Thursday, March 31, 2005

I Have Faith in The White House

The one on NBC Wednesday nights, that is.

After a showstopper first season followed by Aaron Sorkin's drug and tantrum issues, followed by his departure which featured many a dry eye at NBC, The West Wing was becoming such a bummer for me. It was beyond "jumping the shark;" it had just started stinking mightily. It had lost the crackle that had made it appointment television when it first burst onto the scene. Some people may claim that it's Rob Lowe's absence that brought the show down, but I would respectfully reply, "Not so, Mrs. Lowe." It was way bad writing and boring character development.

So--am I showing my dorky colors by being actually, literally delighted that a TV program will feature both Alan Alda AND Jimmy Smits next season?! Maybe it's because I've been away from TV for so long, but West Wing last night gave me hope that it might--just might--return to its Aaron Sorkian glory next season. Alan Alda, I'm not ashamed to say, is a genius piece of casting, and Jimmy Smits---well, you don't need me to tell you how guapo he is.

Giddy Up!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

It's My Birthday

Tomorrow is my birthday.

I will be 33.

I remember being little and doing the math that showed that in the year 2000 I would be 28. I remember thinking that 2000 was as tangible or comprehendible as the other side of the moon. I mean, 28 would be ANCIENT. I never got around to doing the math for 33, mostly because my concept of aging could not support the notion of me actually being something ridiculous like 33. I mean, what would 33-year olds be doing anyway? It’s not like they had toys and recess and girl scouts and soccer games on Saturdays. Anything greater than 28 felt sufficiently ludicrous as to be of no consequence.

And yet, here I am. Down a girl scout membership but up a few toys, perhaps a more defined appreciation for recess, and still some soccer games on Saturdays. It’s not so bad. I’ve also learned quite a bit on my trek since that 7-year old math equation:

Taking the risk to love someone is always worth it.
Living well is always the best revenge.
Sunscreen and vitamins really are non-negotiable.
Beware the things with which you fill your life in order to escape from your life.
If you are intimately familiar with the story arcs on more than 3 television programs, sell your TV and get familiar with your OWN story arc.
Never forget how it felt to fall in love and have your heart broken; it makes you kinder to both your friends and kids when it happens to them.
If a guy disrespects his mother, he will disrespect you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but the disrespect will come.
The responsibility for cutting the apron strings has to rest with the child. No parent can easily let go as long as the child hangs on; it’s not in our nature.
Corollary: Yes, financial support equals apron strings. Really.
Telling one painful, difficult truth will save you the heartache of the distrust created by many little lies.
Your integrity is all that you truly have; guard it with your life. Lose someone’s trust and you have lost everything.
You always have the power to choose how to act, be it dishonestly, kindly, rudely, positively.
A man cannot give you what he himself does not have to give. If he doesn't love himself he can never really love you; if he doesn't value honesty, he will never be honest with you.
If you get a dog, you WILL start buying each other gifts from him, even if you swear you won’t.

And to the boys in homeroom: shy fat girls do indeed blossom into gregarious women who can’t believe how fat YOU are at the reunion. ;)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

You Might Be a Redneck If...

…you are not Scottish. By which I mean to say that I think, friends, that were I not from an off-the-boat Scottish family, I would be a redneck. Or, maybe more than a redneck. I might be a full-on hillbilly.

My family’s status as Scottish immigrants is, I believe, the only element saving us from USA Certified Grade A Prime redneckitude. How do I make this determination? Well, a few factors, one of which occurred this past week, that really make the case:

1) Growing up, we had a broken down washing machine in our back yard. It broke; my parents got a new one…and so didn’t have the extra money to pay to take it to the town dump. And so there it sat, for years, I think. In sheer high school embarrassment at one point, I even went so far as to wonder whether I could plant something nice in it and maybe hide that it was a non-functioning appliance in my back yard. I recall specifically seeding right around it, hoping that we would grow mammoth rhubarb to cover it. Broken Appliances in Yard---CHECK!

2) We also had an old indoor chair on our porch, where my dad liked to sit and smoke his pipe and watch the sun set. I used to sit out there with him, loving the smell of his pipe mixing with that fresh, zippy "tomato plant" smell from our yard, along with the remnants of whatever we had had for dinner. See? It already sounds like a Huck Finn evening, doesn't it? We just need a riverboat and some mischievous hijinks to make it complete. In any case, Indoor Furniture Kept Out of Doors--CHECK!

3) Our car, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit now but wasn’t at the time, had a “Sh&t Happens” bumper sticker. Yep. We were those people. We didn’t see any problem with that; after all, it’s not like we had a “Baby on Board” thingy. So, “Sh*t Happens Bumpersticker”—CHECK!

4) And the final reason that proves we are putative rednecks: this past week, my “blog-shy baby daddy” who likes to remain nameless, faceless and attributionless (and so most likely will never be mentioned again to preserve his secure, undisclosed status—and no, he’s not Dick Cheney) dropped the bambina off at my parents house while I was at the doctor being probed for green phlegm. He said the following: “Little H (my niece) met me at the door, midday, in only her onesie.” No sooner had my daughter been transferred to my parents than they had her pants off because their old people apartment is kept so d**n hot all day. So his view upon leaving our daughter was thus: two old people (mercifully fully clothed) and two half-naked chilluns—still wearing their shoes! Dear Lord preserve us.
And so! I give you: “Half-nekkid children in shoes with granmaw and granpaw”—CHECK! CHECK! and CHECK!

Next up: my daughter and I get matching mullets.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

A Little Something From China--

I learned yesterday around 2am that there apparently is no surer way to get the attention of the medical establishment than to call your doctor in the wee hours and say, "I have a 102.7 fever, I've got chills and aches and flu-ish symptoms, a lot of upper respiratory/coughing issues......and I just got back from China."

When I arrived at my doctor's (which is a major medical facility) it was like a less-dramatic scene from Outbreak. I walked in, and said, "Hi, I'm..." and the woman leapt out from behind the desk, finished my sentence for me, and handed me a surgical mask to wear. I was led to a private room and told to keep the mask on; everyone who entered the room was in mask, gloves, almost full medical riot-gear (not really). But it was definitely weird to be handled as if I was a "carrier" of something like SARS or avian flu.

I definitely felt like hell. No question about it. I usually avoid doctors as much as possible, but my temperature scared me sufficiently that I had to get some help. So, over the next several hours I had a battery of tests for lovely afflictions such as malaria, SARS, Influenza A and B, etc etc etc, all the while being kept isolated in case I was "live."

My favorite part of the day (if there can be such a thing) was meeting the Infectious Diseases doctor. He was extremely nice, very warm, and I could tell was trying to establish a timeline of exactly when coughing started versus when the sore throat started versus when the fever erupted in order to determine what I had brought home without declaring in customs. My favorite exchange went like this:

ID: "What color are you spitting up, if any?"
Me: "Dark Green. Very gross."
ID: "Do you have any of it in those soiled tissues there that I could take a look at?"
Me: "Um. Yeah. But that stuff is mostly yellow. The really nasty green one is already in that biohazard burn box across the room."

{Walks across the room and briefly considers reaching in, but defers upon seeing a pretty full box of godknowswhat}.

ID: "No matter. I'll take the yellow."

GENIUS!! I mean, you could not script a moment like that! If I had not had a raging fever and a hacking cough that was lifting my lungs out of my chest cavity through my throat, I would have chuckled at the fantastic piece of work from Central Casting as the Infectious Disease professional. Warm, likeable, and willing to go (almost) anywhere for some really nasty phlegm. I could tell he could NOT WAIT to get himself back to the lab and take apart my louie, atom by atom. Niiiice.

In the end, I have some kind of nascent pneumonia and potentially an influenza of unspecified nomenclature, which means Tamiflu, hardcore antibiotics (I think I need that Monistat coupon now!), and wearing surgical masks and latex gloves around others so as not to infect them for the next 2-5 days.

I know that some people are thinking that this is a pretty crappy ending to the whole China trip story, that it's such a rotten payoff, and that maybe it was a bad idea to go to China for my daughter due to health risks. Well, all I can say is a) She's worth it, and b) it beats an episiotomy!

Felices Pascuas!

Happy Easter tomorrow to all those celebrating!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Stop Me If I've Told You This Before

I'm tired.

"How tired are you?!!" you ask?

Not just sleepy, not just fatigued: bone tired, but in all the right ways. As you know, I just got back from China with a very dolce bambina. She's a happy chappy all the way around, smiling, laughing, yabbling, loving meeting everyone. But when it comes to bedtime, she is firmly still on China Time. That means that 7pm Eastern Time is 8am China Time. That means that she has zero interest in going to sleep. That means that not even well-timed naps during the day have made a difference. That means that she wakes up pretty much every hour on the hour throughout the whole night to see if I want to play and/or feed her yet. That means that the following has occurred in this house:

1) Falling asleep standing up--and subsequently falling over--luckily onto a soft surface
2) Looking at all of the horrifying political stuff going on here in the US (can you say "Wolfowitz?!") that I can't even begin to get a chance to read, much less comprehend and blog about
3) Wondering whether I should preface everything I say with "stop me if I've told you this before" because I can't remember what I've said to whom, when or why--even within the same 5-hour period
4) Actually having this conversation (a la Jerry Maguire) with a nine-month old child at 4:45am, after 11pm, midnight, 1am, 2am and 3am wakeups: "Help ME help YOU! Help ME help YOU! Just tell me what you need and I'll do/get/make it! Can you tell mama what you need?" To which she replied, "mamamblablablama" with a big smile. Mystery solved.
5) Looking at all the photos of us being taken and thinking, "She is gorgeous! What beautiful eyes! And looking at myself and thinking, "What beautiful eyebags!"

