Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hello Guangzhou!

I was really looking forward to our trip to Guangzhou. For one, we hadn't been anywhere since last October when we went to Shanghai to meet up with my family. For another, this was the first trip for all 4 of us together as a family. Plus, we were not only applying for Seoul's US citizenship, but we were also filing the paperwork to begin processing Jeremy's immigrant visa. This trip was important on so many levels.

Jeremy had been to Guangzhou before when he played soccer in college but this was my first visit. I am always excited to see a new city. Sure, I love Shanghai, but we've been there 3 times. I mostly hated Beijing except for the food and the Great Wall. I was quite eager to discover how I'd feel about Guangzhou.

Last year, Raelynn was a bit difficult on the airplane, but she was smaller then and the flight was only 1 hour so it wasn't too that bad in the grand scheme of things. Guangzhou is about a 3 hour flight from Qingdao. And now, there were 4 of us instead of just 3. Because I'm breastfeeding the baby, I was in charge of Seoul during the flights and Jeremy was in charge of Raelynn.

So how were the children on the plane? Jeremy looked like he wished he had boobs full of milk instead so he could handle Seoul. She was an absolute angel on the plane. She spent the entire trip either nursing or sleeping. She was so chill. Totally opposite of Raelynn.

The problem started with the airplane being delayed. Thanks, Shandong Airlines. I know I said I would never fly them again but I had no choice. Jeremy booked the tickets and they were significantly cheaper than the other airlines. Because the embassy only allows the appointment calendars for each month to open up 2 weeks before, we essentially were booking these tickets at the last minute. That meant that Jeremy, Raelynn and I paid 900 rmb each for ONE WAY. The baby's ticket was wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy less because she's a tiny baby of course.

Our flight was an early evening flight that should have arrived around 8:30pm. But because it was Shandong Airlines, we were delayed and didn't arrive until 9:30pm. So we totally understood Raelynn's exhaustion, but it didn't excuse her behavior. I tried to help Jeremy keep her busy but it was hard since I had Seoul sleeping in my arms. But surprisingly, the flight went very quickly and the next thing I knew, we were landing. We took a taxi to our hotel - Yi Hai Bai Ling Hotel, which was on the Pearl River - and both Seoul and Raelynn were sound asleep for the whole ride. This part of town was really happening. Lots of restaurants, bars and clubs, all of them bustling with activity. It looked like a really good time...if you didn't have 2 children in tow that is.

Incidentally, my first impression of Guangzhou can be summed up in what I said to Jeremy when we first got off the plane: "Holy wow! They use air-conditioning here!" They sure do! But in many cases, I still felt hot even when it was on, probably because they could have turned it colder and more full blast, but it's more air conditioned than Qingdao, that's for sure. Our hotel room had central A/C but it never did get cold enough for our liking, sadly. It cooled down just enough to keep us from melting though at least but standing in front of the mini-fridge was a way better way to cool down fast.

There was also something so cool at the airport. Even though I don't smoke anymore, I found this contraption fascinating:
 It's a lighter machine. It gives out lighters. So many people smoke in China and of course, they aren't allowed to carry lighters onto the aircraft. This handy thing allows them to take a new lighter once they get their luggage from the baggage claim. Nifty!

Anyway, Jeremy had booked us this room instead of another room he'd originally booked us closer to the embassy. He thought it would be nice to have a nice view of the river and reasoned that we could always take a taxi or the subway to the embassy. Here's our view of the river at night:

Excuse the reflection of our room in the photos. I'm not a professional photographer so shut up, ok? Thanks. Anyway, back to our adventures in Guangzhou...

