Travel Day – Hong Kong to Nanning (By Way of Guangzhou)

We set alarms for 6:30 yesterday morning, but we woke before that anyway. Our agency had booked us on the 9:24 train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, and we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to get to the train station and figure out exactly where we were supposed to be. We checked out of our hotel around 7:45, and the concierge called a taxi for us to head to the train station. We’re rather a sight – Madeleine CaiQun and I have 2 suitcases and 2 backpacks between us, and Daniel and Sharon have 3 suitcases, a backpack, and a large purse, so the taxi drivers use cables to secure our luggage inside the trunks, which don’t close once our suitcases are inside.

The train station was just about a mile from our hotel, and we made it there in plenty of time to figure out where to go. Our agency had sent our train tickets to our hotel in Hong Kong, so we didn’t need to purchase anything, just to wait for our train. Daniel walked over to the other part of the train station and got us some drinks and pastries (the pineapple puff was awesome!) to have for a light breakfast, and then we waited for boarding to begin for our train.

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Once we went through security, we were able to use the bathroom once more (up through this point we’d seen squatty potties everywhere, but there had always been an option for western toilets, too!), and then we boarded our train. It was really pretty straightforward. The train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou is not a bullet train, but it’s a very nice way to travel. I love being able to look out the window as we ride and see more of the areas through which we’re traveling.

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Netflix’s announcement just prior to our departure for China that they would allow downloads of some shows, so they could be watched without Internet access, has been such a blessing for us – Madeleine CaiQun has greatly enjoyed being able to watch shows on an iPad while we’ve done our plane and train travel!

We made it to Guangzhou just as planned, and a guide met us at the station and helped us get to the van, where a driver drove us across Guangzhou to another train station, where we would catch a train to Nanning a couple hours later. To say that this train station is huge is an understatement.

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Guangzhou is pretty western for a city in China, but it’s still a major change coming from Hong Kong. We were able to find a restaurant in the train station at which we could order from picture menus, so we got some lunch, then had our first squatty potty experience, and then Daniel got us some snacks and water (or what he thought was water!) at a convenience store. It turns out he actually bought us some lime and mango flavored waters!

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We made it to our bullet train to Nanning and got settled in for the ride. It was awesome to see even just these little glimpses of China through the train window as we traveled. It’s such a beautiful country with an amazingly rich history.

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We arrived in Nanning just a few minutes later than scheduled and stopped in the bathrooms (squatty potties again – resulting in a necessary outfit change for MCQ) before setting out to look for our guide. This was probably the most stressful part of our trip so far. Nanning is a gigantic city (Wikipedia lists its population as 6.9 million), so its train station is rather large. We just knew that our guide was supposed to meet us at the train station but didn’t know where, and he didn’t know where to meet us, and he couldn’t enter the train station, since he didn’t have a ticket, and we wouldn’t have been able to re-enter after we chose an exit from which to leave. Finally I turned on the international calling plan I’d activated for my phone just in case of emergency and called him (twice), once with the assistance of a bilingual woman sent over by a police officer to help us (can you tell we’re conspicuous here?), and we finally connected, about an hour after we were supposed to meet up. We made it to our hotel then, though, and we got some dinner at one of the restaurants here.

Everyone else went to bed pretty soon after that, but we’re running out of some necessary clothes items (I packed pretty light, but I should have brought a few more pairs of pants for Madeleine CaiQun), so I stayed up and did some laundry in the sink and texted with Matt for a little while.

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I’m feeling somewhat lonely and overwhelmed here, being here without Matt and Miranda and Atticus and really experiencing how much there is for me to do here and knowing that we’re about to add our new little one into that mix. We’ll meet her in about 6 hours, and I pray that she is open to receiving love and care from me and from her big sister and that I’m able to do all that I need to do. I’m hoping to get some Walmart shopping and some unpacking and general preparations done before then. Please pray for our precious girl as she prepares to join our family, and please pray for my morning to set us up well for that transition!

