Olivia’s Adoption Diary

Saturday March 18, 2006

How we spent the day in China
by Mark Congiusta

  • Proud father and his Olivia.
  • Mmmm…Breakfast noodles.
  • Olivia avoids the prying eyes of strangers.
  • A beautiful day at scenic West Lake.
  • Law & Order: Hangzhou.

Today was very, very fun. We went outside. We saw lots of nice stuff. There were many, many people outside. We walked around the streets. Sometimes we stopped to look at stuff. We also ate some food. It was very, very good. I had a good time.

Olivia is doing good. Dorothy is doing good too. They say hi. We hope to see everyone soon.

The end.

(Hopefully that was agreeable to everyone.)


Today’s entry is rated ES: Extremely Sarcastic, PU: Patently Unfunny, and MA: Marginally Asinine.

Sorry about yesterday’s post. I was feeling under the weather mentally and was not up to the task of sharing anything with anyone. Seriously. Ask my daughter. I wouldn’t even share any Play-Doh with her. But I’m feeling much better now. So on with the show…

Yesterday was pretty uneventful. We spent the day exploring West Lake — which is across the street from our hotel — and I pretty much moped around for the first hour or two. Eventually the combined effort of my beautiful and understanding bride and new daughter brought me back from the precipice just in time for Olivia to throw her first prolonged tantrum of our short time together. She started nodding off in her stroller while holding a lollypop which eventually fell from her grasp onto the pavement. Unfortunately by the time anyone realized where it had gone the 3 second rule had long since run out and the treat was lost forever. This did not go over well with our daughter. Dorothy and I briefly debated buying another one but we had been slightly bullied into buying the first one and Olivia had done nothing but hold this one for the past hour, rarely — if ever — even taking a lick. We are trying to wean her from a small of a sense of entitlement that she has. She tends to demand things and sulk when she does not get her way, even above and beyond typical six year old behavior. It is very possible that she was the favorite in the orphanage and tended to get what she wanted quite often. She tends to raise her voice at times (especially when talking to Anna who has been saintly) above and beyond the elevated volume levels of Chinese speech. For the first few days, there were times we were sure that Olivia was yelling at us, but Anna would assure us that no, she was merely talking loudly. We have just about got the distinction down pat and usually can tell the difference between her normal speaking patterns and a exclamation of displeasure.

After burying her head in her hands and a steady stream of crocodile tears, Dorothy and I refused to give in and after about 20 or so minutes of much wailing and gnashing of teeth, Olivia reverted back to her old self and everything was fine. One of the most difficult things we are facing over here is that we have no idea what Olivia is yelling at us at times like these (well, actually ever) but everyone else around us does. She could be saying things like “who the heck are you people? Please save me from these strangers!” to everyone we walk past while we try to smile politely. It can be hard but what are you gonna do? We have yet to be detained as kidnappers so we doubt that what she is yelling is so bad. Besides, maybe its actually better to not understand what your kids are saying to you when they are mad. I have to look into that accelerated Chinese as a second language course for our other two kids when we get back to the States.

Another thing we have noticed is that everyone (hotel employees, waitresses, cab drivers) all comment on how well Olivia speaks Mandarin. At first we thought that maybe Chinese was just a really tough language for children to master, it being multi-tonal and all, and that full fluency didn’t come until later in life. But then it hit us, everyone thinks that Olivia is like 3 years old. You could never tell that she was 6 just from looking at her. All of her clothes are for 3-4 year olds, and even those are big on her. Its better to be underestimated though. They never see you coming that way…

The rest of the day was spent relaxing at the hotel until we were ready to meet Anna in the lobby for dinner after which we would get Olivia’s Chinese passport. Anna took us to a huge building that was floor upon floor of private dining rooms. We eventually found ours and Anna proceeded to order for us. Now I love Anna. She’s a great person and a fabulous guide and translator but I’m pretty sure that she has problems with math. This was the second meal that the 3 of us have eaten with her and it is the second time that she has ordered enough food to feed 65 people. I think next time, we’ll get her a calculator. Or an abacus at least (I hope that went over in the spirit it was intended.)

The beggar’s chicken — a highly recommended local specialty — was delicious. We also had a pork dish that looked like someone had taken a square cookie cutter and pushed down about 4 inches into a live pig and removed a hunk of meat and cooked it. It was alternating layers of fat and meat and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t absolutely delicious. My bad cholesterol level is now through the roof, my good cholesterol just doesn’t exist and I am sure that I took 6 months off of my life by finishing the whole piece of pork but I would order it again in a heartbeat (pun intended).