The next morning, we got up early so we could partake in the hotel's included breakfast. Since this was a Chinese hotel, you know what kind of breakfast I got, don't you? Sigh. I neglected to take photos though except for this one of Raelynn eating some bread and drinking orange juice:
I've seen worse Chinese breakfasts, much thanks to my MIL. This buffet had bread and jelly at least. Oh and fried eggs. So at least I could eat something. For those of you that don't know, Chinese people will eat yesterday's leftover dinner items for breakfast. So while some of it might not be bad, it's not the thing you want to eat first thing in the morning. Or at least not what I personally want to eat that early. So fried noodles? Sounds good to me for lunch but for breakfast, I want eggs or pancakes and some toast and lots of coffee. Sometimes bacon and sausage but usually, I prefer a meatless breakfast.

After this, we changed our clothes to look more presentable and headed to the embassy. We took the subway. Despite being air conditioned, it was still hot. Perhaps because I was wearing the baby in the Baby Bjorn, or perhaps because the air wasn't chilled enough. But it still beat the heat from outside. I forgot how much hot weather sucked. We're talking hot and muggy, very much like my home of Florida. How did I ever endure Florida weather for most of my life? I'll tell you how - everyone air conditions everything to the extreme.

On the train, some people were kind enough to give up their seats to Raelynn and me. I was actually very surprised by how nice the people were there. They went out of their way to be friendly and helpful without intruding. In Qingdao, people can be fairly friendly but they swarm you if you're foreign, especially if you have a baby, and act like they've never seen such a thing. I feel like a freaking unicorn. Guangzhou just seemed a whole lot more civilized. And interesting. Their subway is almost identical to the one in Seoul. My husband and I were stunned at how much we felt like we were back in Korea while we were there. Women carry their babies using carriers like me instead of in their arms. It seems like more parents there are hands-on instead of leaving the kids with their inept grandparents. Jeremy said that Guangzhou people have the philosophy about life that you should live it - eat, drink and have a good time. Now THOSE are my kind of people. Qingdao people are rather boring. Things are not open late here, even for such a big city. In the downtown area, some of the clubs and bars are but not enough to say that nightlife is really Qingdao's thing.

Seriously, I did not at all feel any aggravation toward Chinese people or Chinese customs in Guangzhou. At all. I only felt annoyance while within the US embassy. Not because of the embassy itself. But because of a very cute but naughty child. Raelynn.

I had spent weeks and weeks talking to her about this trip - telling her where and why we were going, talking to her about the airplane and about how we should behave at the embassy. It fell on deaf ears. We had 2 appointments, the first at 1pm for Seoul's citizenship. That's in a different part of the embassy than the immigration section. In this section, there happened to be a little play house for small children. Raelynn hid in there. At first, Jeremy kept trying to get her out and then we figured to just leave her in there so she'd be quiet in that room. There were a couple other children that had come in too and I didn't see the harm in letting her play. Why force her to sit in a chair and be bored when there was an activity she could do?

We went through our paperwork and paid our fees and after waiting 40 more minutes, we were called up and told Seoul's been approved for US citizenship. Not that we worried they'd reject her but there's always that fear. The guy behind the window fussed over how cute Seoul is and told us he thought it was awesome that we got married in Seoul and then named one of our children Seoul.

Next, it was up to the immigration department on the 3rd floor. It was almost 2:30pm, our appointment time so we told Raelynn to come with us. Only she didn't want to leave the play house. We didn't want to yell or make a scene. Anywhere else in China, we would. I'm not a fan of it, but I believe in spanking when your child does something very dangerous or something so horrible you are shocked by it. I don't think it's ok to hit anywhere but on the butt though and we stick to that. But in the US embassy, I feared we would be judged. In the states, I have friends who spank their kids who are afraid to do so in public because they worry someone will report them for child abuse for disciplining their child. I find this crazy because my brother and I were spanked as children and we did not resent our parents, nor did we repeat the action that earned us a spanking. Our problem with Raelynn is that she doesn't listen and even when she gets punished for something, she sometimes doesn't learn from it.

