First Museum Trip

Although I thought for sure that Alexander’s first museum experience would be my favorite natural history museum in Chicago, his first adventure was in Guangzhou! We didn’t have time to post about all of our adventures, so I’m starting to fill in the gaps while we’re settling in at home. So don’t mind the slight retrospective commentary– there will be more where this came from.

Thanks to a rainstorm during our trip while in Guangzhou, our planned excursion to a botanic garden was replaced by a visit to the Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King— an absolutely incredible place.


An exquisite jade carving depicting the phoenix and dragon

An exquisite jade carving depicting the phoenix and dragon

A full-body suit of jade found in the tomb. Jade is often called "Crazy Stone" in China because of its fluctuating value.

A full-body suit of jade found in the tomb. Jade is often called “Crazy Stone” in China because of its fluctuating value. Right now, a small jade bracelet will run you about $6k. It would have been only a few hundred dollars less than a decade ago.

We were able to enter the excavated tomb-- which is housed under this glass dome.

We were able to enter the excavated tomb– which is housed under this glass dome.

What I found most incredible about the museum is that the tomb’s rich contents were found in full– especially when you consider how many Egyptian tombs were plundered.  The contents displayed in and around the tomb at the museum were just unbelievable– and it was a fantastic first museum experience for Alexander. Though he didn’t read all of the label copy ( I don’t think he read ANY of it!), several squeals indicated that he is a museum kid!

One more cute photo from our day at the museum

One more cute photo from our day at the museum


There’s No Place Like Home

Brian already posted our triumphant and barely conscious return to the US with our son, but I thought I’d add in a few photos from today.

We were up around 4 am and on our way to Hong Kong...

We were up around 4 am and on our way to Hong Kong…

Three hours and two van rides later, we cleared Hong Kong Immigration and were on our way to the airport. It was HUGE-- It took us about 20 minutes after checking in to find our gate. We saw a gate numbered 503!

Three hours and two van rides later, we cleared Hong Kong Immigration and were on our way to the airport. It was HUGE– It took us about 20 minutes after checking in to find our gate. We saw a gate numbered 503! Here, Alexander still manages a huge grin– he doesn’t know that he’s got a 14 hour flight ahead of him!

Just a random side note on our immigration through Hong Kong. We crossed over via van, and it was strangely invasive. A woman with a face mask came into our van and shot each of us with a temperature gun– checking to see if anyone was sick, I guess. It felt very sci-fi. I’m glad Alexander is in good health– it’s fairly common for institutionalized children to arrive very sick. You might notice that he’s always got his pacifier– in addition to using it as a feeding utensil, he’s teething like crazy!

Our flight was fairly terrible. Fourteen hours on a plane is too long, especially in coach. We paid for a little extra leg room, but it still felt like steerage on the Titanic about 6 hours in. It was a rocky flight– several folks got sick, including a few adoptive families. I’ve traveled outside of the US quite a bit, but let me tell you– it felt amazing to step off that plane onto US soil.

Immigration for Alexander was a breeze, with much gratitude given to our friend Ken, the adoptive dad and O’Hare employee I mentioned in our departure post. He assisted in clearing the way for us to speed through the process, and we were met with smiles, handshakes, and hearty congratulations from Customs and Border Patrol. We were barely coherent by the time we got off the plane (though Alexander got at least 6 hours of sleep sprawled out on us! This kid can sleep ANYWHERE!)

We're here! Meet the newest US citizen!

We’re here! Meet the newest US citizen!

Our friend Adam was circling the airport waiting for our signal, and he promptly arrived to chauffeur our tired selves home in addition to helping us adjust our car seat to fit our little guy.

Alexander had a note waiting in his car seat from his new friend Josh, Adam's son. He grabbed it and wouldn't let go-- this photo is NOT staged!

Alexander had a note waiting in his car seat from his new friend Josh, Adam’s son. He grabbed it and wouldn’t let go– this photo is NOT staged!

We arrived at home to a wonderful surprise. Balloons and banner, which will stay up for awhile! Our neighbor and friend across the street was waiting for us– we are so very grateful for all the help of our friends and family in taking care of our home and felines while we were away!

There's no place like home!

There’s no place like home!

