Monday, December 31, 2012

China Winter Tour - December 28

Robin Reif - December 28
We wake in Xi’an and look out on the Bell Tower, a 14th century brick pagoda directly across the street. Apparently, the bronze bell within used to ring at dawn, a sound I’d much prefer to the 1960s switchboard buzz that was our wake up call.
Our itinerary says “Ride bicycle at Ancient Wall,” inviting only the intrepid on this dry, cold, finger-freezing morning. Those would be the teens and tweens who seem lit by some internal furnace that's no longer working so well in most of us parents.
We traipse to the bus, drive through the moat-like entrance, pile out to the courtyard and up the Wall, to a walkway landing wide as a boulevard.
To imagine the color of the day, think of ancient Chinese scroll paintings of mountains in the mist. There must be as many words in Mandarin for gray as there are in Inuit for snow. Against this somber sky, the red bicycles and lanterns lift our spirits, and soon teens, kids and parents are riding and playing—many on tandems—calling out to each other, building up some heat.
We head from the Wall to a factory that makes Terracotta replicas where kids nag parents for warrior paraphernalia and have fun mugging in costume.
Then we start the journey to Panda country with another packed flight, this time to Chendu in central China, then on to Ya’an, near the Tibetan Plateau where some 80% of the world's giant pandas live.

Already deeply fatigued, the rainy, 2-hour ride from the airport to the Hong Zhu Hotel (cold and a bit down at the heels), makes us want to go fetal under the covers. No sooner do we dive into bed than a thousand roosters (okay, maybe three or four) who seem very close by begin to crow and continue through the night. The kids don't hear a thing; they're dreaming of Pandas.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

China Winter Tour - On way to Panda Reserve

Photos from Gongzhan - December 28
On the way to Bifengxia Panda Reserve. It snowed the night before. The road was slippery, but the scene is spectacular, and unforgettable.

China Winter Tour - Bicycling in Xi'an

Photos from Gongzhan December 27, 2012

Mastering a bicycle built for two on the City Wall in Xi'an 

China Winter Tour - December 27

Robin Reif - December 27

If it’s Thursday, it must be Xi’an. Up at 4 am in Beijing, we pile into our Happiness and Panda buses and head to the airport for a packed flight to this ancient terminus of the Silk Road on the plains of Shaanxi. Haven’t seen a vista this flat since I hitched from Connecticut to Oberlin back in the day.
On our way to see the Terra Cotta soldiers, our local guide Andy points out the surrounding fields of winter wheat, which make Xi’an the “noodle capital of the world.” We look but can’t see through the smog. Dangerous to breathe, it’s strangely beautiful, casting a golden veil over the fields with the wintry sun glowing faintly overhead. 


When we arrive at this 8th wonder of the world, the tween girl set doesn’t seem captivated by acres of fantasy fighters some king 2000 years ago on the other side of the world dreamed up to protect him after he was already dead (big exception is 11-year-old Aaron Ewy who thinks it’s pretty cool to have so many soldiers and archers to repel the bad guys).
New Friendships
Even at the spectacular expanse of 8000 soldiers spread over 3 or 4 pits, each the size of a double football field, the girls are more into dodging and tagging each other, trailing peals of laughter as they go, Moms and Dads shushing after them. They're high on their new friendships, playing til they glow and living in the land of “yes” (as in yes you can have that gooey sweet bubble tea before lunch; ok you can buy that overpriced jade elephant for your best friend; sure you can play in Sophie’s room for the next half hour while we, the parents, shop for more long underwear). It’s moving to see them form a little kingdom of their own with its own language, culture and norms in the space of a few days.
I can’t help but wonder whether the exceptional situation they share—being in the land of their birth with 1.4 billion people who look like them but are not like them, coming from the land where they live in families who adore them but can never fully stand in their shoes—allows them to connect with such emotional shorthand.
Teens at Dumpling Banquet
It’s happening to some extent for the parents and teens too, though expressed in subtler ways. Suspect I speak for most of the parents here when I say that even if my daughter goes home without more Chinese than xie xie, or remembering one or two sites we saw, it will still be one of the best and most valuable trips of our lives.

Friday, December 28, 2012

China Winter Tour - December 26

Robin Reif - December 26
First stop: Temple of Heaven Park. 14 degrees outside, but locals act like it’s Spring. Under frozen trees, they’re ballroom dancing, playing cards and mahjong, gambling, gossiping with friends. Apparently, Chinese women retire by 50 and men by 55 to make room the young, which helps explain the crowds on a frigid weekday. Whatever they’re wearing to keep warm, we want some of that. Bitterly cold, we still join in Tai Chi, then continue to the Hall of Prayer, an ornate circular structure where Ming Dynasty emperors prayed for a good harvest.
On to hutong area where a parade of red rickshaws, parked near the edge of a frozen lake, take us down narrow alleys to local homes for lunch. A remnant of Old Beijing, these grey painted flats hugging central courtyards are the new hot area for Party Officials and celebrities.
Our host, a feisty, enterprising lady, serves a sensational meal then ushers us into her paper-cutting studio across the courtyard where her work is for sale ensuring her hospitality is generously repaid before we leave.
Happiness Group at CCCWA
Panda Group at CCCWA
Later at the Beijing office of the China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption, we get a glimpse of our “holy of holies”--the famous Matching Room. Standing at the door with our children, we look around at the spot that changed our lives for the good and forever.

