Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Do you have any brothers or sisters?"

It was the one question I answered without thinking about our cultural differences. Sure, I remembered where I was as we sat at that wooden table in the middle of the dumpling restaurant. Sitted next to me was Daniel. He was on my left, but on my right was a local. A local meaning a Chinese resident. We shared a table with another couple, 2 ladies taking their lunch break I assume. If we spoke the same language, we easily would have been a part of each other's conversations. We were sitted close. Like pass me the salt, er,  soy sauce close.

In the van ride from the Beijing airport to our hotel the night before, we were acquainted with our first guide, Flora. She is only a few years younger than us. In fact, it was the first thing she noticed about us. Typically couples who adopt from China are older with biological kids of their own. We learned quickly through our adoption that most of the families who adopt already have kids, bio or adopted. To have a couple without kids to adopt from China isn't as common as one might think. Flora's exact words to us were "You're young."

"Thank you." I knew she was my favorite for a reason.

We talked government laws on the way to the hotel. She wanted to know how we were able to take off work for our China trip. She was intrigued with the concept of the FMLA. Giving both women and men time away from work without fear of being fired to bring home a new child was a foreign concept to Flora. She agreed it is a good government program to have for its citizens.

12 hours later we sat at the dumplings restaurant waiting for our (melt in your mouth, so delicious, take me back to China this minute, fantastic) dumplings to arrive and continued our small talk. When she asked about our siblings, I didn't really think too much about it. Her next question helped trigger my memory about the country we were presently in. She asked, "Are you close?"

Flora grew up under the One Child Policy in China. Over the years, there were exceptions about the number of kids based on the number of siblings between a husband and wife. For the most part, it was the same. One child. Not by choice, but it was the law. Flora was intrigued by the concept of having a sibling while she only had close friends who she shared an apartment with. Just like most of the people who she knew, it was rare for her to meet someone with a sibling (or more). In that moment, my heart broke for Flora. Not knowing the pure joy of growing up with another human(s) who could relate to the current issues and situations happening in your household made me sad for her. So I took it upon myself to (over)share life with my sister. I told about growing up with a younger sister and our fantastic Hawaii trip just 1.5 years prior to being in China. Flora was intrigued, fascinated, and hanging on every word. Then the food came out and all talking was over, because we were stuffing our faces with dumplings using chopsticks, drinking warm Chinese Coke from a can, and wiping our faces with a tissue. (Tissue meaning a one-ply sheet of a toilet paper square. The Chinese do not believe in making a mess while eating apparently. Each table had a box of these "napkins". I always used an entire box of "napkins" at every meal, because, hey, I get messy when I eat.)

This lunch started our lifetime bond with Flora, our guide, who is now my personal pen pal. We just recently reconnected through emailing each other. She is a sweet soul who is eager to learn about others and their lives. She became more than just our guide during that week we spent with her. She became family. She was the last one to see us as Todd, party of 2, the first one to see us become parents. She Go-Proed, took our pictures, shopped with us (i.e. with me and she loves H&M), ate tons with us, was patient with us, made us feel like a local, and guided us through the most important decision of our married lives. We love and miss you terribly, Flora!

at The Great Wall
March 7, 2015

riding the bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin
March 8, 2015

one last picture with Flora before we left for the airport to fly to Guangzhou
March 12, 2015

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Wu-Mart

Ah, yes. Welcome to Wu-Mart!

The Wu-Mart in Beijing was located on the corner of the streets. We first saw it when we made our middle of the night McDonald's run. I needed hairspray and Daniel wanted to check out the local shopping so we decided to head out one night after another several hour long, jet-lagged nap.

The buggies were outside the entrance, which seemed unorganized to say the least. The entrance didn't have doors but rather had the long plastic strips to help keep in the heat and the cold out. This should have been my second clue that I wasn't entering an American-style supermarket. (The first clue being I was in China.) There were several floors to this supermarket and honestly I don't really remember much about the entrance once inside. I knew that I needed hairspray so we found the hygiene area. Have you ever been shopping in an Asian store where none of the words are even recognizable? In some non-English countries, one might be able to decipher the meaning of a few words, but in an Asian country it is very hard if one isn't familiar with their characters.

So I stood there in front of the shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, hair gel, lotion, and body wash aisle examining each bottle and how the product would go from inside to out of the bottle. I was grasping for any clue while searching for hairspray. I found a bottle with a pump on it and asked Daniel for his advice. Did he think it was hairspray? Is there a chance it could be hair gel with a pump instead? Or could it be something completely different? We agreed it likely was hairspray and I would ask Flora, our guide, the next day to make sure I wasn't misusing this what I believed to be hairspray product.

So we decided to explore. We went up the escalator and found where all the food was located. And there were bins of fresh produce as far as the eye could see. Next to the produce were other bin-type containers holding all of the fresh meats. Now these meats would NOT pass the American food laws because they were out like the produce. Not wrapped in plastic and some not even in coolers. Most of the meat you could tell which animal it came from since it wasn't cut  into smaller sections or grounded up. Nope. We saw it all there. Pigs, octopus, rats, rabbits, cow, and other mystery meat that we could only imagine it was.

It was a very different grocery shopping experience compared to here in America.  It was almost like a market type store, but it was inside and it felt very dark despite the overhead lights. I wish we would have GoProed our experience.  Maybe next time.

