Saturday, August 5, 2017

8/2 - Hong Kong, Tokyo, Chicago, Grand Rapids, HOME

Up early and walk over to our terminal.  The check in process went smoothly and we have all our boarding passes for all of our flights.  One our way to our gate we pass the Disney store and of course have to browse through it.  Now we all start planning our next Disney trip!  At the gate we have plenty of time before boarding so Kyle & Natalee set off to get some breakfast.  They come back with 3 egg mcmuffin sandwiches from McD’s.  We didn’t have a lot of Hong Kong cash left and still wanted a water.  He finds a little stand selling water for $8.00 HKD and he has exactly $8.10HKD in his pocket!  10 cents leftover and we're on our way home!

Our flights are all on time and decent.  We flew HK to Tokyo, had about an hour layover (enjoyed a snack of M&M’s, Pocky & dark chocolate) then on to Chicago.  I didn’t fare too well on the flight from Tokyo to Chicago. I couldn’t sleep due to the large man next to me and having tummy issues.  It was a long flight!

On the ground and almost home!  We navigate our way through security, customs, baggage claim, baggage check more security and to our gate for our last leg.  Our plane to GR was really small, fortunately I was able to sleep.

Mom & Dad picked us up at the airport and on our way home we stopped at Chick-fil-A for a snack (9:30 pm).  The girls were excited and chatty.  It’s good to be home and I’m ready for bed!  My parent put a few groceries in the house which was a huge help!

Traveling is wonderful and exciting, exhausting too!  We’re so happy to have had the opportunity to take the girls on this heritage trip and hope that they cherish these memories forever!  Thank you Lord for this amazing opportunity!  Thank you for safety and healing!  Thank you for new friends and new experiences! 

8/1 - Guangzhou then Hong Kong

Breakfast was decent, none have been as good as back in Beijing though.  Today our goal is to shop!  Due to sickness and expensive stores, we haven’t done much shopping and Shamain Island has been known for good deals.  We shop at Michaels, Helens, Amys, Jennys and A Gift From China (a Christian run non-profit store that helps orphans directly).  Shortly before 1 pm we head back to the hotel to check out and put our luggage in storage with the concierge.  We enjoy a western lunch of American fried chicken with fries & onion rings along with a quesadilla for Megs.  Kyle was excited to have ketchup!  After figuring out what money we still need for tips and taxis we need to exchange money.  The hotel rate wasn’t the best so we try the bank.  Now we have extra money so we shop a little bit more.  We stop into the White Swan Hotel and take a few pictures but we run out of time to find the famous Red Couch (and the girls are getting tired, one especially!)  On our way back to the hotel to meet our guide Kyle and the girls get an ice cream treat and some noodles for later tonight.

We get to the train station which is crazy busy again and find our gate.  Our guide gives us a little info about the fact that this isn’t a bullet train and what to expect.  It is NOT a bullet train and I can feel every sway and movement and end up getting a motion sick head & stomach-ache.  Not fun. We make it to Hong Kong and now need to get to our hotel which is at the airport.

The information desk tells us the best way to get there is by train.  A taxi would cost us about $700 Hong Kong dollars and we don’t have that much.  Kyle does exchange some money and we decide to try the train.  We have 2 stops and then have to buy another set of tickets.  It was a little stressful but the girls were a big help in navigating.  We arrive at the airport find the information desk and head in the direction of our hotel.  At check in they gave us a room with 2 queens instead of the king we had booked which turned out to be great!  The girls ate their noodles while I repacked everything for our flights home.

7/31 - Loudi Social Welfare Institute & On to Guangzhou

Up early, packed and ready for another busy day!  We met our guide at 9:00 am and load all of our stuff into the van.  Later today we take the train to Guangzhou so we have to check out of our hotel.  It’s been nice to have 2 or 3 nights in the same location. 

As we get into the van our guide informs us that we have some time to kill before going to the orphanage, they want us to come at 10:00 instead.  So, I ask if we can return to Natalee’s finding location and the original orphanage as I want to take a few more pictures.  After taking several more pics and talking to 2 curious men in the hallway we head on over to the orphanage.  These men were probably the 3rd or 4th people to ask about our girls and comment that Natalee looks like a local girl.    
The Loudi Social Welfare Institute is a rather large square building with a center courtyard and open-air hallways.  It houses about 65 elderly on the first 3 floors and the orphanage is on the 4th floor which is responsible for about 50 kids.  Director Li who was there when we adopted Natalee is no longer here and the nanny that brought her to us recently moved away.  The new director escorted us upstairs where we passed several offices and into a meeting room.  The room was lined with large arm chairs on both walls and a coffee table filled with fruit in the middle.  The director served us each a bottled water and huge slice of watermelon.  One of the nannies that has been with LSWI for many years remembered Natalee and came in to talk to us. They brought out Natalee’s file but it didn’t contain too much that we didn’t have.  I glanced through it but didn’t get too much time with it. 

