizza order. Elizabeth wanted a pepperoni pizza and thankfully that was an option on the menu and with pointing and gestures we ordered her a personal pan. Zoe and JC wanted cheese so we thought that was communicated pretty clearly. Next we attempted to order a custom pizza made up from ingredients on other pizzas: pepperoni, green peppers, olives and tomatoes….. thats’ when things got complicated. Since ingredients weren’t listed individually Cole started pointed from pizza to pizza on different pages pointing out the ingredients. SKIP and JC were helping using their own pointing and gestures and then Jim was also trying to figure out what we wanted and interpret for us. Finally we thought we had a clear understanding with our waitress as she confidently shook her head yes, that she understood. Before long Jim’s dish arrived and then Elizabeths personal pan pepperoni pizza….. we were feeling confident. Samuels order arrived correctly and our mouth’s were watering as she approached with the final two pizzas but as she put them on the table neither were close to what we thought we ordered. Then we panicked thinking every pizza we had pointed to for ingredients was about to be delivered to the table. we were starving by this point s owe just started picking off the thinks we didn’t like or were unsure of and actually liked the corn, pineapple, sausage combination and the veggie pizza; however, my cheese pizza only eaters were not as willing to try. We tried to again ask for just a cheese pizza but from what we understood they don’t have cheese pizza :-) I’m guessing they are all pre made…. or else we just weren’t able to communicate clearly. We decided to point to the safest one on the menu and they agreed to just pick off the ingredients. All was good! Thankfully we had exchanged money because when they swiped my credit card three times they said it kept saying not good. Thankfully we got to skip that adventure of finding out how they handle a large table of diners that can’t pay :-)

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By this time my body was shutting down. Since we were in a three story shopping mall we walked through a few stores and looked around but we were all pretty tired so we walked back to the hotel. The girls went to our room and we all were asleep within 10 minutes. The boys had some good bonding time playing cards, eating, kicking a ball, watching tv, etc and Cole and Samuel enjoyed a nap as well. It was sweet watching the boys all enjoy each other. We decided to have dinner in the room eating foods I had packed: ramen noodles, mac n cheese, pb&J, cream of wheat, etc. I was not up for another restaurant experience. It was a quiet evening and eventually we all made it back to sleep. Hopefully tomorrow we will make it out of the jet lag drag and function full speed.

 

Day 3 August 11, 2014

by Joy Portis on August 11, 2014

We enjoyed a few hours of sleep and a hot shower before heading out to get something to eat. Dion, our guide in Beijing, took us to a place called Peter’s Tex Mex Grill. It had everything from waffles, fajitas, burgers, mexican, omelets, etc…. everyone found something to order that they were excited about ( I brought an entire suitcase filled with food because I have some picky eaters) and the food was delicious! I was surprised to see a sign on the bathrooms doors labeled cowboys and cowgirls :-) I almost felt like we were back home for a second.

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After lunch we started making our way toward the train station. That was an adventure in itself. We had 4 actual lanes of traffic, however the cars, busses, pedestrians, bikes and motorcycles were creating about 6. It is truly an art they way they can squeeze in, around, and through each other without a wreck on every corner. We enjoyed the sights from the windows and the excitement of all our close calls with pedestrians and vehicles. Dion took our passports and got our train tickets for us while we waited at a nearby hotel. When tickets were purchased we were dropped off at the train station and got in line to enter. It was strange getting so many stares and seeing people taking photos of your family from a distance. Once inside it was a crazy crowded mess. We had a few hours so Dion found a restaurant we could sit in as long as we purchased something. We gladly purchased drinks, although Dion ended up having to pay for them because they didn’t take credit cards and we haven’t been anywhere yet (during business hours) to exchange our money. About 45 minuted before we were scheduled to leave we got in line for our train. It was a hot packed mess and no one respects the line. If there is space, you push on up. We had two men in front of us that kept turning around and staring, not even trying to be discrete, just staring. It’s just funny! Zoe had the same thing happen to her in the restaurant. The lady literally stayed turned around in her seat the entire time and did not take her eyes off of her. She was smiling and just mesmerized. In the entire packed train station I only saw two other caucasian’s and no other african americans, so I know we were quite interesting to see. We even caught a few trying to be discrete by taking selfies with us in the background. :-)

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Dion was allowed to go through the gates with us and even onto the train to help us find our car and seats and get settled! Such a blessing! It feels luxurious after being in cramped airplane seats for 2 days and I’m thankful for a break from the turbulence. I enjoyed listening to my music and just watching the scenery change as we left the city, passed beautiful fields and crossed through the countryside.

