Travel / Activity Journal

Here is the latest information on what we're up to.

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Hong Kong scenery (movies)

posted Aug 29, 2010, 12:52 PM by Charles Boling

Everyone (except Jonathan) awoke early this morning, and we were off to church! Jonathan did well, both traveling (he happily joined the crowd going out and climbing into the van) and while there.

In addition to the pictures we posted last night (By the way, we appreciate your tolerance of the typos in our journal entries and picture captions; virtually all of them were created in a hurry when we were rather tired) we have a couple of minutes of moving video showing a little of the scenery we saw while riding the train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong.

Toilet in China

posted Aug 29, 2010, 12:18 AM by Charles Boling

In airports &  hotels, we encountered mostly Western-style commodes.  Public restrooms in non-tourist areas are a different story, though!  I'd been warned about the "squatters", but I didn't realize just how crude they were.  Toilet paper is the norm in the U.S., and bidets are pretty popular in Europe, but here there was nothing!  You just squat and keep your clothes out of the way, and if "it" doesn't make a clean exit, that's your problem!  Now I understand why we were warned to bring a roll of TP -- it wasn't for the hotel.  Sorry, folks, I forgot to take a picture....


posted Aug 28, 2010, 10:59 PM by Charles Boling   [ updated Aug 29, 2010, 12:17 AM ]

Our stay at the Taipei airport was actually rather pleasant and Jonathan burned up a lot of energy there. It was 8:00 p.m. The only concern was that we didn't have seats together. But the flight wasn't full, so it was easy for Charles to switch his seat with the single man that had the seat next to Michele. So all was good there. When we boarded the plane and he was definitely tired and cranky. We sat for about 20 minutes before actually taking off and he fell asleep in his chair just before take-off. Once we weren't arching so steeply, Michele made a bed on the floor in front of her seat and his, with his blanket, the airline's pillow and the airline's blanket. He slept there for about an hour while Michele grabbed just a bit of a nap too.

But then he was up with vengeance and not happy at all about the entire situation. He cried and fussed and yelled off and on. Eventually he and Michele settled into a pattern of her pulling out a new and interesting toy and him playing with it for awhile, getting bored, watching part of a cartoon and then doing it all over again. He did this for about 3 to 3 ½ hours. Finally Michele was nodding off (it was now midnight) and she knew he must be tired too since his “normal” nap that afternoon was only half an hour or so. So she “forced” him to lay down again. He complained about it, but eventually settled down. Once he relaxed he was asleep instantly.

Michele slept rather well considering she was in an airplane seat. Freeing up Jonathan's seat allowed for more options - she'd sleep in one position for about 45 minutes then have to totally readjust to another position. Charles, who says “I can't sleep on airplanes” actually slept for an hour or two by stretching out and using the table trays on the back of the seats as leg rests.

This airplane wasn't nearly as nice as the last trans-pacific flight's. It didn't have the recharging station that the other's did and the seats weren't as nice. But it did have a movie menu with games you could play and other things to watch and do. The interactive flight data was actually better because it gave all the information you always want to know: what time is it where we left, what time is it where we are going, how much longer until we land, altitude, ground speed etc... as well as a visual map showing the route flown.

The stewardess made us wake Jonathan up to put him in his seat when we hit a little bit of turbulence. That was annoying. It was still an hour and a half before we landed and the seatbelt light went off just a few minutes after Michele was forced to wake him up and strap him in his seat. Of course he threw a fit about that. It was not pleasant for about another half hour until he woke up enough to be able to start playing with things again.

The landing was uneventful, but we were very surprised at the amount of time it took to get through the San Fransisco airport. First we had to go through immigration – which, with Jonathan being an immigrant meant we had to wait through two lines instead of one. Actually the wait through one of the lines wasn't too bad because we met a single mom of Chinese-descent with her two little boys on the plane and they were waiting in line with us. These boys were five and seven and just adored Jonathan.

The immigration officer that processed Jonathan's paperwork (that is where we ended up handing over all the VISA documentation) seemed relieved to finally get someone (meaning us) who's first language was English. He was quite curt with the other immigrants it seemed because of the language barrier.

Then we had to go through customs – which was another line. Then we had to claim all of our baggage we had checked. We took all of our luggage to a different side of the airport (following confusing signs) in order to check to have it go through security then check it in again (which were two more lines). Then we went through “normal” security – which again, was another line! It was amazing the difference in airport security in China and America. China is much like America was 30 years ago – they don't automatically assume you are the enemy until proven innocent (like America does)!