Her new thing is to hide under tables and chairs just for the fuck of it. Always at the most inopportune times, like at that moment. Finally, we just walked out of the room and she screamed and cried and ran to us. We lectured her in the elevator up to the immigration floor and she cried and said sorry. But she didn't mean it. When we got into the immigration area, we were told to sit and listen for my name. I took the opportunity to feed Seoul but about 5 minutes later, there was a man calling my name from behind a window. We all jumped up and went into a small room that had a big glass partition in the middle that separated us from him. Seoul was now crying because her meal had been interrupted and Raelynn was crying because Jeremy had scolded her for her behavior. The embassy official said he only needed to speak to the petitioner (that's me) and asked Jeremy if he could take the children in the other room.

Once they were gone, he said I looked like a good mom and had a nice family. I thanked him and apologized for the noise. He said it was no big deal but he just wanted to be able to collect the paperwork without either of us being distracted. He said he didn't need to speak to my husband and that later in the process, they will talk to him. So the official and I delved into the paperwork. He'd request a document; I'd slide it through the opening in the window. He'd request the copy next and I'd slide that through and he'd stamp it. He said everything looked good and explained what would happen next. He also collected some of our family photos. He was only interested in ones that had both Jeremy and me with either his parents or my parents, or with Raelynn as a baby with both sides of our families present. I also gave him some old envelopes and box tops containing our names and address to show we reside in the same home. You might find that odd but the government website says you must prove you have a real marriage. In China, they don't do joint checking accounts so you have to show things in other ways.

Next, he sent me out of the room to have my husband go pay the fee on the floor below and return with the receipt while I watched my kids. Seoul was easy as always. But Raelynn, I'd discovered, had been running up and down the room, making Jeremy nuts. He was trying to stop her but, not wanting to shout or spank her in the US embassy, was at a loss for what to do. He seemed thrilled to escape for any reason. I tried unsuccessfully as well to stop her. I was livid and completely embarrassed and praying to God that they didn't reject Jeremy because my daughter was acting like a brat.

The embassy official assured me that would have no impact on our petition for an immigrant visa but I was still absolutely mortified by her behavior. We did not raise our daughter to behave this way.

But I know who did.

Every weekday while I've been on maternity leave, my in-laws take Raelynn to the nearby park. My FIL is completely responsible for this because he lets her run around like a maniac and doesn't control her. MIL tries but then second-guesses herself and backs down. This is a recipe for disaster. They were over for dinner tonight to pre-celebrate the upcoming harvest holiday. That's the one with the mooncakes, in case you were wondering. Anyway, Jeremy flipped out on his father because he brought 6 little canisters of Japanese tea cookies for Raelynn and was going to let her eat them before dinner.

By the way, this all started with cookies. We'd arrived about an hour early for the embassy appointment so we went across the street to a very air-conditioned Starbucks so I could sit and breastfeed Seoul without sweating to death and we could relax. We'd put cookies in the diaper bag for snacking during our trip. Jeremy gave her one so she'd sit down and chill out. It wound up having the opposite effect. Even after we punished her for not listening in the Starbucks, she STILL behaved like a total jerk at the embassy.

And beyond that, when Jeremy, who was rather angry and grouchy at this point, took me to Tekila, a Mexican restaurant my friend Alicia (who had lived in Guangzhou until just recently) had recommended. Did Raelynn learn from any of our lectures or earlier punishments? No. She kept crawling under our table and then wandering around the adjacent room in the restaurant, which was empty thankfully, taking the salt shakers off the tables. We were so humiliated by her. We kept giving her things to do - watch the iPad, color with crayons and of course, gave her food to eat - and she kept up with this insane behavior. When we got back to the hotel, she got a big spanking and lots of yelling. I hope she never forgets it. I STILL remember when I was rotten in a restaurant as a little girl. I was about Raelynn's age. My parents warned me once and told me to stop it. They warned me again and told me that if I didn't knock it off, I'd get a spanking and we'd leave. I didn't listen and I got a big spanking, one that made me realize if I keep acting like jerk in public, my folks are going to punish me. But if I sit down and shut up, I'll get dessert and everything will be ok.
Ole! Jeremy and I stuffed ourselves with papas nachos which were french fries topped like nachos, beef enchiladas and baja shrimp tacos. Oh and a side of guacamole. And beer. We needed beer to mellow us out after Raelynn's awful outbursts.