We made a big effort to stay awake to fight the jet lag– our bodies are 13 hours ahead of Chicago, so it’s really 10:30 am, and we’ve been up 30 hours. We managed to take Alexander on his first stroller walk through our neighborhood, and we even unpacked a bit. Now, we’re settled in for the evening with a celebratory cocktail, child bathed and snoring happily in his crib, and cats ridiculously cuddly in appreciation of our return.

This will be an Independence Day to remember.

Surviving the US Consulate, better known as “How Brian almost got his watch incinerated”

Sorry, Alexander. We were really hoping that your first experience with the US Government would be a little better. Still, we all survived, your father got to keep his watch, and as far as we know, your visa and immigration papers will be ready for pickup tomorrow.

We were up bright and early this morning for our consulate appointment in the city. Our entire trip to China, even including Alexander’s placement day, was scheduled around this “magical” hour when Our Government would accept our little man’s Chinese passport. He’ll be issued a US visa and a sealed immigration packet. We’ve been told numerous times, including this morning, that the sealed packet contains very sensitive information and that under no circumstances should it leave our possession until we hand it to Customs and Immigration on Thursday afternoon. No pressure, right?

When we arrived at the Consulate building, we were instructed that we could only bring our application packet with us– no phones, cameras, anything. Our guide told us that back in the day, each family would have their photo taken in the Consulate with their immigration officer by an American flag– now you can’t even bring your camera into the Consulate! I did grab a diaper just in case… Our guide also indicated that he could only walk us so far before being stopped by security. After standing in line awhile, we were checked in by security stop #1 where our appointment time/day was verified and passports checked– then past two more guards, and up an escalator to the next security stop.

This is when things got unpleasant.

This security stop was the x-ray machine. I started to put our packets and diaper on the belt, when the guard pointed to Brian’s watch. “No watch.” Brian tried to explain that it wasn’t electronic (he has one of those self-winding mechanical watches). “Sorry, no watch.” Brian asked if he could leave it, but the guard indicated that we couldn’t go through to our appointment with it, and that if it was left, it would be immediately destroyed. (Quick side note here– about a month ago, there was a mysterious powder threat at the US Consulate in Guangzhou. Families were stuck for several days because the Consulate was closed, and I think that the security folks are being extra extra cautious now.) There was no negotiation– either Brian’s watch would be destroyed, or we would try and find our guide.

We decided to exit the Consulate and try to find our guide to pass along the watch. My watch had stopped about a week ago, so we were down to one watch between the two of us. We found Bill, did a quick watch handoff, and raced back upstairs to our appointment, where we joined the back of the line for the first security. They had closed admissions, but after much passport flailing and explanation of why we were already checked off his list, he let us pass. Back upstairs, through the x-ray machine, and finally into a holding pen bearing a striking resemblance to a DMV. There were about a dozen families there waiting, and within a few minutes, the show started. We were all asked to swear an oath about the applications, and then we waited for our family name to be called. Alexander was a sport, but we could tell all the noise and people was getting to him (he’s snoring now as I type!)

Our immigration officer was very friendly, and after a quick look through Alexander’s application packet (most of which was already sent and has been waiting for our arrival since April), we were finished. Pretty unexciting to be honest, aside from the watch fiasco and meeting other families– just a few brief chats, but we met families from Nebraska, Arkansas, and even Pittsburgh, PA! They asked where I went to school, and they said– “Oh, so near Oakdale, right?”  What a small world we live in!

For as frustrating as the red tape was in getting into the Consulate (which I understand comes with the territory– just reread my entries on my Chinese Consulate experience if you forgot), the experience was fairly inspiring. Seeing so many families from all over the US who have jumped willingly through the same hoops and seeing so many children with medical needs in the arms of loving and doting families gave me great hope. Although we live in an age when a wristwatch could be an explosive or a bottle of formula seen as something sinister, there are plenty of people who have taken a great leap of faith across a wide sea to bring their children home.




Home Soil

We’re up bright and early for our appointment at the US Consulate for Alexander’s immigration appointment. We hope they don’t ask him any difficult US History questions– his response to our last question “Who was the 13th President?” resulted in the answer of “La..laaaaaa”  Millard Filmore, but we’ll give you partial credit for cuteness!

Proudly sporting his Team USA outfit.

Proudly sporting his Team USA outfit.

And now for something completely different…

Have you all had your fill of adorable Alexander photos yet? I should hope not! I’m going to take a brief break from the cuteness, however, to list some of the most.. let’s say… “unusual” things about our travels thus far. So in no particular order…..

