Back to the Capital

We drove back to Hunan’s capital city, Changsha, today. We woke up to rain and were thankful to head out before the water cycle could resume its evaporation!

We arrived at the hotel, ate a late lunch and have spent the past few hours preparing for the day we’ve been waiting for. We are so anxious/excited/thrilled to be meeting Isaiah. I have to keep reminding myself that we really know nothing about this little guy. We’ve pored over his referral pictures for so long that I think we half think that he has remained in stasis. No. Rather, he’s been living, loving, learning, growing these past two years. It will be an adventure as we figure each other out, that much is for sure!

Two cribs in the room, the backpack is ready to go for the morning, Samuel has picked out which of the two toy cars we brought us for him and which he’ll give to his Didi (little brother).

Ready or not, here we are. We will be welcoming our sixth child with open arms and even wider hearts, thankful for the One who has brought all of us together.



Junshan Island Tea Plantation

DSC_7795 DSC_7806 DSC_7812 DSC_7817 DSC_7824 DSC_7826 DSC_7829 DSC_7831 DSC_7835 DSC_7836 DSC_7840 DSC_7841 DSC_7842 DSC_7844 DSC_7845 DSC_7854 DSC_7863 DSC_7865 DSC_7872 DSC_7874 DSC_7876 DSC_7882 DSC_7888 DSC_7891 DSC_7900 DSC_7939 DSC_7940You know it’s hot when you can literally see sweat droplets rising and forming on the back of your hand. I sweat in places I never knew existed today! More than 40 degrees and high, high humidity. We spent the day running from shade patch to shade patch!

Stephen woke up with a cold and so the rest of us took the 30 passenger ferry to the island in the middle of Dong Ting Lake. Dong Ting Lake lies as a natural border between Hunan and Hubei provinces, and Yueyang City is on its southern banks. Once again, we were the only visible foreigners to visit the island today and it was really enjoyable to take in the sights with the other Chinese tourists.

While the lake is said to have its own monster (just like our own local lake), it was the site of the original dragon boat races. In fact the original legend began here. Dong Ting is essentially a resevoir basin for the Yangtze River and is really a rather shallow lake with many freighters carrying rice from port to port and up and down the river. There are also a plethora of fishing vessels. Trawlers and shrimp boats. We’ve been eating the bony fish and hard shelled shrimp all week, bathed in their spicy sauces. Both are local delicacies. The shrimp is eaten with beer much like chicken wings back home. I think it is partly because they are hand peeled and it becomes a slow snack rather than a meal.

There is also a legend about an ancient king and two princesses. The tale tells much like a Romeo and Juliet story, as the king loved the princesses and apparently they loved him too (yes both). The king was going to meet them and they him when he died. When they arrived and found he had died in the lake, the died of broken hearts and there is a tomb on the island where they are said to be buried. We skirted the tomb area, as Matthew let us know that it is not certain how much truth there is to the tale. We weren’t terribly surprised. :)

There are two temples on the island. The first one is the buddhist temple and we watched as Matthew burned incense and genuflected before an angry looking statue. I felt bad as I had told him that our religion wouldn’t allow for us to burn incense there and asked him to explain the process to us. He took it to mean that he should show us, and that was not the intention. Oh well. It was interesting and it didn’t hold much meaning for him, but he is versed in how to go about it. The temple has a circitous route around the main worship hall holding 300(!) bronze buddhas, each depicting a different attribute of buddha. It reminded me of the Catholic saints in a way. I asked if buddhists would focus their worship on the buddha with the characteristic they felt they needed and he agreed that that was the purpose behind them. Such an empty place. China really isn’t a very religious place if you consider the masses, but it reflected the feeling that all people are really looking for hope when they struggle. If faced with insurmountable difficulties in life, as we all are at times, we look for answers and hope whereever we think we can find it.

As we left to walk down the stone staircase, one of the temple guides set off firecrackers to the side of the stairs and we all jumped out of our skin! It was good for a laugh and shook off some of the gloom of the place. :)

The next temple was the temple in worship of the god of the lake. There the worshippers focused on wishing and then hanging their prayer banners in two trees that were growing in the courtyard of the temple. At this point I asked if we could turn around. It was incredibly hot and Matthew had stepped in to take Stephen’s role of carrying the stroller up and down stairways while I carried Samuel.

