Saturday, August 30, 2014

Discovering Chinese Music

On all of our adoptions, I have tried to broaden my horizons.  Before the adoption, I only listened to English music.  Maybe a little Spanish, like Pitbull.  I did not go out of my way to listen to foreign music.  I do think there was one artist from France, but I can't remember when I discovered his music.

Our first adoption, we stayed at the White Swan in Guangzhou, China.  For those who have adopted, it is usually the last stop before coming home.  The American consulate is located there, or one of them.  They handle the final stage in the adoption process, in China.  I will discuss this in a later post.

Around the hotel are shops.  Most of them have knickknacks for people to take home to their families.  The prices are reasonable and you can haggle.  Next to the White Swan was a CD/DVD store.  Being a lover of movies, I had to go.  They had a big collection of western music and movies.  I will discuss the movie side later, but I found some music that interested me.  It was a group called The 12 Girl Band.  This band consists of 12 women who each play a traditional Chinese instrument.  I decided to give it a try.

The music is instrumental, no singing.  Besides traditional Chinese tunes, they also do renditions of American pop music.  They have a rendition of Coldplay's Clocks and the theme to Titanic. At home, I discovered that I really liked their music.  I looked online and at the music stores.  To my dismay, they either did not have it, or they were charging a lot of money due to Import fees.  I thought that would be it.  

We decided to go back to adopt a 7 year old.  On this adoption, I thought that I needed to get some music that my new daughter could listen to.  I knew it would take time for her to understand English.  So, I found myself at the music shop next to the White Swan.  This is a small boutique.  Not much bigger than the shops at an airport, well the small ones that sell books and magazines.  I was on the Chinese side of the store.  The clerk was looking at me bewildered.  I guess she thought I was lost.

"Sir, the Western music is on this side", she said pointing to the opposite side of the store.

"I am looking for Chinese music, but I don't know what to get.  Could you give me suggestions of popular music".

She gives me two artists:  Janice and Soulboy.  I thank her and purchase the discs.  I was also able to find a bunch of the 12 Girls Band.  Once I got home, I popped the music in the CD player.  I found that I liked it.  Just like a lot of our music, I did not like everything on the disc, but I did find songs to hum to, if not sing to.  Janice does use English in some of her songs.  Soulboy is like a Chinese version of Justin Timberlake.  I listened to his music for awhile, till I got board with it.  I'm not much of a fan of soul music.

The girls liked Janice, but that seem to wear off once Kiersten learned English.  Then she was into Taylor Swift and music like that.  At this same time, our library stared to offer free downloads from Sony Music.  I discovered more Chinese artists.  One of my favorites is Fiona Fung.  She sings in Mandarin and English.  I would describe her as a Chinese Sarah Mclachlan.  Another artist I found is named Jolin Tsai.  She is a mix of pop/rap/dance.

With a knowledge of Chinese artists, I was prepared for our third visit, or so I thought.  I went into a music shop and searched for Fiona Fung.  The first thing that I noticed was that most of the titles were in Pinyin, the characters that represent the written Mandarin.  It was either that or that the artists are called by one name for Western consumption and by another for the Asian audiences.  So I went  back to the hotel and got on the internet.  I found her Asian name and went to another store.  The clerks did not know who she was.

I thought the issue was that she was more of a Cantonese singer.  I can not tell the difference.   I knew Guangzhou had a large population of Cantonese.  I waited.  The White Swan shop was gone.  The hotel was going through a major renovation.  They actually closed the hotel for more than a year and redid the whole hotel.  Due to this loss of visitors, many of the stores on the island were closed.  It was becoming a ghost town.

Going inland from the island, we found another shop.  I asked again.  To no avail.  No one knew who she was.  We did find one person.  At the Tee Mall, I went into a music shop.  I found a clerk who knew of her music.  Unfortunately,  I would have to order it.  It seems she was out of circulation.  So much for the great search.  I did find another artist to discover.  His name was Jay Chou.  I did not really know his music, but I did remember that he had collaborated on a song with Jolin Tsai.

