Happy Hannah Day

One year. One year ago we were too excited to sleep. We were the first people at breakfast in the Kunming Hotel, nervously watching the sunrise over the city of Kunming. One year ago Xiulan started banging on our door a full 30 minutes before we were supposed to leave, hurrying us along and rushing us out the door of the hotel. One year ago we piled into a van and drove across Kunming, not knowing where we were going, but realizing that this was the exact ride we had been waiting to take for nearly five years. One year ago we sat in the Civil Affairs Office in Kunming, showing our IDs, looking over the last bits of paperwork, and trying to contain our nerves and excitement. One year ago I caught a glimpse of Hannah as she was being brought into the office and started to cry. One year ago Hannah was placed into our arms and we became a family.

It's hard to believe it's been a year. It feels like just yesterday that we were in Kunming. I get choked up thinking of those first few hours and how scared we all were. And then I think of the first smiles we saw back in our hotel room and knowing that this was where we were all supposed to be.

Looking at Hannah today it's hard to believe she's the same kid. She's so full of life and energy and joy. In fact, she's attempting to tickle my toes as I type this. Being her parent is a million times harder and a million times better than we ever could have imagined. Happy Hannah Day to everyone.

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One Year Ago

One year ago we were on a plane to China. As much as we were prepared - we did have four years to wait after all - China was nothing at all like we expected. And today? I am a mess of feelings. Who would have thought that I would be so emotional a full week before we actually celebrate our very first Hannah Day? (ok, who am I kidding. EVERYONE knew I would be emotional...) I spent a chunk of naptime today looking back at our blog posts from Beijing and the pictures we took. It's sort of interesting how little we wrote. The Beijing leg of our trip - the only leg without Hannah - is something that I'm still processing a year later.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad we went to Beijing. But we were glad to leave, and not just because it meant we were finally going to get Hannah. While we were in China I kept saying that I would write more later about our trip. I guess that today is later. (forgive me in advance for the length of this post)

From the moment we landed in Beijing, there was no question that we were in China. The military presence in the airport alone lets you know that you're not in the States. And our introduction to Beijing traffic and pollution was immediate. We have never (and hope to never again) seen anything like it. Admittedly Beijing had been plagued with sandstorms right before we went, so some of the pollution was sand. But I don't think that makes it that much better. And there is always the sense that the government is keeping tabs on you.

We had booked our Beijing trip in advance and it included a tour guide and a driver. This is not how we like to travel, but it's what was recommended (and looking at the tourists around us, what the vast majority of travelers in China do). Our guide was a talker, and chatted (mostly with Chris) all the way through Beijing. Non-stop. Being a tour guide for Americans is a good job - he was university educated and told us that he and his wife were able to afford a small apartment in a good part of the city. Our first day started in Tienanmen Square. Other than the fact that we were cold (I almost bought a plush panda hat from a street vendor) it was impressive. Far bigger than I would have ever imagined it to be. The most impressive part was the line to see Mao's tomb. Hours and hours of waiting. We did not.

The Forbidden City was much like Tienanmen Square - way bigger than I had ever imagined it. We were there for a couple of hours and we only saw a fraction of it. Our guide tried to explain things as we looked at them, but I wish that I had brought my own guide book so I could read more as we walked. I also had the overwhelming sense that world history was an area where public education failed me. As much as I liked my world history teacher in high school, I learned remarkably little. We were also struck by the difference in world view between us and our guide. He constantly wanted to talk politics and religion (which, along with our adoption, were the main topics we were told in advance to avoid), and as much as we tried to change the subject, it was interesting to see what he knew of US history and the filtered view of current events that is presented in China.

Our last stop on day 1 was at the Temple of Heaven. Yet another place that was stunningly beautiful and far larger than I had ever imagined it. The main building - the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests - is what you see on the postcards, but there are other buildings and a huge park surrounding the Temple with locals playing cards and doing tai chi. Definitely a place I wish we had spent more time at. You'll also notice that the color of the sky has significantly changed from the morning pictures - it's not clouds, but pollution rolling in.

Our second day was a side trip to the Great Wall. The Great Wall is not in Beijing - the section we went to was 3 1/2 hours from our hotel (though 2 hours back with a more direct route and slightly less traffic). We went to the Mutinayu section - less toursity than the Badaling section (the section closest to Beijing, and the one you've probably seen in pictures) and much steeper. The Great Wall really is impressive - it's high up in the mountains and is unbelievably steep. We took a chair lift up - one of the scariest things I have ever done - and hiked along a few sections. It doesn't matter what picture I post - no picture can possibly do it justice. And, in an unexpected but of fun, we took the toboggan down. Yes, I SLID down the Great Wall of China.