I swear I will get back to the serious bloggage as soon as the jet lag passes and I can get more than 40 minutes of sleep at a stretch, not to mention the strength to discuss social security, guns and Wolfowitz.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

My Ode to Air France

Yes, you read that right, folks. In this space and on this day, The Haggis will give a major Zut Alors! or some sort of Gallic "Big Ups" to Air France. I had to be convinced/shamed into writing this, but upon reflection, it's only right that I continue my ongoing mea culpas for trashing French people without due cause in earlier posts.

As mentioned before, my flight from Beijing to Paris was delayed by Parisian fog for over an hour. When the flight landed in Paris, my flight home to the USA was 20 minutes from takeoff a couple of terminals away. I had already resigned myself to spending the night in the Charles de Gaulle airport, because I did not have a visa to take my (still) Chinese citizen daughter into France. I was just sick about it, thinking about how I could find a flight that would land anywhere in the USA, even on the west coast.

Well, much to my unmitigated joy and admitted surprise, I stepped off the plane to find a lovely woman waiting for me and the bambina, who put us in a car and drove us directly to the right terminal and walked us right through to the jetway for the flight home. We were in our seats as the plane took off just 10 minutes behind schedule, with me just feeling such incredible gratitude and relief that Air France took the time and effort to make sure a lady and her baby made their flight. I was truly worried, not knowing what I would do to pass 24 hours in an airport with a new baby, where she would sleep, all the nightmare scenarios you can imagine. Luckily, Air France really came through for us, and I am so incredibly grateful.

So there. I said it. Air France Good. Haggis Grateful. French People Lovely and Helpful to Lady with New Baby.

Next post: pigs fly over DC.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Now I Can Say It

Now that we are all safely home, let's talk about political discussion in China, such as it is.

Discussing politics in China is a weird experience. Even with the very westernized people we were hanging out with, and with whom you could discuss things like Taiwan and Tiananmen Square, there was an overriding sense of not understanding the world's fuss about free speech and free thought. Most people will not admit to feeling like they can't say or do what they want, simply because in many cases they feel that they can. The practice of religion is allowed, nominal dissent is allowed, western culture is more or less allowed. The key is, to my eyes, that they are allowed only up until the point where they begin to have power or to generate a significant following, e.g., falun gong. It's almost like the government has found the perfect way to give a little leeway on the things that make people feel like they have freedom while keeping a tight lid on any that get out of hand. In this way, the people I spoke with felt quite genuinely that they had all the freedom they could ask for, and that "troublemakers" like Taiwan independence groups are the real threat to the social order. Another example is the Buddhist lamasery in Beijing where Buddhists go to worship; the site, however, is presented as a "historical" offering, ie, because Buddhism is part of China's rich history, the People's Government has preserved and protected it for future generations to also come and worship. The government has quite skillfully made it okay to be Buddhist and even a Tibetan Buddhist. Just as long as you don't generate a vocal and powerful following that could upset the social order of China. The government has done a masterful job of allowing just enough freedom to keep any restlessness at bay, while branding those who would want more freedom as troublemakers.

The US doesn't currently have any credibility regarding Freedom and Democracy with nations like China. The people I spoke with see a nation full of guns and death and pornography and violence and prurience--and wonder why on earth they would want to have any of it.

Being in China made me think of our efforts in Iraq, as much of a non-sequitur as that may sound, simply because my conversations with Chinese people (albeit a non-representative sample) left me with the sense that, above all things, for good or for bad, the Chinese culture values social order. Any effort to sway Chinese people toward any ideology would have to honor and address that societal value if it would be successful. Do any of us know what tenets the Iraqi culture values and what elements of our work there would need to be modified or scrapped in order to achieve success? I'm not sure we understood, going into Iraq, what we were getting ourselves into, simply because we didn't attempt to understand what the Iraqi people would require--on a purely values level--of a new system.

What I'm saying is that it's not as simple as just exporting American Democracy to other nations. It's creating a culture, a movement, an underlying social ethos that explains why democracy is good or even necessary, and furthermore, ensuring that the message and the messengers understand the foundational values of the society to which it is being promoted. It stands to reason that if the people upon whom you are bestowing Democracy are ambivalent about its consequences (ie, free speech must allow for pornography, freedom of worship must allow for Benny Hinn), you are pretty much fighting a losing battle before you fire a single shot.

Home Sweet Home

After a 24-hour travel day, we made it home last night. My first thought (among many) was, "I can finally eat fruit and vegetables!" followed closely by "Yay! My own bathroom!"

The trip home was miserable simply due to its sheer duration. Our in-country flight from Guangzhou to Beijing was one more experience in Barely Controlled Chinese Aviation Mayhem. The flight was bumpy, the piloting was scary, and when the baby cried during takeoff and landing due to her ears hurting, the entire female population of the plane was trying to get me to hand my daughter to them so that they could, in their minds, do a proper job of comforting her. In Beijing, we ran the airport gauntlet of people letting us know that our baby was not dressed properly, even though we hadn't picked up our luggage yet, which contained her winter outdoor wear. I was reminded that the behavior is obviously cultural and not intended to offend, much like perhaps grandmothers of other ethnicities make Other People's Business their business. But the frequency of it and, no doubt due to the language barrier, "hands-on" nature of it, where total strangers are walking right up to you and pulling on your kid's pants leg or arm sleeve and in general getting in your personal space, just felt so oppressive.

The trip was also tiring because of the quite humorous (when you are not traveling with a baby for many hours) lack of a “line culture” in China, ie, there are no lines or queues. You just simply jockey and jostle to move forward; you barge in front of people—in stores, airports, doctor’s offices, hotel check in counters. I’m not kidding. In China, if you stand in line, no fewer than 3 or 4 people will simply walk right past you and up to the desk until you protest or barge up there yourself as soon as you learn that waiting is exactly that—-waiting. Standing in line does not bring you closer to the desk or office or airport gate. It simply meets your need as a westerner to line up and wait.

The concept of a line, until McDonald’s arrived in China, was as foreign as, well, McDonalds. My friend in Beijing said that it took about a week after their grand opening for “The McDonald’s Culture” to enforce lines in their restaurants, but before that, it was total chaos for which the western managers were not prepared. Now extrapolate that to airport behavior which, in any culture, does not bring out the kinder, gentler side of people and you will see why traveling in China is just so exhausting. No one lets you go first just because you have a child, and in fact, you are seen as an easy mark for pushing past because you are obviously not going to endanger you kid to get ahead 3 spots in a line, so you spend the entire time trying to not get shoved—-baby’s head first—-into a wall. I was left wondering that, for a nation so obsessed with child health through warm clothing, there is, quite humorously, no concomitant obsession for not smoking near a baby and for not trampling a mom and baby in pursuit of getting ahead in the non-existent line.

Anyway, from Beijing we flew through Paris on Air France. I felt bad thinking it when I saw that our flight from Beijing was delayed, but all I could say was, “I am getting myself and this kid out of China today, if I have to fly to Brussels to do it.” I just needed to get home—one way or another. I hadn’t eaten fruit or vegetables or brushed my teeth with tap water in 3 weeks (due to giardia, and I just so needed an apple, a red pepper and a good amount of water pressure on my toothbrush. For a few days, try brushing your teeth by pouring bottled water on your brush and then swishing the bottled water in your mouth to rinse; it lacks the simple satisfaction of some good old water pressure right out of the tap.

The flight from Beijing to Paris was about 10-11 hours, during which my daughter rocked the house. She was smiley and chatty and in general the kind of baby that lets all the worried-looking passengers breathe a sigh of relief when they realize that the plane has landed and they didn’t once hear any drama.

Foreshadowing to the flight from Paris to home.

Another 9-10 hours. Perhaps not the best way for a 9-month old to spend her day, after having just done it immediately before. So we gave her Benadryl for the takeoff so her ears wouldn’t hurt and to help her cold, etc. She slept a good bit of the flight, was in general amazing, based simply on her calmness and friendliness after 10 hours of travel and after just one week of meeting new parents, flying for the first time, and in general having her whole world turned upside down. I was so proud of her because this scenario would have killed me, but she was taking it in stride. Until the last 30 minutes of the flight. Where no food, no drink, no toy, no NOTHING could stop the blood-curdling screams and the fussiness and the all-around loud and consistent shrieking from which there was no recovery. I was that parent I have hated on airplanes.