Here is my Chinese hairspray from the Wu-Mart. I am still using it a year later!  You can see my delimma when looking at the bottle and trying to figure out exactly what it was. My guess paid off!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Untold China Stories: McDonald's and the Americans

It's no secret that when you travel 24+ hours to the other side of the world to a different country to a different hemisphere crossing the International Dateline there will be stories that go untold. Obviously our main focus while in China was to adopt Paisley, but we also took that time to explore her birth country so we could share bits and pieces of her heritage with her as she grows. This meant getting submerged in China. Although we had our guide with us most of the time, our agency did encourage us to venture out on our own. Scary? Yes! Did we do it? Of course! We didn't want to be cooped up in our hotels the whole time. Just like with any new experience or trip there is always a story to share so please enjoy the upcoming blog series of our untold China stories, which are quite lengthy. I don't want to leave out any details, and you're welcome.

Disclaimer:  If you've never been to a non-English speaking country, please remember this is where we were. Also keep in mind we were in a communist country so I was also secretly terrified for my life even though we were told it was fine.

McDonald's and the Americans

We spent our first day (3/6) in China sightseeing Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and taking a Hutong Tour in Beijing. It was an exhausting day, and we got back to the hotel around 3pm. We made plans to meet Flora, our guide, the next morning so dinner was on us. Since we were still jet-lagged, we thought a nap would be appropriate.

(Let me stop here and describe the Chinese beds. I am all for a firm mattress. Give me the firmest you got, but these Chinese mattresses were highly uncomfortable. Maybe it was this particular hotel or maybe we got used to them as the trip went on but I did not sleep well in Beijing. Also, the pillows were terrible and there was a fitted sheet and a down comforter. No top sheet in China. Either you burned up from the covers or you froze from not being covered. True story. And during this time of year, Beijing is cold. It was in the 30s during the day while we were there. Walking around. Walking, people! We rarely took a taxi in Beijing except from the airport, to/from The Great Wall (2 hours from Beijing), and to the train station.)

Back to the story: This nap turned into a 5+ hour nap so it was 9:30pm when we woke up. And we were hungry. I suggested running down to the convenience store next to our hotel. Quick, easy, and very limited time in the cold. Daniel didn't want to do that and wanted "real food". So we decided to walk down the street to see about trying some local cuisine. There were noodle shops every block so it was about trying to decide which restaurant's menu looked the most appetizing. The menus were plastered to the windows for easy view. 

We found a restaurant that we both agreed to try so we went in. The guys were in the back cleaning so we looked at the menu to make our final choices. One guy came running to the front when we came in the door. He quickly realized we didn't speak any Mandarin and proceeded to tell us it was "open". We said, "Ok, great! We want numbers..." "No, no, no. We're open." "Yeah, ok. Good. We want..." Then he realized he meant to say closed instead of open. We apologized for not knowing they were closed, and Daniel asked where the closest McDonald's was. (In China, there are noodle restaurants on every block and every few blocks there are McDonald's.) The guy gave us very vague directions with a lot of turns and "crossing of the streets". Frankly, I knew we would get lost. I wasn't confident in this guy's English since he said the store was "open" when it was indeed "closed".

So we made our way to the McDonald's on the streets of Beijing around 10pm. Honestly, all I could think about was how frightened my parents would be if/when they found out we were walking at night the streets of Beijing. Not just any city, but one of the biggest cities in the world in a foreign country with no way to communicate if something happened. Yep, I would be grounded if I wasn't 31 and not living under their roof. In fact, Mom was not pleased to hear this story when I told her weeks later when we were home safe.

As we made our way to McDonald's, I noticed that there were quite a few people out. The streets weren't crowded like they were during the day, but it reminded me of being in downtown Birmingham during the day and all the people out. One thing about China is everyone (unless they interact with foreigners daily) keeps to themselves. No one says "Nihao" or anything when passing by people. The Chinese are focused on where they are going. 

After about a mile of walking, we finally made it to the McDonald's! I had never been so happy to see that place ever in my life!! We tried to order but our words were lost in translation and they had to get a paper menu out for us to point to. I got a double cheeseburger combo and Daniel got a Big Mac combo both with Cokes. (We drank a lot of Cokes while in China due to the fact their water is undrinkable. Every day we were given 2 new water bottles at each hotel we stayed.) Let me just say I'm not a big McDonald's fan, but I was forever changed while in China! You have never tasted a more delicious hamburger than at the McDonald's in China. We pretty much ate McDonald's everyday (sometimes 2x a day) during our 2 week stay. It sounds pricy, but everything is so cheap in China especially food. Our 2 combos cost around $7. It was like 2 for 1 over there!

We decided it would be best to eat there before making the cold trek back to our hotel. We found a table facing out the main window with some chairs like a bar type table. As we ate I thought about how hilarious it must be to the locals to see 2 Americans seated at the window table staring out onto the Beijing streets while eating their McDonald's. I will say that we learned that McDonald's delivers in China via a bicycle. And they were making deliveries at 10 o'clock at night.

On our way back to the hotel, we looked at the shops and talked about where we might want to try next. At the end of our street on the corner, we found the next place we would venture to...The Wu-Mart.  

Yes, Wu-Mart, not Wal-Mart. That untold China story is next...