Hong Kong Day Two

We were all awake by about 6:00 am on our second day in Hong Kong, courtesy of jetlag! This was the morning view from our hotel room – Hong Kong is beautiful!

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We got a relaxing start to the day, though, using our complimentary breakfast coupons for a hotel breakfast – it wasn’t as extravagant as the hotel breakfasts in China, but it was still pretty awesome!

We decided to go out to Lantau to see the monastery and Big Buddha there. There was a rather expensive day-tour option, but we figured we’d be able to get there ourselves and didn’t necessarily need for it to take all day. Danny researched the metro, and we opted for that. We could have gotten on at the stop right by our hotel, but then we would have had to transfer lines, and we weren’t sure how complicated that would be, so we decided instead to walk about a mile through the city to another station on the line we’d need to take to get out to Lantau.

Little did we know, that would be a bit more complex than we were anticipating! First we found a travel agency at which our hotel concierge had told us we could buy the cable car tickets, and we purchased them there to avoid the line at the site, and then we continued on our way walking. I actually really enjoyed walking through Hong Kong and seeing more of it. To me the city seems like an interesting mix of China, Europe, and New York City.

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At one point we took a “shortcut” through a park – that ended up requiring us to double back and come out through the same entrance through which we’d come into the park. But it was a pleasant detour – we saw some of the older men and women doing their morning exercises and singing and enjoyed seeing the flowers and the turtles.

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After that, it turned out to be rather a longer walk than we’d anticipated, though, and it was a walk that took us through a large construction site, and as we walked through the pedestrian path, all the construction workers were coming through and grabbing their lunches and were clearly a bit surprised to see us. When I stopped and asked someone, “Kowloon Station?” she nodded and pointed in the direction we were heading, so we just kept walking, not at all certain of our path!

Honestly, I think there’s great value in having experiences like that – being in a foreign country in which you don’t speak the language, being an ethnic minority, feeling somewhat out of place and knowing that you are, to some extent, at the mercy of strangers. And even in that experience, we knew we were so much less vulnerable than so many people in the world today. We have cash with us and access to more, and we carry US passports. There are millions of people in the world who face truly dangerous situations on a daily basis, and our experience was nothing like that. I still believe there is tremendous value in putting ourselves in situations in which we have experiences outside of those of our normal realm. It was also yet another reminder of the scariness of the situation FangFang is going to be facing so very soon. She’ll be handed over to orphanage officials, who will then hand her over to us, people she’s never met before and about whom she knows next to nothing. I pray we can assure her of our love and her safety early and that she begins to trust that we will care for her well.

Anyway, as we continued walking, we finally saw some signs indicating that we should turn right and began walking toward a large building, which we did with relief. However, when we entered, we saw…this:

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It’s an ice skating rink! That was not what we were expecting! However, it turned out that if we walked around the ice skating rink and through the mall to which it was attached, we continued to see signs directing us toward Kowloon Station. We followed those and eventually arrived at the metro station. Phew! It actually was very easy to negotiate, so we bought our tickets out to Tung Chung, and the metro ride itself went very well. Our family dynamic was clearly interesting to some of the older passengers on the train who pointed at Madeleine CaiQun and stared at her and talked amongst themselves. She just stared right back 🙂

Once we got out to Tung Chung, we got in line for the cable cars. Looking at them, the prospect of riding on them is a bit anxiety-producing! It’s about a 25 minute ride up mountains, over water and trees and buildings. We opted not to pay extra for the cable cars with the clear bottoms!

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At the top of the mountain, there are some restaurants and shops, and we were all hungry and chose a restaurant at which to eat before continuing any further. We enjoyed some squid ink pasta, teriyaki chicken ramen, fried pumpkin, and spring rolls.

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Then we walked farther up toward the Buddhist monastery, encountering some oxen along the way. Honestly, we’re still not really sure about the connection there.