Next up we crossed a stone bridge with exquisite pink lotus blooms on either side. It was really breathtaking. If I ever get to return to the island, I hope I can come in the spring with everything blooming and a more moderate temperature. Because of the heat, we pushed on.

Around a bend, we came up on an enclosed inlet with a large stone bridge crossing it. People were paddling paddle boats around and giant Koi fish were following them for a feeding. There was a treed walkway and a landscaped dragon cut into the dam that enclosed the inlet from the main lake. We walked up Monkey Hill, passed the drooling dragon in front of a well, and came to the terraced tea growing up the mountainside. They bushes were protected from the searing sun by tall trees over head and they were lush and green. I tried a nibble of a sprout and it tasted a lot like black tea. These were Silver Needle Tea bushes. The finest Silver Needle tea grows here and I was so excited to see it first hand as it is a regular item in my tea cabinet.

Facing heat exhaustion by this point and with sweat literally running down my nose and dripping off the end, we stopped for a couple of cold waters and headed to the tea tasting room and the drying factory. The tea leaves are picked as lush, flat, green leaves in the springtime and then brought to the factory area to be fried in dry cookers. They are then sifted and sorted and dried on giant round screens. The hostess showed us how the tea can be reused five times and how the flavour changes (and does not weaken) with each new hot water bath. The fifth time, the leaves themselves are eaten too. The special visual aspect of this tea is in its cartesian diver type dance that it does. Those flat lush leaves are dried into a pine needle type appearance. When the hot water is poured over them, they steep until they open just enough to float vertically in the water. They then bob up and down in that position as they steep. It’s really quite neat to watch. And believe it or not, but the Chinese once again proved themselves genius, as that hot tea was a srefreshing a that cold water we had been drinking!

Samuel was offered the chance to touch a golden turtle that they had brought out of the lake and onward we went. On the path leading away from the tea house, we looked down at the inlet and there were two long-necked, black swans being crowded around by a huge group of Koi. We soon realized that when the swans ate form their floating feeding platform, the koi were gaining a meal too. It was striking seeing the black swans surrounded by the frothing orange fish!

We had taken our time getting back and ended up missing our boat back and narrowly missed the next one as well. I think it was a combination of Matthew’s persuasiveness and the foreigners red faces that caught us a ride on that ferry! We were so happy to get in our air conditioned van at the other shore.

It was a scorching hot day, but soooo worth it to go on our last adventure here in Yueyang. It’s been a tremendous blessing to get to know “Samuel’s China”. Tomorrow we drive back to Changsha and reconnect with our guide, Vicky, who aided us during Samuel’s adoption trip. Less than 48 hours and we meet Isaiah!

Please be praying for Stephen and my Mom’s health, for Samuel’s heart as a new big brother and of course, our little Isaiah. His world is about to change dramatically. Lord, please grow all our hearts just the right amount to be what he needs.


Old & New

We played tourist again today, this time at Yueyang Tower.

(Photos at bottom of post today.)

Dong Ting Lake is the second largest lake in China.  Situated on its banks is the tower.  Three stories high (probably taller due to its highest peak), it was once used to signal war ships in the lake.  We were told it was built 600 years ago, during the Ching dynasty.  The breeze off the lake was very, very welcome today!  We took the opportunity to saunter through the park area leading to and from the tower and took plenty of photos.  Samuel really enjoyed playing with the Koi fish in the tower’s moat.  He loved that when he’d wave his arms or put his hands in the water they would come or flee depending on his motions.  Stephen almost had Samuel convinced that he had control of “the force” ala Star Wars.

We followed up our visit to the tower with a quick stop at a shop for a paper fan for myself (NEED MORE AIR MOVEMENT!) and a few trinkets for Samuel from Grandma, to be doled out on our drive back to Changsha in a couple days.

Lunch was at a local restaurant where we shared a private room with a local family.  They had cuuuute twin boys dressed exactly alike. Such good food!  Apparently hot soup and tea with a side of spicy, spicy peppers is just the thing when you are in the height of a hot humid summer!  Good for us and truly mouthwatering too.

