Adoption Trip #1 – Hong Kong

Heading out! Hong Kong, here we come!

Rinnah looking at the amazing view from the Lok’s apartment in Hong Kong

Our wonderful friends, the Loks!

Some of the many apartment buildings in their neighborhood – the population density is incredible.

One of the stalls in the Lok’s neighborhood market

The amazing waffles in Mong Kok

The amazing view out the window at lunch of Hong Kong Island

Some of the many dim sum dishes we had together

They like to make food fun and pretty here

View from Victoria Peak

Another stunning sunrise at the Lok’s apartment

Just about a year ago, I saw a picture of Ethan for the first time, and that started this journey. It’s been a long, long year of paperwork and frustration. For some reason, these adoptions have been much more problematic. We had what felt like constant obstacles and delays, and it feels like a miracle that we are actually in China.

I’m sitting on a train leaving Hong Kong, and headed to Guangzhou in mainland China. We will meet Ethan Long Ning and Anna Ru Xuan tomorrow. To be precise, in 27 hours. Not that anyone is counting of course! But it feels surreal. We’ve gotten very little information about our new children over the past year, but we have already fallen in love. We are anxious to get to know them, and learn how to be the particular parents they need.

With all the delays, you would think that we would have been completely ready to go, but in true Shaw fashion, we underestimated our time. So what felt molasses-slow ended up being a race to the finish to get out the door on time. The kids got a decent night’s sleep before we left, but Nathan and I were up until 2 am checking and re-checking all our adoption paperwork and visas and checklists. Not that it mattered too much anyway – I knew I wasn’t going to sleep and I didn’t! It’s too hard to shut off your brain.

My brother came at 8am and we loaded up our car. We try very hard to pack light, but since the forecast is 95 with 100% humidity and thunderstorms every day, and we have no access to laundry, we know we’re going to be yucky and want extra t-shirts. Add to that the fact that I’m having to guess at Ethan and Anna’s sizes so I’m having to bring extra things for them (and a sewing kit and safety pins in case their shorts don’t stay up!) and a group of 8 (!!) and we have more than we’d like.

We catch our flight to Chicago with no problem. Somehow I feel like I’m home free after all the trouble of getting here! But then halfway to Chicago, a woman a couple rows behind us had a medical emergency. We weren’t sure if we were turning around, but praise God, she was actually seated next to a doctor and he monitored her and she looked much better after a bit. The pilot flew like lightening and we were in Chicago early. We all had to wait for paramedics to take her off the plane, and thankfully she was only a little woozy by that point, but we are just feeling relieved to be here – if we’d turned around we would have missed our China flight.

In O’Hare we hoofed it all the way around to the new terminal and got some Chicago deep dish for lunch – airport style. 🙂 Not too bad. We’ve asked every airline person we’ve seen so far if they can move our seats on the long flight, but everyone just keeps telling us to ask the next person. Even here, we were told to ask someone who was coming an hour before the flight. We had to book so last minute that we had all center seats scattered throughout coach which sounded horrible for a 16 hour flight. I had snagged two seats together when they opened up at one point, but they were on the opposite side of the plane. Finally the magical person showed up. She wasn’t able to get us together, but she did somehow get us one group of three. So we had the girls together but all the way on the other side of the plane, and then me and the boys in the group of three, and then poor Nathan by himself in the middle seat behind us. It wasn’t too bad though – God is so funny. Both the people he was sitting by had connections to ministry, and he enjoyed hearing about that and sharing about our adoption.

16 hours is really long. Like, really long. Eiyiyi. And everyone was excited to pass the time by watching the movies and stuff they offer in the back of the seat on long flights. Except that the TVs worked everywhere in the plane but our section. Yup. And that meant I was with a 10 and 12 year old boy who couldn’t do anything but watch all the other people watching movies and playing games! And even the light controls were tied to the screens, so if the TV wasn’t working, you were sitting in the dark. So no reading or anything either! Fortunately we had our charging bank, so they got out their tablet and played together. Screen time rules do not exist on 16 hours flights! Finally, about 4 hours in they rebooted again and we got our screens working and we were all thankful.

No one slept much. Noah did the best and slept about 4 hours. I got about an hour. I just can’t do it – too much noise and your legs start to hurt so much, etc. I know I’m whining, but about 12 hours in you just want it over! But we all made it, and that was a relief.

When we got off the plane, we had about 30 minutes of immigration, baggage claim, customs, and then we walked out and saw our friends the Loks waving and smiling at us! So good to see them! Their daughter, Chung Yan was one of our son’s best friends for years at school, and they were neighbors of ours. They moved back to Hong Kong about a year ago, and so graciously offered to host us while we were in Hong Kong. We added these few days at the beginning of the trip to let our body clocks adjust a bit to the 12 hour time difference before we were meeting brand-new-to-us children – it seemed a wise thing to do, and also let us have a little cushion in case flights were delayed or cancelled.

