We are finally home!

Our oldest son, Corbin (age 11), desgined a couple banners to welcome us home!

Our oldest son, Corbin (age 11), designed a couple banners to welcome us home!

Wow, what a journey!!! After 2 weeks in which we experienced 18,000+ miles flown, 41 hours of sitting in an airplane (22 with a baby in the lap for Tracy), 7 Airports (Atlanta, Newark, Tokyo, Beijing, Nanjing, Guangzhou, JFK/New York) visited, and 8 different planes with varying degrees of in-flight insanity, we are finally back home. And, oh my, we are feeling it.

We had an eventful final 24 hours in China so allow me to back up a day or so to fill you in.

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On our last evening in China, we enjoyed a nice dinner with a few families in our travel group – it was a western style restaurant within walking distance from our hotel in Guangzhou. They sat our group on the porch overlooking a nice serene lake and a calm evening of conversation made a nice closing moment to our trip. By the way, that peaceful serene lake is reclaimed land, or water body, I should say. Jim Sanders, our resident city manager of the group, informed us of its previous life of a sewage dump for the city of Guangzhou…Nice! That explains the flies. :) Regardless, the funk is long gone and the beauty was relaxing. As the evening cooled and the food begin to populate our table, audible gasps with laughter bubbled across the length of our party as the dishes were revealed. The sweet couple next to me from South Carolina, ordered a nice meal of pigeon…

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Head and all, the succulent pigeon was delivered to our table. And yes, flashes of “A Christmas Story” did come to mind. The waiter, seeing my neighbor explore the bird with utensils in hand – looking for place to enter the meal – came to our rescue and offered to slice up the food. Of course, I was not helping by making soft, whimpering “ouches” every time she began to cut into the bird. Anyway, the waiter returned with the delicious bird all sliced up and presented on the plate – with the head, now detached but still present. :)

We excused ourselves early from dinner to return to the hotel to Skype the kids and get all packed for our tip. Excitement and dread were competing emotions in both of us as we faced down the prospect of another 20 hours in the air spread across 30+ hours of travel – with a baby who screamed the entire first flight we took her on. With about 4 hours of sleep, we were packed and ready to depart the next morning for the long trip home.

Buried in our carry-on bags was the all-important final documents to get our little “immigrant” through U.S. customs and into full citizenship…

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But before that, we had to get out of China and that was beginning to look like a monumental task in danger of not happening. Thinking our adoption agency would be best tooled to make outbound flight plans on behalf of us and our new child (who was now no longer a Chinese national but not yet a U.S. citizen), we left that portion of the trip to them. And of course, where the possibility for the wheels to come off the car, our adoption agency found a way to make it happen.

After getting dropped off at the airport by our competent but overworked guide, Tracy, Meili and myself are left to navigate the airport in Guangzhou on our own. Thank goodness for English signs but they only go so far when the little people under them couldn’t read them if they had to! Through broken English, the Chinese ticket agent for China Air informs us that they cannot locate a lap ticket for our child and from there, the conversation (not really because that requires two people to complete sentences with each other) just goes down hill quicker than the former Republic of China.

In all fairness to our adoption agency, due to my lack of knowledge of the Chinese language, I cannot tell if I possessed any documentation that would have made this work better – all we had was our confirmation information from the AWAA web site. Regardless of that, we had no idea what was going on and no more translators so there is no way this is going to end in a good place.

Eventually, the desperation on my face and frustration in my voice convince the puzzled ticketing agent to generate a boarding pass and get me out of her hair. Unfortunately, our battle at the counter has resulted in the severe delay of our progress to the plane (and an uneasy feeling that our luggage might reap the whirlwind of animosity resulting from the heated encounter). With 5 minutes to spare before boarding the plane, Tracy and I are dripping in sweat (air conditioning in the airport evidently is saved for when temperatures reach 90 degrees inside) and already exhausted from our lack of sleep and frantic/stressful start of the long journey. And of course, the chick taking tickets at the gate give us the worst attitude of all as we pass by her – our love for China has finally met its low point and this was only the beginning.

The “China has got some BIG problems” post is yet to come…

Here is where I share the good news that all those little prayers being lifted up on our behalf seemed to have reached the critical mass point because Meili didn’t even make a peep on the flight! As if the plane ride 5 days prior was expunged from her memory, little snacks and a bottle made the flight from Guangzhou to Beijing as smooth as her little cheeks. Maybe the nightmare at the airport in Guangzhou was as bad as it was going to get and we were on our way…

And then we landed in Beijing. I should have known something ominous was in store for us by the blazing blue skies overhead. No pollution? No clouds? Something very wrong is going on.