We wandered from there (once we got our shoes back on, Jonathan back in the stroller and his shoes back on) down to our gate. We got there about 45 minutes or so before boarding. Right at our gate was a kid's play area that Jonathan really enjoyed. There were some things to climb on, a tornado machine and a few little science displays. He alternated between that and playing on the moving sidewalks :-). Charles called Michele's dad via the Wi-Fi connection at the airport and let him know our status.

By the time we finally got on the plane to head home (it was only slightly late) Jonathan was SO tired. He only slept 5 ½ hours on the plane over the Pacific and the day before he only had 2 short naps. So he was CRANKY once we started pulling out onto the runway. He screamed himself to sleep finally – he curled up on the chair next to Michele.

Michele used Jonathan's sleep time to work on the computer. Jonathan slept the rest of the way into Portland – he didn't get up again until we were disembarking. Getting off the plane and getting our luggage was very smooth and easy. Michele's dad came to the curb and picked us up. We had an enjoyable ride home chatting about the trip and the kids.

We're sure glad to be home!!!!!!!

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The Everlasting Saturday

posted Aug 28, 2010, 4:08 AM by Charles Boling

Saturday 2010-08-28

Today's post is going to be broken up in two sections. This is the Guangzhou to Taipei section.

Well, today started out as a normal day. We were up at 7:00 and finished our packing. We grabbed some breakfast at 7-11 (including the famous Chinese moon cakes – very rich!). Then we headed down to the lobby with all of our luggage and Jonathan in the stroller. It's a good thing he's so used to being in it. We were getting a little concerned because our guide was about 15 minutes late. It wasn't Helen because she was busy, but she sent a fellow that turned out to be very nice. We rode in a mini-van to the train station (very near the consulate). Boy the streets are a maze in Guangzhou. And after being in several taxis it's pretty clear that they must go through a lot of transmissions with the way the start and stop so quickly!

The train station reminded us a lot of an airport about the same size as the Fuzhou airport and almost as tight security. They didn't confiscate our water, but we did have to lay everything on the conveyor belt and walk through the metal detector.

Our guide helped us buy tickets (which took awhile because we didn't have enough cash and had to run back downstairs to an ATM). We got to the train terminal (again, set up very much like an airline, except they charge you by pounded to check baggage – luckily they don't make you check it). We stood in line about 20 minutes before boarding the train. It was pretty nice, though our seats were facing backwards :-/. The seats were kind of like “first class” on an airplane (in fact, they were the first class seats on the train for only a little more per ticket). We got Jonathan his own seat – he sure was happy about that! The seats were big enough for Charles and had lots of leg room. Jonathan was a little difficult to manage during the 2 hour train ride – but it could have been worse! The train was REALLY smooth – it was quite relaxing to ride. What came after wasn't relaxing though! We ended up, trying to wait for elevators, at the end of the line of people (hundreds) that were on our train. We didn't think this was a problem until we found that we ALL were going through customs at the same time!!! Ugh. That took a LONG time to get through. Jonathan fell asleep half way through and didn't wake up until about 20 minutes after we were through.

When we finally got through customs it was a bit of a maze trying to figure out how to first exchange our currency for Hong Kong dollars, then find the ticketing machine and then finally find the right train to head us in the direction of the airport. We are SOOOOO thankful we spent a couple of days in Hong Kong before coming – otherwise we never would have been able to figure out the MTR in time to make our flight. Our previous experience with it was invaluable. We changed trains three times after the main train from Guanghzhou. The last was confusing (it's tripped us up every time we've gone through that interchange station – though we finally figured it out this time!).

We got the airport just over an hour before our flight was to leave! We hurried to the counter, but it took us over 40 minutes to check in/check baggage because we were trying to combine this flight we were about to get on, with the trans-pacific flight (so our luggage would go the right direction). Since we had to change just the first leg of the trip it was confusing. Then we ran into delays because Jonathan's ticket was issued in his American name, not his Chinese name, but his passport only had his Chinese name. So they had to go through a lot effort to “fix” that. Then, just having a Chinese passport took extra time too.