Along with the Great Wall, we spent some time on day 2 in what Chris called "the machine". Tourism is regulated by the government. Each of the restaurants we went to were government run places specifically for tour groups. Don't get me wrong - the lunches we ate in Beijing were probably our favorite of the trip. There was a chicken and cucumber dish on the first day that I still think about, and the guide specially ordered kung pao chicken for Chris on day 3 that he still talks about. But they are very clearly part of the deal. We also stopped on our way to the Wall at a government run jade factory and on our way back at a government run cloisonne factory. Again, it was interesting to see how jade is carved and cloisonne is made, but we clearly had a length of time we had to spend there, and we bought a few little pieces of jewelry at each for Hannah which was sort of our ticket out.

Our last day we crammed the most stuff in. We started at the Summer Palace, which was a really nice little oasis. It was on the lake, which made the air quality a little better. I could imagine that in the summer all of the paddle boats are full and it's the perfect place to spend an afternoon. On the day we were there? Still shady spots with snow.

From the Summer Palace we headed to the most anticipated stop for me in Beijing - the Olympic sites. I am an Olympics addict, and our guide was sort of stunned by my knowledge of the stadium and the Beijing Olympics. I don't think he was expecting me to be pointing things out to HIM. Like everything else in Beijing, the Bird's Nest was much larger and much more impressive in person. And it was interesting to see how they had made the stadium into a paid attraction - very different from Centennial Park in Atlanta.

From the Bird's Nest we headed to the Lama Temple. This is home to the world's largest wooden Buddah. And yes - it was huge. It was fascinating to see the prayer wheels and watch (and smell) people burn incense. The glimpse into how others pray is not one that I will soon forget. We didn't take very many pictures out of respect for those who were praying there, but I couldn't help but take this one. People throw coins and try to get them to land for good luck, directly in front of the sign telling them to not throw coins. (can you see all the coins that have been thrown?)

Our last stop in Beijing was a tour of the hutong, the small traditional residences in Beijing. Definitely the oddest part of our trip - we were handed over to our hutong guide, loaded onto a rickshaw, and driven through the hutong. We even were taken into a family's living room where they poured us tea and encouraged us to ask questions. While it was beyond strange, we loved our little tour guide - Jenna Tau - who followed us along on her bicycle and Chris deemed to be "pocket sized." Interesting fact - we noticed the raised doorways throughout Beijing, which she explained was to keep the ghosts out. How does it keep the ghosts out? Because ghosts don't have knees. It's the one fact I have retained from trip.

Would I ever go back to Beijing? Probably not. The places we visited were amazing. And it was nice for us to have those last few days alone as a couple. But the city itself? Not a fan. The pollution was horrific, as was the traffic. Chris kept joking that everyone smokes for the fresh air. He was also convinced by the end of day 2 that he was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. I brought every allergy and asthma medicine I own and still got sick. I don't know how people live in it every day. We were so done with it by the last day that we asked to go to the airport extra early, just to sit in the filtered air. The lack of diversity also bothered me, but it bothered me throughout our trip. It makes me proud to be an American, regardless of whatever nonsense is going on in politics.

The Amazing Race in Kunming

Last night The Amazing Race was in Kunming. After four days straight watching basketball, it was great to watch one of our favorite shows in "our" city in China.

A quick side note about the show, especially for those who watched it only because it was in Kunming (and I told you to). While we were thrilled to see Kunming, this was a pretty lame episode of the show. That's somewhat important to know. Give it another chance - it really is one of our favorites.

The leg started at one of the many flower markets in Kunming. Kunming is known for its flowers - we were told before we went that some ridiculously high percentage of the flowers sold in China are grown in Kunming. (and a lot of them get sent to neighboring countries) This is not the flower market we visited, but we did get to go to the Bird and Flower market where we wished we could bring the beautiful plants home. Next they went to the Golden Horse and Jade Rooster arch. This is when Chris and I started to get excited. The arch is in a really beautiful area of the city - walking distance from our hotel. There were lots of arches surrounding this one, and the whole area was beautiful. Definitely a place we had hoped to go back and explore some more. Here is the gate that they visited, as well as a smaller arch that was next to it (and had some sort of meaning that was explained to us and promptly forgotten...) We had hoped that they would go to the Bird and Flower market for a task, especially since it's only a few blocks down the road from the arches, but I guess since they were already at a flower market, that was enough. And, as an aside...the McDonald's that several teams ended up at? We ate lunch there. Once. It was the only time we ate "American" food during our trip. It was delicious. :)
The next few stops on the Race were not places we had been to. They had to assemble solar water heaters, which Chris was excited about, since we saw them on every building in Kunming. They were EVERYWHERE. And while we heard how amazing the Stone Forest was, we didn't make the trip out there. Of course, it was pretty great to watch the teams drive around Kunming. We recognized the skyline immediately, and the streets just looked familiar. And, of course, there were the taxis. Oh the taxis. Chris spent more time in them than I did, as every time Xiulan took us anywhere, DeeDee, Henry, Jonathan, Hannah, and I would pile in the back of her car, and George and Chris would get sent behind us in the taxi. Apparently Kunming taxis are no place for women and children (because, yes, Xiulan really did say to us "women and children with me").Finally, this leg of the race ended in Green Lake Park. What a beautiful place. We spent several beautiful hours walking around the park on our last full day in Kunming, and we wished that we had spent more time there. We knew exactly where Phil was standing at the pit stop, and hopefully they will show more footage of the park at the start of next week's episode (and maybe they found the monkey sock that we lost in the park??).