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We had a good laugh listening to the recorded announcements. The man was informing us that there was no smoking on the train, the importance of keeping the air fresh, etc after a pause he said “Please do not poot….your paper towels down the toilet”. We were in tears laughing because there was a pause after “poot” before making it clear he meant “put”. We recorded it the next time and keep watching it over and over laughing….we could just be delirious, but we enjoyed the laugh none the less.

After going to the bathroom and discovering our first squatty potty of the trip ( made extra fun by a fast moving train) I came out to see the woman next door exiting from a restroom with a normal toilet. I passed on the news to the rest of there crew so they could avoid the squat as long as possible. A bit later JC needed to use the restroom. He came back laughing because he could not figure out how to flush the toilet and ended up hitting an SOS button on the wall. Soon after help arrived and now he knows :-)

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They finally announced our stop….Zhengzhou East! When we exited the station our guide, Rosary was waiting for us. We hoped in the van and as we drove she told us Jim was in town at another hotel and that we would meet him at 9:30 in the morning!!!!! He will stay with us 24 hrs in case we want to change our mind ( NOT) and then we will sign paperwork stating our desire to adopt and then we will head do LouYang for a visit! I hope we are able to get some sweet photos with his friends and caregivers. I know he loves us and is excited to come home but I also know he will experience great loss leaving and grieving the only town he has ever known, friends, extended family, caregivers, teachers, etc. Please pray for him during this difficult time! Adoption is a beautiful thing but it is ALWAYS paired with extreme loss. My the Lord give him peace as only He can.

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Sleep deprivation Elizabeth style:

 

Finally I get to hug my sweet son again! I’m exhausted but not sure how much sleep I can get due to my excitement! This town is huge and one of the 3rd fastest growing provinces. The Henan province is made up of 100 Million people and this area, Zhengzhou has a population of 10 million and growing….crazy! There are high-rises all around and they all have bright lights that rotate in patterns and even the exit ramps and loops are all lit up. Our hotel, the JW Marriott, has only been open three weeks. Our guide wasn’t sure where it was until we gave her the address then she knew exactly which one it was but just didn’t know the name. They have been calling it “the corn” because at night the entire thing is lit in yellow lights and it is the shape of a piece of corn.

photo 4We are on the 49th floor which is beautiful, but I also keep thinking that’s a lot of stairs to get down in case of emergency. I located the stairwell just in case. I was hoping there would be a slide but no such luck. Going to unpack and try and get some sleep because I GET MY SON IN THE MORNING!!!!!!!

On the other side of the world my sweet Eli started Kindergarten today! I can’t believe I missed it but I know he was loved on well by his grandparents, teachers and new friends! I can’t wait to hear all about it! Thanks mom for the photo!

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Day 2 August 10, 2014

by Joy Portis on August 10, 2014

We deplaned in Tokyo, went through security again and walked a long way to our next gate. After getting settled and having a snack I went to get Samuel’s heart medicine and realized I had left the entire gallon sized ziploc bag on the pane under my seat. I was sick! It contained everything: our sleeping medicine, Samuel’s heart medicine, antibiotics, nausea meds, tylenol, advil pm, benadryl, my epi-pen…. how could I have been so stupid!!!! My suitcase was above another mans head and I didn’t want to disturb him again to return the bag so I put it under my seat….stupid! Cole had walked to the Delta room to see about flights, etc so I was trying to figure out a way to text/ call/ etc since I didn’t get international coverage. Finally he got my message. They checked… the plane had left. The lady actually went to the gate to check to see if it was there, it wasn’t…BUT someone at the gate had seen someone throw a bag of medicine in the garbage….. she dug in the garbage and FOUND IT!!!! So so thankful for the Lord putting each of these people in the right place to help my forgetfulness! Oh how the Lord looks after his children! It was such a sweet time of praise for how he worked all those sweet details together just for a ziploc bag to be found, how He’s worked every detail together for this trip and His perfect timing even amid all the delays in the adoption process and our travel day so far. How comforting it is to rest in Him and call out to Him in both the big and little details!