The Loks got us to the bus with all our stuff and we rode about 45 minutes out to their apartment. They live on the 26th floor of a 29 floor building and told us their building was “pretty short.” It is something that always strikes me – the population density is amazing here, and there’s no such thing as a single family home. Just high-rise after high-rise. Their apartment is beautiful and looks out at the mountains and water. Hong Kong looks like a fairy tale, really – the extreme green of the mountains plunging into the blue of the water all around, it looks like the mermaid lagoon from Peter Pan. It’s a beautiful city.

We got to their apartment at around 8pm Hong Kong time, 12 hours ahead of home, and had been traveling for 24 hours straight. They ordered food, and we had a great meal of Hong Kong style fried rice, pork, lemon chicken, and a delicious soup with greens. After the incredibly awful (incredibly awful!!!) food on the plane, it was heaven. Toby and Chung Yan were having so much fun catching up, and her little brother is exactly the same age as Noah, so they were having fun too. We just chatted and got everyone a shower (which is no mean feat with one shower and so many people!) and went to bed. They are so kind. Hong Kong apartments are small – even smaller than what we usually saw in New York! But they squeezed us all in and made us feel like family.

I was wide awake at 2am. Thanks, jet-lag! Then 3, then 4, then 4:15, then 4:30, and I finally just got up at 5. The trick is if we can all make it to the evening tonight, we’ll be tired enough (probably!) to actually sleep and then our bodies will be switched. This direction the jet-lag isn’t so bad. It’s really going home that seems to hit the hardest, I’m not sure why.

Grace and Peter had told us their kids usually get up at 9 on a Saturday, but I guess they were as excited to see us as we were to see them, because all the kids were playing together by 6! Their poor neighbors! But they were having a blast. We had breakfast (watermelon, pork buns, mantou buns, toast, and tiny chicken pies) and then everyone got dressed and we headed out to see Hong Kong together! We walked through their neighborhood, starting with a beautiful walkway along the water – just stunning. Visited their market which I thought was enormous – stall after stall after stall of fresh fish and vegetables, and fruits, and Chinese medicine, and then Grace told me apologetically that they only have a small market near their house. It had to be at least 100 stalls. And the fish were literally still jumping on the table, and there were crates of live chickens looking at the newly butchered chickens hanging in the case (poor chickens!!!), so it is definitely fresh! So interesting. We bought little custard pies straight out of the oven – the bag was literally steaming my hand while we were waiting for them to be cool enough to eat, and they were amazing.

Did I mention hot? Oh. my. goodness. It’s about 95 but the heat index is 110 and 100 percent humidity. We have been more attractive at other times in our lives, just saying. We all got out our umbrellas in true Chinese fashion just to get a little shade from the sun. It’s very sunny here, but it’s still hazy – when we look at the mountains in the distance, they are in soft focus. I asked if it’s ever clear (when we were here before it raining constantly and all of Victoria Peak was in a cloud), and Grace said she thought it was clear about half the time. If it ever is, it would be incredibly stunning – it really is such a beautiful city.

We took the subway into the central part of the city and visited the market in Mong Kok. So fun! We just like to look around. Peter bought some waffle thing that was pressed into circles, and you just tore off the pieces. It was like a sweet waffle with a bit of coconut flavor and we were a little like locusts I’m afraid – it was gone in about 2 minutes. You’d think we’d never eaten before! But the food is one of the best things about Hong Kong.

We were going to visit the Ladies Market which is a more traditional street market (Mong Kok used to be, but the government decided they all needed to be storefronts, so it’s changed) but it was too early – they were still setting up. We walked through the side of it anyway, and it’s shocking that the put up the whole thing and tear it down every day! And we saw some of the my favorite “Chinglish” translations on signs! I was sorry they weren’t open yet – I saw one I wanted to buy that said “You strong like Rambo, but you brain is potato.” But then I thought, where would I actually put that in my house? Ha!

We headed down to the waterfront in Kowloon. Hong Kong has four districts, and Kowloon is the peninsula jutting into the water facing the island of Hong Kong. Grace and Peter live in the new development district, and when we come back to fly home after the adoptions, we are staying in the fourth district on Lantau Island near the airport. So we feel like we’ve seen a lot this time.

