Sunday, August 21, 2011

There's A First Time For Everything

Lately, there have been many firsts for us. Raelynn's first big laugh. Signing on for my first full-time teaching job in China (yup, I got the offer). And my parents' first visit to Qingdao, which includes their first time meeting their first grandchild and their first time meeting my husband beyond our chance encounter while crossing the street in Seoul.

We found them with relative ease at the airport. The only other white people in the airport, at least that I noticed, one of them with shiny blond tresses that I could see among the see of black-haired heads, began waving at me. I might be 35 but the little girl in me is still very much alive. "Daddy!" I screamed and darted over to them, Raelynn along for the ride in the carrier and Lane in tow. Their first time to see me with my own family, they seemed to soak in. Raelynn too was quietly checking them out for the first time.

How we fit all of us and their luggage into the car we'd hired for their stay is still a mystery to me. We headed for their hotel, the Shangri-La, which is the nicest hotel in this city. They'd enjoyed staying at the Shangri-La in Singapore so much that this was a natural choice for them. And it was a fabulous choice indeed. It was my first time inside the Shangri-La hotel in Qingdao. Immediately upon entering, you're greeted with a lovely, clean scent reminiscent of rose petals. The air conditioning is flowing nicely. The marbled floors are spotless and polished to a shine. The carpeted areas are lush and opulent. I almost forgot I was in Qingdao! Mom and Dad checked in and then went off to freshen up while Lane and I ordered a couple beers in the lobby lounge. We set up camp on a cozy sofa and plopped Raelynn into her bouncy chair next to us. As usual, she was a magnet for curious onlookers. Everyone wanted to look at the baby. Some of them tried to touch the baby. And for the first time, I tried to be nice.

Dad was the first to return from the room. He was excitedly telling us that he'd just learned that the other bar in the hotel had buy one, get one drinks. We scooped up our things and then woke Raelynn as we picked her up out of the chair. As she was blinking her sleepy eyes awake, I handed her to my daddy for the first time. And this is the first picture of them together...

Adorable, isn't it?

Mom found us in the bar and after several rounds of drinks, we made our way to the Chinese restaurant in the hotel, Shang Palace. It's a lovely restaurant with carved marbled walls and wood lattice all about. Stunning place settings and oriental rugs. The food is superb too, just as it was in the Shang Palace in the Singapore Shangri-La. Though it was our second time there, it was now Mom's first time to hold Raelynn.

Indeed, my parents adore animals more than babies and children. But Raelynn is different because she is OURS. She's so incredibly cute though that you just can't resist her. That must be why everyone comes up to us everywhere we go. I mean, just LOOK at this face!
I'll thank you to refrain from comments about car seats. Remember, I am in Asia and the rules are different here. None of the safety belts in the backseats of taxis work so there is no way to attach one when you're riding in one. I've seen countless people driving around on motorcycles with small children and babies in their arms so this is nothing!

Can't. Resist. Cute. Baby. Aughhhh!!!

For the next day, we scooped my parents up from the hotel and carted them off to Polar Ocean World. When planning this trip, my father had requested to go to the zoo. He loves giraffes but there are no giraffes at the Qingdao Zoo. The animals that are there are in terrible condition, mistreated and kept in small cages. My first time there was when we first moved here. Xiaolong felt badly that I had such horrible culture shock coming into his country so he thought perhaps the zoo would cheer me up. Normally, it would have, but when I saw how these animals were being treated, all I could do was cry. Knowing my father would be equally as upset with this, I suggested one of the marine parks here. There is also Underwater World, but we thought that Polar Ocean World would be even more exciting since there are seals, polar bears, whales, sharks, eels and those sorts of sea creatures there.

Unfortunately for us, every other creature in China was also in attendance. We watched with great disgust and amusement as a taxi pulled up in front of us and two young women got out and proceeded to vomit robustly into the nearby bushes. We also watched a small boy whip out his weenie and pee into the same bushes though not at the same time the ladies were puking. Once inside Polar Ocean World, we struggled to stay together, kept people from bumping into the baby or unnecessarily touching her and tried to see something or anything! People were everywhere! We did manage to see two sleeping polar bears, two beluga whales, a very fast sea lion swimming in circles, a walrus trying to resist eating a family of tourists posing with it and the trainer, a pool of swimming seals, many fish in very large floor-to-ceiling tanks and a gift shop which had nothing too remarkable to boast except for ice cold air conditioning. I felt terrible that I'd put us all through that. But the day turned around quickly. As we exited, we thought we saw a place selling cold beer. It was no mirage, thankfully. We plopped down into some chairs around a table with an umbrella and 4 of us clinked glasses while one of us sucked on her fingers. Daddy, being keen on the smells of food announced, "I smell grilled squid." And sure enough, the man that had filled up beer mugs with cold Tsingtao draft beer was grilling small squid. I'm usually nervous eating tent food, but this was fantastic. Daddy raved on and on about our squid snack.
My husband and my father getting along famously. It was perfect!