On the plane home, I went past Neil Diamond's Coming to America, which must be a requirement for every international flight I have been on, and looked for Chinese artists.  I found one that looked interesting.  I don't remember what they had as the artists name, but I remembered the music.  It was like a Chinese country song.  When I got home, I discovered it was Jay Chou and the song was Cowboy on the Run.  I found that I liked a lot of his music.

When I tell people that I listen to this music, they ask why because I don't speak the language.  I tell them it is because I listen to the melody and repetition of words, or what I can make out.  I liken it to an English song that you can understand the lyrics, but still like the song.  I feel it has broadened my appeal to music.  After this, I found it easy to get into Kpop and Jpop songs.  I try to get the girls to listen or watch the videos.  I want them to see singers that look like them.  At first, they like groups like The Wonder Girls, but they are back to English pop.  I still like the music.  Until recently, I was getting board with our music.  I still look out for new artists to listen to.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

$17 Pizza: High Price of eating Western food in China

When you are in China, you get to eat lots of Chinese foods or McDonald's/KFC.  You do get sick of it.  Pizza Hut is in China.  On our first trip, our guide ordered pizzas from there.  It was so good.  It was as good as the pizza here.  I might be overdoing it, but on the first trip, we were leery about eating.  Too many stories about the food from previous adoptive families.  Stories of which were more of their biased opinions than actual fact.  We loved the food. 

On our second trip, or was it the third, I can't remember.  We had made it to Guangzhou.  On one of our shopping trips, we saw a Papa John's.  We decided to give it a try.  The pizza was good.  The restaurant did not have many people in it.  I did take a picture of the menu. 

During the meal or after, it caught up with me.  I turned to Angie and asked her about the price.  Once you do the conversion, the pizza cost us $17.  It was good, but I will not pay that much for a pizza again.  If you go to China, make sure you do the conversion before ordering. 


When we first went to China, the newspapers were interesting.  They did not have stories like we are used to seeing.  Of course, I know they are government controlled.  I remember one story was about a dog that committed suicide.  The owner had left the dog on a balcony.  Sensing the owner was not coming back, the dog decided to jump to its death.  One theme I noticed was the heroic citizens that saved people or reported issues. 

After the first trip, the next trip saw a change in the papers.  The stories seemed more serious or like news.  I guess this might have come about due to the Olympics.  The third trip the papers had more of a look of what we are used to in America.  Minus stories about the government.  They did have stories about our government.  There were editorials about things that were going on in the international theater.  It was always critical of others and praiseworthy of the Chinese. 

The news we saw at the hotels had English speaking newscasters.  It was interesting to see what was going on in the country.  When it came to sports, they did  not say much about American Football or Baseball.  It was more about soccer and cricket. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Practical Jokers

On our third Adotion, second in China, Kayla and Michelle accompanied us.  From our first shots, I know my children were going to entertain us.

I would say they did there best.  In the shopping area in Beijing, Kayla had a Elmo leash around her body.  This was done because Kayla has a habit of running off.  So, she decided to make the best of it.  She did this in from of the police.  She had seen too many episode of Cops.  Believe me, she knew what she was doing.  While she had her arms behind her, she was looking at the policemen. 

While visiting the Forbidden City, Kayla noticed that they had pedastals near some of the doors.  To her, they look like stands for statues.  I think it was probably where guards would stand. 



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

McDonald's: Menu differs from America

I guess I should mention our visits to fast food in China.  It was an experience.  They are set up like the restaurants in the US, but like John Travolta said in Pulp Fiction, "it's the little differences". They have some of the same items, but they have some things that appeal to a Chinese taste.  I tried a spicy chicken sandwich.  It was really spicy.  Another time, I ordered a burger with mashed potatoes, bacon, burger, lettuce and tomato.  It was pretty good. 