After a long nap in the a/c of the hotel (totally spoiled, I know!), we drove out to the shopping area near the lake.  We walked the side street market areas, exchanged hellos with several local motorcycle taxi drivers, had our picture taken with a woman in an inflatable Lego costume, and ended up asking the guide (“Matthew” who is studying pharmacology in Toronto during the school year) to see if we could see inside a KTV (karaoke) bar.  Yes, we could have gone to one in Vancouver, but what’s the fun in that?  After a quick permission from the guards at the door of an alley side KTV entrance, we took an elevator up to the 3rd floor.  Hosts lined the entrance, a cashier desk and liquor/snack shop were off the opulent foyer.  Down a long hallway with numbered rooms, the hosts showed us to a private room.  There were two booths to sit in, a computer to choose your songs and a flat screen to view your videos.  The corner featured a tambourine and dice for drinking games.  We didn’t take them up on their offer to try it out, but we did take a picture with one of the young hosts.  Dare, excitement?  She seemed pleased and didn’t even ask to have a picture taken on her own phone, but on our camera?!  We survived the experience, but I thought our young guide might have wished that the floor would open up an swallow him when he realized the video being shown above the elevator was a tad explicit! When we finally all piled into the van, he let out a deep sigh and a nervous laugh.  I think we gave him more than he had bargained for!  LOL

He dropped us at our hotel and Mom and Dad walked me down the block to where they had seen the older ladies dancing in the parking lot of the shopping centre.  Something different than what we had seen before though, as there were inflatable pools filled with goldfish that could be caught with dough balls, other pools filled with toy fish for the catching and a giant inflatable sandbox filled with seed for the children to dig in with sand toys.  Nearby there were pottery painting stations where children could have their very own “Color Me Mine” experience right there.  We swapped hellos with a few people, witnessed some naughty boys and enjoyed watching the kids in their element in the hot, dark evening lit up by the parking lot lighting.  The backdrop to it all was the pop music blaring from giant speakers that the women were dancing to all led by groups of dance leaders in coordinating dance costumes.

Like Stephen has said throughout our time here, we are enjoying going where the locals are.  It’s so much better to be where they like to be.DSC_7489 DSC_7522 DSC_7559 DSC_7564 DSC_7616 DSC_7647 DSC_7654 DSC_7715 DSC_7716 DSC_7743 DSC_7745 DSC_7776 DSC_7788



Zhangguying Village

Today we drove up the narrow, curving, bumpy roads into the mountains surrounding Yueyang to visit the Zhangguying Ancient Village.  Built originally around the Ming to Ching eras some 600 years ago, by a fellow named Zhang.  Zhang was a high ranking military officer who wanted to avoid a cleansing of the ranks by the emperor of the time.  He built a village for his family  and servants up in the mountains where he could be sheltered from the unrest and trade his war horse for a plowman’s life.  Well, not exactly, but he was wanting to pursue the beauty of nature and preserve his head!

DSC_7058 DSC_7079 DSC_7096 DSC_7123 DSC_7161 DSC_7072 DSC_7280 DSC_7265 DSC_7245 DSC_7224 DSC_7302Many generations later, there are still families living there, all with the sir name “Zhang”.  We wandered through the village, much like a giant maze-like Houhai houtang.  One room might be for display and the next, someone’s kitchen.  Then an open meeting room, and oh look! Someone is napping on their bed in the next room!  I felt uncomfortable taking photos at first, but it is their livelihood and so I felt more at ease after awhile.

Samuel’s highlights were the chickens roaming through the rooms and the ducks floating down the moats that run between the buildings.  There are narrow alleys between the rooms and it was quite cool and refreshing with the mountain breeze that would blow through them.  The outdoor passageways were lined with board benches that leaned way out over the flowing creek moats.  Apparently it was on a postal route (probably a courier route) and people wold have to lean out and off the narrow passageways in order to let the  couriers pass quickly.  The Chinese are apparently called a “people who lean together” and it comes form this way of leaning out of the way of the couriers.

The people living in this mountainous region grow rice, lotus, grapes, chilies and many many types of herbs, spices, sweet potatoes, corn, squashes and melons.  What they lack in land, they maximize to the nth degree.  It pays off with their twice yearly growing season and the bountiful produce on display for sale and use.

It was a 40 degree C day plus high humidity. My face was purple as usual and everyone was very excited to enjoy the a/c in the van on the way home, but it was an amazing, once in a lifetime experience, with incredible scenic views on both on the trip up and down the mountain and in the nooks and crannies of the village itself.


