Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Peggy Gets The Last Laugh

My redoubtable mother-in-law gets a certain amount of grief for cycling through all her children's and grandchildren's names in addressing one of us. Karma watches for such things. Now I am constantly calling Elaina "Abby," and have probably done so on this blog. Peggy will laugh, and I deserve it.

Doll Face

We've seen a great many dolls here, in stores in Beijing, Wuhan, and here on the island. They fall into two categories: entirely stylized Asian dolls and more "realistic" dolls with Western features. All the Barbies are white -- every one I've seen. Every other Barbie-type doll I've seen, and every plastic baby-doll, has been white. The Asian dolls are generally very ornate or very stylized, like an Asian Raggedy Ann.

I'm not sure what this reflects. Perhaps the Western style doll is not to Asian tastes, so they don't produce Asian versions.

Mattel does, however, produce Adoption Barbie. (I'd like a version where you pull the string and adoption Babie says things adoptive parents frequently do: "For the last time, I DON'T KNOW when she's coming home!" "I AM her real mother!" "It's none of your business how much it costs!" Anyway, the White Swan gives them out to adoptive parents. Here is the latest:

Comings and Goings on the Island

It's been a busy couple of days. Yesterday we took the kids for their medical checkup, required before they can be released from the country. The stroller brigade was ready:

For Elaina, the only traumatic part was waking up from the nice nap she took on the walk over. The medical exam was uneventful, except when she bit down on the tongue depressor and was strongly disinclined to release it.

Yesterday evening I took Elaina out on an second attempt at the apocalyptic boat ride. This one was far less eventful, though Elaina did not cooperate with my efforts to take pictures and my photographs are blurry as a result. The breeze on the top of the boat was refreshing until a sudden rain hit, and the lights along the shore held Elaina's interest and mine. Later, she fell asleep in my arms. I carried her from the boat back to the room that way, and when I put her down, was forcibly reminded of what I had forgotten for a few years -- when you carry a sleeping baby in your arms for half an hour, afterwards you need Advil if you want to fully extend your arms again.

Today, we did the traditional group picture with the babies on the red couch in the lounge of the Swan. Making nine babies sit still for a picture is about as hard as you are guessing. There was much drama. Elaina stole someone's rattle. I'm not sure what you call a group of babies; judging from pacification methods here, I propose "A Cheerio of babies."

Afterwards one of the other dads and I enjoyed a few drinks in the bar overlooking the river while our wives took the babies to a local clothing store to be measured for custom traditional dresses. They returned with the babies in diapers; they had left the dresses they were wearing there to assist in measurement. Apparently this was scandalous, carrying babies wearing only diapers back to and through the hotel. One would think that a place where so many toddlers wear pants designed to allow them to relieve themselves in the streets would be above being shocked by such things. I'm reminded of the dining room where breakfast is served; the servers primly drape a small cloth matching the tablecloths over the diaper bag. You wouldn't want to detract from the decor of a room where thirty babies are dropping about a metric ton of half-chewed breakfast items on the floor.

After pictures and a few drinks, we had a wonderful group dinner at the hotel's barbecue restaurant by the river. It was my type of place: you pile your plate with a variety of raw meats (steak, short ribs, and squid, in my case), hand it to the chefs, and they grill it for you in tasty sauces and bring it to your table. And they had fries. And pizza. If it weren't for the commute, I'd be back every weekend. The kids enjoyed theirselves in the evening air, which gradually cooled (or maybe that was the bottle of Reisling talking). Elaina's hair did not survive dinner intact, as usual.

Elaina at Ten Months

Elaina turned 10 months today, the 28th. She's doing very well. We hit on a stragegy to keep her from waking up more during the night -- more rice cereal in her nighttime bottle.

She's definitely come out of her shell. She's equally comfortable with me or Katrina, loves to babble and play with her toys, and gives us lots of her face-transforming smiles -- though few laughs, mostly prefering her huffing noise. In sharp contrast to the first couple of days, when we were not sure if she could crawl, now she is into EVERYTHING. It reminds me of our first Christmas with Evan at about this age, which we spent mostly retriving the TV control from him.

