Matthew’s Adoption Diary

Sunday October 3, 2004

Hefei today. Gone tomorrow.

  • The rooms here in China tend to be a little small, but Aelex does not seem to mind.
  • China: a study in contrasts.
  • A Chinese firehouse for all the buffs out there.
  • How our luggage made it to the airport. And, yes, it actually all did.
  • Matthew’s first plane ride.
  • Aelex’s photography is a post-modern commentary on the failure of industrialization to humanize our world.

Today we left glorious Hefei for semi-tropical Guangzhou where the American Embassy that will process all of our paperwork is located. Today also marked Matthew’s first plane ride as well as the day that I made the decision to stay in China rather than board another plane with that boy ever again. Well, it actually wasn’t that bad — more restless than anything — but what worries me is that this flight was less than 2 hours and both Dorothy and I were thrilled to get off the plane, so what the hell is going to happen once you tack on another 14 hours to the trip. My guess: I may need a beer once I get off the plane in Newark. That, or a full frontal lobotomy.

Before all of that though, there was more money to be spent. I actually thought that we were going to be getting out of Hefei with me only having to get 1 extra job back in the states to pay for our trip, now I may have to sell an organ to boot. According to Dorothy’s calculus we actually saved money by spending it. Dorothy is constantly pulling the bait and switch on me. She shows me something ridiculously expensive that she says she wants to buy, then while I am foaming at the mouth, she whips out something a few yuan cheaper that she says she is willing to compromise on and settle for. Stupidly, I feel that I have won by putting my foot down. In reality, I am an idiot who never even had a say in the matter.

Eventually we got back to the hotel room which my loving bride had already packed up, gathered up our gear and proceeded to check out. It was during check out that I learned I am married to a kleptomaniac. First I turn in my room key but the girl behind the desk asks me for the second key we were issued. I call over to Dorothy to ask her for her key and she tells me that she left it up in the room. I convey this information to the girl who accepts it at face value. I am then informed that she has to call up to the room to get the tally on the minibar. She gets off the phone with the chambermaid who informed her that not only was the key not up in the room, but we had also taken a hand towel. I again ask Dorothy if she had the key or any knowledge of a missing hand towel. She assures me she has no knowledge of either missing item. I again tell the checkout girl that someone here is mistaken and it is not my wife or I. In the interest of keeping the peace, the girl accepts our innocence and we check out of the hotel.

We eventually board the bus that would take us to the airport where I am informed by my wife, in passing, that she still had the room key because she was keeping it for Matthew’s scrapbook. When I inquired as to why on earth she would ever think that Matthew would ever care about a hotel room key as some sort of life affirming touchstone other that to pinpoint the exact moment his mother resorted to a life of crime, I was informed that I did not understand the significance of this talisman as my son undoubtedly would once he was old enough. O.K. then, what about the hand towel I ask. I again receive concrete assurances that no hand towel was taken.

We get to the airport, check in (with the help of the incomparable Linda who made the whole trip a dream from a logistics standpoint) and board the plane. For the next 2 hours, Dorothy and I are forced to alternate kids approximately every 15 seconds as sibling rivalry begins to rear its ugly head. Mercifully, we eventually land, claim our luggage and catch the bus to the White Swan where we will be staying for the next 5 days or so.

After we check in to the hotel and get up to our room, Dorothy starts to unpack, eventually pulling out a towel with markings suspiciously similar to the ones from the hotel we at which we stayed in Hefei. I asked her if it was a hand towel from our previous hotel and she told me no. I then asked her what it was, and she informed me that it was a face towel.

Lucky for us, they didn’t notice that one missing.

Nothing could be finer, than to be back in Guangzhou China, in the morning… or afternoon… or early evening for that matter…

So we are back in the White Swan where all of the towels have those little anti-theft tags the department stores put on their clothes to keep people from stealing them. I guess the Hefei hotel called ahead to warn them. After we got settled, we decided to go to Lucy’s, a pseudo-American joint just up the street that pours a mean Tsingtao pint and serves up some dandy Satays on a very comfortable outdoor patio (Bruce and Barbara, we were thinking of you guys). Matthew graciously fell asleep after a nearly napless day and Aelex managed to behave as well as one could expect a 2 ½ year old should after checking into her 3rd hotel in a week and a half, halfway around the world and 12 hours removed from her home.

After dinner we went back to the hotel where Dorothy took Matthew up to the room to get him into his crib without Aelex bouncing off the walls, while my daughter and I checked out the large Koi pond in the middle of the first floor of the hotel. We were hanging out on the bridge that spans the pond as Aelex ran back and forth from railing to railing following the fish swimming underneath when suddenly she says “Uh oh.” I ask her what’s wrong and she points into the water where her left sneaker is floating in the middle of the pond. On top of that, the fish are now attacking the sneaker as if it was the largest piece of food they ever saw in some sort of feeding frenzy which is driving Aelex to hysterics because she now thinks that the fish are going to eat her shoe.

The amazing thing is that the shoe must have somehow popped off her foot while she was running and fell into the water landing with the rubber sole facing down so it kept afloat. And there it sat, bobbing along being attacked by about 50 Koi. I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t jump into the water to get the shoe and risk killing one of these fish which look like they cost more than I make in a year, and I certainly couldn’t go back up to the room and tell my wife that our daughter’s other shoe was down in the lobby floating in the Koi pond. So I approach a hotel employee who sees the predicament and alerts the proper authorities over her walkie-talkie. Eventually a girl shows up with a pole to try and retrieve the shoe from the pond, but unfortunately, between the ravenous fish and the water current, the shoe was now out in the middle of the pond out of reach of the pole she brought with her. This called for the big guns.

Next thing I know, here comes this guy with a really, really long pole who then starts climbing over the faux rock cliffs that surround the pond like he’s scaling Mount Everest. If this whole thing wasn’t so ridiculously funny I would have strangled my daughter. We of course by this time have drawn a crowd of about 30 people, all of whom correctly find this to be the funniest thing they have ever seen.

Eventually, the mountain climbing hotel employee reaches an outcropping where he can get the shoe with his pole by leaning out over the water hanging on by his fingertips. He snags the shoe, much to the Koi’s chagrin and returns it to shore and a most grateful Aelex. The crowd cheered and yes, I tipped him commensurately.

So ends the first day of our last stop in China. Tomorrow we see some sights with the group as a whole and, I am willing to bet, spend a whole lot more of my money in the process. When you read tomorrow’s edition at work, I should be sipping beers by the pool.

Missing football, and I don’t mean soccer…