At first I could feel myself getting embarrassed, looking around for Chinese women who would be judging my fitness to parent a Chinese child, then I started worrying that people would hate my kid or think ill of me and my ability to “control” my child. I looked around and started getting glares from people. And you know what? It was almost like the glares and angry looks instantly changed my attitude from being concerned about THEM to being concerned about my child. I thought, “Y’all. It’s been 9 and a half hours and you didn’t even know there was a baby on this flight. You’ve had your sleep and your multiple drinks, you’ve seen your movie, read your magazine. So how about sucking up 30 out of 600 minutes of a very tired baby just saying, ‘I’m done.’” I instantly thought to myself that they could all #$%^ themselves; that she had been a trooper and, after traveling for a full day at 9 months old, was just finally overwhelmed. Now, I’m not saying it was fun. I was trying everything, but could not get up and walk her around because we were in the descent, but was pulling random toys and even toiletries out of my bag to see if maybe “hey! It’s a tube of Desitin! Wow!” might be the thing that would end the wailing of the baby banshee. Twas not to be. She screamed till we landed, nonstop, without pause and without lowering a single decibel in 30 straight minutes.

Now, if only there had been a Chinese lady on board… ;)

Friday, March 18, 2005

Top Five Signs I've Gone to the Dark Side

Friends, I realized today after perpetrating #5 on my child that I have spent the last week, quite frankly, becoming my mother. I love my mother incredibly and thank god every day that I got to be her child, but I can't say that I ever wanted to hear or see myself doing those things that used to bug me, or that just strike me as scarily "mommish" when I still see myself as a happenin' thirty-something. So, in order that you may share my horror, I present to you, on my penultimate evening in China:


5. Today I wet a tissue with my saliva and rubbed some dried cereal off my child's face--and then pronounced her cleaner with my spit on her face than with cereal.

4. Upon seeing slightly more "cohesive" poop in her diaper after a week of antibiotics and major runnage, I exclaimed, "Good girl! Nice poopies!" and was actually genuinely happy.

3. Because I was alone in the hotel room with my daughter who freaked if I left her alone, I myself went to the bathroom with the door open with her sitting watching me. You can't teach someone that kind of motherly class, ladies and gentlemen. It just comes to me naturally.

2. I was at a restaurant where she had a teething meltdown; I stood up, rocked her to calm her, and was actually singing along to the muzak, which was "Memory" by Barbra Streisand. Anyone who is not appalled to be seen in a foreign country singing show tunes by Babs in the middle of a restaurant, must obviously be doing it for their child.

And the number one sign I have gone to the Dark Side:

1. To determine, while in a meeting in the hotel lobby, whether she needed her diaper changed, I nonchalantly lifted her up and sniffed her butt.

It's a dangerous, slippery slope, my friends. Today it's butt sniffing and before you know it, it's wearing a June Cleaver apron and making cookies and Tang OJ for all the neighborhood kids. Motherhood: Bad for E, Bad for America. ;)

Plain English is an Oxymoron

Today I tried to teach one of our handlers about playful sarcasm and teasing. He tried to put a baseball cap on my daughter's head to be funny and she fell back, hit her head on the floor and started to cry. She was sitting and it was carpeted, so there was no harm done, but I decided to tease him with, "Man! I didn't know that giving brain damage was one of the services you provide!" I was smiling when I said it, and a couple of other families laughed, but he looked so upset, and started apologizing profusely.

Determined to not only salvage this poor guy's day but to also turn around my ongoing Creating Inadvertent Ill Will Tour of China, I told him that today's program was going to be about Western Teasing, in which people say obviously ridiculous things in order to playfully josh with people they like. I explained to him the first lesson I learned when my family moved to the states, and that is that Americans generally only playfully tease people they like. So when someone is playing with you, it doesn't necessarily mean--as it usually does in Britain and obviously China--that they are trying to embarrass or harm you; in fact it means just the opposite. We then went through a role play of different things I might say that would sound very grave but if delivered with a smile and if seemingly out of proportion to the situation, could therefore generally safely be construed as teasing.

It was so funny to try to explain a particular type of humor to someone in a literal, instructive way. There is almost no way to translate it. At one point he said, "Everyone has to be here at 10:30--and don't be late!" And then I followed up with a throwaway, "Be there or be square, kids!" We discussed BTOBS for about an hour simply because each element of my explanation required explanation in and of itself! I explained what a "square" is, how it is a retro term (what is retro?), how you can say it and be funny but you have to say it like you know it is retro and not like you actually say that on a daily basis; it has to be delivered tongue-in-cheek (what is tongue in cheek?) went on and on like that, each idiomatic expression leading seamlessly to the next, to the point where I wondered if I use too many idiomatic expressions...

It was sweet because he really wants to learn, and funny because you realize that, for all of the Chinese language's seeming inscrutability due to the written characters, it is easier to learn than English. We discussed how a knife can be dull but so can a person. How "laughter" can be laffter, but "daughter" is not daffter. Just the most seemingly mundane things that you don't think about as a native English speaker but that people learning it must tackle.

So in the end, I was glad that he didn't throw himself off a bridge for the "brain damage" remark, that he got some sense of sarcasm as a valid humor vehicle if used judiciously, the value of some retro terms, and most of all, that he smiled big and wide when I called him The Mack Daddy of Greater Guangzhou when I saw him ride in on his motorcycle. This slightly dorky, very shy 23-year old guy smiled, I think, because the only non-inappropriate translation for "mack daddy" I could think of in the moment was "a successful flirt."

Yes, folks. On my second to last day in China, the Haggis finally struck a blow for positive US-Sino relations. I feel all warm and happy--just like Dick Nixon circa 1972.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

It's Been One Week and a Whole New World

It's way early and I am up for the day, methinks. I woke up because I heard the bambina make a noise that sounded like a cry, checked on her, found her to be still well asleep, and decided to just sit and watch her breathe and enjoy the moment. I suspect that I will have a lot more of these 5am days, where I will get up an hour early to get ready for the day so that I can be all about her when she wakes up.

As I sat watching her I was thinking about the day we got her, which was exactly one week ago. (Although I hate the word "got." It's so pedestrian and just not at all what I feel happened. I feel like I was Gifted with her or that I met her or that we met each other or something besides the word "got." You 'get' chickenpox; you receive or meet or connect with your daughter. I just haven't found the right way to say it yet; stay tuned).

Anyway, I was thinking about the day we met each other. I had dressed up in my boots and skirt and nice shirt, because I wanted her to know from the photos what a big day it was for mommy that she actually wore a skirt! I mean, if you dress better to eat at an Olive Garden than you do to be given your child, then you have some priority issues to work out, at least in my notsohumble opinion. So the skirt was on, and I had everything planned for how it would go, what I would feel, what I would say to her. Those of you who know me know that I am an emotional person, but not in that Lifetime Television for Women way which I find embarrassing. I do not cry at Hallmark or Tasters Choice coffee commercials, I don't weep at any random Joanna Kerns/Connie Sellecca/Nancy McKeon movie of the week, and I have never felt at all moved by Touched By an Angel. I deplore maudlin sentiment in all its forms because I think it minimizes true sentiment that may be less dramatic and camera-ready, but is far more sincere and heartfelt.


You know how this went, don't you? When we got to the waiting room with the other families, our name which always is called last, was called second. In my surprise, all of my mental preparation went immediately out the window as I reflexively jumped up and near-sprinted toward the entry door for the babies. My plans for how I would feel were completely obliterated as soon as I saw those little scared, rheumy eyes peeking out from under a big winter hat and big puffy clothes that covered her mouth. She was, in essence, just a wee little ball of pink fluffiness with eyes. And can you guess what happened? I, me, the committed deplorer of all public displays of anything, promptly burst into tears at my great good fortune. In a room full of people no less! If you know me and my Scottish Calvinist background, you know how remarkable a happening that was.

In the days since, I have found myself tearing up when I see her make such big strides in such a short time. When she laughs for 10 minutes straight and shows her little teeth. When she gives me kisses after not knowing what they were just 7 days ago. When I saw her passport photo taken yesterday side by side with a photo taken last month and you almost think they are two different babies; it just brought home how far she has traveled in such a short time for such a wee little lass. It all just gets me in a way "baby stuff" never did before.

So I was thinking this AM about how becoming her mother changed me in small and big ways almost instantaneously. I was glad I had dressed up, but I didn't care that every photo would have me with big red eyes and runny makeup. I didn't care that my hair was getting matted and sweaty as I held her because she was so overheated. For perhaps the only time in my life, I didn't care at all what the pictures would look like. Didn't worry about a big nose or bad hair day. I just cared about the fluffy pink ball with eyes.

Maybe she will look at those photos when she's older and say, "Of course mom is crying; she always cries at stuff like that," never knowing that the moment I became that person is captured in the very photo she is holding.

My Inner Andy Rooney

Well, I was told by my traveling compatriot that my post yesterday was a bit "grumpy" and that I was perhaps a little hard on Eastern medicine which has been shown to be effective in many cases. I agree; it works in certain cases. I am in no way denigrating Eastern medicine. I am denigrating bad medicine. I found out today that the guy in our group who had 6 days of diarrhea was given (I couldn't make this up!) "meat juice" as a medication. He wisely decided against taking it. He was also diagnosed with "tonsillitis" but has not had tonsils since he was about 4 years old. So, with a little help from our friends back home, we are taking the bambina off all meds ASAP. We'll be home soon and everything can wait till then. We're already Typhoid Marys, so why rush to change it, right?