Returning Home, part 2

DSC_6507 DSC_6508 DSC_6584 DSC_6618 DSC_6623When we arrived in at the Yueyang County SWI, we were let into the gate and pulled up in front of a shiny, new, several stories high building.  The old orphanage had been only used for offices for some time, as the children had all been fostered in the neighbouring area.  The new building was designed to house the offices and the children.  We were told that the children’s home was still being furnished and completed, but that the children would be returning soon.  They had begun building it shortly after we’d visited in February 2011 and had only moved in recently.

We took the elevator upstairs and were warmly welcomed by the staff, one of whom we had spent time with during our initial visit, as she’d come to process Samuel’s adoption.  We were ushered down the hall into a meeting room.  Samuel was much fawned over and we shared stories of his progress, as well as the photo book we had brought.  There were many framed photos waiting to be hung on the walls of the new meeting room.  They each featured returning families on homeland tour visits.  It was fun to see all those photos of tweens and teens returning to visit their roots.

Samuel’s file was brought out without us asking and we were able to see original photos of him as an infant.  The youngest photos we have of him to date.  (He has hardly changed!)  We appreciated the information we were offered and took photos of everything.

There was much laughter and smiling over Samuel’s attempts at showing off his new walking skills. There were also many gasps as he tried many stunts near the glass topped coffee table.  We all were trying to protect his noggin’ from the tile floor and table! But, I think he got his point across.  It had been a good idea to send him to Beijing and to have his paperwork processed for international adoption.  We were happy to have them see him so full of little boy spunk and strength!

All of a sudden his foster grandmother came in holding a small boy’s hand.  She was exclaiming in excitement to see us all again and we her!  Big smiles, handshakes, hugs and happiness to see each other!  The little boy (in split pants, much to Samuel’s amazement) was her grandson (25 months old).  The last time we had visited, her son had just been married and this was his son.

Much laughter, showing off, snacking, and kisses ensued.  Samuel was less than impressed with the kissing, but he was rescued by his Dad and all was well in the end.

We then headed off around the corner for a relaxed lunch.  Samuel and his “cousin” faced off across the turntable at the table and had that food spinning.  By the end of the meal, the little guy was fast asleep and Samuel was in a trance like state in the stroller.  Both had full tummies and were surrounded by happy chatter and smiling faces.

Joining us at lunch was another staff member and her two “nephews” (according to our guide, “Stacy”), which were in actual fact nieces.  The nieces had studied English in school and while they could understand much of what we said, much like myself with Chinese, they were too shy to use much of their English on us.  I did manage to get the one girl to tell me that her English name in school was “Vivienne”.  She blushed mightily and laughed behind her hand when I told her that Vivienne is considered a name for beautiful girls.  She took the teasing well.

After a few photos at the orphanage gate, we headed to the foster grandparents home.  Samuel enjoyed handing out his hand drawn pictures for them, as well as the photos and other gifts we had brought.  He warmed up to his foster grandpa and shared the fact that his tooth is wiggly (he is convinced that it is a sign that he is growing up).  He sat on his knee for a bit.  They served us the best watermelon I have had in my entire life.  It grows here in the south prolifically and really, as with all food, is best eaten close to its source!  Samuel and his “cousin” played with the boy’s plasma car and other ride on toys.  The family’s daughter came home and we found that she has also been married and is expecting.  The son and daughter live at their parent’s home with their families.  The little guy really warmed up to us by the end.

Samuel did not want to leave.  I was so pleased that he enjoyed his time there.  I did say to him as we left, “Can you believe you lived in this house when you were a baby?”

“No”, he said.

I understand.  It’s a bit much for me to take in, let alone a 5 year old.  After all, sometimes, it’s hard to imagine a time without him.  And I suppose that is why these trips back to visit our kid’s homeland areas are so very valuable.  It’s so important to not forget what is so integral to who they are.  Not Chinese.  Not Canadian.  Not even, Chinese-Canadian.  Rather, they are Chinese + Canadian.

Samuel’s foster grandma and cousin joined us for a quick photo op at the finding spot.  And then off we went back to the city, exhausted and emotionally spent.