Of course, the ticket agent in Guangzhou knew full well that we would not be able to go through international customs without the proper boarding pass for me and Meili – which Tracy had. I did not know this until the 4th customs agent we approached spoke enough English to say, “Sorry, to have to go back to ticket counter and get boarding pass”. Now is where I tell you that the Beijing Capital International Airport (newly enlarged for the 2008 Olympics) is the second largest airport in the world behind Dubai and the third largest building (square footage) in the world. So, returning to the ticket counter from the place we were dumped out at (international transfers) is like telling the cresting Everest climbers they forgot something at base camp and this trip didn’t count – and we have 40 minutes before boarding.

Insert more running, more sweating, more swearing (all me), and more desperation into the mix with a few angry dials back to the adoption agency in the states from the ticket counter (again to no avail because my emergency contact numbers are packed) and we have a full on repeat of our Guangzhou experience. Once again, the non-english speaking ticket agent returns with the magic antidote to our ailing fever in the form of all the boarding passes we need to get out of China. I have no idea what happened but I am starting to believe that the secret to progress for foreigners in China has something to do with fast talking, lots of sweat and boarder line behavior. Regardless, we have 30 minutes to get back on the train, go through customs and security – all with a baby with her citizenship somewhere between here and the United States. Good times.

Somewhere between the train stop labeled exhaustion and near tears, God showed up again. We incorporated every habit we learned in China by inserting ourselves into lines in aggressive manners and going full speed through every cavernous corridor – eventually leading us to the gate with 5 minutes to spare…again. Somewhere in there I grew quite bold with my mounting frustration with this crazy country’s system and gave a little attitude back to the snotty female customs agent after she gave Tracy and myself the stink eye. Up yours, Communism. :)

We are on the plan heading home!!! Tracy and I erupt in muffled applause as we lurch away from the gate. The aging  jumbo jet lets out an audible groan under the cramped weight of this overbooked flight but we are off and that is good. And then, the plane stops. Reversing its direction, back to the gate we go. Uh, Oh. Before we could connect the dots from our return to the gate to my stink eye encounter with comradet, the plane stops again and reverses direction again to taxi onto the runway. Ha, Ha, very funny China.

14 hours later with throbbing muscles, aching butts and some sort of nervous twitch that we did not have before boarding the plane, our plane takes the roller coaster approach vector into JFK Airport. Once again, Meili was just perfect on the flight – she slept more than she was awake but even then, Tracy had a 20 pound lump of Chinese sweetness in her lap the ENTIRE time so she was beyond hurting. As soon as the wheels touch down, tears well up in our eyes as our baby Meili is now an official US citizen and the crumbling environment of the old JFK airport is home sweet home for our wandering souls. What we didn’t know until our departure 4 hours later and the Delta pilot explained while we waited behind 20 planes in line to take off, JFK had closed all but one runway due to high winds and our severe turbulence on the way in was typical of all flights.

Customs went smoothly in the US – due in large part to Tracy’s meticulous paperwork and a little bit of that good old fashioned, I-really-couldn’t-care-less American attitude to airport safety. :) The flight back to Atlanta was the best of all in a sparcly filled cabin and brand new plane. Like all the previous flights, Meili had a bottle and fell asleep with it in her mouth…

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We could not have asked for a better trip with Meili and are so thankful for all the prayers for our saftey. As I watch the little airplane crawl across the map of the Eastern USA on its way to Atlanta, I began to sob under my breath. The full weight of our trip was lifting off my shoulders along with much worry and anxiety. We were within 30 minutes of landing, we had Meili and our children were at home safe and sound – anticipating our return with excited hearts. My greatest fears that tortured my quietest thoughts in the weeks leading up to departing for China had not come true – quite the contrary, God had provided that dome of safety through the tender protection of Tracy Krohn in our absence.

As we entered the neighborhood, we noticed every mailbox on our street had red bows on them. Tracy K and the kids had gone around and asked for permission to place the bows on their mailboxes to welcome us home…

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It was a precious and humbling gesture. And thanks to Skyping almost everyday, Meili was happy to see the children and immediately began playing with them in the floor of our living room. It had been more than 10 days since Tracy had been able to put Meili down and leave the room without her going into hysterics but tonight, she was just happy playing with our other children…

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We are happy to be home and thanks to everyone for your prayers, financial support, emotional support and encouragement through this process. Our next couple posts will be for folks considering adoption from China so please stay tuned…