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We looked around at the monastery first.

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And then we headed up the steps toward the Big Buddha. Danny volunteered to carry Madeleine CaiQun up the stairs in the Tula after she announced that she was far too tired to climb them all! At the top we walked around the outside of the Buddha and went inside the lower level, where there is some history about its construction and about Buddhism and its practice there.

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By that time it was getting close to evening, so we made the climb back down the stairs (this time with Mei Mei on my back) and then waited in line for our cable car back down the mountain.

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This time we opted to take a metro all the way back to the stop near our hotel – definitely a good choice! By the time we got back, we were all wiped out. We had dinner at the restaurant at our hotel, and Madeleine CaiQun was ready for bed immediately thereafter.

Daniel and Sharon and I then worked on getting our luggage packed up again and making our plans for the next day.

It was a short visit to Hong Kong, only two days, but we had a really good time. We’re still on an early schedule, but we’ve – for the most part – adjusted pretty well to the time change, and it’s nice to have that behind us as we head toward meeting FangFang! And of course, it was great to get to see a part of the world we hadn’t experienced before and enjoy learning more about Hong Kong and its history.

Hong Kong Day One

We arrived in Hong Kong yesterday (Friday) at 6:00 am after about a 15 hour flight from Newark. We were all tired, but we knew our best bet for adjusting to the time change – and seeing as much of Hong Kong as possible – was to get moving for the day. There are two main reasons adoption agencies recommend getting to Asia a few days before your Family Day – first, it gives you a bit of leeway if your flights get delayed; and second, it gives you a couple days to begin to adjust to the time change before the emotionally intense experience of having your child placed in your arms. Beyond that, though, it also gives you a bit of time to experience a different area of the world, an area near your child’s birthplace.

We opted to spend these first few days in Hong Kong, and I’ve been excited about this part of the trip – it’s sort of like a little mini-vacation! However, with all the actual adoption preparations, I didn’t actually get much of any time to research what to do in Hong Kong, so many thanks to my friend Marisa and my brother Daniel for handling the researching and planning of our itinerary for these couple days!

We took a taxi to our hotel and dropped off our luggage and changed clothes. Then we walked over to the harbor and bought tickets for the green line of the Hong Kong Big Bus Tour. Essentially, this allowed us to take a ferry across the harbor and then ride a double-decker bus all around the island of Hong Kong, getting off at various stops and enjoying the attractions, and then hopping back on the next bus, eventually coming full circle back to the ferry.

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Our first stop was at the Peak Tram, a very steep tram ride up to the top of Victoria Peak. From the top we could enjoy beautiful views of the city of Hong Kong.

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We then took the bus around more of the city and got off at Stanley. We found a restaurant at the plaza at which to have lunch, and then we wandered around the area, taking in the scenery and looking at some of the shops at the marketplace.

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After we got back on the bus, we headed to Aberdeen, traditionally a fishing village, where we took a Sampan ride and saw much of the area. It was quite a juxtaposition of the old and the new, seeing some more traditional houseboats and fishing boats but also a number of more modern boats.

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After that excursion, we got back on the bus, headed back to the ferry, and then walked back to our hotel, where our room was ready, and we were able to check in. We then walked a few blocks to a local dumpling restaurant that was well-reviewed online (it was good!) and then came back to our hotel to watch the nightly light show. We paid a little bit extra for a room with a view overlooking the harbor, and I think it has been worth it 🙂

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And at that point, having been awake for hours and hours, we were all beat! I tucked Madeleine CaiQun into bed, and she fell asleep within minutes. Danny and Sharon were next, and I was asleep myself after a quick shower. It was a fun adventure of a day. We laughed thinking about how we’d taken a plane, a taxi, a ferry, a double-decker bus, a tram, and another boat ride all in one day! The tour bus was a good way to explore a number of areas in Hong Kong all at once, and we enjoyed our first day in Asia! I was relieved to hear from Matt that he and my mom and the kiddos at home were all doing well, too, so all in all, it was a successful first day!