In the meantime, I am still grumpy. China and I are in that difficult stage of our relationship where we know each other really well, still love each other, but have ceased to find all of each other's idiosyncrasies purely charming; we now find them to be equal parts charming and intensely irritating. We find ourselves looking around the room at the other potential suitors, certain that this one or that one wouldn't do that thing we hate, or that somehow we'd be much better suited with someone else who would understand us better and make us like ourselves more ("I bet Russian adoptions don't make you take stupid medicines!" or "Man, if it wasn't for this place I could be having an awesome time at a Guatemalan adoption!"). As with all long-term relationships, which China and I are, I just need to honor my inner grump, ride out the storm, stop fooling myself that any other country would be any better in similar or even different ways, and know that we will be in love again as soon as we get some distance and perspective. Again, like all great relationships, there are some things--like meat juice--on which we will never agree and will perhaps heatedly argue about till the day we each shuffle off this mortal coil. But it doesn't mean I've stopped loving China; doesn't mean I don't want to come back. It just means that I reserve the right to lovingly find it so irritating I want to scream, and to wish it would get its act together on something that seems so obvious to the rest of the planet.

On that note, and in the continuing vein of grumpiness, we had a truly communist indoctrination moment on the way to the babies' health exams for their Chinese passports. It was in a courtyard outside a school, where 5 men at a table were "judging" each class of little children (like 4 years old), who were all dressed up in uniforms and doing kiddie military precision movements. You know, sort of like a cross between Band Camp and the Hitler Youth. CREEPY. Above it all a soundtrack in mono (as opposed to stereo, for the youngsters reading the Haggis) with music and what sounded like exhortations played out over the loudspeakers. I took some photos surreptitiously because it was such a totalitarian kiddie creepfest. Our handler didn't seem fazed by it in the least, but all the Americans were wigging out because it was like a scene from Schindler's List. I clutched my little sleepy baby and just could not wait to get her out of there. It was one of those things that just leaves you feeling like something really wrong just happened but nobody involved in it is noticing. The hairs on the back of my neck were straight up; I can't explain why it was so disturbing, because I don't think any of us needs words to know why.

In another quick note that I will explain more fully when I am home, CNN Asia goes black during certain segments that discuss Taiwan. I will hear the intro, "Dr so and such is here to discuss the situation with the cross-straits relationship; Dr So and Such, tell us"...FADE TO BLACK...{3 minutes later}...BACK TO PERFECT RECEPTION..."Well, thank you Dr. So and Such for that excellent commentary.... And now to sports where Manchester United scored another one to win a berth in the premier...blah blah..." The first couple of times it happened I was, as grumps usually do, getting ready to call down to reception to tell them that the TV was defective. Until we noticed the pattern and decided not to call attention to it. While the TV was black, however, I took the opportunity to enjoy the China Daily, which is the govt-run English language newspaper, where I learned that most Taiwanese are delighted and satisfied that China just passed the recent law regarding secession. They even have quotes from the man in the street saying that it is a good and great thing for peace. Who knew?!! In terms of news from the US, before we get all cocky however, I do need to say that the main news topic about us is usually shootings. If there is a shooting anywhere in the states, I assure you it is reported in the news here. Why indeed would you want to go there and be like them? You get shot AT CHURCH in America! Better to stay safely here where strange looking "stars" don't molest children with cancer. And if any poor Chinese person watches HBO Asia, they will have a truly skewed view of American culture. There are movies showing on the channel that I have never heard of and that star people like Pia Zadora, The Guy From Boston Public, The Woman from According to Jim, and the kids that DIDN'T make it onto Saved By The Bell Series 5. And all of them are either having sex or getting murdered. In every single movie. The guy who had 6 days of diarrhea said he watched all day and night (cause what else can you do?!), and didn't see anything but slasher flicks with no-name actors. We're so proud! At least the US is exporting *something,* right?

Well, I'd better get some sleep. I don't want to risk hitting the next level of grumpiness, which is crankiness, and which then leads to misanthropy. I need to lose the grump and get my contentment going so that China and I can kiss and make up before we part; as long as it hasn't had any meat juice, that is.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I'm the Mommy

I wish I could write this post and tell you that I am better than this. I wish I could say that I'm not prone to being petty. I wish I could say that I am bigger than feeling self-important. But I'm not.

I am feeling very happy and proud and what the Good Book likes to call "stiff-necked" tonight. You see, since getting my daughter, I have been (as I've shared with you) judged, assessed and shamed by Chinese ladies--total strangers--in the street and in the medical clinic for doing something wrong, or not doing something I should be doing, or for something so minor as letting my baby suck her finger as she teethes (um hellooo?! I've had her for 6 days! There is time aplenty to work her out of that; right now it makes her feel better and I'm not going to stop her!). Tonight I just hit my limit of feeling judged by "the village" that apparently wants to NOW raise my child.

It happened at a local restaurant away from the hotel; all of the waitresses were hanging around to look at all the babies and tell the moms what we are doing wrong, in one of those cross-cultural situations that neither side can understand the other. All the American moms were just at our limits with the constant invasion into our lives and child rearing practices in the 6 big days we've been doing it, and the Chinese women couldn't understand why we don't take better care of our children by dressing them better and keeping their fingers out of their mouths.

Because of where we were sitting--and perhaps because my daughter is the cutest baby currently domiciled in all of China--about 4 women started playing with her, talking to her, touching her. One of them rolled up her sleeve to make note of some dry skin and point it out to me. I very nearly stood up and had it out right there. I was trying mightily to be polite amid the very obvious culture clash, but all I was thinking was "Don't touch my child; I don't know you and neither does she. Please stop touching my child."

And then my kid came through for me, little awesome munchkin that she is. She was standing on my lap with her arms around my neck looking back at the ladies, when one of them in particular kept doing that open-hand movement that says, "come here; come to me." When I saw it, I was just thinking, "Aww, HELL NO!!! I don't know you! And you have already started pulling up her shirt to look at her skin?! No way are you touching my child." And at that moment, my daughter grabbed my neck tighter, whimpered, and looked away from her and snuggled into me like, "I don't want to leave; don't make me leave."

Rock Star Baby Delivers The Smackdown!!!

And with that, the disappointed crowd departed, no doubt not understanding the essential fact that my girl and I internalized from the millisecond we met: She is mine and I am hers. Simply looking Chinese doesn't make you more familiar or comforting to her, anymore than being a random white woman would be at all comforting to a white baby who wanted her mother. Being her mom makes me familiar and comforting to her, regardless of what I look like. And yes, dear waitress, even after just a few days.

So! My little finger-sucking, smackdown-delivering, no-hat wearing baby and her totally delighted and uppity mother will just be heading on our way now... Sweeeeet!!! ;)

I Should Have Gone to Med School

We were told before coming to China to bring any and all medications that we might need for any ailment. Did that. Had a suitcase full of them. But there are certain conditions that require a medical visit and prescription that you just can't anticipate. Which means visiting a Chinese medical clinic. Which means hours of confusion and worry and frustration on both sides, not simply because of language, but because of a fundamental disconnect between the ways we view medicine.

For instance, I happen to worship at the altar of the antibiotic. I do not use them needlessly, I harangue those who do, I absolutely want them to remain effective because they are, to my mind, the silver bullet for so many situations. I am open to the idea of other complementary treatments but would never ever substitute actual medicine tested via the scientific method for mashed tree bark or some such substance. Hence the disconnect with the medical situation in China.

At least in the clinic that I have visited, and in speaking to others who have had to visit others, there is a persistent belief in certain folk remedies that seems to hinder or prevent the rapid and effective cure of certain conditions. Obviously, in some cases a slower hand is warranted. In others, why would you get better in 10 days if you could get better in 4? And if one more person tells me that keeping my baby in 5 layers of clothing will cure bronchitis, I will completely lose my noodle. Antibiotics cure bronchitis. Medicine cures bronchitis. Mittens do not. They don't hurt. But they don't cure bronchitis. And no I will NOT be feeding her the green tea herbal thing you gave me, even if you are a doctor. I, as an adult, wouldn't randomly take an herbal concoction in a foreign country, and I'm d*mn sure not giving to my baby. Especially when I can't read the bottle and the one English word in it did not show any results on google. Stupid benchmark maybe, but I figure any kind of medicine or name brand would show up somehow.

So every visit to the clinic has been a small exercise in frustration, although to be fair, with good intentions on both sides. But I'm just so over it. I'm tired of being asked if I'm keeping a hat on her head, whether I keep her warm in the bath, etc etc. Yes, yes! So can we have the medicine now?! You know--to ease her symptoms and cure the disease? So she doesn't develop pneumonia? So I don't get a case of it too?! Please?!! Then it occurred to me: I bet they don't have the meds. They don't have a stash of cipro and amoxicillin on hand, so they are relying on all this other stuff because they have had to. Luckily, we are getting the meds we need because we are westerners, but I am willing to bet that the local residents are simply wearing hats, staying warm and drinking green tea mixes.