When you walk in the restaurant, they see that you are a westerner and had you a laminated card to order off of.  This has the English.  Most western restaurants have these.  We did go to a local restaurant in Guangzhou and they actually had a laminated card for Westerners.  In line, you have to be aggressive.  It's okay to be kind, but people will take advantage of that.  See my future posting about Taxis in China. 

After you grab your food, you can take it out or eat in the building.  In the eating area, there are employees walking around to take care of the tables.  One thing we learned is not to clean up our messes.  You are supposed to leave your garbage and the employee will remove.  If you do not do that, you will get stares from the employees. 

Unfortunately, we did go to these restaurants many times.  I'd rather have eaten in a Chinese restaurant, but language is a real barrier.  If you can not read Mandarin or speak it, you will have problems.  The menus did have pictures.  In China, they like to use a variety of meats.  You also needed to know if the dish was spicy.  In Chengdu, most of the dish came with Sichuan oil.  To Angie and I, it is spicy.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

First Flight to China

In 2005, November 26th, we woke early for our long flight to China.  We had driven to North Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with our families.  Not only that, but Kayla had to stay.  We tried to get her a passport, but due to the fact that they postponed the adoption to November of 2005, we could not get her a passport. 

This flight would be the first time either of us had flown internationally.  I have been on long flights before, but nothing like this.  I think the longest flight was about 4 to 5 hours.  This flight was going to last about 17 to 18 hours.  The first leg of this trip was going to be from Raleigh Durham International to Detroit.  From there, we had to fly to Japan and board another plane to Beijing. 

The flight up north was uneventful.  It was a short hop, then we had to wait to board a Northwest Airlines plane.  It was a big plane.  Our seats were towards the middle. 

There was snow on the ground.  It did not affect our flight.  The airport was interesting.  They have a people mover, like a subway car that goes back and forth on the terminal. 

As we waited, we looked for fellow adoptees.  It was not that easy.  Many of the Caucasians were on a school trip or just a regular trip to Indonesia.  At this point, I started to get nervous.  I was worried that I was going to spend most of the time in the bathroom.  I had some medicine to counter any issues.  I felt that once on the plan and up in the air, I would be fine. 

Once the boarding commenced, we had to grab all our bags, get out our tickets and present our passports.  The plane had two areas for loading.  There was the fast pass lane(First Class) and then there was our section(the cattle herding section).  Our seats were towards the back and in the middle.  I was hoping for a side seat, but that is not where our agency placed us.  This flight was during the infancy of in chair entertainment.  Which means that we had the old style projection and the music that cycles about 12 songs per channel.  None of which were very entertaining. 

For those who do not know me, I love movies.  I was looking forward to seeing what they had to offer.  From what I can remember, it was not very good.  They had about 5 movies scheduled.  It was on their time schedule.  You could not pick what you wanted to see.  I wish I could remember the movies.  I think the trip there was not as bad as the trip back. 

The thing I hate most about these flights is being cramped.  We usually brought too much stuff.  Depending where you sit, your bags in the upper compartment could end up in another section.  On top of that, the person in front of you decides to ride the whole trip with their chair reclined.  That makes eating a problem. 

When we made it to Japan, we were happy to get off of the plane.  They made use deplane and walk onto the tarmac.  Then we were corralled up a flight of stairs to a very crowded room.  Once there, we discovered that we had to go through another security check.  It was not fun.  We had our bags, it was hot and crowded.  We were happy when we made it through. 

On boarding the flight to China, it was a cake walk.  The flight was half filled.  We could identify people who were adopting.  At least one family.  The other group of people we saw were missionaries, I think.  The rest look like Chinese businessmen. 

I loved this plane.  It was nicer than the one we flew over in.  It had armchair tv's.  We could pick the movies we wanted to watch.  I believe, I got to see most of Wedding Crashers for the first time.    Angie was exhausted and tried to sleep.  I always find it hard to sleep sitting up. 