We had a fantastic time sitting by the sea but it was time for more than a snack and beer. It was lunch time. Off to Din Tai Fung we went. I have a special fondness for this restaurant because we went to the location in Seoul on my first visit there. It was what we had for lunch before we saw the play Nanta. And right after that play was when I first met Xiaolong, so it is very special to me for this reason and also for their Xiaolong. Xiaolong Bao, the soup dumplings, that is.

If it seems like we did a lot of eating, you've got that right. My brother and I learned how to really appreciate good food thanks to our dad. So I wanted to make sure that his first time in Qingdao was filled with tasty tidbits. Though he'd made it clear he would like to enjoy Chinese food while here, he had requested to dine at Da Vinci, the Italian restaurant in the hotel, one night. Soothing lighting welcomed us as we entered a foyer that looked like a fancy library you'd find in someone's home with beautiful heavy wood and one of those rolling ladders. But instead of books, there were hundreds and hundreds of bottles of wine. Oh how I want that wall! The food was so incredible too that it was all we could talk about the next day, until the next meal of course.

The next day was one of the best days ever. We went to the Tsingtao Beer Museum, which was my first time but definitely won't be my last. Incidentally, if you are ever going to come here, let me know and I will personally go with you because I loved it that much. It was interesting and there were lots of things to see, plus they give you free samples of beer. It is well worth it to stop in Qingdao just for this experience. After an extensive tour of the brewery, you get let out into a huge room with wooden tables and benches and a bar selling pitchers of Tsingtao draft for cheap. We decided to hang out there for a few pitchers before going off to lunch. We'd been hoping to do our lunch with Lane's parents but somehow there was a misunderstanding about which day. So instead, we would meet with them the following day. My husband, who felt bad about the mistake, suggested the TV Tower. We can see it from our bedroom window actually. At night, it lights up and looks reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. It seemed like a nice activity for us all to do and we could have lunch up at the top.
Mom and Dad look cute together outside of the Tsingtao Beer Museum in front of the statue commemorating 100 years of Tsingtao Beer.

The Tsingtao Beer fountain. No, it wasn't beer in there. It was water. I checked.

Raelynn (who is sound asleep), Lane and I pose in front of what has to be one of the most impressive walls of beer bottles and cans ever.

What a treat that was! In addition to visiting Qingdao for the beer museum,  you absolutely shouldn't miss the TV Tower. Actually, you should do what we did and have lunch up there. For 200 yuan a person, you get to see an amazing view of Qingdao and have a feast that is fit for a king. None of us could believe the amount of food that came to our table. There were self-serve appetizers on a table nearby. As we nibbled on those and took in the impressive view, a royal ton of food started to arrive. Shrimp, sea slug (Mom and I discretely shoved this offering over to our husbands), abalone, sashimi, a tasty dish that my husband said was alligator tongue though his phone's translator can give him some odd translations, lightly fried pork in spicy sauce, something with okra in it that was fantastic and about 5 other things I can't remember. Plus dessert. Plus all the beer and wine you could manage. After all this, we were all so tired but didn't want to miss out on the rest of the tower. Looking at Qingdao from that far up, you don't see the dirt or the things that disgust me about this place (like the piles of garbage or people urinating and/or defecating publicly). It reminded me of Seoul from that far up, and that made me happy.
Qingdao from far above.

Meanwhile, Raelynn was having a hard time being happy. She was tired from being out and about all the time. Normally, she'll just sleep in her carrier. But she really took to my parents. As much as they took to her. She even laughed for them and if they weren't completely smitten at that point, that very much sealed the deal. My mom was a total pro when it came to soothing Raelynn. In fact, dare I say she even seemed happy to jump up from the table at whatever restaurant we were at and go calm the baby down. Like that night when we went to a Japanese restaurant called Teppenyaki in the Darling Harbor area. I'd actually walked by it numerous times and never known the outstanding meals that awaited within. My friend Genesis had recommended it if we felt up for Japanese cuisine. And my parents were both happy to give it a shot. It's an all you can eat type of restaurant and we certainly gave them a run for their money. I could have died happy eating the sashimi there. We enjoyed so many marvelous things from mushrooms wrapped with beef to spicy squid and some incredible oyster dish that was so savory, we ordered more. Oh yes, and all we could drink was included too. I am really not quite sure how much sake we drank but I can tell you it was lots. It was a happy dinner for all of us. Even Raelynn who finally calmed down and went to sleep. She's quite the cranky thing when she wants to sleep. But as closing time fell upon us and they flicked the lights to signal to us and the other remaining patrons that it was time to pay up and go home, they also turned off the A/C. Which of course, caused my diva daughter to wake up and howl. She's definitely just like her mommy.