Ketchup, coming right up!–  When in Taiyuan, we ordered pizza one night for room service (go ahead and make your sweeping judgements, folks! The Kellys were in China and ordered pizza.) However, the room service menu included such delicacies as “spiced donkey meat.” No joke. Brian sorta wanted to order it just so we could say, “Hey, this tastes like a*&.” But no, no donkey was ordered. What DID show up with just about every order of “western food” was a bowl of ketchup. You know, for dipping.. or something. Pizza, ketchup. Sandwich, ketchup. It was comical by the end of our stay in Taiyuan, but it did make me think that Dad Kelly would feel right at home here!

Soda, beer, same prices here!–  This we figured out pretty quickly, and it has been a most welcoming surprise. Back home, order a soda, and it will cost you maybe $2. Order a beer, and it’s $5+ (except for you lucky folks in Portland!) Here, soda and beer prices are pretty much the same. We purchased a few local Pearl River brewery beers for our room, and each 600ml bottle was 6 RMB– roughly $1. Soda prices are about the same, ranging from $0.50-$1.00. Similarly, when we were in Pingyao, Brian purchased a large bottle of water from a street vendor. It was cold, and it cost 2 RMB– almost $0.35! Crazy!

Check the prices!— I was a little surprised when we checked into our hotel in Beijing to see all the little niceties included in our room– hotel slippers (replaced each day), bathrobes, toothbrushes, combs, you name it! However, the coffee pot came with a little sign “10 RMB.” Similarly, a very pretty tea set was next to several canisters of tea, each clearly labeled with appropriate pricing. There was free tea in a different part of our room– just no coffee. We learned ahead of time to bring Via packets, and we’ve been happily caffeinated the whole trip. The same thing for water– it’s standard to get two free bottles of water in your room each day, but there’s usually a bevy of others all with price tags. I’m including a photo of my most recent hotel add-on (which we still haven’t caved on yet)– the Victory teddy bear. This little guy is placed dangerously on the bed every day with his little price tag– I jokingly tell Alexander to avert his eyes! That bear is NOT coming home with us!

The Victory Hotel bear of guilt-- we're not buying you!

The Victory Hotel bear of guilt– we’re not buying you!

Emergency smoke masks-- these have been in each hotel room and continue to freak me out.

Emergency smoke masks– these have been in each hotel room and continue to freak me out.

Hats with Ears, and other fashions— Wow, Chinese fashion is something else. I can’t believe the number of stilettos and really high platform shoes. Today, Brian pointed out an adult woman wearing a straw hat, complete with cat ears. Women’s fashion is definitely wilder than men’s, but in all cases, the English phrases we’ve seen on t-shirts have been pretty funny. Last night, I saw a gentleman wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a large star of David and the words “Kung Fu Panda.” I’m still not sure what that’s supposed to mean…

Chinese Grandmas– This almost deserves its own entire post, but I’ll at least give you a teaser here. We were warned numerous times about the “League of Chinese Grandmas.”  These women, all well-intentioned, are the surpreme arbiters of children’s attire and have a sixth sense for when exposed baby leg is in a 20 meter proximity. Walk anywhere with your child, and out of no where, gaggles of grandmas will suddenly pounce on you and begin to inspect your choices for your child’s clothing, exposed skin, and general ability to parent (kidding about the last one!) When we were in Taiyuan, we got several “drive-bys” where elderly women were clearly staring, inspecting, and judging. In most cases, my feeble attempt to pull my sweating son’s pants further down his legs and hiking up his socks in the ladies’ presence earned a nod,and we were on our way. At Jinci Temple, one elderly woman began her review from far away, and gradually got closer, finally noticing the huge sun hat we had completely pulled over our sleeping son’s head. She actually gave me a thumb’s up and a big smile– parenting gold for the adoption world!  That, of course was negated 5 minutes later when another grandma grabbed at Alexander’s exposed 1 inch of calf and began instructing Brian (in Mandarin or Jin?) about why we were ruining our child’s chance for future success by allowing skin to show. I say this all tongue-in-cheek though, as overall we’ve received many more smiles than lectures from the League. Still, I’ll be happy when we’re back in the USA, and a stranger grabbing your child’s leg is reason for prosecution, not pedagogy.

