After a last-minute snafu that necessitated a harried run by Civil Affairs (one piece of paper needed to be changed out for another one), Ashley broke all kinds of records getting us to the airport on time for our flight to Guangzhou. He also worked his special Ashley Magic and got our baggage fees dramatically reduced. It turns out that all that candy weighed kind of a lot (so worth it, though. Except for the corn-flavored candy. That was just nasty). We said our tearful goodbyes, although we promised to keep in touch, and I’m happy to report that we have. He gave us huge bear hugs, kissed Jack, and sent us on our way to the next leg of our journey.
We boarded the flight with more than a litte trepidation. Oh, alright. Straight up FEAR. It was Baby’s First Flight, and we had NO IDEA how he was going to handle it. Also, you flat-out cannot buy a separate seat for kids under two, so he had no choice but to hang out on our laps the whole time. And when I say “our”, I mean Kevin’s. By this time, Jack had decided that he didn’t really care so much for Mommy. Oh sure, he’d let me feed him or change his diaper. He even let me read or sing to him at bedtime. But holding him? OH, the horror. Forget it, lady. It ain’t gonna happen. Thank you, drive through please. So we settled ourselves in and prayed for the best.
Thankfully, Jack just took it in stride, like he does with everything life throws at him. He also got a LOT of attention from the girls across the aisle, and he even flirted with the little baby girl sitting behind us. The flight was mercifully short, and we were in Guangzhou before we knew it. We headed down to baggage claim where we spied a couple of members of the Chinese Olympic team, who just happened to be in town for the Asian Games, which was kind of a big deal. The Asian Games are the second largest sporting event after the Olympics, so you can kind of imagine what an absolute zoo Guangzhou was during this time. Looking back, we probably should have waited a week or so to travel, but we’d already been waiting SOOOOO long, so we sucked it up and made the decision to travel during the busiest time possible. Did I mention that the Trade Fair was going on, too? It just happens to be the world’s largest Import/Export fair. Yeah, we’re super smart. Truth be told, though, even though we were fully aware that hotel rooms were A) hard to come by, and B) ridiculously expensive, there was no way we could convince ourselves to leave our son in an orphanage for one day longer than necessary. Yes, I’m aware that sounds kind of douchey, but it’s totally true. It’s also not the last time I’m going to sound douchey because, luckily for you, we’re edging ever closer to the Clash Of The Kirbys.
Okay. Back on track. We gathered our bags, ran the gauntlet of the baggage ticket checker guy, and met up with our guide for this part of the trip. His name, incidentally, was also Jack. Jack was no Jerry. He was certainly no Ashley. In fact, Jack basically said “Hey, glad you made it. Go get in the van and Mr. Li will take you to your hotel. I’ll see you sometime tomorrow. There’s another family coming in tonight, and I’ve decided to take care of them. You’re pretty much on your own, suckers”. Maybe he didn’t really say that last part. I can’t quite remember. It was no big deal, though, and Mr. Li was perfectly nice, even if he didn’t speak a word of English. He looked kind of like what you think a member of the Chinese Mafia looks like: Big, broad-shouldered, buzz-cut, intimidating. He got us where we were going though, which was the Holiday Inn Shi Fu. I can hear you now. You’re all like “WHAAAAAAAT???? What the what??? Kevin works in luxury hospitality, and you stayed at the Holiday Inn????”. My response to that is “We totally stayed at the Holiday Inn, and it was AWESOME.” Hotels are one of those things that I researched tirelessly during The Wait, and I’d heard nothing but awesome things about this place. Most people stay at the White Swan, but it was 1) booked solid (Trade Fair. Asian Games) and 2) not nearly as nice. Seriously. The rooms at the White Swan are holes compared to the Holiday Inn. The food is better at the HI, too. I cannot say enough good stuff about this hotel. I’m super proud to say that I found that little gem all on my own, with no help from my Hotel Super Star husband.
Mr. Li deposited us outside of the Holiday Inn Shi Fu and promptly took off. The entrance to the hotel is a bit nondescript, and if there’s not a doorman on duty, it’s kind of hard to find. I mean, you look up and you see the hotel, but there’s just one not-very-clearly-marked door that opens up to a tiny vestibule with two elevators. The lobby is actually on the 4th floor, so you have to go up to get to the main entrance. We got all checked in (thankfully we were on Club Level. If there is ONE tip I’d give to potential traveling adoptive parents, it’s spring for the Club Level at every hotel you stay at. There are free drinks, free nibbles throughout the day, and really excellent services like 24 currency exchange), ordered a little room service, and settled into the very cool room that we would call home for the next week. My only mistake that evening was putting ketchup on my burger. Curses!!! Apparently, I’d blocked out the horror of my first encounter with Chinese Ketchup. We hunkered down to watch a little Amazing Race and Wipeout (remember that scene in European Vacation when Rusty is all “I think there’s something wrong with the TV. We only get two channels and no MTV. What do you want to watch, cheese or snow?” It was kind of like that, except we only got The Amazing Race Asia, Wipeout, which seriously was on, like, 24/7, CSI, and Headline News. Incidentally, I got hooked on TAR Asia, which is much better than its American counterpart. Just sayin’.
The next morning we were downstairs bright and early waiting for Mr. Li to come and fetch us so we could go and get started on the American side of the paperwork. The Chinese stuff had all been wrapped up in Changsha; now it was time to get squared away with the US government. Let me explain what we were in for that day (and yes, we were fully prepared for all of the adoption-related stuff. What we weren’t prepared for was the extra kick in the ass of dealing with the Kirbys). First, we’d head on over to Shamian Island (about 5 minutes away) for visa pictures and a visit with the Travel Doctor, or, more precisely, The Guangzhou International Travel Medical Center, where our boy would be subjected to a VERY thorough medical exam complete with shots. SIX of them. Yay. Understandably, we pretty much just wanted to get it over with before the day even started.