The nanny told us she remembered the day Natalee arrived.  She was about 2-3 weeks old and it was cold.  The gate guard found her because a small firecracker was left near her and set to go off, thus alerting the guard that there was a baby.  The nanny said she was small and delicate and developed a cold. We gave the nanny the photo book we made of Natalee and she loved looking at it.  A few other ladies came around and looked too, asking a few questions and smiling at the pictures. 

After a while they took us on a tour of the orphanage.  The top floor is painted a light blue with some bright pictures, it appeared clean and well kept.  The first room we went in was a commons room and had about 10 severely disabled children sitting around “watching” TV.  Megan went right in and started handing out lollipops and helping some of the kids unwrap them.  It was a little overwhelming for Natalee though.  It was hard!  One young girl, maybe 13, had been badly burned and sat quietly in the corner observing us.  She had such deep sadness in her eyes and when we spoke to her, she lit up.  Oh, Lord, bless these children with your love!  It was really hard to walk away.

They took us to a couple of their living quarters which had 8 to 10 bunks in a room, all very neatly kept.  There was an adjacent play room, bathroom and kitchenette area.   We saw another 15 or so kids, again all with severe needs.  The kids with “minor” needs or considered “healthy” are with foster families.  The last room they brought us to was the art room.  Brightly painted and decorated and well stocked with art supplies, the one wall was full of handmade projects done by the kids in the orphanage.  They make things and then sell them to visitor and other local people.  We took a few minutes to shop and the Director offered Natalee one as a gift and offered Megan some handmade hairbows as a gift.   We head back to our meeting room to gather our things and head to lunch.

Lunch is quite fancy at a nearby hotel.  The table is set formally with crystal charger plates and all.  Natalee comments on how hard it is to have come from the orphanage with kids who have nothing to this extravagant luncheon that seems excessive.  Lunch was really good with a few dishes we had not yet tried, one was beef with peppers and onions similar to fajitas. Megan ate a lot to the surprise of the other ladies.  It was a bit awkward at times not knowing what to talk about and because all of the orphanage ladies (3 of them) were on their cell phones.  As the meal ended we were very pleased that the ladies asked for to-go containers and bags and took all of the leftover food.  So glad at least one of our meals didn’t go to waste!  As we said our goodbyes we realize we have about an hour or so before we need to head to the train station.

Our driver takes us to a different park, but it has lots of stairs.  We’re not moving too quickly today and enjoy a leisurely walk up to the top of the park which overlooks the city of Loudi.  We take several pictures, including one with our driver who seemed to really enjoy being with us the past few days.

At the train station our driver doesn’t just drop us off but instead grabs some of our luggage and helps us get inside.  Our guide will be on this train too as it heads first to Changsha where she lives.  We learn more information about traveling by train – when the name is red you are waiting.  When the words turn yellow it means get ready and green means you can pass through the gate. Wish we had known that earlier.  The country side is beautiful as we pass through! 

We head northeast to Changsha, drop off & pick up passengers and then head back in the same direction we came from.  Suddenly Kyle & I realize the # of the train route has changed.  Uh-oh, did we have to change trains?  Did we miss something?  I’m able to track our location and direction on the mapsme A.P.P (they say each letter not app) and we are going in the right direction toward Guangzhou, so we’ll wait it out.  Sure caused me panic though!  Oh, when we changed direction back in Changsha the other passengers around us got up and started to switch the direction of their seats too so we followed suit.  There’s a foot lever that you press and then swing the whole bank of chairs (2 or 3 together) around to face 180˚ to face the opposite direction, it was pretty cool.

We made it to Guangzhou, found our guide and driver and head to Shamain Island and the Victory Hotel.  We check in and get our meeting time for tomorrow.  In the lobby we met a lady from Illinois who was here with 3 of her daughters on a heritage trip and then she was adopting a 10 year old and 14 year old girls too.  She told us that they became the 16th & 17th members of her children of which 13 of them are adopted from China!  Whoa!! She also told us about one of her daughters that is from Loudi as well and was adopted at age 12, she found her birth family on this trip (the orphanage staff had told us about her too).  Our guide couldn’t believe this lady and her huge family, she was quite shocked.

Once we settled into our rooms, which are adjoining, and tip the bellboy, we decide to walk around the island to see what shops are still around.  Due to international adoptions changing, the island shops have gone through change too.  It’s now more of a “resort” for the Chinese with high end clothing shops and restaurants.  We see a few stores that hopefully will be open in the morning.  After stopping by 7-11 to get some noodles we head back to our room.  We’re able to call home again (I think we called home 4 times which was nice.)  Our journey is coming to an end.  It’s hard to believe all that we’ve done, the places we’ve seen and the memories we’ve made.  Our minds are a bit overloaded and hopefully in the coming days we can remember it all.