We finally got through security (10 minutes) and then immigration (5 minutes) we were dashing! We litterally RAN through the rest of the airport. They were boarding when we got there. Since we had Jonathan and the stroller they had us go through the “special” line where we got ahead of everyone else. They let us use the stroller all the way to the airplane. Then they bagged it.

The air flight itself was uneventful. Jonathan had a few times of screaming with frustration over something (like not getting to keep the tray down during take-off and not getting to have the window closed during landing – not sure why the last one was a rule, but they made us keep it open).

They even served a real rice and chicken meal, even though the flight was only an hour and 20 minutes. Chinese airlines offer much better service when it comes to food on board than American airline companies do.

We ended up with a three hour layover in the Taipei airport. That actually worked well because (even though we had to go through security yet *again*) Jonathan was able to get down and run around. The end of our concourse was deserted and had moving sidewalks. What a great toddler exercise tool! He liked using them the “normal” way of course. But he also got quite a kick out of going backwards down them! He could run just a little faster than they were moving in the opposite direction, so he didn't go very far but expended a lot of energy :-).

That section had also been converted into kind of a visitor information area all about Taiwan. Room after room (the size of the waiting areas for airlines) had theme and had beautiful displays all about different aspects of Taiwan (history, ecology etc...).

They had a great baby changing room too – decorated very prettily (obviously by a woman – it was all pink) where they not only provided a place to change diapers but provided diaper wipes, hot water for bottles etc...

Stay tuned for our next installment of “Will We Make It Home???”


posted Aug 28, 2010, 4:04 AM by Charles Boling

I made the last post from my phone, whose browser doesn't support the HTML editor used to create these entries, so all I could edit was the title.  Nice that it works though -- now that I'm outside of mainland China, I don't have to go through a proxy anymore to access this site!

I'm not used to having a notebook, much less a *good* notebook.  I thought the phone was my only option; then when I found the notebook I started to tether it to the phone for a connection, and was surprised when it offered to directly use the Wi-Fi at the airport.  Nice! Now I know how the wealthy business travelers live. :-)

In Taipei! Made HK flt w/ 10min to spare.

posted Aug 28, 2010, 3:10 AM by Charles Boling

Will we ever get home???

posted Aug 27, 2010, 8:52 AM by Charles Boling

Friday 2010-08-27

“Will we ever get home???” should be the title of the day. (ed. note: Done!) Today has been a nightmare as far as trying to navigate through the red tape between China and Taiwan. Those two countries (and the US embassy) can't agree on what things are required and what aren't.

So, today started out really early at 5:30 when Jonathan woke up with a coughing attack. Michele is convinced it's asthma and is really looking forward to getting him home to some clean air. Charles isn't totally convinced – he still thinks it might be a bronchial problem (but neither of us have gotten sick here at all).

We lounged around the hotel room, and called all three families that have our kids. They were all happy to hear from us. When we were on the phone with Michele's parents, Charles, kind of off-hand (because he really didn't think it was necessary) asked Michele's dad to call Eva airlines and just double check that it was OK for us to take Jonathan through Taiwan without any special, extra, paperwork. While he was working on that, we went out to the China Mobile store close to the hotel (less than half a mile away) to recharge Charles' sim card. But we got there and found that they didn't open for another 10 minutes. So, rather than stand in the heat, we walked back to the island, and over to the White Swan hotel to take pictures inside. It was really neat – it had a 2 ½ story waterfall and a huge pond with probably 50 or more koi in it, in the lobby. There were beautiful carvings and paintings all around too. The whole lobby was like stepping into another ecosystem.

Charles got a call from Michele's dad that told him something he didn't expect to hear. Apparently, it wasn't Taiwan's problem – it was China's (even though the American consulate assured us it was Taiwan's problem). China wouldn't let Jonathan leave the country, if he was going to Taiwan (any other country would be fine...). Eva airlines said that we should go to the airport to talk to them in person. Well, since the taxi ride to and from the airport would cost us almost $40 USD we really didn't like that option. So Charles called Helen to see what she could find out. She called back, (while we were on the way back to China Mobile) and confirmed the problem. Ugh.

So, after spending a long time at China Mobile to add more minutes to his phone, Charles went back up to the room to do some Internet (and phone) research while Michele took Jonathan down to the playroom. Jonathan got tired of the playroom after awhile so they wandered back up. Charles had Michele's dad researching changing plane tickets (to instead of flying out of Guangzhou to flying out of Hong Kong). If we just dropped the current tickets and bought new ones (though even that wasn't possible because it was a multi-legged journey and electronically connected) it would cost us dearly to change – between lost money from the first flight and having to buy new tickets and having to buy train tickets to Hong Kong and then riding from Hong Kong to the airport. Ugh.

