Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Getting There Is Half The Fun

Bright and early, we blearily rose from bed somewhere around 5am on January 18th. Jeremy had spared himself the agony and finished his sleep in Raelynn's room that night. As for me, I endured a fussy baby who kept unwrapping herself from her blanket every hour on the hour. Now of course, she was sound asleep and I used it as an opportunity to ready myself.

As I washed my face and brushed my teeth, I heard our front door open and close. It was MIL. Oh God. WHY is she here? Can't she just let us alone? She had come the night before and I thought that was the end of enduring her for a few days, but no. She HAD TO come now. I try not to scowl openly but it's obvious I'm pissed. I am too tired for this shit. Never mind her, I think. I've got to get ready. So I begin covering my tired face with make-up in hopes that I won't resemble the zombie creature that I actually feel like.

And then the doorbell rings. I hate our doorbell. It is so loud and tinny and unnecessary. It's not like we live in some spacial palace. It's a small 2 bedroom apartment. You know who it is, right? FIL! Of course! But thankfully, MIL shoos him away. She shouts at him for ringing the doorbell which I find counter-productive. If we're all trying to be quiet so as not to disturb the baby while we get ready, then how is shouting at your doltish husband going to help us?

Miraculously, Seoul stays asleep through all this nonsense and doesn't wake until I am completely done shoving my make-up and the rest of our toiletries into the suitcase. Now MIL comes over, arms outstretched to hold the baby so I can eat. Again, I try not to scowl. She just wants to help, right? Sigh.

As we eat, Jeremy's busy on the phone. It seems the taxi he's reserved to take us to the airport is unable to pick us up. No problem...there's plenty of time to call for another. We get another reserved and then that guy has to cancel because his taxi won't start. Third time was the charm...another taxi was able to take us. We all went downstairs where FIL was waiting. They nag me about what I'm wearing. Why no hat? Gah. We're going to Guangzhou, not Harbin. It's MUCH warmer in Guangzhou and I have 2 kids to handle. I've worn my lighter coat on top of a thick sweatshirt. I don't want the annoyance of dragging around a massive winter coat along with our luggage as we travel.

When the taxi arrives, the woman driving it frowns. It's because of my in-laws. She thinks they are coming too and starts yipping about how we can't all fit in the taxi. Oh no, honey. Just us. Please take us away from here. And then we're off.

I think this is one of the first times we've traveled that our flight was completely on time. We flew with China Southern on the way there. As we sat in our seats, we noticed something quite odd. Something was missing. My window! I have never before seen anything like this!
You can see that the seat behind mine has a window but mine clearly does not. On the other end of the row, they had a window but the guy in the row behind that did not. Very weird!
The children were mostly good on the plane though Seoul had a fit because she was hot and tired. I tried to calm her by walking up and down the aisle but eventually had to stop because we were preparing for landing. We were sitting next to some other foreigners and I was really surprised by how kind everyone was. They kept smiling at Seoul, despite the howling cries she was emitting.

Once we arrived, we decided to take the subway to our hotel. Thankfully, no one mistook me for a chair. Jeremy had reserved us an apartment-hotel with a small kitchen so we could cook some of our meals. He said we could easily get there by taking the subway to the end of the line and then taking a taxi the short distance that remained. I was expecting much worse. It was a small room but it had 2 beds, a TV with way more cable channels than our Chinese cable company provides us (and normally, I care not about Chinese channels since we have a satellite as well but Chinese was all we were getting on this trip...and one English channel), a refrigerator, a washing machine on the balcony with drying racks for the laundry (this was incredibly useful after Seoul spit up milk on her blanket and Raelynn made a mess of some of her clothing), a microwave, a single burner cooktop and cookware. Be it ever so humble! The building itself wasn't bad either. The only problem was that each tower only had one elevator. And each tower had 32 floors. The wait time for the elevator was rather annoying.

By this point, the afternoon was wearing on and we were all very hungry. We decided to eat something first and then hit up a market for items to cook for dinner later. A small restaurant across from where we were staying was where we wound up. The food was rather plain but it hit the spot much more than the snack on the plane did.

Later, Jeremy would run out and buy us a bunch of items from a nearby market. We'd tried to go to a large supermarket that was underground in the subway entrance right by the embassy. But everything there was so expensive, we couldn't even believe it. As I passed the embassy, I teared up when I saw our flag waving in the wind. God, how I want to go home and take my husband and children with me.

Jeremy did all the cooking for the meals we ate in our room. That was because I had to handle Seoul. And Raelynn. Somehow each night, I managed to get Seoul to sleep. But because the room was small and Raelynn is noisy, I had to put her to sleep multiple times. Seoul's new favorite thing seems to be to fall into a deep sleep until I tiptoe away for a shower. As soon as I put shampoo in my hair, she's wailing.