Was it too early for a return visit for Samuel?  It all depends on what the goal was.  Did he gain value and meaning of his past?  Yes, but not at the same level as if he had been older.  Will it provide continuity for his next few years as the questions get wider in scope and deeper in meaning?  Absolutely.  As I posted on Facebook, he has a deeper sense that this is his wider, global extended family.  Because really, that is what they are.  They are no less related than we are.  The legacy of love they gave him from his infancy lives on in the way he has opened his heart to us.



Returning Home

Samuel returned to his second home yesterday. We had the privilege of driving out to Yueyang County from the city.

We took a new to us road and it led through incredible pastoral beauty. Rice fields. Lotus blossoms. Mountains. Fish farms. Water buffalo. People out hoeing. Vineyards. Cement tombs in the hillside.

And an incredible amount of heavy duty equipment.

There were farmers lining the roads next to their vineyards selling grapes (HUGE – think Caleb and the spies). Yards and yards of bricks drying in the sun. The earth is incredibly orangey-red here and they dig it up with all that equipment and make it into bricks. There are enormously red chimneys protruding into the blue sky here that mark the kilns. Their contrast against the green treed mountains and that gorgeous blue sky was eye catching, like something out of national geographic.

There was evidence of timber harvesting too. Logging trucks that were much different than what we see, but get the job done. Lumber yards with de-limbed, de-barked uncut logs leaning in teepee fashion to dry. We saw them fashioned together in that state as trusses. No straight cut planks here.

Outside the city there are factories. Fans, heavy equipment, pharmaceuticals. Not as many as we saw in Grace’s southern city (Zhongshan, Guangdong), but with their obviously western input – landscaping out front and tall office windows facing the street. The Chinese style factory dorms reminded us that they are staffed by nationals though.

And then we got to Yueyang County itself. The first street lights we’d seen in awhile on the main streets. People casually strolling across the traffic with their children. Motorcycles and cars and public transit with nice bench coverings for those waiting.

The outskirts had repair shops for all that heavy equipment. And rice harvesting/threshing machines. Tire shops.

Then we got a bit further in and saw folks out front of their street side homes with wheat-coloured rice laying on the payment being raked over and dried.

A little further and we saw signs of tall apartment buildings being advertised. Wide thoroughfares that were not busy. Signs of hopeful growth to come, I suppose.

And then all of a sudden I recognized the street corner that we had taken a photo of two years ago. The big cargo truck, cab raised for repair. Was that the same truck as all those months ago? Men gathered around and under it?

We pulled up to the gate of the orphanage and were told that there was a new building. We’d been told that they were in progress last visit. They are bringing the children home to the orphanage shortly. Disbanding the foster system. Let me say. We were told the are twenty children in foster care now (19 last time). This is a big, big building. We were also told that it is only children with extra needs. Time will tell.


If Variety is the Spice of Life….

Then Hunan didn’t get the memo! Here it’s all spicy or it just ain’t from Hunan.

Love the food though. We craved the spicy green beans for the past two years. And now I can claim to have eaten goat. All those years teaching Indo-Canadians and I finally caved. Tasty! Especially with the spicy seasoning. Are you catching the theme?

It’s so super hot and humid, that we bought fans for our hotel rooms. It’s a bit like walking into a wall of humidity. I am loving the chance to do different. Last time was Lunar New Year and while others were layered in thick coats, I was in short sleeves.

Samuel is doing really, really well. He’s overwhelmed a bit by it all, but has held himself in check better than we expected. It’s a lot to sort out at five and a half years old.

Quote of the day comes from Samuel as we drove the expressway between Changsha to Yueyang City, “We in my China world?”

Yes, son. Here we are.

Tomorrow we make the drive to Yueyang County to visit Samuel’s hometown. We will be visiting the orphanage staff and his foster grandparents, and are really looking forward to getting to know them a bit better now the initial adoption meeting is behind us. They seem very genuine people that really adored Samuel.

Please pray for Samuel. We hope he receives the blessing that a big, messy, global family can bring him. And for us, that we can keep the respect and lines of communication open between us. It can only help him as he matures.






People Watching

We are waiting for our flight from Beijing to Changsha. Thunderstorms have cancelled most flights in and out. Lots of time to sit and people watch. People are the same everywhere. Except for one family that has me thinking. They have a tween daughter and a toddler son. Two children. Special quota? Children missing in between? Infertility? Second marriage? Adoption? Careful birth control until fines raised? So many thoughts run through my mind. Different thoughts than I have in other countries airports. The land if my four youngest children’s births.