But, as was mentioned before, Charles couldn't even do that over the phone or online – he had to do it in PERSON at the airport. So, he finally bit the bullet and paid the taxi fare to the airport to get it all straightened out. When he got there he found that China air (the airline going from Guangzhou to Taipei didn't open for another hour. So he had to bum around the airport for an hour...

In short, here is the jist of the redtape we've battled:

China says it's Taiwan's restrictions – the American Consulate agrees. Taiwan says it's China's restrictions – Eva airlines agrees.

China air, called from the US, says “can't do anything about it” and says to call Eva.

Eva (Taiwan to San Francisco) says “can't do anything about it” and says to call China.

China air's local number has been disconnected...

Eva says to change tickets requires them (China air) to physically SEE the tickets.

China air isn't there (airport) yet.

Eva doesn't have a counter at the airport.

Besides the money, the effort to get to the Hong Kong airport, with all our luggage and Jonathan is about 10 times greater (or more).

The train from Guangzhou doesn't drop you off anywhere near the airport. It drops you off in the middle of the city. After the 2 hour train ride from Guangzhou, then we have to ride the MTR (Hong Kong's rail lines) for another 45 minutes – including three interchanges where we change trains – one of which is really ugly. We also have to get some Hong Kong currency to buy tickets for the MTR. And all of that needs to drop us off at the airport at least 2, if not 3 hours before our flight (which is tomorrow and we haven't even booked it yet...)

This is ugly.

While Jonathan and Michele were waiting for Charles, Jonathan took a nap and Michele worked on the computer. Then after Jonathan woke up she tried to entertain him in the hotel room – boy is that hard! She finally resorted to watching Chinese cartoons :-/. After a mind-numbing hour of that she drifted off for a little while, got up and did some exercises and finally the phone rang! Charles was calling to let her know he wasn't going to be done at the airport any time soon.

So she packed Jonathan up and headed down to visit Judy some more. They spent the better part of an hour there – Michele even bought a few more things. Then they went back to the room to see if Charles had either come home or left a message on the computer. Neither were the case, so she walked to the White Swan to use a cash machine- Charles had taken all of it) and then headed back to Judy's to pay her for the toys. On the way she was stopped and then accompanied by a young Chinese man, who was a student at the university. He asked her lots of questions – she really got the impression he was practicing his English. After Judy's she went back to the hotel, checked again to see if there was any word from Charles. When there wasn't, she left him a note on the computer and headed into town.

She and Jonathan went toward the plaza that has become a familiar place here. It's a nice 3-mile round trip with lots to look at on the way, so she figured they would get home about bed time – perfect. She actually found quite a bit to buy there. She spent a lot of time at another 30 cent store and a women's pajama store. They made it to the plaza and were back to the room by 8:30. Evening is just the best time to be out here. There was a thunderstorm with impressive lightening bolts earlier, and when they were out at Judy's shop is was quite hot and sticky. But by evening it was still really warm, but much more bearable.

When they got home they discovered Charles had finally made it home from the airport. His tale would take many pages to tell, so we'll cover some of the “high” points. He had to order a taxi and he tried to get the driver to tell him how much it was beforehand, but he wouldn't. So when he finally got to the airport and the driver told him 117 yuan, all he had was 101 and one US dollar. So the cab driver finally accepted that combination (the exchange rate is 6.7 yuan to the dollar). Then Charles found that the ticket counter wasn't even open for that airline for another hour! Then he couldn't find the counter – five different people told him five different places – all far apart. China air ended up being, once he got to talk to them, very nice to work with. The first problem was to determine if taking Jonathan out of the country to Taiwan was really a problem or not. They kept saying “I'm sure they'd let you”. But we didn't want opinions – we wanted to know for SURE. They made lots of calls to Eva (who never returned their calls either). They were appalled at Eva's poor customer service. They eventually had to call government officials who said “yes” Jonathan would need a proper exit visa to leave for Taiwan. Ugh.