All told, I never thought I'd say this, but I miss my Rite Aid. I just need a pharmacy that sells actual products that have actual active ingredients in them, like hydrocortisone cream and cough syrup; not bear bile powder and shark fin essence. I swear, for my own cough, I would literally spend a hundred dollars for a bottle of robitussin, so desperate am I. I kid you not: My kingdom for some robitussin. I have never once before in my life been grateful to my core for a pharmacy on seemingly every corner where anything I need is available, sometimes 24 hours a day. I'll never take that for granted again.

Keepin' it Real

As you'll recall, we have a couple of "handlers" here who keep us on the straight and narrow, who handle all of our paperwork filings, and who generally show us a good time while in Guangzhou. The two handlers have also gone above and beyond the call of duty, like accompanying me and the bambina to the hotel clinic at all hours to translate between me and the doctor when she's been sick. Really great guys who work 7am till about 10pm every day, dealing with high maintenance Americans. Or worse, high maintenance Americans who get righteously indignant about their kids. (To briefly digress, I want to say that I love the USA, think it's the greatest country on earth and I am so glad my parents moved us there when we were little. I'd take a bullet for my country. However...can we all agree that sometimes it is embarrassing to watch other Americans on tour in foreign countries? Can people of good faith agree that we are perhaps not, to a man, the most gracious visitors to foreign lands? That sometimes we see our fellow Americans acting rudely and know that they are the national family equivalent of the Uncle Drunkypants at the family barbeque telling dirty jokes in front of the kids, feeling up the brother's wife, and in general making an embarrassment of himself and his family but no one wants to engage in an intervention to change his behavior because they don't think it will do any good? That is how I have felt quite a bit here, as have a couple of the other parents. Okay. Just needed to get that off my chest).

So back to the handlers. They are amazing English speakers but are not well-versed in a lot of idioms or western culture, as would be expected from people who have not traveled outside China. As such, they want to learn as much as they can from the visitors to Guangzhou. The main guy, S, is really cool, and keeps asking me to tell him some cool phrases to use for the next group of parents who come. So I started racking my brain trying to think of something. "Whatupdawg?" "Howdeedoo!" Nope. No luck. All I could come up with when asked for a better hello and/or farewell than "heya" and "see you later" was (and I'm not proud, I'm just saying): "Keep it real." As soon as I said it and he breezed out of the hotel room, I immediately wanted to call his cell and beg him to not actually say that to anyone from the states or they'd think he's a total dork and then I would consequently look like either a total loser or like I'd played a joke on him. I was smacking my forehead saying it out loud in disbelief that it had actually emanated from my own lips: "keep it real?!! Are you KIDDING?!! When have you, E, ever said Keep it Real in a serious manner? Never! That poor guy is probably walking through this hotel right now exhorting westerners to Keep It Real, like it's 1995."

So tonight at dinner I had to confess to S that, as cool and funny as I am (hah hah hah. oh-start!), I am the whitest chick in show business and I have no business coming up with ANY cool greetings that are representative of any culture or era. I started explaining to him until the blank face told me he had no idea what I was saying, "Remember in the Old Navy commercial where Fran Drescher says 'fo shizzle ma nizzle"? THAT was the sign that the phrase was dead and should not be used by anyone purporting to be remotely cool or au courant." Seeing the confusion, I tried another route: "Ring a ding ding out of the mouth of Francis Albert Sinatra is a guaranteed invitation to a swoonfest. Ringadingding out my mouth makes me look like a weirdo." Not a glimmer of recognition. None.

And that was when I realized that the challenge facing China (and my handler) is far greater than simple language. It is a lack of knowledge, pure and simple, of Frank Sinatra. How can ANY nation hope to achieve superpower status without having even HEARD of Frank Sinatra and The Rat Pack?!!! I almost fell out of my chair and got the vapors. No "Mack the Knife" with Dino, no "Live at the Sands with Count Basie" where he did his 50th birthday concert and was hilarious, charming and sang with those still-amazing pipes as in his younger days. No buddy movies with Sammy and the gang, no Manchurian Candidate (oh, er, em, right. of course not)...but you get my point. A world without any trace of Frank Sinatra? He made so many singers/actors/politicians possible. He was a prototype for so many elements of our culture today that you can't even enumerate.

And then I realized that this was my moment to truly make a difference in S's life. Forget stupid phrases. Forget communism vs. capitalism. I, E, was going to rock this town and rock it hard. I was going to expand S's brain and life to the outer limits of cool and hip and dames and booze and banter and class and brawls and men being men and broads being broads...(okay, well not ALL the facets of the Rat Pack). So I started just rattling off random facts: "You've never heard of Frank Sinatra?! Born in Hoboken New Jersey?! Ol' Blue Eyes?! From Here to Eternity?! Oceans Eleven? Hung out with presidents and mafia dons?! Sang every song like he was singing to you and for you? Refused to eat at restaurants that wouldn't serve Sammy Davis Jr?! Who is Sammy Davis Jr??! Water! I need water! Ayudame!

So, my friends, my job for the remaining few days I am here is to teach S some new and exciting facet of Frank Sinatra. Why he matters. Why he was cool. Why so many crooners want to be him but are only Joey Bishop. How his singing represented a generation--a couple of generations--and continues to this day because my daughter goes to sleep to me singing You Make Me Feel So Young. When I get home I want to send him some stuff, which he will no doubt not get, about Frank just to show him a little slice of American cultural history.

In the meantime, as a goodwill gesture, I've told him to tell his next group to "hang loose," that they are "peachy keen" and "waaay groovy." That oughta keep him busy till my Frank stuff arrives...

Sunday, March 13, 2005

My Chinese Redemption

As I mentioned earlier, today we went to the Buddhist Temple. It is an unseasonably cold 50-ish windy degrees today, as it was yesterday, which is where the story of my Public Shaming begins.

Yesterday was very rainy and very cold, so obviously the bambina was not taken outside. Instead, she was put in the baby bjorn and walked around the indoor city that is this hotel to look at the waterfall, the fish pond, the rock formations, etc in the lobby. As I stood on a little bridge and showed her all the fish in the pond, a Chinese couple came up to me to (I thought) admire my daughter, as they do all the time: "Lucky girl! Beauty baby! Lucky beauty girl!" What a comedown I had in the ensuing 30 seconds. The woman walked over, pulled my daughter's trouser leg down to cover the one inch of skin between her pants and socks. She then called her husband over to look at the naked leg, rubbed it as if to make it warm, and then shook her head at me and said something in Chinese that no doubt meant, "I'm calling DSS on you!" Followed by "cold baby! cold baby!"

Yes, friends. I was publicly shamed as a parent. Taken to task in front of god and man for parental malfeasance and neglect. As ludicrous as I thought the woman was, I was so embarrassed because a few other people on the floor above looking down saw the whole thing and were also cluck-clucking at this crack ho of a mother who obviously can't even dress her daughter properly, much less raise her to be a productive and happy member of society.

So today I resolved that it would never happen again. My daughter would be admired, adored, and swooned over. She would never again be seen as the unfortunate orphan child who ended up with a lax, incapable parent. Today I was ready. Today I dressed her like we were in Antarctica. Long sleeved turtleneck onesie, too-big jeans, a hand-me-down Ralph Lauren cardigan, big socks--all covered up with a huge puffy hooded winter outfit with the covered feet and hands. I even added a hat under the hood just for good luck. And good thing I did! At the Buddhist temple, not only did I get the usual "lucky beauty girl!" and "your first?! oh! so lucky!" but I got an actual Thumbs Up sign from not one but two old ladies. I was drunk with joy, and even a little bit cocky, ie, "Hmmph--you'd think they'd dress their kid as warmly as I've dressed mine..." hee hee. It was awesome.

With the sting of my shaming still fresh last night, I asked our guide how people here feel about the adoption of the girls, and whether they don't like us for coming here. He said it is exactly the opposite. That the ladies swoon over the baby girls because they, as old ladies do, love baby girls especially and are just so glad that, as he put it, "this unlucky girl has found some good luck." I appreciate that they look at it that way, but whenever they say "lucky girl! lucky baby!" to me I always shake my head, point to myself and say "lucky mama. lucky mama" which makes them smile even long as my baby is wrapped up so warmly that she can't bend her arms. :)

The Fat Americans Strike Again

Today was to be a trip to the Buddhist temple in Guangzhou to have the girls blessed by a monk, which was a wonderful idea, and which we were thrilled to have happen. It was a really nice quick ceremony, led by a monk in traditional buddhist monk garb---and a Nike woolen cap. East Meets West, baby!!

After the ceremony was a tour of the grounds, which include one area of the temple filled with little bookmark-looking cards all along the wall with photos of deceased ancestors. I was struck by how similar it was to the yahrzeit wall in Jewish synagogues. So that was a neat trip.

Next thing you know, people on the bus want to go shopping at the jade market. So off we go to the jade market, at which one family decides they are going to have scrolls written for every single member of their family at home. So what was to be a 20 minute stopoff for people to haggle and buy jade became an hour and a half waiting for this one family to get their d*mn presents. Don't mind us! We're just a bus full of people with babies who have not yet been fed; but please! Take your time and make sure you get Aunt Ethel her d*mn calligraphy scroll here because god forbid you buy one on your own time near the hotel for 50 cents more. Grrrrr!