At the Beijing airport, we got off the plane.  It was empty.  All I could think of was Communist Russia.  There was airport security around, but not many people.  Angie really had to go to the bathroom.  She went in while I waited with the bags.  When she was done, she told me that they had a hole in the ground to use as a toilet.  I will refer to as a squat pot.  I did not care to use one.  I waited for the hotel, hoping that they had western toilets.   

When we got through the passport/visa checks, we went to retrieve our bags.  Once collected, we made our way to the lobby of the airport.  Just like all of our airports, this is where the people were waiting on their friends, family, and fares.  We scanned the people looking for Great Wall Adoptions.  Then we saw the flag.  It was carried by our Guide.  Her name was Veronica.  She would go on to be present at all three of our adoptions.  

She had us gather our things and follow her to a small passenger van/bus.  Then we proceeded to go to the hotel.  After getting our room assignments, we were told to get some sleep because tomorrow we had a full day of touring planned in Beijing.  On our floor, I noticed that the ceiling was low.  I probably could have lifted my arms and touched it.  I wondered if all hotels were like this.  

When we fell into bed, we were exhausted.  I thought I was going to sleep through the next day.  At about 2:00 to 3:00 am, I was wide awake.  I could not go back to sleep.  I would say this is the first time I had experienced jet lag.  I don't remember what we did, but Angie was wide awake also.  We might have turned on the TV, but I know there was not much to watch.  They did offer one or two western channels.  I believe it was CNN.  The rest was in Mandarin and may not have even been showing, due to late night and signal resting.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

When it rains it pours!

So, I was talking to Angie today.  She tells me that she has read other stories by families adopting from China.  They all had issues arise after starting their adoption process.  Well, that is now our story.  About a month or two ago, my car started having problems.  Turned out I needed a new battery.  Last night when I got home, I discovered that our air conditioner was having issues.  The sad part is that we just replaced our air conditioner recently.  This is the second major issue we have had with it.  Not only that, but it is during a hot time in Florida, with little rain.  We slept with no air conditioning last night.  Most of us managed to sleep.  I'll keep my fingers crossed that this is our last problem for awhile.

Today, the air conditioning company came out to fix the unit.  The motor had blown out.  We still had to pay for the repairs.  Our tech told Angie that it seem to have low voltage.  He thinks a power surge might have hit it.  We have coverage under our power company.  She called them out and sure enough the surge protector had been hit.  They are going to reimburse us for the repairs.  At least it will be a cooler night. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Life of a Rock Star: Kayla and her fans

On our second adoption, Kayla and Michelle came with us.  We wanted Michelle to have a chance to visit her birth country and to share the experience of the adoption with our daughters.  One thing about China is that there are not that many blonde people.  Kayla found out that this creates lots of attention.  When we would go places, people would go up to her and ask to take her picture.  I asked her about it.  She told me it was because she was a star and the Chinese were her fans.  We have many pictures to prove that point. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Agency Packet: Read about Adoption

Let the good times roll!  We received our packet from the agency.  They want us to read 3 books and do book reports, as well as internet seminars.  I asked Angie if we could be grandfathered in, since we have adopted 4 children.  We could write a book about our own experiences.  But, she said no.  I did find some books that might be interesting.  I don't know if I will learn anything new or just get a perspective from another adoptive parent that I may or may not agree with. 

We were able to get some money for the adoption yesterday.  We sold some Southwest stock we had.  Then, I found out we need more upfront.  We have it in the form of Disney and Imax stock, but I want to hold on to those.  Next year will be a big year for both of them. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

End of Renewals

I'm back.  It's been a busy summer.  Renewals had me doing a lot of overtime.  At the same time, Angie has been coming up with ways to earn money for the adoption.  Just the other day, we received an email from our new agency.  They have assigned us to a case worker.  She will be with us every step of the way.  That is encouraging.  Our last adoption had a  new person every step of the way.  When you need an answer, no one knew a thing.  Now OT is over.  I can start dedicating time to home.  I really want to start selling collectibles.  At the same time, I am saving money by getting free tickets to movie sneaks.  Stay tuned for more revelations, etc,