So, then Charles spent quite a lot of time and effort trying to find a way of switching our tickets so that we could depart from Guangzhou. He even tracked down, in a hotel outside of the airport, Eva airline's corporate office. They were rather surprised to see him – it is quite a “secret” location apparently. But they still wouldn't work with him. He finally gave up, utterly frustrated and annoyed at the whole situation. Adding to his frustration was that his cell phone ran out of minutes – and he was “stranded” trying to do all this with no phone.

He came back to the motel around 7:00 and had to end up booking, fresh, the tickets to Hong Kong and hopes that once we get home we can argue to get at least some of our original money back from the first set of tickets. The set of three tickets from Hong Kong to Taiwan cost over $700! If he hadn't gone to the airport and just booked them this morning, they would have been $500. Ugh.

Then he had to book the train tickets to get us to Hong Kong. He had all sorts of problems there as well. Finally he talked to Helen who told him you don't book them ahead of time – you just show up. So, cross your fingers that we actually get on the train we need! Then, with all our heavy luggage we get to transfer the MTR all over Hong Kong, then to the airport. Then we get to transfer it ourselves from the Hong Kong flight to the Taiwan flight (since they aren't connected flights any more).

So, we leave here at 9:00 a.m. Tomorrow morning for about 32 hours of travel (and thats only if everything is on time) and an extra $1000 to get home. Fun fun. Oh are we so looking forward to getting home!

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Further Explorations

posted Aug 26, 2010, 6:41 AM by Charles Boling   [ updated Aug 26, 2010, 7:39 AM ]

Thursday 2010-08-26

While we were sleeping on this side of the world, one of our adoption people on the other side of the world was researching our Taiwan problem. She said that she got two different stories. The Taiwanese government said it was fine to bring Jonathan through the airport as long as we didn't try to leave. The travel agency said that it was problem and that we needed both a document from the China side and from the Taiwan side.

Charles decided to go the more “risky” route and trust the Taiwanese government. Everyone out there reading this, – keep your fingers crossed and keep us in your prayers!

Jonathan was up before 7:30 this morning and we were out the door by 9:00 or so. We headed over to our favorite :-/ food stop – 7-11 and grabbed some things for an outdoor breakfast. It was already hot and sticky outside, but we really didn't want to try to eat in the hotel room – it just isn't kid-food-friendly. So we wandered over to Judy's shop and ate outside there. We visited with her again for quite awhile. She is just such a happy person. Once Jonathan was getting too antsy to stay, we headed back to the hotel room to grab a water refill and then headed out for our morning's exploration. We wandered over the large bridge over the river and down along the other side of the river where it parallels the island. (If any of you are curious as to our walking routes, you can zoom in on the “china map” on the main page to see them).

We ended up exploring in a slightly new area, actually looking for a China Mobile (cell phone) store. That is who Charles' bought his sim card from here in China. Yesterday it gave him a message that Helen translated, saying he needed to recharge it. (But it still worked fine all day today...). We use it for the maps and tracking our routes we walk – so we actually use it quite a bit.

We passed two China mobile stores on our route the day before yesterday, but couldn't remember at all where they were. So today we decided to just wander and see if we could stumble across one. What we did end up stumbling across was a “Carrefour” store. It's actually, a huge world-wide chain and is like a super-center. It was a huge mall-like building on the first two floors with lots of small shops, like you'd find in a typical American mall. The third floor was the department store part of “Carrefour”. And the fourth floor (which we almost didn't find – we thought the 3rd floor was all there was, until we discovered that the 4th floor where you checked out) was the grocery section. It was as large as a large Safeway. It was the biggest thing we've seen here for food. Great find. It had everything (except peanut butter and jelly!) that a normal store would have. It also had a great deli section and after doing some grocery shopping, we bought lunch and went out and ate it in the mall. In the department section we also found a leather belt that actually fit Charles (for work) for less than $3.

Lunch was really yummy and then we topped it off with Slushies from the 7-11 there in the mall. Michele normally doesn't do things like that, but it was SO hot and were SO thirsty for something cold (literally, that is the only way to get ice or any sort of cold drink here) that it tasted good to her too!

Then we headed on – in the direction, more or less, of our hotel, to put the fruit and veggies in the fridge. It was about a 45 minute walk away. When we got back we checked, and that entire walk was about 6 ½ miles.

On the way home clouds came over and it sprinkled just a bit – enough to actually cool things down a bit. Jonathan slept in the stroller and woke up just after we got back to the hotel. So that insured we weren't in the hotel for very long. We tried to stretch it out as much as possible, but it just wasn't working (we were really enjoying the air-conditioning).