We Made It to Hong Kong! Plus Some Plane Ride Reflections

We made it to Hong Kong! Our flight landed on time around 6:00 a.m. local time this morning (Friday), and we had a full day of adjusting to local time and sightseeing thereafter.

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It was awesome – but I have been awake since something like 3:00 this morning and got only about 5 hours of (frequently interrupted, not very good) sleep, and that was after a week or so of limited sleep as the preparations for our travel intensified. It’s now a little after 9:00 pm Hong Kong time, and I am exhausted. Everyone else is already asleep. Tomorrow I’ll try to write more about our travels and day one in Hong Kong, but for tonight, I’m going to try to get some sleep! However, I will leave you with these reflections that I wrote on our flight –

I’m writing this post from somewhere over northern Asia, about 10 hours into our flight from Newark to Hong Kong. Anyone who has asked me recently how they could pray for us in our travels knows that I’ve been nervous about the flights – I’ve flown many times before, and I know the probabilities of anything going wrong are extremely small, but still, I’ve been nervous. I’m feeling calmer now that we have one flight down and are over halfway through our second.

I’ve been trying to remind myself of the truths that I know – looking at Psalm 103 and its truths about who God is, remembering that God tells us in Psalm 46 that He is our refuge and strength, and reciting Deuteronomy 31:6 – one of the first verses I ever memorized – to myself – “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” A good friend also texted me while Madeleine CaiQun and I were having dinner in the St. Louis airport and told me that she’d been meditating on Psalm 40 and David recounting how God had delivered him in the past, so he could trust Him to do it again.

I really appreciated that and spent some time reading and praying through Psalm 40 on our first flight. It was particularly poignant to me, because on Tuesday night, less than 24 hours before we were to leave to begin our journey to China, I connected with a woman who played a huge part in FangFang’s story, a woman and a part I hadn’t known existed. There is another adoption agency working in China that has a partnership relationship with FangFang’s orphanage. As such, they send medical teams there to evaluate the children’s needs and gather more information about them for prospective adoptive families, and they provide assistance in caring for the children and in preparing their files so that they are eligible for international adoption. This agency sent a team to FangFang’s orphanage in January, and this woman was part of that team. While she was there, she saw FangFang, and she talked with the orphanage about it perhaps being a good idea to transfer her to the foster home at which she has been residing for the last 9 months. The transformation in FangFang’s development and in her demeanor since moving from the orphanage to the foster home is nothing short of amazing, and this woman was part of bringing that about. And what’s more, all of this was happening just as we were seeing a blog post advocating for FangFang and praying about pursuing adopting her and praying that, regardless, she would have a family and that she would receive the best care possible for her while she remained in China. It was around that very same time that God was putting into motion all that would need to happen for FangFang to move to what I believe is the best foster home in the country for caring for children with osteogenesis imperfecta and, we believe, calling us to be her family.

I don’t believe any of this is accidental. I think God was answering our prayers 11 months ago, and I interpret the timing of this connection I made the other night as a reassurance from God that He is at work in FangFang’s story. He hears and has been answering prayers for her for months now. That doesn’t mean He’s a genie and that her life will be perfect and anything I request on her (or my) behalf is going to happen. How could it? In that case, she would never have endured the staggering loss of her first family. But it does mean that He is involved in her story, and because I can see the fingerprints of His faithfulness in her past, I can trust that He is going to continue to be faithful in His care for her in the future. My hope is that that means safe travels around and home from China! But regardless, I am honored to be a part of His work in this precious child’s life.

Here We Go! Some Specifics and Some Prayer Requests

The wheels are in motion for our trip, both literally and figuratively – my mom is on her way here so that she can spend the next 2.5 weeks with Matt and Miranda and Atticus. Tomorrow afternoon Madeleine CaiQun and I will head to St. Louis to begin our journey to China.