I guess Raelynn is having trouble processing this and now Jeremy sees WHY I don't like his parents to spend time with her. Now he can see that this is causing us huge problems. My Chinese is not very good but I understand so much now that I've lived her for 4 years. He told them about her behavior in the embassy and that they needed to correct her behavior when she disobeyed, not let her run around and talk back to people.

Thankfully, the next day, she was much better. For most of the day. We had a flight set for 8pm so we had all day to do things. Another blah breakfast at the hotel. Then we chilled in our room a bit, getting dressed, having coffee, packing and such. And then we checked out and went to lunch.
 The hotel employee who checked our luggage for us after we checked out was happy to get a family photo for us.

We wanted to eat the native cuisine so down the street we went until Jeremy had picked a place for us. First, we stepped inside to test the quality of the A/C. It was ice-cold in there so we decided to stay.

My first friend in China, Andrea, who has since moved back to the US, spent a lot of time in China. She's been all over and she said that by far, the food in the Shandong Province (where Qingdao is located) is the worst. Shanghai fare wasn't bad but I thought Beijing food was better. And now I'd say Guangzhou cuisine is pretty up there too.

 Jeremy checks out the menu to see what kind of dishes we don't see in Qingdao.

 Raelynn looks out the window at a boat passing by in the river.

 Beer was buy 2, get 2. Hells yes!

 Jeremy ordered this chicken dish. It wasn't bad, though a bit salty. I wouldn't choose it again though.

 Here is their version of a dish I love in Beijing. It's like Beijing-style spicy eggplant but it's not spicy. Jeremy didn't like this but I did. But I have to say that the Beijing version is better.

 This bread was served warm with ice cold butter that melted when you wedged it between the top and bottom. It was soooooooooooooo good.

 Beef and bok choy. This was one of our favorites. The sauce on this was so light yet so tasty. The best way I can describe it is that it tasted slightly like the sauce you'd get with shrimp with lobster sauce at any Chinese restaurant back home. Yum!

 This clay pot was filled with seafood - shrimp, squid, imitation crab meat and frog legs. Yup. That's right. Frog legs. I've had them before with my dad and it's not something I'd go order a plate of but I will eat them if they are served to me. I didn't care for the imitation crab in this dish. It was out of place. This was not bad, but not a favorite.

However, this was the clear winner of the day. A crispy BBQ roasted pork. I actually picked this one because the picture looked so good in the menu. I picked a winner.

After that huge lunch, we set out to do some shopping. Which turned into lots and lots and lots of walking. Poor Raelynn did a good job keeping up. Seoul slept through most of it, waking conveniently while we were inside stores with chairs so I could sit and feed her. We bought shoes from a cool shoe store we found that was having a big sale. Then we walked into a discount clothing market, similar to ones we have here but better. Cleaner. Cuter clothes. Way cuter. Problem is Guangzhou folks are smaller. In stature and girth. Both the men and the women. So none of these things would fit us. Much of it looked like stuff that only Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz could wear.

After that, we walked down another street and found this huge clothing store that was having a massive blowout. First, we picked out stuff for Jeremy. He needed some new threads even more desperately than me. I need them too, but since I'm still losing the baby weight, I'm not buying any pants or skirts at the moment. Jeremy helped me pick out 3 shirts that I liked. We hope they fit since Seoul was so sound asleep in the carrier I did not want to chance waking her up to try them on.

By now, it was almost 5pm. We needed to get our bag and get to the airport. We snagged a taxi and I talked Jeremy into asking the driver to take us to the airport after getting our bag. He wanted to eat somewhere else for dinner first but I told him we'd never get to the airport in time.