When we headed out this time we explored a different bridge off of the island. This one took us through some interesting places. It took us by the waterfront area – just a little scary. One of the things that frustrates us the most, is that it seems that over half of the sidewalks are blocked or torn up here. The Asian games are happening in a couple of months and they are giving the entire city a facelift. But that means getting anywhere with a stroller is a challenge. The waterfront area was really bad. It's quite something to have to play chicken with a city bus (because there is NO other way to go) – especially when there are 10 of them in a row....

One of the first stores we passed, after we got off the island on this new route was a China Mobile store! The sim card was charged enough to last all through today. We're going to stop by tomorrow to recharge it.

We walked to a really pretty park – one that resembled the one in Fuzhou. Lots of water, trails and Banyan trees. Banyans are the neatest things – they send down roots all along their branches. Anything the roots can wrap around they do (or just keep growing long until they reach the ground) and they root in and form a new tree – still fully connected to the mother tree!

We walked through a park and descended into what was one of the lowest class neighborhoods we had wandered through yet. It was a narrow alley with tenements on either side. Occasional vendors selling interesting things – but very narrow. Michele was quite nervous here. Though, Charles is tall enough that she feels fairly safe with him – most of the Asians wouldn't mess with him :-).

Actually it's quite interesting – the older generation is what you think of as the typical size of Asians. But the younger generation (probably due to better nutrition) is actually quite tall. Michele fits in height-wise – most women are 5'2 to 5'6 and the men are 5'8 to 6'. The older generation is often 6 or more inches shorter than these numbers. We even saw an Asian young man that had to have been 6'5” or 6'6”.

The narrow alley way led to another entrance to the park (what we went out of) right past a temple of some sort (first one we've stumbled across). It even had a place out front where people were burning incense.

We took major streets on our way home, finally coming to the large square we have now visited many times and find very familiar. We even took a video of it this time.

We went up one of the malls there and on the 3rd floor Charles ordered a Papa John's pizza to go. The first floor was open-air and had lots of little shops, geared mostly to teens (clothes, handbags, jewelry). The second floor was ALL cell phone vendors. The third, along with Papa John's, was a video game arena with dozens and dozens of games of all sorts (and music so loud you couldn't think straight). After getting out of there we wandered down the vendor street towards home.

Michele really likes the vendor store that is the Chinese version of the Dollar store back home – the difference is here, it's the 30-cent store! Michele found some English/Chinese books and a few other things she's going to haul home :-). Our walk this time was 7 ½ miles and we got home in time for Jonathan's bedtime. Yea! We've gone through another day and we are another day closer to getting back to “normal”!

Some interesting things of note here: All of the sidewalks are made of cobblestone or bricks. It really is hard on the feet and the stroller. NO sidewalk is just cement. The cobblestones aren't laid with mortar – they are “anchored” by laying them, pouring sand all over the sidewalk, letting the pedestrians pound it in for awhile and then sweeping it off!

There are about 10 stores here on the island, like Judy's, that cater to the adoption crowd. They sell trinkets, souvenirs and things for babies and children (like the store we bought the stroller at). That's all fine and dandy, but what's funny is they have NO originality in their names. They all pick an American name for themselves and call their store by that name, then add the word “place”. So it's “Judy's Place” and “Jordan's Place” and “Mary's Place” and “Sam's Place” on and on. It's like the idea of coming up with something unique never really occurred to anyone. I wonder if it's a cultural thing – it's “normal” to not try to step out of the norm. That could be why we get such weird looks here. On the island we are “normal”. Staying on the island is “normal” for adoptive families. What's not normal is actually exploring outside the island and venturing deep into the city. So we get MANY weird looks on the street when we are out on our walks. I'm just waiting to be the cause of a bike wreck. People will pass us riding their bikes on a busy sidewalk, and turn and look at us. Then they turn again and look at Jonathan. Then they turn and look at us. And sometimes this goes on several times. :-)

I must say though, these people are EXPERT bike riders. The loads they can balance (and even push their bikes up hill) are just amazing. We can't imagine how they do it... Along with that is the odd combination of old and new we've mentioned before. But today we saw one person who typified that: A 20 something young man working. He had an old-fashioned straw hat on and was pulling a handcart (very common over here for cleaning up crews and construction crews). What made Charles chuckle though, was the MP3 player he was listening to...