So apparently, while in the jade market, a couple of families decide that they really want Starbucks and McDonalds, and so now the half-hour trip to a temple is looking like a 3 1/2 hour trip to get cheeseburgers and overpriced lattes. Simultaneously, my daughter is *this close* to completely losing it. She has missed her nap; she has not eaten; she is still not feeling super great; she is sweating like a fat kid; and the other babies are starting that one-by-one descent into inconsolable wailing that can only mean one thing: she is next if someone doesn't get the d*mn bus back to the d*mn hotel in the next 5 minutes. So 4 of the 8 families ask the guide if we could skip the McDonalds and Starbucks and just head out; the other four brought their other kids with them, and god forbid they make their 12 year old forgo a quarter pounder with cheese at 11:30am. So the 4 fast food families won out, the rest of us seethed, my daughter lost it LARGE, and one poor new dad with raging diarrhea just whimpered, praying for a return to the hotel ASAP. He said he only got on the bus because he thought he'd last even an hour max at his baby's buddhist blessing.

I cannot tell you how livid I was. Don't these people get it? We're not here to make sure we get cheap jade; we're here to adopt and bond with our kids and to experience the culture from which our children have come. But they put such pressure on the guide to show them a good time, and to get them some western food because they are "so sick" of Chinese food, that he felt like he had to relent to their wishes. By the time we got back to the hotel, it had been 4 hours since my daughter had eaten, and I couldn't figure out if I was more mad at the Fastfoodistas, or at myself for not planning better. So--lesson learned: ALWAYS bring more than you need, even if you think you are just running out for 30 minutes; it could turn into a 4 hour bus ride into h*ll; and the kind of tourists who have the stones to tell a Chinese person that they are "so sick" of his country's food, will ALWAYS outplay, outwit and outlast a guy on the bus with diarrhea...

Friday, March 11, 2005

If it Weren't for the Grinding Poverty and Communism...

..I could totally live in Guangzhou.

The lifestyle here is just my speed. Very New Orleans. Very French influence. Lots of outdoor space, like Shamian Park, where Chinese people do ballroom dancing, tai chi and play mah-jongg. I like that all of the kiddie play areas have adult exercise areas too, so while the chilluns are swinging, the oldsters are swinging on elliptical-style apparati. It's pretty cool how the young and old interact, at least here in South China. A lot of shared public spaces. But a lot more poverty, as you would expect far from the nation's capital.

A major similarity with Beijing, however, is the literalness of the language. As we walk the bambina around the town, we notice that every store is named things like, "Jennifer's Place" and "Wendy's Place" or perhaps "Lily's Place." That's it. No "Kountry Korner Keepsakes" or "Souvenirs, Etc" or anything non-specific like that. It's just, "Sandy's Place." And when you walk by, the women come running out to ooh and aah over the baby, to ask where she is from, where you are from, and to tell you what great stuff they have. And then they always say, "You come back to Wendy's Place. I am Wendy!" No matter what store you go to, you are always apparently speaking to the proprietor herself. I keep waiting for them to finish up with, "I am Wendy! I am running for purveyor of fine Chinese souvenirs, and I approved this message."

They seem to be very pleased when told that the bambina is from this province. And they love that the two other girls from the same orphanage will live in the same town as we do when we get home. Other people look at the Westerners with babies and look away, like it's something they don't quite know how to discuss, either with each other or with us. It's complicated, so I don't necessarily blame them. Now that I've got a little Chinese language under my belt I tend to get a more positive response. Nothing like a smile and a big "Nie Hao!" to an old man to get a smile in return. Old ladies show their friendliness by chastising you for not having a hat on your baby's head in this blustery 70 degree weather and for having skin showing between the sock and the pants leg. I'm not kidding. One woman was stroking the bambina's hair and saying, "such cute hair" in a way that said clearly, "WHY IS IT that I am able to SEE this child's hair?!!! Where is her hat, you insane Americans!? Don't you know babies will freeze in this weather?!" So that's the Chinese idiosyncrasy: a nagging feeling that somehow, somewhere a Chinese baby is very cold...and it's their job to root it out in all its manifestations.

On the American idiosyncrasy side, I would say it is our "outsize" appearance. Our guide said to me today in the grocery store about a couple of us, "You four are the thinnest Americans I've ever met. You are so fit! Every other American here is always so very very big. How do you get so fat over there? Is everyone so wealthy that they can eat every hour of the day?" I thought about what he said, and he is right. The majority of the Americans here to adopt kids are HUGE. Like, enormous. Not just chubby or a little extra bit of cushion, which is no big deal. I mean they are very, very obese. At the hotel breakfast buffet, it is almost revolting, the amount of food that is piled high on the plates, with the Chinese servers just looking on in amazement. One guy said to me today in the hotel, "Man, we can't wait to get out of here; I've only had one good meal in 2 weeks and that was a burger yesterday; I can't stand eating all this chinese food." Nice. How about delving into your kid's culture a little, joe sixpack? How about giving it a try without expecting it to taste like a philly cheesesteak? It's like he came all the way to China and is annoyed that it isn't just like El Paso, Texas. Gimme a break.

Well, that's my rant for today: My baby's head is fine, no she is not cold, you are so sweet to care; we think they are nosy, and we are probably right. On the other hand, when in China, don't frighten the residents by eating twice your weight in bacon and eggs with toast, jelly and orange juice--oh and with a danish, a muffin, two hash browns and sausages--and that's your FIRST trip to the buffet! They think we're gross; and they are probably right.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Guangzhou or Bust

Arrived in Guangzhou last night after a 2 1/2 hour flight from Beijing on Hainan Airlines, which I had not heard of until getting to the airport! Not bad, but Asian flights are culturally very different from Western flights. The flight attendants literally push you into your seat row if you are blocking the aisle while they are boarding. I'm not kidding! One of the men from another adopting family ended up on my lap after taking too long to stow his bag in the overhead compartment. It was hilarious! Upon landing, as soon as the wheels touch down, everybody and their mother is up out of their seats getting their bags. I don't mean "while taxiing;" I mean literally, at the millisecond of Wheels Down, seatbelts are off and compartments are opened and its bedlam to get off the flight. Equal parts alarming and hilarious.

Guangzhou is, as our guides said, a "more relaxed" city than Beijing. The language here is Cantonese and there is no small amount of bad feeling that they are forced to speak "the so called official language" of Mandarin. The city itself is large and dirty and bustling---and remarkably in archictecture and design--like New Orleans. The French influence is very evident. The people here feel a bit more connected to the Southeast Asian cultures than the northern Chinese, due to their proximity to Hong Kong and other nations by sea.

It's a neat town, and I'll have more (no doubt alarming/hilarious) things to share after today...especially because we get our daughter in just a few hours! The times they are a-changin'...

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Kickin' It Beijing Style

After a week here, I think I have figured out what you need to fit in with the two types of Beijing elites (old school and new economy):

Old School
1) Chairman Mao horn-rimmed monster-sized eyeglasses--no matter what your age
2) A VW Passat (or for the poorer party member, a motorcycle with a little cab over the back seat; photos to follow when I get home).
3) One word: brylcreem

New Economy
1) Prada, Gucci, Marc Jacobs whatever--as long as it's designer
2) Audi or BMW
3) Cup of starbucks in your hand

I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying the Chairman Mao eyeglasses. It rocks. There is nothing like seeing a thirty year old man wearing these huge I-Wanna-Be-Jiang-Zhemin spectacles. I am considering bringing the look stateside. Who's with me?!!! Anyone? Anyone? Hellooo?

The young and rich Beijingers are another story. It's quite an epiphany for an American to look around The People's Republic of China, which has been Communist for decades, and think to yourself, "Man, I wish I could afford what she's wearing." I'm not kidding. Rich people here are RICH. Most of them young, most related to electronics and video game revenues. There are Chinese people who could buy and sell me, which I have to confess I did not expect in the least.

This state of constant surprise has been the overriding theme of my trip to Beijing: expect the unexpected, lose the preconceived notions, relinquish the control, embrace the city for what it is, and truly internalize what this country of more than a billion souls is achieving right before our eyes--and then take a deep breath and imagine what they could achieve if the full power of their intellectuals and artists and entrepreneurs and thinkers could be unleashed.

You don't need Chairman Mao glasses to see a superpower in the making.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Food Folks and Fun

As a certified foodie, I was excited and yet frightened by the prospect of eating in Beijing. As a germophobe, I was terror stricken at the prospect of using public toilets in China. As a Westerner, I am still feeling my way around human interactions so as not to create offense. So how have things gone so far?

Two things stand out in my mind:
1) When the outdoor market food vendors see the caucasian walking by, they yell out to you the only 5 English words they know: "Come here! No meat! Good! No Meat!" Apparently, our fear of getting shigella precedes us...
2) Yes, those ARE huge grasshoppers roasting on a stick..and no, I have no intention of eating them. And, to be honest, there ain't many Chinese people taking them up on them either. But if you are a pork fan, Beijing is your city. No joke. It has to be the pork capital of the entire Asian continent. Remember those 6 dishes I inadvertently ordered yesterday? Every single one of them pork. NOT a city for vegetarians, kosher-keepers or halal-keepers. Even the veggies are cooked in pork fat. Fuggedaboudit.

