That’s right. I’m rewinding from the story of our dreadful trip back from China (although my friend has since told me a tale about train-traveling through Russia that curled my toes). I’m stepping back from writing about the sibling rivalry (although that’s still raging) and how much I adore my new little boy. It’s time for me to write down my recollections of China before I can’t recollect them anymore.
I wrote the following notes after our first day in Beijing. I don’t plan to always go in chronological order while recounting our two-and-a-half week trip, because that’s boring. Also, I wrote only sporadically once we got to Xi’an, because that’s where we took custody of Xiao-Jie. My writing time was greatly curtailed after that.
Reading these notes is strange for me now, because I know how everything played out. But I want to keep them in the past tense, preserving my emotions exactly as I felt them — no benefit of hindsight. So, here goes.
It’s Friday in Beijing, it’s 4:30 p.m. and I’m exhausted. I wish it would be 8:00 already so I could go to sleep. Any earlier and I’ll undoubtedly be up in the wee hours of the morning. So I’m sitting under the blankets, fully clothed, and alternately checking my e-mail and reading a book on my Kindle and writing. Passing time until I can pass out.
Internet access is spotty in China. It’s kind of driving me crazy. I was hoping to blog while here, but WordPress is blocked [Editor’s note: See? I was thinking of you in China!] So is Facebook. My only way of communicating with the Western World is via text, and Gmail, which comes and goes. We met a hotel employee this morning who told us that the Communist Party Congress is happening now in Beijing, and he suspects that censorship controls have been tightened as a result.
The airplane flight was long, but we’ve definitely had longer. In order to get seats together, we had to sit in the very back of the plane, near the kitchen and with seats that didn’t recline hardly at all. I got smacked once with a drink cart while I was dozing off, but honestly, I didn’t sleep very much. I had my earplugs in and my eye mask on and my new neck pillow. I even took some sleepy drugs, but even that didn’t help.
Bini couldn’t get comfortable so he slept with his head on my lap for a while. When he flopped over to Steve’s lap, I didn’t have his toasty little body keeping me warm underneath the freezing cold air blower. It took me an hour, but I finally hauled myself up and got my jacket to drape on my lap. I probably got one hour of fitful sleep.
Luckily, it was 9:00 p.m. when we landed in Beijing, so we all crashed at around 11 p.m. local time. And then, Bini woke us up at 5 a.m. and would not shut up and go back to sleep. Have I mentioned that I’m exhausted?
We also had a very eventful day. After hitting the breakfast buffet, we met up with our affable guide, Michael, who took us to The Great Wall. It’s winter still, so the landscape was scrubby and brown and the trees were bare. But the wall itself is really quite magnificent. It just goes on and on, and we climbed and climbed and climbed until our legs were like jelly. My Fitbit dashboard – when I can see it, anyway – says I got 12,000 steps today. And that was all before 2:00 p.m.
Bini got a lot of attention while we were on The Great Wall. Mostly double-takes and smiles, but one young woman asked us if she could have her picture taken with him. Bini, of course, was not thrilled, and kept giggling nervously and saying no. I offered to be in the picture with him, and then, the woman’s boyfriend joined us. I had been told to expect this, but it was still weird.
After that, we went to a jade factory, which is a not-so-subtle attempt to get tourists to buy stuff. It definitely isn’t cheap. Still, we bought a few things and then had lunch at a dumpling place, which was really good but also freezing cold. I spent much of the day (except when we were climbing The Wall) being cold. Not enough layers, I guess. I did notice that the dumpling place was populated with Chinese people wearing their puffy coats, so maybe being cold is just part of the deal in Beijing in the winter.
Then, we hit the Hutong district, which is very cool. Michael explained to us that “Hutong” means alleyway, or lane, which are made by rows of Siheyuan courtyard residences. The compounds are like boxes with courtyards in the middle, and several families might share one Siheyuan. We visited one, which had been set up for tourists, and the courtyard was lovely and peaceful, despite being in the middle of Beijing. According to Michael, most young people live in apartments now, but some older folk still like to live in the traditional way because they believe that the feet should touch the earth.
We did a rickshaw ride through the Hutong, which was surprisingly awesome. Our rickshaw driver needed to maybe lay off the smokes, because he kept getting passed by other rickshaws. The drivers would hoot and holler and sometimes bang the side of the passenger area where Bini and I sat, huddled under a blanket. Bini thought it was hilarious.
It was super-hazy today, but Michael told us that it was actually a really good day for Beijing. We all have masks, but Steve is oddly reluctant to wear his. Bini likes his. I don’t mind mine, but with my sunglasses on, I look like a bank robber.
There are video cameras everywhere, and in the Hutong, I saw propaganda posters that I couldn’t read, on account of they’re in Chinese. I did get some tips on my Mandarin phrases from Michael, but he told me that it’s very likely that Xiao-Jie’s nannies have spoken to him in a local dialect, and that he won’t understand our pidgin Mandarin.
Xiao-Jie, the whole reason we’re here. I’m excited, of course, to meet this little boy who we’ve come halfway around the world to adopt. But I also know that very soon, in 48 hours, everything changes, for our whole family. Bini’s gotten used to being an only child. Steve and I have gotten used to being able to go on date nights twice a month. I’ve gotten used to carrying a handbag that isn’t the size of a suitcase.
Still, I was so bored last year, with Bini in kindergarten full time. My part-time contract job at MSN fell through because of a company-wide reorganization, and I decided not to get a full-time job with a commute. I wanted to be home when Bini got home, and, if I’m honest, I like my free time. Anyway — I knew that another kid would fill the void, and give Bini a buddy to play with. Or at the very least, give him someone closer to his age to play with.
But then my freelance work really started picking up, and the timing was such that I had to start turning away work because it coincided with us going to China. I worry that my career, such that it is, will stall. I want to get a nanny to start, very part time, in May. But what if Xiao-Jie has more complicated medical needs? What if we’re back and forth to doctors and he can’t go to preschool next year? What then?
So, those are the complex emotions I’m grappling with today, two days before we meet our new son. I am so happy to be here, so excited to be sharing this amazing experience with Steve and Bini. And Bini is having a blast. When we got back to the hotel this afternoon, he proclaimed this to be the “best day ever.”
Hey, thanks for listening. I’m going to go pass out.