The next morning, bright and early, Jeremy was off for his medical exam. He was 5th in line until he realized he needed to bring the email the embassy had sent to me. I had it printed out but thought he only needed it for his visa interview. So he grumpily came back for it and promptly ran back down the street to where the medical exams were administered. Around 11am, he finally returned with some amusing stories about his exam. He was surprised when they checked way up in his nose. And ears. And what caught him completely off guard was how they checked his manly junk by shaking it around. I had to laugh as he gestured wildly in the air, making noises to accompany this visual. Poor Jeremy.

He wasn't supposed to eat before the exam and we were also hungry. We decided to find a restaurant with Guangzhou-style cuisine. We walked around until we found one that we wanted to try. We got to see a bit of the tea culture of Guangzhou in this place. Up here in Qingdao and the northern parts, when people want to build guanxi (relationships, more or less) they will invite you to lunch or dinner. It's always a meal. If you want something from someone, better take them out for something to eat. But in Guangzhou, the people there are big on meeting for a nice pot of tea and perhaps a small snack. Many tables were filled with people just enjoying tea together as the morning turned into noon.

Our table had a teapot waiting for us as well. Here, they kept a flame burning under the teapot to always keep our water hot. It was really a nice touch, I thought. We had some very delicious things to eat during this lunch. Check it out!
 Raelynn is clearly ready for food!

 Here's the tea pot. The black one is filled with water and is kept over a flame while the smaller more decorative pot contains the tea leaves. This makes each cup of tea you have taste as fresh as the first cup. Lovely!

 Raelynn likes tea.

 Ah, some delicious xiaolong bao. That's a soup dumpling and yes, it shares the first name of my husband. The best way to eat them is to put them into your spoon so that when you bite into it, the soup portion doesn't spill all over the place. Also, you'd be wise to wait a few minutes before trying them. The insides tend to be scalding hot!

 This is a Guangzhou-style soup. I'm usually not a fan of this kind of soup, which is a sort of rice porridge, but this one was really nice.

 Jeremy ordered this chicken dish. I like to call it "Nice Try, Honey" because clearly, you can see that it's chicken feet. I just can't get into those. I have tried. I gag. I can't do it. He tried to give me a piece and got the "hell no" face from me. To be nice, I did eat some of the peanuts that were cooked with the dish but blech. No chicken feet for me, please!

Some of the most fabulous egg tarts I've ever had. These were just oh so good.

These buns had a honey glaze on the outside and a savory beef stuffing inside. We were really surprised by them.

We also had a noodle dish and some pork with vegetables but I somehow forgot to photograph them. Oh well. Not like you guys come read my blog for the amazing photos. If you do,you must be even worse a photographer than me!

The next day we spent walking around Beijing Road, a famous shopping area. Raelynn was in a bratty mood but we at least got her to try on a qipao. She finally started behaving and we treated her to ice cream. She was an angel after that too, thankfully.

On Wednesday the 21st, we went to the Chimelong Safari Park, which I wrote about separately. You can read that here.

Thursday the 22nd was the day of Jeremy's visa interview. Another insanely early morning, we somehow dressed ourselves and 2 kids and headed off to the embassy. We were about 30 minutes early but there were already gobs of people there. When we got up to the front though, the guard turned me and the children away. We had a plan for that in case they wouldn't allow us entry with Jeremy. There was a nearby Starbucks so I took Raelynn and Seoul with me to wait there. I would have gone back to the hotel but our door was equipped with a digital keypad that sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. We figured the Starbucks would keep us all entertained while we waited for Jeremy and sure beat me having to try to get the door to unlock with one whiny toddler and a crying baby.

Of all the times I've ever felt lonely in my life, and there have been many, I never at once felt so alone sitting in that Starbucks in the bustling upscale downtown area of Guangzhou. Even with my 2 children. I stared out the window and checked my phone every few minutes. Time stood still for me while I waited anxiously for him to come meet us. I started thinking about how I met my husband and how we built this life together. I started thinking about how I never wanted to be without him. I felt tears stinging my eyes despite Raelynn's cutest attempts at keeping me distracted.

So many times, I saw someone across the street dressed in similar attire only to realize it wasn't my man. And then suddenly, there he was! He strode into the Starbucks and I felt like I couldn't breathe at all. Did we get our visa???

Before I answer that, I'd like to tell you all how much I appreciate your kind thoughts, prayers and support during this time. I thank you all for thinking of us. That is why I hope you will continue to think of us and understand that at this time, I will only tell you that we are almost finished with this process, having been preliminarily approved. However, we must submit some additional papers before we can finally close this visa process chapter and move forward. So until this is all done and behind us, I'll be holding off on saying anything more.