So there we were, waiting curbside for our chariot. Mr. Li was prompt, and Jack the Guide was there. He was there, of course, because the Kirbys were there. Right there in the van. The tiny, tiny van whose walls started closing in the minute the door shut. Now, for the record, I don’t actually remember the Kirbys’ real names. Well, I remember their son’s name. His name was Jake. He was 9. He was also the most annoying child you’ll ever have the misfortune of meeting. I don’t believe in any kind of corporal punishment, but I swear I wanted to smack this kid after about 5 minutes. He was like a cross between Urkel, Dennis the Menace, and the fat kid from Stand By Me. Added bonus? Him parents constantly made excuses for him, too, so he grew increasingly annoying as the days wore on. You may be wondering why we refer to them as The Kirbys, and it’s kind of a long story, but hey, you’ve already read this far, so you might as well stick with it.
Kevin and I watch a lot of movies. No, this isn’t a non-sequitur. Quotes from those movies eventually work their way into our lexicon. I’m sure you’ve said, at some point in your life, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner”. No? Hmmmm. That’s just me, then. Anyway, random phrases sneak into our conversations. (Did I hear a niner in there, Tommy Boy?). My mother will tell you that “Thank you for doing this, Ellen” is a Donahue classic (watch the movie “Dave” for context). There is one movie that I’m pretty sure nobody else has seen, and that movie is “The Story of Us”. It wasn’t a particularly memorable movie (Eric Clapton did the soundtrack, which is amazing, however), except for a few scenes where Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis head to Italy and have their romantic getaway shanghaied by the most annoying people in the world. The annoying couple just happens to be named, you guessed it, The Kirbys. They start passing a Hangman game back and forth under the table during an particularly excruciating dinner, and the solution to the puzzle is “I Hate The Kirbys”. Michelle and Bruce turn to each other, smile, and Michelle says “Oh, honey. Me too!”.
About five minutes after we met them, we were getting out of the van for the quick walk to the photographer and then the Medical Center. The following is the transcript of the conversation:
Kevin: What was the name—-?
Me: The Kirbys.
Kevin: YES. The Kirbys. So very, very much The Kirbys.
See? He didn’t even have to finish the thought. I was right there with him.
You might think that five minutes isn’t enough time to form a fair opinion of someone. I say, respectfully, you’re so wrong. Do you remember the middle school music teachers on SNL? The Culps? These people were definitely close relatives. Sadly, though, they also had an added dash of douchebaggery with a healthy pinch of self-importance, not to mention arrogance and a side of super rude Ugly American. I can handle nerdy. Hell, I’m nerdy. I can handle a little douchey. I can even deal with some arrogance. These people took it all to a new level. We made a silent pact then and there to spend as little time as possible with this family. I wish I could say that we managed to avoid them altogether, but no such luck. We were stuck with them for the next few days, but we DID minimize our exposure as much as possible.
We got Jack’s picture taken for his US visa then we walked over to the Medical Center. The Kirbys had, for some inexplicable reason, maintained their I(600) status throughout their wait. (If you really want to know what that is, feel free to email me, but all you need to know is that it was WAY more expensive to pay the fees to keep paperwork from expiring as opposed to filing new stuff). We, on the other hand, had let our original stuff expire and refiled as an I(800), or Hague, family. This meant that Jack (the kid, not the guide) had to have lots and lots of shots (six, to be exact), which meant that we had to spend a bit more time there while The Kirbys had to wait for us. They made their displeasure known. A lot. We had to wait outside for about 15 minutes after Jack’s exam was done and he’d had all of his shots to make sure he didn’t have a bad reaction. Mr. Kirby’s exact words were “This is ridiculous. Let’s get going”. Nice. Real nice.
Thankfully, not too long after that, we got to split up for a bit and do some shopping, which was so. Much. FUN! We wandered in and out of the little shops on Shamian Island, where we loaded up on clothes, shoes, souvenirs, and all kinds of little trinkets. We got tons of stuff to give to Jack each year on Family Day: Terra Cotta warrior chess sets, DVDs, personalized chopsticks, puzzles, games….Yeah, we went a little bit overboard, and yes, there was talk about buying an extra bag to get it all home. The shops that are sprinkled throughout the island cater specifically to adoptive families. The US Consulate used to be located there, so it was a no-brainer to set up shop where the Americans were. The stores all have names like “Sherry’s Place” or “Jordon’s Place”, and every shopkeeper speaks English and is willing to haggle. WIN! We managed to (mostly) evade the Kirbys as we wandered in and out of the shops, although Jake managed to ambush us in one spot. I swear the kid was just lying in wait for the perfect moment to jump out and start peppering us with annoying questions).
Too soon, it was time to hook back up with Jack (the Guide) and the dreaded Kirbys so we could have lunch. After Mr. Kirby decided he was the only one who could talk throughout the meal (dude. He cut me off twice by saying “Be quiet”. Lovely fellow, Mr. Kirby), and after Jake Kirby insisted on drinking my Coke (thanks, kid), we were FINALLY headed back to the hotel, but not before Mr. Kirby told us how inconvenient it was for us to be staying where we were, since they were across town at the Garden. SOOOOOO not my problem, mister. Deal with it. We graciously agreed to be picked up later the next morning, though, since it seemed like it would be better for them. Mrs. Kirby complained that Jake wouldn’t have enough time to do his homework in the morning, but, ugh, she guessed she could make it work. Again? Not my problem.
The good news is that we had the whole afternoon free, and after Jack (the Kid) had his nap, we set out to explore the streets around us.