China Winter Tour - Gongzhan's photos 12/23 - 12/26

Photos from Gongzhan
December 23, 2012 Pre-departure group photo at the Newark International Airport.
December 24, 2012 Arrival in Beijing.
December 25, 2012 Panda group picture at the foot of the Great Wall.

December 25, 2012 Christmas party.
December 26, 2012 In morning, CWTers join local Beijing residents
in playing Taiji at the Temple of Heaven.
December 26, 2012 Lunch at Ms. Yuan's home.
CWTers still think that lunch is the best meal so far!

China Winter Tour - December 25

Robin Reif - December 25

First full day in Beijing. Led by our relentlessly cheerful guides, Alice and Wendy, feels like we’ve lived a full week in this 3000 year-old-city, now home to 20 million souls.
On the bus, there’s instant ease and conviviality among participants from across the U.S. No surprise, given the shared central fact of our family lives.
The sub-freezing day is bookended by two monuments to Chinese genius, both epic in scale and ambition: the Great Wall and the 2008 Beijing Olympics Stadium: the Bird’s Nest. 
At the Wall, the younger girls are giddy, slipping and sliding on the ice approaching the climb, then up the uneven steps, built by hand some 2000 years ago. Ascending just the first landing is a workout, given the 20-degree weather and icy steps. Some descend on their bottoms, gripping the side rail for dear life but all return happy with a great sense of accomplishment. Gongzhan, it should be noted, climbed to the fourth landing with some of the teenagers.
Three of our stops today are exit-through-the-gift-shop events: a jade factory, a tea house and a cloisonné artisans’ workshop. At the first stop, Mark, or “Mr. Jade” as he tells us to call him, delivers a talk on “jade culture” in China, taking us through commonly carved archetypes and their meanings--dragon for power and strength, horse for intelligence and accomplishment, etc. He shows us how to distinguish quality jade from plastic or marble knock offs and then lets us loose to shop. Similar format at the cloisonné workshop and tea house, making for heavier suitcases when we leave for Xi’an in 2 days. 
The evening is a Christmas celebration featuring entertainment from a few of the kids as well as our tour guides from BLAS. A top official from the CCCWA arrives to give an emotional speech welcoming us, telling our daughters and sons that they’ll always be embraced in their homeland and thanking the parents for providing such loving homes for the children. Even in translation, a bit of a tear jerker.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

China Winter Tour - December 23 - 24

Robin Reif 12/23-24/12
After dashing to the airport through check-in past security to gate onto plane, we’re off to China, soaring over the North Pole from Newark to Beijing.

I'm surprised at the count-on-one-hand number of Caucasians on board. Though I’ve been here before, on my first China trip 10 years back, I must have been in such maternal delirium that the attention never registered as anything but the whole world smiling with me. Now, feeling noticed, I think of Sophie saying she’s always surrounded by white people . . . So in some small sense, this trip is a chance to walk in her shoes.
We arrive pretty wrung out. My bed hair seems a little unfair since altogether I catnapped maybe 15 min over Finland. At Beijing airport, a vast new uber-structure, we connect with other CWT-ers-- excited, exhausted teens, a few tired Moms with girls and, of course Gongzhan and Chuck Johnson. In our state, the energetic Beijing guides Wendy and Linn seem to be moving on Forward Fast as they get us to the waiting buses.

Beijing is hopping and much traffic between airport and hotel. The lobby's festooned with Christmas decorations circa 1965 but eventually, we’re warm and settled into our rooms. Given the fact that we've been up for over 24 hours, I'll quote the man of the hour on this Christmas Eve and say "To all a Good Night."

Monday, December 24, 2012

Holiday Wishes

With this December newsletter, we wish everyone a most festive holiday season! We are so excited to share the many photos we received from our families in response to our recent request. Indeed a picture is worth a thousand words: may you enjoy these wonderful images of children from China and Taiwan who have become the light of their parents' lives, photos which tell a story of hope, love and belonging. Thank you to all Gladney families for letting us share in your family through the years!
With best wishes for joyous and peaceful holidays and a Happy New Year,
The Asia Program
Gongzhan, Wendy, April, Mary, Rebecca, Lydia, and Alli