As we look toward our trip, I’m feeling acutely the need for prayer, moreso even than with our last adoption trip. Perhaps it’s that I know more this time – the more I know, the more I realize that I cannot make things happen all in my own power. It’s also that I’m traveling without Matt this time – I am so thankful that my brother and sister-in-law will be there with me, but it will not be the same as having Matt (and my other kiddos) there, too. FangFang’s medical needs are also more significant than Madeleine CaiQun’s were. Adoption trips are always intense, but I am especially feeling the weight of that this time. Would you pray with and for us? Here are some specific requests:

  • Please pray for our safety in traveling (and in remaining home). I know this is morbid, and I know that probabilities are small, but my biggest fear is that the plane will crash or that Atticus will dive head-first off the table, and we won’t all see each other again this side of heaven. Please pray that we all survive the next 2.5 weeks.
  • Please pray for Matt and Miranda and Atticus and my mom. I’ve done a lot to make their time as easy as possible – freezing meals and leaving gifts – but these next couple weeks are going to be a significant departure from normalcy for everyone. Please pray that they have fun together and do alright.
  • Please pray for all the travel logistics. These are not insignificant. CaiQun and I have 2 separate flight itineraries (one domestic; one international), meaning that the airlines don’t really have to work well with us for the international itinerary if our domestic flight gets delayed tomorrow and we miss the international flight. Then on Sunday, we’ll be taking a taxi from our Hong Kong hotel to the train station, where we’ll catch a train to Guangzhou. We then need to meet up with a van our agency is sending to take us from the first Guangzhou train station to the second, and we’ll take a train from that second station to Nanning. Please pray that all goes smoothly in all of this craziness.
  • Please pray for little FangFang’s heart. Her world is about to change dramatically, and we pray that her heart be prepared for and open to us as her family. We pray that we will be able to show her some love and fun early on. Please pray especially for her bond to me – children joining their families often can only handle bonding to one adult at a time, and my brother and sister-in-law are awesome, but it would be ideal for her to form her primary bond with me first. I am anticipating some heavy grieving from her as she leaves the nannies from her foster home and comes to us.
  • Please pray for Madeleine CaiQun. She has some anxiety about returning to China. My prayer is that this trip is a beautiful experience for her, but I’m not certain how it will go. Please pray for her processing her return to her birth culture, as well as her adjustment to becoming a big sister again. Please pray that she’ll allow my brother and sister-in-law to care for her at times, especially when FangFang is needing me.
  • Please pray for my endurance, patience, graciousness, and love. I expect these to be some of the most intense parenting weeks of my life as I mother 2 girls through huge experiences in their own lives.
  • Please pray for everyone’s health. I’ve had a persistent sore throat and just feel generally yucky, which I suspect is nothing significant, but I’m heading in to get it checked out this afternoon, just to be sure before I leave the country and my access to Western medical care. More significantly, please pray that we make it home without any of FangFang’s bones fracturing. I’m traveling with splinting supplies, but we won’t have such great access to medical resources in China to review my splinting or get x-rays easily or provide care in the event that a fracture would be truly serious.
  • Please pray for my brother and sister-in-law. I am so thankful that they are joining us on this journey. Please pray for the 3 of us adults to work well together through what will be, at times, a stressful trip. Please pray for our communication and for us to have great grace with each other.
  • Please pray for wisdom in decision-making. We are going to need to make the call of whether to request permission to visit FangFang’s orphanage. We will have to decide how much sightseeing seems wise and how much we’re going to need to just hunker down in our hotel room. There’s still some question of where we’ll stay in Guangzhou – there’s a serviced apartment building just across the street from the hotel at which our agency has people stay, and staying there would save us a ton of money and give us more space, and that’s where I’ve been planning for weeks to have us stay…but someone staying there last week gave it a pretty unfavorable review, and I’m still not 100% certain how we’re going to handle that situation.
  • Speaking of money, please pray for financial provision. We’ve applied with one more grant organization, and it would be a huge blessing to get some funding from them. We’ve borrowed money to pay the rest of the costs associated with this adoption, and please hear me when I say that this debt is worth it. We go into debt for houses and cars; bringing a child into a family is of so much more importance than those physical things. But needing to pay back thousands of dollars of debt at the same time that we are incurring thousands of dollars of medical expenses for FangFang’s initial medical care is going to be tough.
  • Please pray for these next 24 hours or so at home – I still have some packing to do and miscellaneous tasks to finish (paying bills, etc), but I’d also like to spend some good quality time with the rest of my family, whom I won’t see for so many days.
  • Please pray for all of our hearts as we are separated as a family for the next couple weeks. This is so hard for me.
  • Please pray that we can honor our God as we interact with various people in China. Please pray that we are respectful and loving in all we do.
  • Please pray that we keep our priorities straight and focus on what’s truly important about and throughout this trip.