Because you’ve patiently read through this entire post, I’ll close with this morning’s adorable Alexander photo– he and Brian are posing before we attended our first Mass in Cantonese– no air conditioning in the church, more than 90 degrees outside, and an incredibly long homily. If Alexander could survive that, he can do anything!


The Kelly men before Mass this morning.

The Kelly men before Mass this morning.




The Sleeping Dragon

I’m typing this entry with a well-deserved birthday beer in my hand after a very, very trying day. Overall, my 32nd birthday was incredible– having a new son and being in a beautiful land and all.  However, today is the day when parenting got real– and when all the adoption training came in handy– these people know what they’re saying! (little shout out to our social worker!)

Today, the main goal was to acquire our son’s Chinese passport and finalized Chinese adoption papers– success thanks to our representative Bill. As far as the Chinese government is concerned, we’ve got custody of this little guy from here on out. Now, our next hurdle is to present all of this material to the American consulate in Guangzhou in order for them to issue our man his immigration papers–which will take most of next week.

Because we had some extra time on our hands, our guide drove us to Jinci Temple, a beautiful old temple and grounds. A few photos follow below…

Warning- if we invite you over to meet Alexander, you might also be subjected to our home movies!

Warning- if we invite you over to meet Alexander, you might also be subjected to our home movies!

At Jinci Temple

At Jinci Temple

This tree is more than 3200 years old-- making it the third oldest tree in China.

This tree is more than 3200 years old– making it the third oldest tree in China.

Picturesque Jinci

Picturesque Jinci

Before mechanical clocks, towns used drum and bell towers along with water clocks. Most towns had both a drum town and a bell tower--which announced the opening of the city gates.

Before mechanical clocks, towns used drum and bell towers along with water clocks. Most towns had both a drum tower and a bell tower–which announced the opening and closing of the city gates.

Architecture and artwork dating back to the Song dynasty

Architecture and artwork dating back to the Song dynasty

We spent the afternoon back in our room relaxing. After Brian and Bill left to get a few supplies, Alexander and I managed to get some quality bonding time. Although he’s doing incredibly well, he’s still terrified of new people, and even when Brian or I leave the room for an extended time, he’s somewhat frightened of us by the time we return. I guess you could call it a mixed blessing, but by the time the men returned from their short errand trip, Alexander had decided that I was his caregiver, and that Brian was clearly the devil. We were prepared over and over again by our agency and other adoptive families that this would occur. In the long term, this is a very good thing, because it shows that he’s beginning to form attachments and trust. In the short time, it can be really stressful for both the parent who can’t leave their child’s eyesight (lest they melt down) or for the parent who can’t do anything to make them happy either. One adoptive family told us by the time they reached Guangzhou, the father/husband couldn’t even push the stroller because the kid would flip out. While Alexander isn’t that bad, it’s very clear through his yowling that I’m the lady of the day.

We’ve been pushing through the afternoon and evening despite our little man’s protests, and thanks to our training, are still trying to instill that dad isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Brian strapped the little man in the carrier and did a lot of carry-time along with the evening feedings and diaperings all the while enduring a boatload of crocodile tears and whining.

Brian working his charm on two very small cold shoulders.

Brian working his charm on two very small cold shoulders.

Now, our little dragon is finally asleep– thank goodness! We’ve figured out a routine that seems to work (knock on wood), but we’ll see how long it lasts. For any of you adoptive parents reading this (you know who you are!), you’re well aware of how difficult handling sleeping can be with children used to institutionalized care. My heart breaks seeing just how terrified he is that we won’t be there in the morning and how traumatized he is when he wakes up in the night. This, by far, is the toughest undertaking we’ve ever had– but it’s also the most rewarding.

I’ll end this post on a lighthearted note– I was surprised by the staff at our hotel with a lovely birthday cake delivered to our room. Alexander was pitching a fit on the bed while I prepared his bottle (we have to do it out of his eyesight– as soon as he sees it, he goes NUTS. This kid clearly wasn’t being fed enough…) when our doorbell rang with the cake. I felt totally frazzled with kid yowling, bottle in the sink, and someone at the door.

Birthday greetings from the Shanxi Grand hotel

Birthday greetings from the Shanxi Grand Hotel

For several years now, all I’ve ever wished for on my birthday is for the gift of motherhood. I thought to myself as I was juggling a kid in one arm and trying to converse poorly in Mandarin with the room attendant– “Hey, I finally got my wish!”