This flight ended up being delayed two hours as well so the kids sprawled out laying on the empty seats. I was sitting typing and Zoe was on a bench in front of us sleeping really well. The next thing I know her body flails and in one big swoop she was face flat down on the floor. She was so tired and disoriented…..it provided a great period of laughter for us on tough travel day.  IMG_4972

We finally boarded the flight to Beijing! It was crowded and we were the only non Asians on the flight. By this point we are all completely exhausted, however I have trouble sleeping sitting up……apparently the rest of my crew does not :0)

 

 

I’ve already shared my flight anxiety. I was slightly concerned that throughout the flight they continuously showed the safety video. Then about half way through meal service the dreaded turbulence arrived. They were announcing for staff to get seated, discontinue serving dinner, mom’s take care of your kids first, if your in the bathroom hold on tightly to the handles….not what i wanted to hear. I buried my face doing deep breaths while praying and finally it smoothed out.  I was thankful Wes Bailey Had recirtified us in CPR before we left because I thought for a minute my husband might have to use his skills on me.

We got our luggage and the airport looking for Dion. We were so relieved to see his face! He took us to our hotel for the night. Our flight to Zhengzhou that we missed was the last for the night. Sadly all flights are full for tomorrow So it looks like the Amazing Portis Adventure will involve another mode of transportation….. the train. Very few slots were left for even that and the seats Dion described don’t sound like they are the best and he’s a little concerned about the kids being overwhelmed because it will be very crowded and if you’ve ever been to China then you will understand when I say there really isn’t an understanding of others personal space :-) It will be a 4-5 hour ride and I’m sure it will be interesting, but I’d ride on the top to get to my son! It’s currently 5:30 Monday morning ( 4:30 Sunday afternoon ) and we just got settled into bed! we have to check our by 11 but will explore a little before he takes us to the train station around 3. Our train is scheduled to leave at 4 and get into Zhengzhou around 8 or 9 and we still hope to have Jim then! We will see what adventures tomorrow brings. The kids have been amazing travelers every step of the way!

After we’d waited a year to bring our son home you’d think I’d be prepared for when we finally got travel approval, however that was not the case. The day after we received approval I was flying to Houston for three days for a heart cath. Cole and I were busy searching for flights, changing appointments, rearranging his work schedule, making childcare plans, not to mention school beginning the following week. It was a CRAZY week filling out 2 million back to school papers for 9 kids, packing, worrying about my mom coming to stay with our 3 littles and two foster daughters, arranging some help for her and having a few surprises thrown in like car trouble and Traye having to have his two front teeth removed due to an accident and all of that left me staying up way too late packing last night but I got about 2 hours of sleep before the alarm went off. Who cares… I’m gong to get my son!

We left home about 4:45 headed to Birmingham. We had an 8am fight to Detroit then on to Beijing. About half way to Birmingham my mom called to say that Delta had called and delayed our flight 2 hours to Detroit which would cause us to miss the flight to Beijing. We immediately got on the phone, actually 3 phones calling Delta. We arrived at the airport and still had not had an agency representative answer. We stayed on the phone and waited in line at the gate. We finally made it to the front of the line ( over 90 minutes on hold and still no agent)> He tells us the system has automatically rebooked us for a similar schedule the following day. Well, if you’ve ever been in the path of a mama trying to get to her child then you can only imagine my feelings. He said that was really the only option so we decided to wait for a ‘Red Coat” to see if he might could help further because mama bear was about to go cray cray on this man telling me to come back tomorrow when I was sure tomorrow would have brought the same delays. I was adamant that we were getting somewhere today that would allow us to be where a flight to Beijing departed.

After waiting over an hour the Red Coat finally showed up. Cole was telling me to be salt and light and how kindness gets you further. I thought he had that covered pretty well so I went forward with the mama passionate about getting to my kids and positive that there was a way to get us somewhere today. When he walked off to see what options he could find I assured my kids we had shown him the best of both world: kind, patient and cooperative as well as making the urgency clear in getting to my son! In the end it seemed to be my mama’s passion that motivated him the most :-) and he came back with a plan for us to leave for Atlanta, catch a flight to Tokyo ( at least it’s Asian), then Beijing then on to Zhengzhou, Henan. We were originally scheduled to get into Zhengzhou after Midnight and then get Jim that morning at 9:30. Due to the delays and flight changes we knew we’d miss the last flight out go Beijing for Zhengzhou that we had been scheduled for but off we went, and figured we’d figure out a plan when we get there.

Our flights were pretty uneventful. We originally and all the kids lined up in a row all with wind seats so they could have a place to rest their head on the 15 hour flight but that was no more, but WHO CARES…. we were on a plane getting closer to my son!