One thing that really strikes us here is the NOISE. There really don't seem to be any “noise ordinances” here. The stores, especially in the square, trying to attract teens, blare music out at deafening volumes – next door to each other. The construction equipment seems to never have had mufflers installed and it all blends, with the people trying to talk over it, into a cacophony that makes your head spin. Along with that seems to also be a total lack of ear or eye protection of the construction workers. They are there welding metal with no protection on their bodies except a pair of gloves (no glasses etc...). They are using HUGE jack-hammers with not even ear plugs on. It's just incredible.

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posted Aug 25, 2010, 4:37 PM by Charles Boling

Yesterday's rush-hour traffic jam was mildly annoying, but at least it wasn't like this! :-)  It is claimed that some people have been on the road as long as 3 days.

The Consulate

posted Aug 25, 2010, 6:10 AM by Charles Boling

Wednesday 2010-08-25

Today turned out a bit differently than we had originally planned. Jonathan slept in until 8:30 (nice, since we didn't get to bed until late last night). We had a leisurely morning and wandered out to take a walk before our scheduled phone call with our interpreter (she was going to call us to go over paper work) at 11:00. We got outside and ran into Judy (the bubbly shop owner) again. Her mother and niece were there and so we ended up standing and talking for over half an hour. Her niece is 16 months old and she and Jonathan played a bit (with tennis balls and Chinese hacky-sacks). Michele even tried kicking a hacky-sack and was thankful that unlike the chopsticks on the airplane,, Charles didn't try to take a picture of it :-/. So, after only walking half a block it was time to turn around and head back to the hotel.

Instead of going up to the room where Jonathan could tear stuff apart while we talked on the phone, we went to the playroom in the hotel. Helen had our phone number so she could call us there. When we got there we found another family, similar to us, there already. They had a little girl – taller than, but about the same age as Jonathan. In talking with the family, we found we had a lot more in common than just adopting from China. They were from St. George UT, and were LDS too. They had four children at home, and like us, this was their first adoption. We talked for quite awhile and let the kids played. While we were there we got a phone call from Helen – but not the one we expected. She was letting us know that our consulate appointment for late tomorrow had been moved to 2:15 today! Another family came in about the same time the first one left – this was a Chinese family with two boys (quite a rarity actually), about six years old and 18 months or so. Jonathan got tired of the play area shortly after that, so we left and went down to 7-11 to grab some food (breakfast had been snacks in the hotel room).

After that we came back to the room to eat and get Jonathan settled down for a nap. While we were there Charles looked into seeing about coming home early (since we don't think we have any purpose in being here after our consulate appointment this afternoon). But there weren't any flights home open until Saturday. (And, it turns out, Jonathan's exit visa still won't be ready until Friday afternoon.)  Oh well – nice thought!

The LDS family in the play area agreed with us – they were ready to be DONE with this and just get home! We just want to get a normal routine established again.

Michele has been reading on this trip, what she considers to be the best parenting book she's ever read (and she's read many, many, many parenting books). A good friend loaned it to her and she's spent every free minute reading it. If anyone ever wants a book that answers how to get kids to listen, be nice to each other, obey their parents etc... this is the book: “Hold On to Your Kids” by Gordon Neufled, PhD. It's just an amazing book – it doesn't give any great parenting “technique” to put a band-aid over behaviors like most other books do. It gives the way to hit at the root of virtually ALL misbehaviors. Some books and parenting styles dance around the concepts presented here, but none articulates them so well. It validates some things we've personally done as parents that have always been considered “weird”, and chastises us in others (which chastisement has been taken to heart, and we'll be seeing some changes when we get home). Michele has been using it with Jonathan and can see the difference. If anyone out there wants more info, just email Michele – she'll be happy to share.  Editor's note: Hey, we don't have any ads on this site; shouldn't we at least try to get paid for the book promos? ;-)

Once Jonathan was asleep and we were satisfied that there was nothing we could do towards a speedier homecoming, Michele worked on the computer and Charles went out to grab what he considered a “real” lunch at “Lucy's Restaurant” a few blocks away.