Where to start? Public toilets on the street you should not use. I seriously considered wetting myself rather than go into a public loo on the street. Trust me. They are the holes with the feet locators--or toilets without seats. Either way, it's an uncomfortable squat from which you may physically but not psychologically recover. My recommendation? Bring Depends. I sure wish I had. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

I used a public loo in a chi-chi mall, hoping for something better. It was actually okay, except for the one, giant communal roll of toilet paper hanging on the wall. First, the hygiene of that I can't even discuss. Second, who knows how much TP you are going to need before heading to the stall? I couldn't even begin to estimate it. Luckily, I brought my very own trial size charmin roll that fits right in my backpack! Sweeeet! I also brought a pocket-sized pack of toilet seat covers that has served me well. Although, truth be told, I will seriously rent a cab to bring me back to the hotel to go to the bathroom and then cab back to where I was, rather than use a public toilet. It's just good, clean sense.

Well, my Spreading Inadvertent Ill Will tour continues unabated. A nice man stopped and asked for advice on what lunch costs in London because he is being sent there for work and has no idea how much money to request from his bosses. I told him to request high, since London prices are straight-up robbery. (I didn't say that exactly, of course). He then wanted to chat about the US and how I like China, and was just the nicest man in the entire world except---except---that he was spitting big white saliva globules with every single word he said and I was about to start gagging because they were landing all over me. I am gagging even writing this. So I sort of maneuvered myself out of his firing line, and tried to avert my eyes from the saliva rocket launcher that was his mouth. I was DYING! He asked if I had had Beijing Duck yet, and I said no, so he invited me to a place across the street for a beer and some duck. Now, I have read and been told that Chinese people are incredibly hospitable and will invite you to their houses or out for tea or whatnot, and there is no danger in going with them; they are simply being what they consider to be good hosts. The only problem with this situation was, quite simply, that I was not going for "a beer and a duck" with any man I've met on a street, however well-intentioned he may seem. Nor was I going to be able to sit for another hour and a half getting pelted by his spit. I just did not have it in me to do it; I knew that eating would be out of the question since it would no doubt start landing on my plate. But recognizing the delicate balance between saying no and being mindful of the need for him to save face, I was racking my brain trying to think of anything to say that didn't sound like "Hell no!" So I said, "actually, I am here with a tour group, and I'm late for meeting up with them, but you are so kind to have offered. I am so sorry to not be able to join you." To that he began apologizing profusely for having kept me, for taking up my time, many apologies for taking up my time, followed by a swift exit down the street. And all I could think was, "nice one, E. Another Chinese person's day ruined!" Evil Empress Badaling strikes again.

On a good note, I learned a ton of stuff from my friend's friend who lives here in Beijing. She said that you should always leave some food on your plate because a clean plate tells your host that they did not feed you enough in the first place (ie, you had to lick your plate to get enough food). I also learned that rice is not eaten with the meal (unless its actually in the dish you are eating). It comes after the meal in little bowls, and eating it then signifies that you didn't enjoy the dinner you had. So--no clean plate club and no rice in China. I didn't see that one coming, either.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

How to Win Friends and Influence People as only The Haggis Can Do

I have decided that every single human should, at least once in his or her life, spend some time in a place where s/he is “the other.” Where you don’t speak the language or understand the customs and you live with the constant knowledge that you could offend someone without meaning to, and have no means by which to explain yourself or your actions. It forces you to slow down, look around, and get in sync with the rhythms of your new surroundings—without (as I always do) trying to control the process or the outcomes or even your own feelings.

Yesterday found me in a restaurant mentioned in the Lonely Planet book on Beijing. No one there spoke English, the menu was entirely in Chinese, and all I had was my “Concise Guide to China” with helpful phrases such as, “Can you recommend something good?” and “I would like some noodles please.” Oh Man! What a scene! I ended up having ordered about 6 dishes without knowing it. They had brought a pot of tea but because I could touch the outside of the pot without flinching I did not drink it because I couldn’t be sure it was fully boiled, and therefore safe. So I ordered the only bottled thing on the menu: beer. Yeah baby! Nothin’ like a liter of beer at 11:30am! Nice. Started eating a dish that I only milliseconds later realized contained uncooked vegetables (a one-way ticket to a week-long ride on the porcelain bus) and panicked. So immediately drank a half liter of beer in the desperate hope that any potential bacteria would drown hard and fast like little microscopic drunkards. Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to note that my “Beer as Cipro” plan worked beautifully. My gastrointestinal health is intact, and I will accept the Nobel Prize for Science as soon as I get home.

I bring up the restaurant not only to share my beer story, but to share that a) the entire meal cost about $8, and b) I obviously did something to offend the waitress that I still can’t figure out. All was well until I asked for the check. And then it went downhill. She seemed not so much mad as offended, but try as I might, I could not figure out all day yesterday what I might have done. I probably will never know, but I hate that the only American she has ever met will now be in her memory as a jerk of some kind. Then I bought some bottled water at a Quik Mart (yes they have quickie marts even in China---is no corner of the earth safe?!), and I did not realize that little bills with a “1” on them are not the same as the big bills with the “1” on them. The woman was sooo over me, as were all the people waiting behind me, as she was barking, “Yi! Yi!” at me (meaning “One! One!”) and I’m standing there looking like a shmo thinking, “I’ve given you a WAD of ones, lady! A veritable wad of ones!!” Only, I had given her the paper currency equivalent of 60 cents when what I needed was a dollar. So I gave her a 100 yuan note, which is, like, $12 but a huge bill to break here. So then she started checking it to see if it was counterfeit, she is pissed that I’m throwing big bills around like I’m god’s gift...meanwhile the whole line hates me and is no doubt thinking “stupid foreigners. Why don’t they learn the language?!”

So—as Norm Petersen said on Cheers, “It’s a dog eat dog world and I’m wearing milk bone underwear.” That was my yesterday. Oh well. What can I do but simply resolve to be nicer to the next non-English speaking visitor to DC who holds up the line in the store because they can’t figure out the currency, right? And today is a new day! I am having dinner with a friend of a former coworker who is American and came here after graduating from college. We are going to do dinner and drinks, and little does she know, but she will be my little window into China just for one evening. I have so many questions, so many things I want to understand. Especially the money. Gotta figure out the money…

Today is the Temple of Heaven (not a nudie bar but a temple near the Forbidden City), and tomorrow is the Great Wall tour to, of course, Badaling. Since I am just my own clueless self for the rest of today, I assure you that my cross-cultural Inspector Clouseau-style offensiveness will continue unabated until my dinner companion sheds some light for me tonight. Which means, to your great good fortune, that I will doubtless have additional stories to share on my Cluelessly Creating Ill Will tour of China. In the meantime, it is 11am here--and you know what that means: it's Beer Time!!

Friday, March 04, 2005

It Ain't The Gideon Bible, but It Sure Is Helpful

In the hotel room, the good people of the PRC have provided a small book called "Safe Journey in Beijing," which is written mostly in Mandarin, with some very brief translations in English. People who think of China as a very buttoned-up society are waaaay off, at least here in Beijing, which is very akin to New York City, only without the crime, pizza or bagels. I have already seen three different sex shops, only over here they don't have skeevy people hanging outside them; instead, their doors feature illustrations of cartoon-like characters that resemble "boy bits" wearing the store's products. If the sign didn't clearly say "Sex Shop" above the door, I might have thought it was some kind of kid's store with all the cartoonish characters goin' on. Although, now I have to wonder who the store is for exactly, since the sign is written in ENGLISH!

Anyway, before I go off on a tangent, here are a couple of my favorites from the book:

1) How to prevent infection in the hotels:
--Wash hand before eating if you have touched public used items in the room, like phone.
--If you receive a call during night from person of opposite sex to ask whether the service is needed, say "no."

2) Correct Honeymoon
--During honeymoon, sexual intercourses are frequent. Unhygienic of sex organs can easily cause bride to get diseases such as urethritis, cystitis...Attention should be paid to arrange honeymoon away from the period, wash sex organs before sexual life and change pants frequently.

3) How to avoid aerotitis media {ear popping}
--Mouth opening or swallowing is effective measure but rather unsightly, chewing candy or gum is the best idea and most pleasant way.

This book is a veritable godsend for the weary traveler who may, without reading this book, mistakenly answer "yes" when receiving the late night call inquiring if "the service" is needed.

Charles de Gross Airport

This post is a little out of sequence, but I just couldn't get lost in all the joys of Beijing without sharing the hell that was the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. I kept saying the entire time, "this IS an INTERNATIONAL airport, right?" It was the living breathing embodiment of an airport run by the keystone cops. Or a little car full of clowns. Or an office full of chimps. I don't know. All I know is that it was hell on earth.

Our plane landed late. Everyone went to the exit. Exit did not open. Airport did not provide a stairway for us to walk down to get on the buses to the terminal. So we waited about 40 minutes for them to get a walkway. Meanwhile, three people near me have missed connecting flights.

