Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ship Of Fools

So on Saturday Katrina went to a "paperwork meeting," in which the wives of the group gather with our Holt supervisor to ensure that our adoption and visa paperwork is in order. The husbands are of at least normal intelligence, college-educated, in many cases bearing advanced degrees and holding down jobs requiring intricate documentation; nevertheless, there is a consensus among the women that they should handle the paperwork unless they are actively being sick at that moment. They are probably right.

Anyway, Katrina came back from the meeting eagerly reportng that we were scheduled to take a boat tour of the river that night. This was something or a surprise. We are not a seafaring people in my family. Several of the most cherished legends of my clan involve boats capsizing or being knocked out of boats or otherwise using boats for purposes other than staying dry. But I thought what the heck.

We arrived at the dock area adjacent to the hotel at the appointed hour that night. Elaina was safely ensconsed in her carrier.

The carrier is not designed with hot and humid environments in mind. It raises the respective body temperatures of the carrier and caryee precipitously.

Fortunately it was raining too hard to get really hot. Not a mild rain, not a tentative rain, a very deliberate hard pounding rain. And there was lightening. And thunder. Elaina looked up at me as if to say "surely you aren't serious." Several mothers, Katrina among them, politely asked our guide if it is safe to take a small craft into a river in a thunderstorm. The guide replied that the captain had assured her it was remarkably safe.

We walked to the boat. Katrina and I were wearing Crocs; just as well, as feet were soaked. The boat did have a canopy and cabin:

We awkwardly furled our umbrellas to climb the gangplank and crammed into the small space under the canopy at the back of the boat. I elected not to mention to Katrina that the captain looked uncannily like an Asian version of Quint from "Jaws." We sat wiping our camera lenses, illuminated by lightening flashes, stoically ignoring the rain driving sideways at us, wondering when we would embark.

Suddenly there was the closest and loudest peal of thunder yet. It was a thunderCLAP, the sound of God clapping His hands quite sharply and impatiently, as if to catch the attention of some wayward and inattentive element of His creation, such as a group of adults that had elected to take a group of nervous infants for a sightseeking cruise on a small boat during a lightening storm. The clap set off several car alarms along the waterfront. The mothers in our group stood up as one, as a flock of migratory birds will change direction together without apparent communication, and led us off the boat. We squelched back through violent puddles, drippng water through the marble floors of the lobby and attracting the politely incredulous gazes of the staff, who were not, I should point out, standing around outside in a lightening storm. Their gazes seemed to convey, in the most polite and non-judgmental way possible, the question don't they SCREEN these people?

It might not rain tomorrow.

Pizza and Diplomacy

Rarely do I get to eat pizza for breakfast in the company of my wife. Usually it's the sort of thing I do when she's away, or else I gobble it hastily before she's awake. It's the sort of thing husbands are fond of and wives barely tolerate.

They serve pizza for breakfast at the breakfast buffet of the White Swan. It's hot, it's sort of Hawaiian, and it's quite good. Better yet, it's shrewdly located adjacent to the Asian breakfast food section (steamed buns, vegetables, congee, and bits of fish that passeth understanding). This allows an entirely plausible argument that when I eat pizza for breakfast, I am not acting like a slob. I'm acting like a diplomat. I am experiencing another culture, embracing my daughter's heritage, acting as a crisp-crust, piping-hot-cheese ambassador for America to China, demonstrating our culinary broad-mindedness.

I'm working on a rationale for the tater tots.

The White Swan Hotel

I write this on Sunday night, our third day in the White Swan Hotel. I'm a bit tired -- a certain 10-month-old woke up at midnight and 430 demanding a bottle. But I wanted to stay caught up and talk about our marvelous surroundings.

The White Swan sits on the banks of the Pearl River on Shamian Island. It's rather new -- only 25 years old -- but has the air of a generations-old Ritz, and feels like a place you came with your parents as a kid and they with their parents before them. The rooms are pleasant, spotlessly clean, and modern. It's the public spaces where the Swan sings, though. Its main wing is dominated by a five-story atrium, with five stories of restaurants and lounges overlooking it. The atrium has a pleasant waterfall and koi pond under a skylight that can be bright or dim depending on Guangzhou's mercurial skies.

Elaina is quite taken with the koi, though I couldn't say whether her interest is zoological or gourmet in nature.

The lowest floor is a warren of cool marble passageways opening onto the atrium. My Dad would love them, and I wish he were here as he was on our memorable trip to pick up Evan in Korea in 2001. The hallways of the first floor are positively choked with Asian art and antiques -- not merely shops (though there are a dozen of those), but hundreds of pieces displayed for sale along the walls and on pedestals. There are screens, sculptures, cabinets of figurines, great arcs of intricately carved ivory, and elaborate furniture. One passageway is particularly impressive -- it has a pedestal displaying a fleet of jade ships, from the size of my fist to the size of a big-screen TV, in astounding detail -- the sails furl, the masts and lines are painstakingly carved, and the prows gleam greenly. I was shocked to see the price tages on items left out in the open -- a number were in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars (and credibly so). Dad has a better eye than I for Asian art after a lifetime of collecting it, and I'd love to explore these halls with him.

The other remarkable thing about the White Swan is the number of people like us. All Americans (and many other nationalities whose consulates are here) must bring their adopted daughters to Guangzhou before leaving the country, and the White Swan is the hotel of choice for the various adoption agencies. The result appears to be a convention of adoptive parents. The hotel and its staff are well-prepared -- the coffee shop where breakfast is served places high chairs at most tables as a matter of course, and it's easy to get steamed egg or congree. The parents smile at each other and admire the babies as they pass; it's an instant fellowship. There's also a playroom which Elaina enjoyed, though Katrina has now boycotted it for fear of catching the bugs going around:

We're tired of living out of suitcases. We miss our kids and our families and our house and home life. But I've never felt as much at home at a hotel.

Keep Your Fingers Crossed For Katrina

There's a baccterial misery that's cutting mercilessly through our group. All the sufferers were on the trip to Wuhan with us, not on the trips to other provinces, so it's probably something they ate there. Our Holt guide arranged for a doctor to open his office today, Sunday, to seek six of our number. Elaina and I are fine, but today Katrina started to feel poorly. Send good thoughts and prayers to her.