Chag Sameach!

In our year of firsts, Hannah celebrated her first Purim this weekend. I love Purim - you get to dress up and be noisy, which is right up Hannah's alley. We started on Friday and made Hamentaschen with Bubbe & Zaide. No real surprise - Hannah liked the peach filling better than the cookies. In fact, when we ate them with Chris Friday afternoon, Hannah sucked the peaches off and handed the pre-licked cookies to him to finish. :)Friday night we went to Tot Shabbat Purim services. Hannah was thrilled to get to dress up like a flying fairy and shook her wand instead of a grogger with glee. :)Today was even more fun. Hannah went to her very first Cradle Roll with Chris (basically a parent-and-me Sunday School program for little ones) and had a blast at the Purim Carnival. (she did wear her flying fairy costume again, but it got taken off for the moon bounce and never put back on). She loved playing the carnival games with Emily - especially the one where you were supposed to throw discs into a tube. She very carefully walked up and placed each one in. And trading in her tickets for new bead necklaces? Well, it was the perfect end to the fun. :)

The Hannah Show

Hannah and Chris having some fun with video...

video

The Amazing Race

Tonight's episode of The Amazing Race was in Yunnan, China - Hannah's province, and where we spent 8 days of our trip to China. We love the show, and I have been so excited that they would be traveling to Yunnan.

The leg started with the teams flying to Kunming - the city where Hannah is from. While they were only there for a few minutes before leaving for Lijiang, the glimpses of the Kunming Airport were enough to bring back a flood of memories. It was the one airport that the language barrier was really an issue. We had to check our stroller (ever been through an airport with a 9 month old without a stroller? I don't recommend it...) and we had a lot of problems getting through security with our carseat. Seeing the last team get on a China Eastern plane directly from the ground...well, we've been there and done that. I will spare you the picture of me and DeeDee in the Kunming airport and leave you with one that looks a lot like what you saw on the race.
The leg itself was beautiful. Yunnan is a beautiful place - very very different from the big cities of Beijing and Guangzhou. I liked the tasks with the Chinese zodiac - for us, the zodiac signs were always what you figured out at a Chinese restaurant while you were waiting for your food. But so much in China revolves around the signs. Hannah is an Ox, and we bought lots of Ox items for her while we were there. I also liked the prayer wheel. The prayer wheels we saw in China were spectacular, and we really liked the glimpse into how other religions pray.

One of the things that is always an issue on the show is the language barrier, which will be interesting for the rest of their time in Yunnan. While we found plenty of people in Beijing and Guangzhou who spoke English, very few people in Kunming did. And Kunming is the "big city" - up in Lijiang I would imagine there are even fewer. It's also a different dialect of Mandarin that is spoken there - Chris's Mandarin lessons didn't help us out nearly as much as we had hoped they would. The other thing we really related to was the altitude. Lijiang is much higher up in the mountains than Kunming, but we definitely felt the effects of the altitude in Kunming as well. The good news was that the air was so much cleaner than it was in Beijing, but we definitely could feel it as we climbed the stairs in order to cross the streets.

Next week the teams are in Kunming. Watching the previews for next week, all we could focus on were the cabs. The traffic in Kunming and riding in the back of those cabs is going to break a few teams down. We can't wait to see their view of "our" city.

Wheeee!!!!

For Hannah, there is no better way to spend an afternoon then by going down a slide. She's always been quite the daredevil, and over the summer we had a lot of fun taking her down the slides over and over and over again. In the fall we took her down the big slides at Cox Farms. And now that the weather is nice, she has rekindled her love of slides. She's figured out how to climb up and go down them by herself, and for Hannah, the bigger the slide the better. She'll bypass the smaller ones for tallest slide at the park every time. This week she learned to say "wheee!" as she goes down, and she was so proud to show Chris how she could go down the biggest slide at the park all by herself today.