As we walked back to the hotel, we discussed what to do next. Our flight back to Qingdao would leave very early the next morning. If we stayed at our current location, we'd need to get up at 3am to get to the airport on time. The subway system would not be open as early as we'd need it so that left taking a taxi as our only option. And that's a huge cab fare right there. Jeremy suggested we move to a hotel that was closer to the airport. We found one that was just 3 minutes away. They had free pick-up and drop-off too which was nice. But I instantly regretted this decision the minute we rolled up to the place. It looked even worse than our neighborhood. It seriously looked like a ghost town. The few people around stared openly at us. The one store we saw was rundown and ramshackle. Our room didn't even have a toilet in the bathroom - it had a squatter! Ugh! I felt like we were camping. Even more so when I discovered some mosquitoes in our room. But the room was tidy at least. And it was just for one night.

We went to get some lunch and now I felt totally depressed. We were in the boonies. We should be celebrating that we are almost done with this trying process, yet here we were, walking to the only nearby restaurant. The woman who ran it was incredibly nice though. She had Budweiser for beer, which was totally random, and she quickly had her mom begin cooking. My husband said that they grew their own food and it was natural and chemical-free. I regret not taking photos of the food. It looked like slop on a plate, the way MIL serves most things. Only MIL's cooking was much better. Raelynn liked the chicken we ordered but they'd hacked it up into such tiny pieces with bits of bone in them that I couldn't find a piece that had meat on it. I gave up. We also had fish, but the fish had so many bones that I felt like I was spitting everything out. The only thing I could eat was some sauteed watercress, which was fairly tasty. We were enjoying it until we found a long hair in it. Then our appetites ceased.
Seoul's happy wherever but I was a bit bummed to be in a place that was more country than my in-laws' mountain apartment.

 It's just us in this quiet place. There are so many tables and chairs but I can't picture the place is ever filled to capacity.

Another case where beer makes things better. It was nice to have a taste of home, even if Budweiser was never high on my list back in the US. It tasted better to me now but maybe that's because I've been over here so long.

The restaurant owner had a small boy and there was some other relative there with a little girl. Raelynn was playing nicely with them for a little while as we finished our beers. Then back to the hotel we went, stopping at the dumpy store first. The store was missing 2 walls and inside, a game of cards was being played by chain-smoking old men. They were friendly though, yelling, "Hello!" at us. The store owner put down his hand and came behind the smoke-stained counter to assist us. We bought some very stale bags of chips, a bag of spicy peanuts that were rather good actually and some instant noodles for our journey back to Qingdao. Airports in China tend to overcharge for things in the most excessive of ways. For example, last time we went to leave Guangzhou, our flight was delayed for hours. We needed to eat and our only option was a noodle place that charged 60 rmb for a bowl of noodles. Yes, really. We split a bowl between the 3 of us. For 60 rmb, we should be able to get several dishes of food, not one bowl of noodles. But to their credit, it was a very tasty bowl of noodles.

I had hoped our hotel would have better food than the country restaurant, but when we went to get something to eat, we were told they had to order something for us and they would pick it up. Or they could take us to the airport and we could eat there. They handed us a menu of items all in Chinese. I found it amusing that a sign pointed to a room past the counter touting a Western restaurant when no such thing existed. Jeremy told me what our options were on the menu. We chose a few dishes and then went to our room to wait for them. At least it was tastier than the country cooking we had endured for lunch.

Jeremy held my hands and kissed me. He said we would celebrate our preliminary approval at our favorite restaurant at the Shangri-La once we returned. He truly felt awful that our last bit of time in Guangzhou would be spent in this boring hotel surrounded by dusty buildings and people.

But it was a smart move in the end. The lines at the airport were very long. We checked in and then waited in massive security check lines. When we went through security, the woman behind the counter asked Jeremy to step back a bit. We explained we were a family of 4 and she said that she would check us in 2 at a time. Some man behind Jeremy thought he was just pushing his way up so he began to push my husband. We told him we were together and to chill out. Then a bunch of people behind this man tried to push and I could not even believe how many security people burst out of nowhere. They pushed all those people back. They were shouting that they were late for their planes but if they'd simply arrived early as we did, they wouldn't be having this problem. I found it hard to have sympathy for them after the way they behaved. Airlines worldwide have been telling their passengers to arrive at least 2 hours prior to departure.

It was a long walk to our gate. We each took a turn using the bathroom and as I came out, our flight announced it was boarding. This time, we had the first row of our class so we had more legroom. And this time, I got a window.
 And you know something else? China is just beautiful from above...

That must be what heaven looks like...or maybe it's this place - Shangri-La!

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