After making our way through maybe half of all the food on the table, we walked (I waddled) back to the hotel. I don’t think that I was in bed for more than 10 seconds before I was unconscious.

Back in real time

We woke up this morning at around 5:30AM again thanks to our alarm clock, I mean daughter. Today is our last full day here in Hangzhou. To make things even more interesting, Anna is leaving this morning so we are here with our daughter sans interpreter. Dorothy and I hoped things wouldn’t get ugly.

Then things got ugly. Actually it wasn’t too bad in the long run, but being unable to understand Olivia means that we are never really sure if its a “I can’t believe that you won’t let me have that” type of anger or a “I will kill you when you’re sleeping” type. I am reasonably sure that we haven’t seen the latter yet. At least that’s what I tell myself as I go to sleep every night.

Olivia wanted to put on a skirt this morning that was about 3 sizes too big for her and would stay up around her waist for less than a second before falling to her ankles. No matter how hard we tried we could not convince our daughter that going outside wearing clothes that tended to pool around you ankles as you walked was not the best of ideas. I kind of took the lead on the refusal which allowed Olivia to direct her anger squarely at me (join the club little girl) and it wasn’t until well after breakfast that I was forgiven enough that I was allowed to speak to her without getting a dirty look. Being the bad guy seems to be my strong suit these days, and my indifference to the opinions of others allows me to wear black quite comfortably thank you.

Once I was back in the good graces of my daughter we all decided to head out and check out the lake again, this time in the other direction. It being Saturday, in the high 70s and sunny (and yes we had snow flurries a few days ago), the place was packed and I cut quite the striking figure in my shorts apparently as I drew as many if not more stares than my daughter did. People’s heads almost fell of their shoulders trying to figure out where to look first; Olivia or my hairy, exposed legs. We actually had one guy running backwards in front of us shooting what had to be 2 or 3 rolls of film of us. I am still astounded that he was not killed by any of the bikes, scooters or tour carts that shared the same path. The Chinese have nine lives I swear.

Olivia eventually grew tired of being the object of so much attention and buried her head in her coat which eventually led to her falling fast asleep in her stroller. She is a tremendous fan of her stroller, probably having never been pushed around in one, and the novelty keeps her happy, which in turn makes us happy. The math is simple.

Since we had a sleeping child on our hands we decided to double back and see what we missed yesterday after Olivia’s faux-tantrum. It was a truly gorgeous day to be out and about and Dorothy and I enjoyed the time to ourselves. She didn’t even get the least bit jealous that everybody was staring at her husband’s legs.

At one point we stopped at a road side stand to look at some tourist stuff. The guy at the stall directly next door was vehemently gesturing for us to leave this stall and come over to his, apparently expecting us to overlook the fact that he had the exact — and I mean DNA match exact — same stuff as what we were looking at. Talk about cut throat competition. Anyway, Olivia woke up at this point and the first thing she sees is some type of stupid toy designed simply to make children beg their parent’s to buy it for them (I’m only calling the toy stupid, nothing else, I promise. I realize we’ve been having some reading comprehension problems around here and I just want to make sure that we’re all on the same page.) Well, our daughter obliged and immediately started pointing and saying that she wanted that (we have started to understand speech patterns and “I want” and “I don’t want” are clearly understood at this point). Knowing that the purchase of this stupid toy would only reinforce Olivia’s sense of entitlement, and considering that we had just bought her some other meaningless trinket earlier before she fell asleep, we decided to not give in. Needless to say, this did not go over well yet again. We had our second temper tantrum in 2 days in almost exactly the same spot! We decided that West Lake was not very good luck for us and we ran for the exit, mortified child in tow.

I am pretty sure Olivia is starting to get the message however, because later in the day we went into another store and there was not a single “I want that” out of her. baby steps, you know?

The rest of the day was pretty mellow. We walked around the city dodging traffic (as Anna says: stay close to the people in front of you and you’ll be safe enough) and resting up in the hotel. We are starting to miss Aelex and Matthew terribly. And when I say “we”, I of course mean we. I really miss them a lot. Dorothy is going through withdrawals without her two babies and calls them as often as possible.

Tomorrow we leave for Guangzhou and the final leg of our trip. We are starting to count the days until we can get home and be one big happy family again. So, hopefully, by this point you’re not on the phone with your Congressman calling for my head. Talk to you tomorrow from southern China.

Pleasing some of the people none of the time…