Grace had made reservations for a dim sum lunch at a restaurant literally looking at the water in Victoria Harbor facing Hong Kong. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, even though I didn’t always know what I was eating. Grace ordered everything and told us what was there, and the food just kept coming – I lost track. But it was one bite of everything, which is my favorite way to eat. Taro and shrimp, spring rolls, barbecued pork buns, water chestnut gels, radish cakes, rice wrapped peanut pork, shrimp and pork dumpling, chicken zhong zhi, squid shaped red bean buns (super cute!), and about a hundred other things.

Then they brought out the chicken feet. I had told Grace before that we liked most things, but since we’re American, we are generally a little wimpy about weird meats. I used chicken feet as my example, as in, “I loved everything we had last time, but please don’t make me eat chicken feet.” Well, Noah took this as a challenge. Told me how amazing they were, how I would love them, etc, and it turned into “mom has to try chicken feet.” Then Chung Yan joined in and we were getting out-numbered. Well, you know what? Maybe mom will. Can’t let a 10 year old win! Plus, this whole culture eats them, I can be respectful of that.

And so I did. But oh my. I tried to take a little bite, and it moved, yup, just like a foot. It was exactly like biting into little tiny chicken feet bones. And I am a wimp. And I got the shivers. And pretty much everyone laughed at me, but then I was able to take a bite. Maybe the tiniest one ever, but a bite nonetheless. The flavor was actually really good, but I am not a convert. No, ma’am. And then Toby did it and Rinnah did too (apparently Nathan’s claiming a pass because he tried them once in Mexico and says that counts!), so that’s most Shaws down – check that off the bucket list, I guess! But a certain someone can never again say I wouldn’t do it!

After lunch we took the ferry across to Hong Kong and headed up to Victoria Peak to get the view! We missed this last year because it was raining so hard we couldn’t see anything. Even though it was hot, like surface-of-the-sun hot, we still had such a good time doing this. And I got a much better concept of the island itself. It’s amazingly steep, and you wind your way up and up and up. And so many people. I love visiting cities but only for short times – I start to feel very claustrophobic after a while with all those people touching you everywhere you go.

Like everything else in cities with large populations, it always takes longer than you think it will to get anywhere, and by this time it was late afternoon and all the kids were dragging. The adults were too! So we headed back down and took the bus home. This time we sat on the top of the double decker bus, and that was fun to watch! It was about 45 minutes home. I think where Grace and Peter is is one of the loveliest places I’ve seen, but she said they live “far out” because Hong Kong is so expensive. It costs 1 million USD to buy a 400 square foot apartment! So they trade the commute for lower rents.

Grace stopped at the market to get a few things and Peter took us all for bubble tea. It was heavenly after being so hot! Then we walked the 10 minutes back to the apartment.

Grace told me she was making a “very simple meal” and wouldn’t let me help, but after that very busy day she made beautiful beef and scallions, a potato dish, and a soup with chicken and cabbage and rice noodles and served it all over rice. They really just went overboard to make us feel welcome, and we felt so blessed. It was wonderful to spend time with them, to have this special day in Hong Kong, and to have such a lovely way to distract ourselves from the last few days of waiting to be with our new kids!

By 7 I could barely keep my eyes open (thanks, again, jet-lag!) but I made it to nearly 10 and then crashed. I slept 8 whole hours in a row – something I haven’t done for a month! It was beautiful. Up bright and early at 6 with everyone else, and we got packed up and ready to go. The kids played some more and we had a beautiful breakfast together (sorry, this is all about food, but it was wonderful!). Red dragon fruit, longan fruit which they call “dragon eye,” scrambled eggs with ham, and different buns from the bakery – croissant, “pineapple bread” which isn’t actually pineapple flavored but looks a bit like one, hot dogs buns (like a giant pig in a blanket) and some pizza buns.

Then they got ready for church and walked us back to the subway with all our stuff. We took the first train together and then split up where we needed to change. I got teary when we said goodbye – they were so kind to us! And Noah and Chung Yin, Chung Yan’s younger brother, were like best friends by the time we left, and sat with their heads together everywhere they went. I wish they were still in our neighborhood! But they are coming for a visit next spring, so I’m hoping we will see them again then.

Then we were on our own again. Hong Kong is much easier to navigate than mainland China for us because many things are labeled in English as well. Even with that, though, it still takes longer to figure things out. We did finally find the train station and figure out where we were to be, and we were actually early enough that we got on an earlier train. When we get in, we’ll be met by our guide for our time in Guangzhou, Helen. The plan today is just to check into the hotel, figure out our rooms (we have a bit of a complication with so many of us) and get settled before we get the new kids tomorrow. It’s our last day as a family of 6, and that has hit me all day long. Every time we are walking or changing trains or buying tickets, I’m counting and counting that we have six. And tomorrow, it will turn into 8.

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