Our next day's activities were to include some sightseeing and then lunch with Lane's parents. It was important for us to have our parents meet for the first time. We never did have an actual wedding. We just got married at the US Embassy in Seoul. Although we'd love to have a ceremony, we'll be working on doing that in the next year or so. For now, this would have to do. We met at a Chinese restaurant called Hong Kong 97. We'd reserved a table in a private room which we figured would give us more intimacy for talking. Plus, it would be easier to set up Raelynn's chair. I just tried to focus on my parents and tried not to think about how much my MIL annoys me. Even when my FIL got Raelynn to stop fussing and she fell right asleep with her head on his shoulder and MIL couldn't leave well enough alone and just HAD TO take the baby and wake her up like a total moron. I let out an audible sigh and ingested another large beer to calm my nerves. My parents, meanwhile, thought The Qus were very nice. They ARE very nice. I never once said they weren't. More importantly though, I asked for my parents' observations of my MIL's competence and neither one thought there was anything to worry about there. So I, despite not liking MIL very much, will back down a bit. Though I reserve the right to make fun of her here if she does anything like leave pigeon out on my counter for days at a time, store mantou (this plain, doughy bread that has absolutely no flavor) on the ledge outside the kitchen window (which is ultimately eaten by birds, presumably pigeons, which must explain why she feels the need to cook them and leave them on the show the others she will cook them too), using EVERY single tea cup in the tea set in one day when it is just her and my husband having tea, using the rag for the counters on anything but the counters, letting more flies and/or mosquitoes into the house and more things of this nature.
Someday, I am sure Raelynn will appreciate a photo of all of her grandparents together. Grandpa and Grandma and Papa and Hey-You. 

After a long lunch, we picked a time to meet my parents at the hotel later. But when we did, we were in for some bad news. On the way to Qingdao from Shanghai, my parents had run into an obstacle with Shandong Airlines (which is an awful, awful airline and I will be posting about my peeves with them soon). It is known as Air China (or China Air) in other regions of China and around the world but in the Shandong Province, where Qingdao is, it is called Shandong Airlines. For no particular reason, the airline canceled the flight. With no notification. Meaning that thankfully because my parents are of great intelligence, they had checked to make sure their flight would depart on time from Shanghai before they left for the airport. This meant they had to find another flight fast, which they did. They arrived only a couple hours after they were originally supposed to arrive. But on this night, my parents had just found out their flight that would return them back to Shanghai and to their connecting flight to the US was just canceled (again for no reason). They had to make an alteration to their plans to make the connecting flight back. Which meant they needed to leave at 4:40pm the next afternoon instead of in the morning 2 days later.

Now, I know I'm a grown woman with my own family but although I knew that they would have to return home sooner or later, I couldn't help but burst into tears. For the first time, in a long time, I felt like a small child, no bigger than the precious one I was holding in my arms at that very moment. We were having so much fun together. I missed them. I was savoring every single second of being with them just like we had done with each taste of every meal we'd had during their stay. Having my parents here and watching them with Raelynn was sweeter than any decadent dessert I'd gobbled down during their visit. Xiaolong put his arms around me and held me tight while my mom produced a tissue for me out of thin air. I didn't mean to make them feel badly. It wasn't their fault and there was nothing we could do about it. It just sucked and I felt so sad. We had so much more we wanted to show them. Like the beer festival, which I had previously joked was the real reason they'd decided to visit in August. Now there was no time for that and I knew Daddy was disappointed about it too. We only had enough time for a little sightseeing and lunch the next day. Even the promise of the fancy 5-star buffet in the hotel didn't cheer me up. I just wished they could stay longer. Or that we could go home with them.

I dried my tears and tried dearly to focus on enjoying our now shortened time together. We had another nice dinner and in the morning, we went around the city, showing them the beaches where there was a pretty little castle and other sites like May 4th Square. It was all lovely until we were getting ready to head back to the hotel when we had a minor accident. A woman backed into the our driver's car, albeit slowly, but it caused a bit of damage. There was some yelling, though most people speaking Chinese sound like they're yelling anyway. I could see my father getting tense as he looked at the clock. We had noon lunch reservations and we had to leave the hotel at 2pm to get them to the airport on time. But just as we were getting concerned, my husband returned with a taxi he'd flagged down and whisked us back to the hotel where he further helped Daddy calm down by getting his boarding passes printed. It was a nice lunch despite the looming goodbye in the background.
Raelynn and I with Mom and Dad on top of the castle overlooking the sea.

All went smoothly at the airport and Lane, Raelynn and I walked through the security line with my parents up until it was their turn. I gave my parents hugs and kisses and couldn't hold back my tears. Mom cried when she said goodbye to Raelynn which only made me feel more sad to see her go. I don't think she realized how much she would fall for our little angel. Daddy looked teary-eyed too. But the real tear-jerker was seeing my husband cry when he said goodbye to them. We stood to the side and watched them until we couldn't see them anymore. And then as the three of us walked together, back into our normal lives, it occurred to me that for the first time, I was really, truly someone to be proud of.

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