Michele had to wake Jonathan up when it was time to go. Charles got back just at the right time and we all headed over to the other adoption-family hotel: the White Swan. It was quite the elegant hotel, but with rooms twice the price, we had gone with the Victory hotel. Anyway, we got there and found the family from D.C. that's in our “group” there, plus lots of other adopting families. We met with our guide, she briefed us on what we were about to do (much bigger trip than we had thought before) and then the entire group of families went outside. Down a ramp we found a parking lot of buses and smaller shuttles. We loaded up and filled almost two large touring buses. These were just the families from our little island. There were more to come...

We rode on this bus (very nice one actually) for over half an hour. It took us to the US consulate office where we met the rest of the adopting families for that week (this is what happens every week there). We were herded up to the fifth floor via escalators, much to Jonathan's sheer delight. He LOVES escalators – we've encountered them several times in malls this trip, but never this many at once.

On the fourth floor they stopped us and had us show them our passports. At the fifth floor we had to go through security – very similar to that of the airport. Except they let us take fluids, but confiscated ALL electronics (phone, extra battery, camera). We were bummed because later there were many things we would have liked to have taken pictures of up there. We went through a hallway and into a room FILLED with adopting parents from the US with their Chinese children. Ranging in age from 6 months old to almost 14 years. One couple even had twin girls! One family was there for the FOURTH time adopting. There were probably 70 families at least there. Luckily, they had a little corner set aside with toys for the kids to play with. The rest of the room was just chairs. The called each child's name and each set of parents came up, were given copies of their passports with official stamps on them and more paperwork, then asked to go sit back down. It would have been boring – we were in there almost an hour – but between Jonathan's antics and the chance to talk to lots of other families from all over the US it went by pretty quickly. Then a lady (Chinese, with only a faint accent) told us about our group, about how the process worked and then did the swearing in (we had to hold our right hand up, and in some detail, swear that everything we had told was the truth to the best of our knowledge).

She then said, if any of you are making connecting flights home, you might need a visa. If you didn't have one, come up and ask to be sure. At this point, Charles was sitting with the bags in the middle of the room. Michele was in the back by the toys with Jonathan. Charles got up and left with the group, assuming Michele would too. Charles assumed that Taiwan was close enough to China, relations-wise (like Hong Kong) that the visa thing wouldn't be a problem. He assured Michele of that fact several times. But she wasn't too sure, and thought it wise to ask just in case. So after the group left, she went up and found another father asking the exact same question. To their surprise and frustration, this lady couldn't answer, neither could the people behind the counter. They had to go and make a phone call (which took a long time). Then they said that they didn't believe that the Taiwanese government would honor a Chinese passport (Jonathan's) without a visa – even if all he was doing was sitting on a plane in the airport!

About that time Charles wandered back in looking for Michele and too was dismayed to find out this large glitch in our plans. All they could tell us was to talk to our travel agent... But we don't have a travel agent! So they suggested the one there in the consulate office. So both of us went there. But we were afraid of missing our bus, so Michele and Jonathan ran down to the buses to tell Helen what was going on. She was surprised – she had never run into this problem before. Apparently, you can fly through Korea and Japan just fine without a special VISA as long as you don't leave the airport. Hong Kong too – just not Taiwan.

We waited a little while and finally Charles made it out and we got on the bus to go. He said that they said flying from Hong Kong to Taiwan was fine. As was taking a train from China to Hong Kong. So, that is an option we are looking into if we can possibly change our flight.

The other possibility is to try to get the necessary visa (and actually it's not called a visa, since China considers Taiwan to be part of the same country, but technically that's what it is). But it's really hard to do because there is no Chinese consulate in Taiwan. No Taiwanese consulate in China and no American consulate in Taiwan. So, Charles emailed a few of our American contacts through the adoption agency to see what they knew or could possibly do. We have two days left – Thursday and Friday before our trans-pacific flight. Cross your fingers!

Our ride home was slower than coming because traffic was awful. We sat with out moving at all on the freeway for 20 minutes. When we finally got back we walked back to our hotel, dropped off some stuff and went down to Subway a couple of blocks away (we just saw it for the first time this afternoon).

Charles came back to the room to do some research on our problem while Michele walked around the island (about 5½ km) to try and entertain Jonathan until bedtime (and give Charles some quiet time to think). When they came back Michele got Jonathan ready for bed and had him in bed a little before 8:00. It took him about 20 minutes to finally fall asleep (and stop complaining about being put to bed :-)). Hopefully while we are sleeping over here, people will be doing some research state-side and we can figure this problem out tomorrow.

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