She has a lot of funny little habits. She's taken to cocking her head against her shoulder to look at us. Also, she crawls with one leg extended, as if the leg doesn't work. As a result she frequently seems to be giving an impassioned but ultimately unconvincing portrayal of Richard III in some baby Shakespeare festival. Now is the diaper of our discontent/ made glor'ious summer by this bottle of milk.

A few pictures:

The Pond Not Fallen In

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we are not a seafaring people, or indeed skillful traversers of any body of water not containing a bath mat or diving board. So it is not a non-sequitur when I remark that this week I did not fall into a pond.

The pond in question was the koi pond in the center of the White Swan. Katrina and I took pictures with Elaina in front of it.

And I did not fall in. You must recognize that this was a distinct possibility, even a karmic probability. One of my earliest memories is a trip to the Eagle Rock Mall with my Nana to see the Disney version of Robin Hood. I would have been five, I believe. It was a rainy day, and I was wearing a slicker as we waited outside the theatre. I was eager to see the movie, which was animated and featured Robin Hood portrayed by a fox or ocelot or possibly some sort of vole. Anyway, we chose to sit on the edge of the tiled fountain outside the theatre to wait. But my rain slicker was slick and I was fidgety and you know where this is going already, don't you? A large gentlemen fished me out of the fountain and my Nana drove me home, dripping on the seats of her '53 Chevy. I didn't see Robin Hood until it was out on VHS, when it made somewhat less of an impression on me.

This time I kept my footing.

Ken - 1, Ponds - 1.

About The Island

We've been enjoying Shamian Island for four days now. Views from up in our rooms:

It's a great change of pace from the rest of our trip. The cities bustle, but this island is sedate. Most of the buildings are from the turn of the last century, and their style reflects the consulates and diplomatic lodgings they once were, making the neighborood eerily reminiscent of Embassy Row in Washington D.C., only with more split pants. The middle of the island -- that is, the two avenues that run down the center of it east-west -- are cool and leafy, with small playgrounds and parks and gardens and limited vehicle traffic. I've taken Elaina for several walks through here, and enjoyed the ambience -- the older ladies and gentlemen sweeping leaves with handmade brooms of straw, children playing a variation of badmitton on the sidewalks, and elders lounging on benches.

It's a popular wedding destination, apparently, as I've seen at least four brides per day taking pictures on the shady parts of the central avenues. Here one was posing next to some soliders drilling:

The action and bustle are closer to the White Swan. An economy has emerged to service the adoptive parents who cycle through the Swan -- perhaps a dozen small shops with baby clothes, toys, souveniers, and laundy service. Their proprietors sit in the sun outside their stores and greet parents walking their babies and bid them (far more politely than the Great Wall vendors) to come see their wares. Stores offer free stroller loans and free email usage, and there are many personalized handicrafts -- today a proprietor wrote Elaina's name in caligraphy as a gift as we shopped in his store. Neat, polite, and smiling people greet you just outside the Swan, ask friendly questions about your baby, and eventually discretely and politely bring the conversation around to how their store, just a little out of the way, has the best prices. Their English is impeccable.

It's a little sad to think this may all disappear. The White Swan became popular with adoptive families when the American consulate was on the island. It moved about 40 minutes away a year or so ago, but the hotel remains the standard base of operations. Later this year, though, it will close for several months for renovations, and there are rumors that it will no longer cater to the adoption crowd when it reopens, seeking higher-end customers (they clearly have not reviewed my buffet and bar bill). The island's economy will collapse like a cheap folding chair if that happens, and some new economy will arise. They will still sell souveniers, but the shops will no longer be focused on babies, and no longer skillfully marketed to adoptive famiies. That's a shame.

It's a Tall World After All

We finally broke down and went to a Western eatery -- Starbucks. (Mr. Pizza really didn't count. Anyplace that serves pizza with cherries on it is not Western.

Katrina, recovering from stomach ambiguities, was jonesing for some latte. So during a shopping trip we walked to the center or Shaiman Island, a few blocks away, to the local Starbucks. It looked like pretty much any Starbucks anywhere, except hipper and cleaner. The drinks were the same. Some of the food was different. The "Aussie Sausage Rolls" looked extremely questionable, and the Eclair of Sumatra is a pastry for which the world is not yet prepared.

My vanilla frapaccino tasted like one at home. Not that I drink such thinks. Katrina's iced latte was too strong, whcih in her case must mean it was about 99.5 percent raw caffeine.