I’m going to share the basics of our itinerary below so you’ll know a bit more of how to pray each day. Keep in mind that we’ll be 14 hours ahead of Central Time – so, for instance, our meeting FangFang on the morning of Monday, December 12 is still going to be your evening of Sunday, December 11. If you stay up late enough and I have good enough Internet and a calm enough baby, you may get to see some pictures – Sunday nights are a time of rejoicing in the China adoption community 🙂

Here’s our basic schedule –

  • Wednesday, December 7 – Madeleine CaiQun and I fly from St. Louis to Newark, where we’ll meet up with my brother Daniel and sister-in-law Sharon.
  • Thursday, December 8 – We have a 1:00 AM flight from Newark to Hong Kong.
  • Friday, December 9 – Because of the long flight and the time change, we leave at 1:00 AM on Thursday but don’t arrive in Hong Kong until 6:00 AM on Friday. We’ll head to our hotel to drop off our bags and then try to stave off jetlag by going out and sightseeing for the day.
  • Saturday, December 10 – We’ll have another day of sightseeing in Hong Kong and continuing to adjust to the time difference.
  • Sunday, December 11 – We’ll travel from Hong Kong to Nanning via the rather complicated route I detailed above.
  • Monday, December 12 – We’ll meet and take custody of FangFang.
  • Tuesday, December 13 – We’ll finalize FangFang’s adoption.
  • Wednesday, December 14 – Thursday, December 15 – We’ll hang out in Nanning while we wait for FangFang’s passport to be ready. We may take a trip to her city to visit the orphanage from which she’s from. We may do some sightseeing in Nanning. Or we may need to spend a lot of time building bonds and connections in the hotel room.
  • Friday, December 16 – We’ll travel from Nanning to Guangzhou.
  • Saturday, December 17 – We’ll have FangFang’s medical exam.
  • Sunday, December 18 – Monday, December 19 – We’ll hang out in Guangzhou, maybe doing some sightseeing, while we wait for the results of FangFang’s medical exam.
  • Tuesday, December 20 – We’ll have our consulate appointment to finish the process of applying for FangFang’s visa to enter the United States.
  • Wednesday, December 21 – FangFang’s visa should be ready.
  • Thursday, December 22 – We’ll take the train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong and then board a flight from Hong Kong back to Newark. The time change works in reverse this time – we’ll leave Hong Kong around 6:00 PM but arrive in Newark around 9:00 PM. My dad will fly out to Newark to meet us, and he and I and the girls will spend the night in a hotel.
  • Friday, December 23 – My dad and the girls and I will fly back to St. Louis, and we should arrive back in Columbia mid-afternoon.

Solid internet access is never a guarantee in China, and of course, actually caring for FangFang (and Madeleine CaiQun) is going to be my priority, but I do hope to be able to post regularly and keep you all updated, and should you want to send encouragement or prayers, I should be able to get them while there. Thank you for praying, friends!