I was right. Well, if the plane had been on time, I would have been anyway.

I should also mention that all during this time, Raelynn was very good. She did everything we asked and we were very pleased with her behavior. That's why I felt good about giving her a cookie while we waited at our gate at the airport. But then it all went downhill. She's like what Cookie Monster would be like if he did crank. She flipped out and tried attacking me for the rest of the cookies in the bag. Another humiliating moment for us but now that we weren't in the embassy, she got a spanking. That's when Jeremy and I vowed not to give her any cookies for anything ever again. Hence why he shouted at his father, and now I have a stash of little tasty Japanese tea cookies that I must make sure 1) she never finds and 2) that I don't gobble all of them up..

Oh yes! And the best part of our trip...finally getting home from the airport at almost 2 in the morning and finding Jeremy's parents standing out on the sidewalk WAITING for us. Why weren't they waiting in our house if they wanted to wait for us? They are so weird. But it was nice of them because we did need some help as Raelynn had fallen completely asleep and Jeremy couldn't carry her and our suitcase. So what were they doing lurking around in the shadows so late at night? Jeremy had let them know our flight plans but his phone battery died before we boarded the plane. So they had no idea our flight was delayed. Because, you know, it would never occur to them to call the airline and check the flight information. Of course they won't look online because they don't have internet at their house, but you'd think they'd call. Insert facepalm here.

Overall, I really enjoyed Guangzhou, except for the heat of course. I was happy to come home to Qingdao and feel the difference in temperature. Though not happy to get back and see my in-laws, or the lackluster lifestyle that Qingdao people embrace. If all goes well with Jeremy's visa though, I might have to go back to Guangzhou with him for the visa interview but they might only want him to come. We'll see. But no one would have to twist my arm to make me go back there.

Stay tuned for updates about the visa process and please, send your best vibes our way. Thanks, and now to end this post, I'll leave you with this photo of Seoul on her very first plane ride. I gave her rabbit ears. I thought they were a nice touch.

4 comments:

  1. Seems like you had a good time there. Guangzhou is also still on my "to-do" list in China but well, many places are and in the end we are just too lazy to travel around/ my wife doesnt get her ass away from the sofa, snacks and tv at her parents place.
    I wonder how flying to China will be for us next year, Nathan will be around 1 1/2 years by then and the flight is first 2 hours to Finland and then 8 hours to Xi'an. When we went to Greece with the 3 1/2 hours flight were no trouble as he mostly smiled at the other passengers, slept or needed some milk :)

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    1. Oooh...tricky age. Well, if he's still breastfeeding then, he'll have that to occupy him. Pack toys, books, snacks, iPad - anything that will hold his interest. He might freak out a bit or he might be really chill. But being prepared for anything will help you out if he does happen to be difficult to travel with. On the plus side, I will say that Chinese people are sooooooooooo nice when you have screaming kids on a plane. My fellow Americans will tear us to shreds when we arrive. Raelynn flipped out last year and kicked the chair in front of her. We were so embarrassed and apologized profusely. She was about 2 1/2 then. The guy was so nice and told us he had small children too and totally understood. Another foreigner was on the plane and told me I was doing a great job, non-sarcastically.

      Oh and you have to make your wife get off her ass and see China. It's her country, after all, and there are many neat things to see here.

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  2. There seems to be a real common sense problem with people from your in-laws' generation. I think it has something to do with the Cultural Revolution. Imagine all the creepy fertilizers, pesticides and industrial chemicals they were exposed to in the farms and factories. Their brains are fried.

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    1. Oh totally! I never thought about the fertilizers and stuff though. That's an excellent theory. It certainly would explain A LOT. Sometimes my brain hurts just trying to wrap my head around how my in-laws could survive with such a lack of common sense. Or how they raised my husband without managing to kill him. It's mystifying!

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