We finally escaped the plane and ran to the buses, foolishly thinking that our ordeal was over. But alas, it was just beginning. The bus drove for about 5 minutes to the back of a terminal, stopped, and then just sat there for 35 minutes. People were getting angry, demanding to get off the bus, demanding a reason why we were being kept in the bus, lamenting their numerous now-missed flights. The bus was starting to smell and get hot, we're all standing, so some of us were getting a little woozy from the odor and the heat. The doors opened for a moment and one guy jumped out, only to be forcibly put back on the bus by a gendarme. So now we were REALLY wondering what is going on.

Finally, as inexplicably as it began, it ended. The doors opened, we all jumped out, only to find that none of the terminal doors was unlocked. So there we are, hundreds of disgruntled passengers standing in the middle of an airport road, trying to figure out en masse how we get inside. Finally, someone opens a door across the street, and we all run inside to demand an explanation, which of course no one has.

To this day, we have no idea how or why that happened, and neither does Air France, but it is pretty shocking from a basic customer service, not to mention security standpoint. How were entire buses of people just unloaded at the back end of terminals and then let in a door by a worker? How did an airport driver get the authority to keep hundreds of people stranded on a bus while offering zero explanation?

All I know is that we have a 2 hour layover on our trip home, and I am pretty certain that we are going to miss the connection, if the trip here was any indication of Situation Normal at Charles de Gaulle. And hear me now and believe me later: if anything even remotely as ludicrous occurs while I am trying to keep my new daughter from melting down on a 21 hour trip home, I will make it someone's problem in a big, big way.

Another post regarding the "gross" part of the Charles de Gross title will follow when I can work up the courage to share with you that I peed on my pants a little bit while in the "luxury" Air France lounge during my layover. There! That oughta keep you checking back!

Till next time, mes amis, au revoir! Zai jian!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Beijing Through the Eyes of The Haggis: Part One

Ni Hao, friends!

(As a program note, please pardon any errors in layout or appearance of the blog; I cannot access it from here to see what it looks like; I can only post to it via the back way, so if the spacing or whatnot is messed up, I will not know.)

Hello from Beijing, where it is in the arctic 20's right now. How do I know this? Because I just walked about 2 miles each way to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Was going to walk further but gave up because of the bitter cold wind. What did I learn on my first full day in Beijing? Let's see:

1) Whatever you think you know about China and the Chinese people, assume it's wrong. More on this later.

2) Americans tend to believe that Capitalism (an economic system) is interchangeable with Democracy (a political system); that they are the same thing. No city more illustrates the seeming chasm between the two--or perhaps the slightly unnerving way that Capitalism and a lack of Democracy seem to coexist comfortably--than Beijing. On one major street there are major malls, stores, many Western brands--and outside every 40 yards there is a policeman/military officer standing sentry. Just standing there, no doubt to "maintain order." I'll leave it at that till I get home.

Some other less-heavy findings:

3) Everyone spits in the street. Get used to it, and jump fast if you are too close.

4) Being the only platinum-blond haired person in a hotel makes you feel funny. Like, when you are in the cafĂ© having some tea, or in a line, or at a monument and you look up, people who were staring at you avert their eyes very quickly—but not fast enough for you to miss the fact that you were being studied while you weren’t paying attention. And you wonder, are they trying to figure out which planet I’m from?

5) Although my hair color is pretty close to freak territory here, my skin tone, considered very fair in the US, is about average here. It’s like a freakin’ dream come true, y’all! Entire STREETS of people with my skin color! It’s AWESOME! I feel like if I dyed my hair black, I would almost fit in better here than I do at home.

6) But then there’s the d**n hair color again. For the purposes of telling a tall tale to the rubes back home, I will say this: I obviously resemble an ancient Empress named Badaling, who must have been very blond with a very Roman nose. Because while on the street, as soon as some people get within 10 feet of me coming towards them, they start yelling, “Badaling! Badaling! Badaling!” and start running over to me. Now, the other less-plausible explanation is that Badaling is the location at which The Great Wall is viewed by tourists, and these people see a blond walking toward them (= tourist = money) and start trying to sell me a car ride to The Great Wall. I only offer this tiny wisp of a possible explanation because Badaling might also have had a sister named “youneedmap?”

7) Do NOT under any circumstances engage the Beijing University art students. They are the squeegee men of Beijing. They follow you and harangue you to buy their art; they start out by saying, “You from America?! Beautiful! Do you like art?” And god forbid you say yes because then it is 45 minutes of this person following you along the street trying to get you to look at their calligraphy. Avoid the art students like your day depends on it. And if anyone knows how to write, “I am not interested in your art” in Chinese, please send it so I can wear a sign.

8) Traffic laws? We don’t need no stinking traffic laws! If you are in a car, it’s pretty much always “go.” Pedestrians are monitored by men in brown suits and red flags who tell you when you can cross. But just because you are crossing on a red light, don’t assume that cars will stop for you. Seriously. I had a thought this AM on my way to the Forbidden City that it won’t be giardia or SARS that takes me out on this trip; it will be a VW Passat, which seems to be the car of choice careening through crosswalks. Unless your car of choice is a bicycle, which is about 10 times faster and more cutthroat. By the end of the day, I pretty much started just walking one pace behind a Chinese person crossing the street, standing way too close to them by Western standards, and assumed that if they were crossing that they were pretty sure they could make it across, and therefore so would I, the Empress Badaling.

9) Don’t duck into a store to escape the cold weather and catch your breath. Every retail situation except in the very nice malls is a Sino-American running of the gauntlet: “Halloo! You like pandas? You like scarf? You like penguin? Hallo! Scarf! Panda! Penguin!” till you run out of the store to escape the cacophony.

10) Don’t get lost in Beijing. Seriously. This weekend is apparently a very important meeting of the National People’s Congress, which meets in the building in Tiananmen Square. If you happen to, say, get lost on your way to the other side of the Square and decide to amble down a side street that seems to go back in the direction that you came, DON’T. Corollary to “Don’t Get Lost in Beijing:” If a soldier with a gun puts his hand up at you from 15 feet away and looks at you like he’s daring you to take a step forward or back, stop immediately, stand very still, nod and smile at him energetically for as long as it takes for him to find someone who speaks English. Then assure the nice man that you are just a dumb blonde, took a wrong turn, trying to find someplace out of the cold, thought you’d take a short cut, so sorry to have gone down the alley where the National People’s Congress members park their cars. Say “thank you sir” and walk away. Remind yourself once again that capitalism and democracy are not the same thing. Remind self as you walk past the 15th McDonalds and the 30th soldier “keeping order” on the street, that if the US wants to live up to its ideals, we ought to be exporting a little less of the former, a whole lot more of the latter.

And with that, I'm off to the cafe downstairs for a green tea and my daily "stare fest."

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

One More Person in the People's Republic

Well, friends. Today is the Big Day. It's gonna be Wheels Up on my trip to China to get my daughter.

This means several things:

1) My posts will be less frequent, but I assure you, still ongoing. After all, I'm flying Air France, which means I will bump into French people, and you know how I get when that happens. ;)

2) I realized last night that I have single-handledly raised the stock price of Bristol Myers Squibb with all the pharmaceuticals I'm taking, both for adult and baby. I've got the Imodium, the Cipro, the anti-barfing stuff, the ear drops, the eye drops, the nose saline, the anti-constipation, the pro-constipation...let's put it this way: If there is an orifice that could drip, run, dry up, seize up, or otherwise go horrifyingly awry, I have the drugs to make it better.

3) I had a big epiphany this morning as I got up early, shoveled snow, walked to my coffee shop and sat quietly, leisurely, ruminatively drinking my last cappuccino in the United States----and finally internalized that this was the last time without a little person attached to me via the Snugli making it not so quiet, leisurely or ruminative.

4) I will, for only the second time in my life, step off a plane into a country where I do not speak the language, cannot read the signs, and (for the first time in my life) look not at all like the people who surround me on the streets. That is going to be such a huge rush, to see how I do, to see if have the stones to tackle all that Beijing offers. I'm psyched to see Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, eat the famous Peking Duck, and just generally hang out and take it all in.

5) I am so ready for Guangzhou after Beijing for one simple reason: Beijing = 37 degrees; Guangzhou = 67 degrees. Nuff said.

6) Prepare yourself for a few posts about the other families with whom I'm traveling to get our bambinas. Even my agency person said, "it's so great to have the support of other families with you, but by the end of the 10 days you just want to get your kid home and get far, far away from all of these people. And that's okay." So you KNOW you are going to hear about that! I already know who is going to drive me crazy. One guy who mouth-breathed through our entire "travel arrangements conference call" with all of the traveling families. He rather athletically respired into his mouthpiece through the entire call, to the extent that I was starting to wonder whether I had dialed a 900 number rather than an 866. He also knew EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING and so, by divine design, will drive me crazy because, as we all know, *I* am the person who knows everything about everything. ;)

Okay. Time to go do one final look-see to make sure I'm truly ready to go. Someone asked me if I was scared about flying so far, being on a plane for so long, traveling to a completely foreign land with no language skills save a pocket sized book of helpful phrases; my answer is no. Because I do not believe for one minute that this is a solo trip for any of us. The Chinese have a saying: "An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break.” I am simply going to follow my end of the red thread, holding on tightly, to the place where my daughter is waiting for me; and then we are simply going to follow that same red thread home.

Next post from China!